Grace VanderWaal is terrified.
The young winner of America’s Got Talent season 11 — who became famous for her unique singing voice and penchant for the ukulele — is about to make her acting debut in the upcoming Disney+ adaptation of Stargirl, based on the fan-favorite book by Jerry Spinelli. It’s her first official role and it’s a pretty big one, playing the nonconforming titular icon who inspires countless teens to stand out rather than hide in the background.
“My initial thoughts when I read the script for the first time was ‘oh no!’” VanderWaal tells EW. “It’s a very scary movie to me, it’s like a horror movie to me and no one else. It’s probably the scariest movie I’ll ever do in my life. It’s more vulnerable than anything I’ve really ever done.”
Coming from a singer/songwriter background, VanderWaal is no stranger to performing in front of large crowds. But she found acting to be a bigger challenge than she thought. “It’s easy to hide behind poetry and music and still say what you want to the world,” she says. “But with movies, you can’t hide.”
But VanderWaal faced her fears to bring Stargirl to life, knowing that the message of staying true to yourself and celebrating your differences rather than trying to hide them was important for young people to see as eccentric and colorful Stargirl moves to Mica, Ariz., and inspires a revolution of school spirit at her new school. At first she’s beloved for being so different until the school turns on her and she’s forced to try to conform to fit in, and learns an important lesson about self-expression along the way.
“With the growth of social media, there’s the strongest force to conform more than ever, more than ever, ever, ever,” she says with a laugh. “All young people feel that. I’ve felt that because I’m not the standard at the moment and it’s really, really important for everyone to know that if we were all supposed to be the same, we would be the same. We’re different for a reason and I don’t know why we would change that because that’s such a cool blessing.”
Throughout filming, VanderWaal found herself relating to Stargirl more and more. “Especially when the school turns on her and she toughens it out,” she says. “I’ve definitely done that before. Stargirl seems so perfect and confident but what’s cool about the movie rather than the book, it really shows she’s just like everybody else and she can feel insecure. She doesn’t spread the message of, be confident and perfect and then you’ll be able to be yourself, because that’s impossible. We all have insecurities and you have to accept that for the rest of your life you’ll be scared and have insecurity. Stargirl more stands for, you will always have insecurity and nerves but you have to strengthen your other side to be stronger than that.”
Check out an exclusive first look at VanderWaal as Stargirl above, and more photos from the movie below.
Stargirl, directed by Julia Hart and also starring Graham Verchere, Giancarlo Esposito, Karan Brar, Darby Stanchfield, and Maximiliano Hernández, begins streaming March 13 on Disney+.