Grace VanderWaal’s career continues ascent with ‘Hollywood Stargirl’

A child prodigy, singer-songwriter Grace VanderWaal,18, turns out to be a prodigiously talented actor as well, starring in this week’s Disney+ sequel “Hollywood Stargirl.”

She won Season 11 of “America’s Got Talent” in 2016. She was 12. In 2017 VanderWaal scored the 2017 Radio Disney Music Award for Best New Artist, a Teen Choice Award and Billboard magazine’s 21 Under 21 list of fast-rising young music stars. She remains the youngest person ever included in the Forbes “30 Under 30” music list.

It was her 2020 Disney movie debut “Stargirl,” based on Jerry Spinelli’s Young Adult novel, that surprised critics with her winning performance as Susan “Stargirl” Caraway. “Hollywood Stargirl” is a sequel, again written and directed by Julia Hart.

Down to earth, candid and funny in a Zoom interview, VanderWaal reflected that she leapt into carrying a movie entirely on impulse.

“I had no clue about what I was getting myself into!” she said with a laugh. “I’m so grateful about those decisions that I made now. But, yeah, no idea!

“The first movie I just so went into it blind. And like, it dawned on me that I just signed up to be a literal actress. I don’t know how to act at all. And I started freaking out! Like, the first thing was, Oh, I have to read lines. Like, I have to be talented. What was I thinking?”

She laughed again. Isn’t singing a song, telling a story in a few minutes, similar to giving a performance in front of a camera?

“That’s an interesting idea, but I think the hardest thing is talking in someone else’s words. Using someone else’s vocab and cadences is really hard. Rather than telling your own story in your own way. Because when you when you’re making music, you’re sort of your own director and cameraman, everything. Like the entire vision, literally vision, and also audibly, is all in my head.

“And when you’re acting, I am almost an instrument in someone else’s song. To make their ‘song’ be what they want it to be.”

While singing has come naturally, was she ever having anxiety attacks about going onstage?

“Well, literally that’s always been my life. It’s just who I am. It’s just my passion. But I’ve definitely cracked under pressure so many times. Freaked out or threw up over nerves and stuff like that. And then you get on stage: That was so fun!”

As for a third Stargirl, “Who knows! If there is, I’m there. I feel like I’m pretty much invested for life. Wherever Stargirl goes I’m doing it.”

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