At just 14 years old, Sofia Wylie has already become a household name among the tween set, thanks to her role as Buffy Driscoll on the Disney Channel coming-of-age series Andi Mack. The show made network history with its season two premiere, becoming the first Disney series to incorporate an LGBT storyline. In that arc, Wylie’s character played a key role, supporting her friend Cyrus after he revealed that he had feelings for a male classmate. As the second season continues, sexuality has continued to be a hot topic on the show—and so has the idea of squashing preconceived gender norms. Wylie’s character did just that earlier this season when she decided to join the boys’ basketball team, prompting many young fans to reach out and thank her.
“I’ve gotten so many DMs from girls on Instagram saying, ‘I never thought I could try out for the boys’ soccer or basketball team, but seeing Buffy do it inspired me to try out,’” Wylie told InStyle. “It’s made this whole experience so worth it, because I don’t want to be an actress just to be famous. I want to have a platform so I can use my voice to inspire people and let them know they can do anything.”
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Wylie’s message for young fans is similar to that of her own idol, Zendaya, who also got her start on the Disney Channel. Because her career has mirrored the early stages of Zendaya’s so far, Wylie hopes to continue in the multi-hyphenate’s footsteps. And that includes becoming a role model for her fans.
“I've grown up watching Disney Channel like everybody else, and I always really looked up to Zendaya,” she says. “I mean, what can't she do? She's just kind of everything. It’s because of her that I wanted to be an actress and a dancer. She’s really shaped me into the person I am today, and now I want to be able to do that for others.”
Keep reading our full conversation with Wylie to find out what happened when she finally met Zendaya, why she wears her hair natural, and all about that time she got to dance with Justin Bieber.
Zendaya is a huge inspiration for you. What was it like when you met her for the first time? We met on the set of her show, K.C. Undercover, when they started filming season three. I had so many things that I wanted to say to her, and the second I saw her face, I completely choked. I was so starstruck. She and the rest of the cast were so nice, and it’s crazy to me that other kids see that in the Andi Mack cast—especially because I don't see myself as a “Zendaya.” When I see Zendaya, I see this queen or goddess. I was with my co-star Peyton [Elizabeth Lee], who plays Andi Mack on the show, and Zendaya gave us both advice. She just said, “Have fun with it. Don't let anyone try to bring you down, because then your career is going to plateau and it won’t continue. But if you have fun, enjoy each other's presence, and surround yourself with the people that you love, then you're going to go really far.”
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How has your own multicultural background shaped the way you portray your character? I didn't necessarily hate the way I looked when I was younger, but I didn't want to look the way I did. I didn't want my hair to be curly—I wanted to have it straight like everybody else. When I was 10, I started straightening my hair and it’s one of the biggest regrets in my life. I suppressed my true self, and even though it was about something as little as hair, it was a big part of me. It changed me and my personality, and when I was 12, I realized that and decided that I wanted my curly hair back. I did everything I could to get it back from this weird dead frizz that it had become, and thankfully it worked. Everything changed from that point on.
What changed, specifically? Well, that's when I got Andi Mack and started getting other dance jobs. I had this different light about myself because when I walked into a room, I was completely me. I wasn't hiding a different part of myself just because I didn't like it or thought other people weren't going to like it. That’s when I first wanted to show other girls out there that all of their little quirks or whatever they dislike about themselves, that’s what makes them who they are. Without those, we'd all be clones and live in the world like a robot. That’s not fun and no one wants to do that. So I just want everybody to know that their imperfections are beautiful in their own way.
Since you decided to stop straightening your hair, have you completely stopped putting heat to it? I actually had to straighten part of my hair for the show. There was an episode where my character, Buffy, had to change her hair because someone complained at school that her hair was too big and that it was a distraction. That episode actually made me kind of angry. I was upset that anyone would say something like that because no one can change the way they’re born—and even if they could, why would they? Luckily there was a great message at the end when Buffy realized that she should be able to do anything she wants with her hair and that whether she wants to wear it straight or curly, she shouldn’t let anyone else determine that. So I was happy with the end, but just the thought of having to straighten my hair for the episode makes me shiver. I knew how horrible it was for my self-esteem and for my hair, physically. I try to put the littlest amount of heat on it when I have to, because I love keeping it natural and free.
What’s your overall approach to social media? I don't obsess over my number of followers or how many likes or comments I get on a post. I see my friends and even my family getting crazy over it, and it makes my heart ache. That's not what all of this is about. I want this following to let me connect with others and so that my voice can be heard louder. I don't want to make myself feel horrible by looking at all these models or whoever I think is perfect and thinking that I'm not. It's a horrible cycle, so I try to only go on social media to post something or respond to people.
How do you use social media to connect with your fans? My message is just to spread kindness and love and accept others for who they are in each and every way, so I try to connect that with whatever I post. The feedback that I get is so amazing. Adults will say, “You inspired my daughter to be who she is” or “You inspired my son to wear his hair curly.” I wish I had that when I was younger. I had people telling me that my hair was beautiful, but I didn’t believe them. I needed someone onscreen who I could see. Someone who said that in a message that felt like it was directed towards me. I’m lucky that I get to be that for other kids out there.
You post a lot of videos about dancing, and you’ve performed with Justin Bieber before. What was that like? It was so cool. I got to dance with him in my hometown in Arizona, and he touched my shoulder. I've never washed that shirt—it's still hung up in my room, and every time I look at it, I think of the Biebs touching my shoulder and asking what my name was. I was so starstruck that I could barely get my name out, but it was amazing. He was so nice to all the dancers.
You also recently started your own dance series. I wanted to be able to produce something and have that creative vision in my dance life. When I was in Utah doing Andi Mack, I started this dance series called “The 4K Dance Series.” I wanted to give back to all the Utah dancers, because they were so welcoming when I first got there. So when we were filming season two, I started holding auditions and we made different videos. The first one was inspired by The Greatest Showman on Earth, and we also did a video tribute to Grease. I want the overall dance series to be about embracing each other's talents and not just about competition. The dancing world can get very competitive, especially in L.A., and I hate that.
Between acting and dancing, do you ever have time to just be a kid? I get to have fun all throughout my career, but I try my best to be professional when I’m on set filming the show. There are so many different moving parts, and I don't want to make the crew have to reset just because I was goofing off. Really, I get to be a kid when I'm with my sister. We’re very close, and whenever I’m not traveling and get to see her, we practically pee our pants every night because we laugh so much.