ASHER ANGEL: Following his dream from Desert Stages to Disney

Asher Angel’s acting resume is quite impressive ­– and he’s only 14! He has had roles on the television shows “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” and “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn.” He’s been in the movies “Jolene,” “Hate from a Distance” and “How do you do that Voodoo?” His newest acting gig is as Jonah Beck on the Disney Channel’s “Andi Mack.” The new comedy series is written by Terri Minsky, creator of the network’s hit series “Lizzie McGuire,” and will make its television debut on Friday, April 7 at 8:30 pm ET (6:30 pm Arizona time) on the Disney Channel.

Asher is like a lot of teenagers who aspire to be on television. What sets him apart is a sheer determination that got him where he is today. He made a deal with his mother, Coco Angel, when he first started acting at age 5: “I asked my mom if maybe I could go to L.A. and she said, ‘Asher, if you put in the work and do 30 [local] shows, I’ll take you out there.’ And that’s what happened.”

“He used to always imitate everybody when he was 4 or 5,” says Coco. “He mostly would imitate me – which was yelling ‘Go to your room!’ or ‘You’re in trouble!’ and we used to laugh so hard.” Coco was brought up going to the theater and when Asher was the age where he “could sit still long enough,” she took him, too.

One of the first shows Coco and Asher saw together was at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale. As they were leaving, Asher told her that he wanted to audition. “They just happened to have auditions for ‘Oliver’ that weekend and I was like, OK,” says Coco. “I took him back and he got a part.” Ironically, three years later he would play the lead role in “Oliver” with Phoenix Theatre at Symphony Hall.

Asher starred in “Little Mermaid,” “Seussical,” “Mary Poppins,” “Into the Woods” and more at Desert Stages. He played his most challenging role when he was 10. “I did ‘Into the Woods,’ and I was the narrator,” says Asher. “I had so many lines and had to move back and forth. That was very hard … [but] I had a lot of confidence after that show!”

Coco knew that Asher was ready to take the next step in his acting career, especially from her own childhood experiences acting in television, film and commercials. But it took some time to get his dad, Jody, on board. “He came from a very traditional [background],” says Coco. “You go to this school, to that school and then you go to college.” There was a period of time when Asher was doing a play in Mesa during the day and then performing with Phoenix Theatre at night. “When my husband saw him do that, he was OK [with it]. We were ready to let him do what he wanted to do: move further.”

The big break

When Asher first went to Los Angeles, he was introduced to the Osbrink Talent Agency in North Hollywood. He and his mom traveled to L.A. together whenever he had an audition or a callback. When he was 12, he auditioned for “Andi Mack.” “It was like a four-audition process,” says Asher. “I was heading home to Arizona and we were late for our flight and my dad called us and said, ‘Asher, it’s OK if you miss your flight: You got ‘Andi Mack!’ and then we started screaming. That moment was incredible.”

For the filming of the 2017 pilot season, Asher and Coco traveled to L.A. for four months, staying Monday through Thursday then coming home on the weekend. But they faced an even bigger challenge when it came time to filming season one of “Andi Mack.”

The show was going to be filmed in Canada, L.A. or Utah. When the Angels found out it was Utah, they made the decision to move as a family with Asher. “We just didn’t want to separate,” says Coco. Asher’s brother Avi, 11, and sister London, 9, are enrolled at small, private schools in both states, alternating between one semester in Arizona and the other in Utah, where they thought it was pretty cool that recess included sledding.

The filming schedule for the series is rigorous. “Usually the night before I film, I memorize those lines,” says Asher. “The next day, I show up on set, have school, film. Then my guitar teacher and singing teacher come and I [practice], then eat lunch, then film again. It’s pretty crazy!” His workday is from 9 am to 6 pm during the week – “I go to sleep when I get home” – with weekends off.

Since Jody and Coco both run their own businesses, Jody had the flexibility to be on set with Asher while Coco took care of the younger siblings. In fact, the four main characters of the series all had their dads on set with them. “That was very rare. I have never been on set with dads,” says Coco. “I think it’s much better, to be honest. It was very easy. They called them the ‘Mack Daddies’ and they had the best time together. The moms would come in and out to make sure that everything was going smoothly and that the kids were eating. It worked out for everybody.”

Avi and London also made friends with other kids and cast members on set. “They are all our family,” says Coco, who adds that the moms are really good friends, as are the kids. “It was just a really good experience.”

Finding time for faith

With Asher’s acting schedule, he was almost too busy to celebrate his bar mitzvah. “It was something that we had talked about,” says Coco. “I told him that every single person on both sides of the family has done this. Do you really think that you’re not going to do it? I’m going to leave it up to you – but I feel in 10 or 15 years that you are going to be upset [if you don’t do it].”

Fortunately, in December 2015 – after only five weeks of preparation – Asher became a bar mitzvah at his home in Paradise Valley. He didn’t have time to attend Hebrew school, so his vocal coach, Michele Kahn, helped him prepare. Asher is glad he followed through and reflects on his religion: “What Judaism means to me is being born to this family and it pulls them together and keeps them close.”

Asher and his family were living in Utah during the High Holy Days last year, so they found a synagogue to attend in Park City. “We went with my cast mate [Joshua Rush], who is also Jewish … it was really fun,” says Asher. “It was nice for him to have somebody else to share that with,” adds Coco. “We went with [Joshua and his dad] and we all went out to dinner. It wasn’t the traditional ‘at home’ holiday, but it was cool to have a different experience. We took all of the kids.”

Coco also took her children to visit a Mormon church while they were in Utah. “People just assume certain things and I think it’s really important for the kids to just respect everyone’s religion and see what it’s about,” she says. She likes that these experiences allow her children to learn things that they wouldn’t learn in a classroom.

The bond of friends and family

Asher describes the character of Jonah Beck that he plays on “Andi Mack” as “the cool, sensitive, nice guy that everyone wants to be with and everyone wants to be friends with” – which doesn’t seem like a stretch from who Asher actually is as a person.

When asked what his friends think about his acting, Asher says, “My friends are very supportive. They’ve been watching me since day one and coming to my shows. Both of my best friends got to come out to watch me film. That was really, really fun.” And although Asher’s friends are involved in sports instead of theater, he shows his support by attending their games. “I go to their football, basketball and baseball games and I play, [too] – but acting is number one [for me].”

Are Asher’s siblings jealous of him? “Not yet,” says Coco. “I’m sure that comes later. Growing up, you are always jealous of certain things that your brothers and sisters have, whether it’s curly hair or you have the brown eyes [and] they have the blue eyes. I think right now it’s the normal stuff. I just want to make sure that I give Avi the opportunity to do what he wants to do as well, just like I did with Asher.”

Avi is very different from Asher, both in looks and aspirations. “Avi is very into fashion and likes to model. He would like to do the runway and live in New York,” says Coco who wants to get Asher a little more settled in what he’s doing before tackling things with Avi. As for London – other than wanting a little sister to play with (which Coco says is definitely not happening) – she hasn’t been bitten by the acting or modeling bug – yet.

For now, Avi and London are fortunate to be able to “tag along” with Asher. In early February, they went to Disneyland.

while Asher attended the “Disney Ball,” an event for all the kids on Disney shows. “Since they don’t go to regular schools, they don’t have dances or a prom; so Disney throws this party for them so they know what it’s like to be at a dance and get dressed up.”

Coco jokes that the family may just be traveling with Asher until he’s married. For now, they’re home in Paradise Valley, waiting to see how well the first season of “Andi Mack” is received.

When (not if!) there is a second season this summer, the family will probably return to Park City. How long they stay will depend on how many episodes are filmed there.

In the meantime, Asher is staying busy working on his other passion: music. He takes guitar, hip- hop, dance and voice lessons four times a week, not to mention spends two to three hours on school work each day and time Skyping with his acting coach in L.A.

Asher’s advice for young actors? It may sound cliché, but he is sincere when he says, “Follow your dream and never give up… and work hard.”

Coco is honest with her advice to moms whose children wish to pursue an acting career: “Just be patient. I never was in a rush to take Asher to L.A., [although] everybody said, ‘You have to go to L.A.’ You have to go when the time is right. It’s more than just going there – it’s about taking the time to get educated [about the industry]. She adds that it’s also about being in front of the right people. “Every experience he had got him to where he is now.”

“It’s definitely a different life,” reflects Coco. “I used to always tell people, ‘There is no backup plan for Asher.’” While a lot of actors have other interests, I knew when he started that was it. It was interesting to see a kid that small know what he wanted to do.”

If following your dreams and working hard are indeed keys to success as an actor, then one day Asher is surely destined to be on stage holding a certain golden statue – and thanking his family for supporting him every step of the way.

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