The 21-year-old former Disney star, actor, and aspiring fashion designer is one to watch.
Watching the teen comedy-drama and On My Block spinoff, Freeridge, the first thing you’ll notice is the spunky group of diverse young actors. Led by Gloria, the group of teens working to figure out the mystical forces that be consists of the proudly bisexual Cameron, Gloria’s sister Ines, and the spiritual romantic Demi.
The latter is played by 21-year-old Filipino American actress Ciara Riley Wilson, a spirited talent who already has quite the background. Her first major television credit was on the Disney show Bizaardvark alongside music sensation and fellow Filipino Olivia Rodrigo. She’s also had roles in the live-action television movie Kim Possible and the hit series Grey’s Anatomy.
Wilson speaks with Vogue Philippines for an exclusive interview after a whirlwind start to her year. The coming-of-age show premiered on Netflix in February to rave reviews, with one describing it as “sisterhood in all its messiness.”
When we reach Wilson, she’s just coming off the end of what she says is a “wild and exciting” past couple of months. “I’ve just been getting back to daily life,” she says. “and [I’m] working on a lot of fashion design projects for upcoming shoots.”
Over the pandemic, the actress found a new passion for sewing and now has ambitions to pursue fashion design. “I fell in love with upcycling, the process of taking existing or thrifted clothes and turning them into something new. It’s become a huge passion in my life,” Wilson says. “To me, fashion is speaking who you are to the world without ever having to open your mouth. It’s how I express my creativity and feel my best, most confident self.”
She describes her style as heavily inspired by ‘70s rock fashion, and names Bob Mackie and Roberto Cavalli as some of her influences. The actress has created some of her own looks for the red carpet and press events. “For Freeridge press, I sewed a shirt entirely out of patches inspired by the show and my character Demi. I also designed the white flared suit set I wore for the Freeridge red carpet premiere. It’s made of film strips of photos of my cast.”
Though she says it can be difficult to balance her passions, she says working on coming out with her very own brand.
Luckily, on screen, she says she was able to work closely with the wardrobe team to craft her character’s look. “Demi and I have very similar personal styles, so it was really cool to be able to wear something on screen I felt confident in.”
Ciara explains that the main challenge during filming was finding empathy for some of the character’s choices. “Demi goes through a really interesting storyline with her best friend Cam surrounding tough conversations around the LGBTQ community,” she explains. “As a member of that community myself, it was hard to truly justify my character saying hurtful things, but in the end, I learned so much about forgiveness and understanding.”
Beyond the show’s praise for its diverse cast of talented new faces, the star has been championed online for representing the queer Filipino community on an international platform. “It’s a dream come true. I never saw myself on screen growing up, so getting the opportunity to be that for someone else is so special to me.”
Having started out at such a young age, Wilson was able to notice a stark change in the industry’s attitude. “When I first started acting, I was pigeonholed into certain roles and rarely seen as someone who could portray a main character,” she remarks. “Now, we are seeing so much more representation and I finally not only feel like I belong, but I’m able to succeed. I can’t wait to see firsthand how much more and in what ways we move forward towards inclusion.”
Growing up, she shares how her Filipino grandmother made an effort to teach her about her roots. She explains that for a time, as a teen, she was ashamed of her heritage and pushed that aside to “fit in,” especially within the industry. As an adult, she says embracing her Filipino side is at the forefront of her identity.
She continues, “If just one person can see themselves in me in a leading role, and that inspires them to know it’s possible to go for their dreams, then that’s all I’d ever want. I’ve really enjoyed getting messages on social media and in person from the Filipino community sharing their excitement!”
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