On the Disney Channel series “Andi Mack,” Castro Valley native Lilan Bowden plays a mother of a young girl. But she’s hardly your typical TV mom.
As the storyline goes, Rebecca “Bex” Mack is a youthful, independent-minded woman who was a teenager when she gave birth to Andi (Peyton Elizabeth Lee). After a major family rift, Bex left the baby with her mother, Celia, who raised her as her own daughter. Bex, meanwhile, spent many years off on her own and traveling abroad. Whenever she did return home, she pretended to be Andi’s sister.
The ruse ended when Andi turned 13 and Bex decided to reveal her true identity. Now, Bex and Andi continue to work on their parent-child relationship as mom tries to keep her free-spirited ways in moderation.
“I love playing Bex,” Bowden says. “There are a lot of differences between us, but I’m still able to draw from myself, if that makes any sense. I feel like I’m not putting on a disguise. It comes from the heart and at the same time she has a whole different life. … And besides, it’s fun playing someone cooler than me.”
Bex, Andi and company return with a fresh episode on Monday, Jan. 15 (8 p.m., Disney Channel) as the series resumes what so far has been an eventful second season.
“Andi Mack” broke new ground in October when it introduced a story line featuring a young male character who was struggling with the realization that he has feelings for a male classmate. It was the first gay storyline ever featured on a Disney Channel series.
“We were anxiously awaiting the response from viewers as that episode aired,” Bowden says. “And we’ve been pleasantly pleased. We’ve received lots of positive support from not only kids, but parents as well. It has been really comforting to see that.”
“Andi Mack” struck another blow for inclusivity with a November episode in which Andi and her family celebrated Chinese New Year. Bowden notes that the show’s staffers did their research as they strived to portray the holiday and its traditions accurately.
“I feel super proud to be part of this show and that episode in particular,” she says. “I feel like we’re pioneers in a way that we can break the archetypes of Asian-Americans without denying the culture. We’re showing that you don’t have to placate to the stereotypes that you constantly see on television.”
Her role in “Andi Mack” continues Bowden’s adventures in show business, a journey that started in her youth. Between the ages of 8 and 11, she participated in acting workshops in San Francisco and auditioned for TV commercials. As a student at Castro Valley, she participated in campus dramas. Among her roles: Puck in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” and a minion of Dracula.
“Funny, I wasn’t ever the class clown, or the over-active kid,” Bowden recalls. “I was pretty obedient and quiet. I took a while for me to come out of my shell.”
That process was accelerated during her college days at UC Irvine, where Bowden fell in love with improv comedy. She’s an alumna of the renowned Upright Citizens Brigade and continues to regularly perform improv and sketch comedy. Her TV credits include appearances on “Parks and Recreation” and “Love,” and roles in the movies “I Am Watching You” and “Zombie Apocalypse.”
When she’s not on stage or in front of cameras, Bowden enjoys making crafts and reading pop-psychology books. (“I like things that shed some light on the human condition”). And, oh yes, she just happens to be a Rubik’s Cube master.
“Bex will trump me on most fronts when it comes to being cool,” she says. “But I’ve got the Rubik’s Cube on lock. That may not be cool to everyone, but it’s cool to me.”
Programming note: In addition to Monday’s regular episode of “Andi Mack,” the Disney Channel will air a special cast party telecast immediately afterward.
Throughout the evening, fans also can participate in a second-screen interactive experience with trivia, polls, games and more via the DisneyNOW app on any mobile or tablet device. Users will be able to play along during both the East and West coast telecasts of “Andi Mack” and the cast party, and see results on television in real time.
Following Monday’s episode, subsequent episodes of “Andi Mack” will air at 8 p.m. Fridays on the Disney Channel.
‘Andi Mack’: Castro Valley native shines on Disney series