Lilan Bowden, star of 'Andi Mack' dishes on work, life and advocacy [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

Lilan Bowden loves comedy, her coworkers, cats and causes and that makes us love her

Lilan Bowden has no time to take a vacation.  Between filming her hit, ground-breaking Disney series, Andi Mack, this barrier-breaking sensation is busy working in comedy on her Lilan and Wilder YouTube channel, as well as often moonlighting at Upright Citizens Brigade live shows.

Lilan Bowden hails from Northern California and began exploring her brand of comedy while studying at University of California, Irvine.  Upon graduation, she relocated to Los Angeles where she began taking classes at Upright Citizens Brigade.  After some time passed, she was skilled enough to become one of their regular performers.

She and her best friend Wilder Smith host a comedy show that airs on popular comedy website Funny or Die.  After having some success in short films, she scored the coveted role of Bex Mack in the Disney hit show, Andi Mack.  This ground-breaking show has earned a Peabody Award nomination and a GLAAD Awards win. Andi Mack is the first show on the Disney Channel to feature a gay middle school character.

Lilan Bowden spoke with Michelle Tompkins for The Celebrity Cafe about her beginnings, how she developed her comedic chops in college and beyond, what makes her show with her best friend Wilder Smith so special, how she got the role of Bex Mack in Andi Mack, what causes she is passionate about, what she likes to do for fun and more.


Lilan Boden photo by Eric Schwabel

Michelle Tompkins:  So let's start at the beginning. Tell me a bit about your childhood.

Lilan Bowden:  Oh yes. I grew up in the Bay Area, the California Bay Area. I grew in San Leandro and went to high school at Castro Valley High. I have a little brother, and I grew up with my mom and my dad. A lot of my mom's Taiwanese relatives, we all lived in the same house. When I was a smaller kid like 9 or 10, I started getting involved with the local commercial auditions. When I was in high school, I got involved in their theater program, and I started doing improv club. That's something that I kept up ever since high school.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, did you always gravitate towards acting?

Lilan Bowden:  I did. Even when I was a little kid, and I was trier and stuff, I always wanted to be in the school play. I expressed this interest to my parents when I was a child, and they're like, "Okay. We'll get you acting classes." And the rest is history [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  How did you learn that you are funny [laughter]?

Lilan Bowden:  Oh, my goodness.

Michelle Tompkins:  The power usually comes early, so it's always interesting to figure out when people realized, "Wait a minute. I'm with funny [laughter]."

Lilan Bowden:  I can make people laugh, yeah. I think I first kind of felt that when I started doing improv in high school. I was involved with the ComedySportz high school chapter, and it was such an empowering experience our first show where I realized things that I was saying were making people laugh. That's so much more empowering than being able to read lines off a script even though that's something that I'm really dedicated to and passionate as well thinking, "Oh, I can create things. I can be a writer as well."

Lilan Bowden talks about her comedic beginnings in college

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, what's Live Nude People (with Clothes On)?

Lilan Bowden:  Oh, [laughter] Live Nude People (with Clothes On) is the name of my college troupe. That's an improv group as well. When I got UC Irvine, immediately, I auditioned for the college group, Live Nude People (with Clothes On) and got on my first quarter which I learned later a super big deal. That group was great. It wasn't just a group of friends, but everybody was really dedicated to putting on shows. We put on shows twice a week, and we rehearsed for improv shows which are made up on the spot. We rehearsed five hours a week because we just wanted to make sure that our skills were good and tight, and we are going to have good shows.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, what did you study at school?

Lilan Bowden:  I studied theater. I got a BA.

Michelle Tompkins:  And what other kinds of acting training have you received?  I think you're part of Upright Citizens Brigade or something like that?

Lilan Bowden:  That is correct. After I graduated from college, I started taking classes at Upright Citizens Brigade LA, and I took the improv courses and the sketch comedy courses. Since then, I've been on one of their house improv teams—they're called Harold teams. My team was Rococo. I was also on a house sketch team for four, five years called Bonafide.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, what was your first professional paid gig?

Lilan Bowden:  I guess it depends on what you call professional [laughter]. It was a really big deal. The first commercial I ever booked was a Bose commercial. It was non-union. It was a buyout. I had no lines, and it was super exciting because they never booked anything before. I still visibly remember that job even though it was probably the smallest job I've ever had.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now I read that you originally had some trouble getting cast in parts because of your mixed-race heritage. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Lilan Bowden:  Well, I think that when you're just trying to make it as an actor in L.A. you're just going to have a hard time, to begin with. It's not that I had trouble getting cast it's that it made me very specific. I think that when I first started auditioning for TV and film, when I was right at that level, there wasn't a lot of creativity around mixed people to build families. I felt that the main part that I was auditioning for, once I was at that level, was the best friend of the lead. I think that was a very popular character, to have an ethnic best friend who might be kind of sassy or fun but you don't have to worry about building a family around her.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, you've done a lot of short films. Do you have any favorites?

Lilan Bowden:  There's so many. There's a YouTube channel called Corridor Digital and they do short films based off of video games. I think they're just so creative and cool. The two guys who run it are also super great with special effects and stuff. One of my favorites is a little YouTube video called the Gravity Gun, where I play a character from Half-Life called Alyx Vance. In the video game world, she is well known. For me, I was just getting introduced to this world. But it was just the most exciting two days of shooting because I got to play with cool, super futuristic guns and there were stunts and I got to do wire work. They lifted me with wires 15 feet in the air and dropped me on some mats. That's by far one of my favorite ones.

Lilan Bowden talks about Andi Mack

Michelle Tompkins:  Now tell me about the process of getting to play Bex for Andi Mack.

Lilan Bowden:  When I first read the sides for Andi Mack, and it was called Andi's Land at the time, I was taken by surprise, I think, just as much as somebody who's watching the pilot for the first time who doesn't know what the twist was. I wasn't able to make my first audition I was scheduled and my manager was trying to console me and she said, 'Well, it's a Disney show and you are an adult and there will be a lot more shows and auditions on networks that aren't for kids that I think will be really right for you.'

I took a look at the sides and I thought, 'This is really different and this is something I have to be able to audition for.'

Fortunately, they were able to get me back my audition and reschedule for a different time. I just felt so connected to Bex and I'm so glad that the casting agreed. Each audition I felt more connected to the character and I felt like I was having a good rapport with the people who were auditioning me too.

Michelle Tompkins:  How did you celebrate when you got the part?

Lilan Bowden:  I lost my mind [laughter]. They told me in the room that I had gotten it. And you know that never happens. And so I thought I was—in my mind, I thought I was being real slick and cool and saying, 'Oh, thank you so much. This is great. I'm so excited.' Then a casting director played me back my tape later on what I look like. I'm just a stuttering, confused mess [laughter]. After we left, Peyton Lee who plays Andi, she was already cast at that point, we left the casting room, and she says, 'Give me your phone,' and I gave it to her. She pulls up the text conversation that I had with my mom, and she goes, 'Hi. This is your daughter's newest co-worker. She just booked the role of Bex in Andi Mack.'

Michelle Tompkins:  That's great.

Lilan Bowden:  Yeah. It was great.

Michelle Tompkins:  I bet a lot of screaming and jumping transpired after that.

Lilan Bowden:  Oh my God. I would go through a spurt of excitement and then drive home, and then go through another spurt of excitement in my apartment all by myself. And then I'd call a friend and go through another excitement blast [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Well, that's one of my favorite questions to ask people about how they celebrate getting a part. It usually involves booze or a purchase but, usually, there is a lot of jumping up and down from glee.

Lilan Bowden:  Oh, there's a lot of jumping up and down.

Michelle Tompkins:  What makes Andi Mack special?

Lilan Bowden:  There are many things. Andi Mack I feel like is such a great show because of the messages that it introduces to kids in this awesome, accessible, empathetic way that prepares them, I think, for the world around them. I love Andi Mack because it shows a family that is unique and divine. It shows a family that's multicultural. It shows a non-nuclear family that everybody in that family is doing their best to really make it work.

I think what makes Andi Mack special is that it shows people for who they really are. Moms aren't always heroes. They're not always the people who always know the right answer. They're people who are trying and love their kids and make mistakes just like anybody else.

Michelle Tompkins:  It's won lots of awards, and I think it's the first Disney show to have a gay middle-schooler, right?

Lilan Bowden:  That is correct. It's the first Disney show to have a gay series regular.

Michelle Tompkins:   Wow. Well, what do we have to look forward to in the next season?

Lilan Bowden:  We're going to be developing the characters that we have, and I think something that Andi Mack has been doing these last seasons, so I'm expecting that they're going to do a third one, is that the characters that are introduced as more one dimensional, I'm hoping that we're going to see them as more three-dimensional. But, surely, I don't know because they only give us the script a week in advance [laughter]. I'm just as excited to find out as everybody else.

Michelle Tompkins:  When about do we expect the next season?

Lilan Bowden:  That's a really good question. So right now season two is happening. The last half of season two is happening. We've already had three episodes come out, and we've got a bunch more to go, so I would assume hopefully 2018.

[Note:  Season 3 of Andi Mack comes out on October 8.]

Michelle Tompkins:  All right. So definitely next year. That's good.

Lilan Bowden:  Yeah. Hopefully [laughter]. I'm just as in the dark as anybody else.

Lilan on moonlight as a comedienne

Michelle Tompkins:  You also moonlight as a comedienne. Please tell me about that.

Lilan Bowden:  I love how you put that, I moonlight as a comedienne. Before Andi Mack and also when I'm on hiatus, I like to spend my time doing late night improv shows, and late-night sketch shows. Upright Citizens Brigade has shows going on seven nights a week at their two theaters. And when I'm back in town, I love to call my friends and see what shows are happening, or they'll invite me, and it's just really great at the end of the day. And some of these shows don't start till mid-day. Just to be able to get up on stage and do some late night comedy, and go to a bar for the last 15 minutes with all my friends [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins: Sounds good. Now, what is Lilan and Wilder?

Lilan Bowden:  It's such a unique pronunciation. Lilan and Wilder is my two-person sketch comedy group of me and my BFF for life, Wilder Smith. We've been friends since college, and then a couple years later, in Los Angeles, we got together, and we started writing our own comedy. We do sketches, we perform some shows at Upright Citizens Brigade that are live. And then we also have a bunch of videos online. Most of them are on the Funny or Die website, and a lot of them have been produced by the website Funny or Die. She's also my sketch comedy best friend for life. She's also the dialogue coach of Andi Mack, too, so even while we're shooting we can still hang out all the time.

Michelle Tompkins:  Oh, if she's your best friend, give her a shout out. What's something that makes her special?

Lilan Bowden:  She's super good at impressions but only does them for people that she really knows [laughter]. She's like the Warner Brothers singing frog [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, tell me a little bit more about Funny or Die. That's a website?

Lilan Bowden:  Funny or Die is a comedy website. It's similar to College Humor. Some people have heard of that one. It got started maybe about 10-ish years ago by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. It's a website where aspiring comedians can make comedy videos and put them up on the site, that's what it has been for a long time. A lot of websites go through restructuring. Wilder and I have used that as a resource while we were developing ourselves as actors and comedians to make something, put it up on the site, and, like the title of the website, people can vote if a video is funny, or they can click a die button, which means it's not funny [laughter]. So it's also harsh. You get some good feedback.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, what's the kind of parts you want to play but haven't played yet?

Lilan Bowden:  Ooh. That's a good question. I think I really want to lean into the sci-fi world. I would love to do something where I'm the hero of a futuristic land just because I really, really enjoy that genre. And then my other big dream is to be Chun-Li from Street Fighter [laughter]. I've been a fan of that character since I was in high school playing Street Fighter in the arcades. I kind of fulfilled that because I was on the Pete Holmes Show, which was a comedy show on TBS where I did play Chun-Li, but it was for a comedy bit, so I didn't do anything. It was about the HR department of Street Fighter [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Oh, I would still want to put the buns in my hair because I think that would be kind of awesome.

Lilan Bowden:  Oh, isn't that a good look? I love it.

Michelle Tompkins:  It totally is. It's an updated Princess Leia but cooler.

Lilan Bowden:  Exactly. Thank you.

Lilan Bowden on her personal life and passion projects

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, is there anything you want to add about your personal life?

Lilan Bowden:  I feel like it's hard to think of what I want on the highlight reel of my personal life. I play guitar. I've got two cats. I love them very much [laughter].

[Note:  Sadly, at the time of this posting, Peanut, passed away, so Lilan Bowden is now mom to one cat. Rest in Peace, Peanut]

Michelle Tompkins:  What are the cats' names?

Lilan Bowden:  Doc and Peanut. So Doc is a boy, D-O-C. And Peanut's a girl, spelled just like the legume [laughter]. I adopted them about a year and a half ago now. They belonged to a friend of mine from the comedy community who, sadly, passed away from lung cancer at a very young age. And these two cats were super old and needed a home. And I've never owned pets before except for a family kitten when I was a kid. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I think I could be a cat mom.’  It turns out I can be an intense cat mom [laughter]. A friend of mine was watching my Instagram account, and he was like, ‘Wow. You went from 0 to 60 real fast [laughter].’

Michelle Tompkins:  So what do you like to do for fun?

Lilan Bowden:  So while we're out here filming, there's a roller rink that we all love to go to. Last year, we went a couple times.  We brought the whole crew, and we just go roller skating. And me and the girl who plays my daughter, Andi Mack, Peyton, we just go on our own. We'll go until they kick us out [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Where do you film?

Lilan Bowden:  Utah, Salt Lake City.

Michelle Tompkins:  Wasn't expecting that [laughter].

Lilan Bowden:  Yeah. When they told us, I wasn't expecting it either [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, what are you watching on TV or the movies right now?

Lilan Bowden:  I love entire universes that are created, a lot of HBO shows, Westworld, Game of Thrones, Hulu's Handmaid's Tale. And I love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as far as comedy goes. Those are my shows.

Michelle Tompkins:  So is there any charity work that you'd like to mention?

Lilan Bowden:  Yeah, I'm a monthly sustainer of Planned Parenthood, NPR, Amnesty International, and, recently, I've been donating to, I don't know how it's pronounced, but RAICES, one of the organizations that's working to help immigrant families not be separated right now. That's kind of what I've been doing as of late.

I also sit on the board of the UCB Corps, which is the volunteer branch of UCB. So for the last couple of years, I've helped plan events with the UCB Corps where we go out, we pick oranges for food banks, and we go to the Women's Shelter, and we help sort clothing.

Image result for raices non profit

Michelle Tompkins:  Sounds like a good way to spend some time.

Lilan Bowden:  Yeah, it's great. You can spend it with your friends, and it's for a good cause.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, what is the California Public Interest Research Group?

Lilan Bowden:  CALPIRG is—oh my gosh. What a story. So the PIRGs are an organization that was founded by Ralph Nadar. And CALPIRG has a citizens' chapter, and then it's got college chapters. When I was at UC Irvine, I got really involved in the chapter as a way to express my activism. They have different campaigns going on at once, such as ones to help the homeless and to help the environment. While I was at UC Irvine, I helped start a campaign at Irvine that went national called the Cheaper Textbook Campaign, something that directly related to students interest to really help students feel connected with causes and to be able to help students see what can happen when you campaign, when you organize on a grassroots level, when you do phone banking and when you pool your money to help hire a lobbyist that can work for your cause.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, you're known to be an activist. So what are the causes that you're most passionate about right now?

Lilan Bowden:  Right now, I think the one cause that will never go away is I feel really, really dedicated to and grateful to Planned Parenthood. Because before I was on Andi Mack, I was a struggling actor. I didn't have health insurance, and I was able to go to the Planned Parenthood clinics, not just to get tested and to get birth control, but for general checkups. I love that that resource was available to me, and so it's really important for me to be a donator, be an ambassador, be connected with promoting Planned Parenthood because I appreciate the services that I got from it. I really hope that it keeps continuing to get the funding for girls, and women, and families, and men as well, to access services when we don't have access to affordable medical care.

Michelle Tompkins: How do you like your fans to connect with you?

Lilan Bowden:  I prefer Instagram. I love Instagram. I feel like if you have too many social medias that you're checking, your brain will explode. So I've made Instagram my main squeeze, and I check Twitter once a month [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Oh, what are your social media handles?

Lilan Bowden:  Twitter and Instagram are both @yourfriendlilan [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Oh God, I like that. So what's next for you?

Lilan Bowden:  Well, more rollerskating here in the beautiful land of Salt Lake City. We've got a wonderful season ahead of us, and I'll be here until the end of the year.

Michelle Tompkins:  Any vacation plans?

Lilan Bowden:  No [laughter]. Work is my vacation. When I have hiatuses, I just wish I was working again [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Do you get back up to Northern California often to visit your family?

Lilan Bowden:  I guess more often than I have been in recent years too, and it's wonderful. It's always nice to go home and see everybody. And I think that now, some of my family is separated, so sometimes, when I go back home, it becomes an excuse for more people to go back to the Bay Area as well.

Lilan Bowden can be seen on Andi Mack on the Disney Channel and follow her here.

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.

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