Having a starring or supporting role on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon can do a lot for a young actor's career. However, those programs typically require a very specific type of acting — it's expressive, energetic, and over-the-top. As a result, a lot of actors struggle to find more roles once their time at the network comes to an end.
Here are 15 actors who struggled to find roles after leaving Disney Channel or Nickelodeon:
1. For years after Lizzie McGuire, Hilary Duff struggled to get casting directors to separate her from the iconic role. She "would get to producer callback, and they'd be like, 'She's so great, and she gave us the best reading and blah blah blah, but she's Hilary Duff...'"
She told Cosmopolitan, "Not that I want to dog every casting director out there, but there's a very small handful of people who are character actors and can be hired for roles that are truly different from one another. From age 21-25, before I became a mom, there was a lot of frustration."
2. After Shake It Up ended, Bella Thorne found "it was really hard to get a job." Casting directors "didn't want to see [her] because they were like, 'She's a Disney actress.'"
She told the Happy Sad Confused podcast, "It was like starting back at the bottom and working my way up all the way again."
3. When Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide ended, Devon Werkheiser "realized [he] was going to have to get a lot better at acting if [he] was going to get cast in something major." He took acting classes and worked with an acting coach. He worked hard, but "supporting-role jobs started paying less in the industry, and at the same time [he] was booking less and less." When he was 25, his savings ran out, and he "got a 9-to-5 for the first time in [his] life."
In an essay for Business Insider, he wrote, "It was a real wake-up call for me. My parents also got divorced around this time, so life really just smacked me around for a while. The next level I'd been trying to get to career-wise wasn't happening, and then my personal life wasn't a walk in the park either...I started thinking about ways I could be creative on a regular basis and connect with people about that new-adulthood struggle. It turns out that the "Ned" character I'd been trying to get away from all this time might actually be my opportunity to do that."
Embracing the Ned nostalgia, he decided to launch a podcast called Growing Up with Devon.
He also teamed up with series creator Scott Fellows and pitched a reboot to Nickelodeon, but the network turned them down.
On the podcast, Get Vulnerable with Christy Carlson Romano, Devon said, "[It was] a great pitch for us as adults. They don't want it, or they don't want it right now. It was so passive. It was like, 'Great pitch. Not right now,' but also we were like, 'We want to sell it. We'll pay you. Just let us go sell it.' They're like, 'We're gonna hold it and do nothing with it, and thank you, great pitch.' It just felt so passive."
4. When Selena Gomez transitioned from Wizards of Waverly Place to more "grown-up" roles, she "felt like it was very difficult for people to take [her] seriously."
She told the Hollywood Reporter, "I have slowly pushed through that, and I’m really glad, but it was very frustrating. I felt like a joke, you know?"
5. Vanessa Hudgens was grateful for the High School Musical franchise, but she felt it "closed people's minds up as to which characters [she] could portray." For a time, she was "kind of struggling and fighting for these roles that [she] just desperately wanted."
She told Untitled magazine, "They only saw me as Gabriella Montez and I love that character but there’s so much more to me than just that...it was hard and it was a struggle, but then again, life is always a struggle. Having a career will always be a struggle. You’ll always have to fight for what you want. Definitely crossing over and being able to tackle these grittier parts was a challenge, but I feel like I’ve done it!"
6. When Drake and Josh came to an end, Josh Peck faced "a natural typecast" when he auditioned. He often lost roles to Miles Teller and Michael Cera.
He told Insider, "For a long time, if I walked into an audition room and saw Miles there, I would sort of turn around and go, 'Have a great time, Miles. You're gonna kill it.'"
7. From The Ultimate Christmas Present to The Suite Life on Deck, Brenda Song felt Disney Channel was "ahead of the curve" and "colorblind casting way before anybody else." However, outside of the network, she struggled to book roles that were specifically written for Asian actors. For example, she was told that "[her] image was basically not Asian enough" to even get an audition for Crazy Rich Asians.
She told Teen Vogue, "It broke my heart. I said, 'This character is in her late to mid-20s, an Asian American, and I can't even audition for it? I've auditioned for Caucasian roles my entire career, but this specific role, you're not going to let me do it? You're going to fault me for having worked my whole life?' I was like, 'Where do I fit?'"
8. Disney execs had promised Coco Jones a Let It Shine sequel and her own show, but none of those plans were ever actually carried out. She was also dropped from Disney's record label because they "[didn't] know what to do with [her]." While dealing with that rejection, she graduated high school early and moved to LA. She lost out on a lot of opportunities because of colorism from casting directors, and she also gave up roles that would've required her to do things she was uncomfortable with.
In a YouTube Live, she said, "I could really pop out on y'all. I could really pop out, but then, am I gonna be able to look in the mirror? Is it gonna be worth this check? Is it gonna be the 15 minutes of fame? 'Cuz I've already seen that's fleeting."
9. Several years after Big Time Rush wrapped, Carlos PenaVega was "really struggling with the industry." In auditions, he'd continuously reach the final two then lose out to the other contender. After a year, he and his wife, Alexa PenaVega, decided to leave LA and move to Hawaii with their kids.
Alexa told Fox News, "The rejection was just becoming too much for him...At the time, I was pregnant. We'd always talked about moving to Hawaii, but later on in life, like a retirement plan. But we also knew that we didn't want to raise our kids in Los Angeles. I felt this tug in my heart."
10. While moving on from Austin & Ally, Laura Marano's biggest challenge was reestablishing herself as an actor because she "had done more film and TV before, in more mature roles and proving [her] to producers and directors."
She told the Daily Mail Australia, "There's challenges that come with it. For one, thing, there is a stigma with child actors in general, and then add on the Disney aspect, and there's more stigma, about what you can do and what kind of level you're at."
11. After starring in Jessie and the spin-off Bunk'd, Karan Brar found that "it takes a lot of time to prove that you can actually do things outside of [Disney]."
He told Daily Campus, "I think what people don't realize is that, when you're on Disney Channel, you get stigmatized as being a Disney Channel kid, only being capable of doing a certain set of things and only having a certain skill set."
12. Jessica Marie Garcia had a challenging time trying to go beyond supporting roles, like her recurring role on Liv and Maddie. She wanted "to be more than someone’s friend every time."
At the BE Conference 2019, she said, "Season 2 of On My Block is my first [role as a] series regular...I've been a guest star for three years on a show and been called an 'expensive extra,' which crumbled me to the ground..."
13. After Zoey 101, Paul Butcher was often typecast as the main character's little brother, and finding roles for different kinds of characters was difficult.
On the podcast, Get Vulnerable with Christy Carlson Romano, he said, "That's the beauty and the curse of being a child actor; everyone sees you as this one character."
14. Naomi Scott had a breakout role in the DCOM, Lemonade Mouth. Afterward, however, sequel plans fell through. On the audition circuit, she "was the Nearly Girl for a long time."
She told British Vogue, "I remember thinking in auditions, 'OK, this is it, this is the one.' And then not getting it. And then the next time thinking, 'OK, this is the one.' And not getting it again."
15. And finally, as a teenager, Nicholas Braun appeared in DCOMs like Sky High, Princess Protection Program, and Minutemen. However, he was concerned about falling into the "Disney kid" stigma, so he took a break from acting and enrolled in boarding school. After graduation, however, he struggled to find roles because of his height.
For a time, he'd lie to casting directors and say he was 6'4 or 6'5 because he worried that his real height, 6'7, would intimidate them.
He told Insider, "It's been the biggest impediment to getting roles, I think, my whole life. Because even as a kid, when I was younger, like 11, 12 years old, I was very tall. I just kept being very tall. But everybody's got something that can get in the way. I'm just gonna embrace it from here on out."