Debby Ryan on going from Disney to rehab in 'Private Practice'

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debby-ryan-private-practice.jpgDebby Ryan's role as a recovering cocaine addict in tonight's (Nov. 17) intense two-part episode of "Private Practice" is definitely a departure from her day job as a Disney star. But the 18-year-old actress, who stars the Disney sitcom "Jessie," says she was honored when Shonda Rhimes sought her out for a role on the series.

"It was a huge privilege and a big honor," Ryan tells Zap2it. "She's one of the biggest showrunners in television right now. I love her use of music, her way of writing -- she has very much a Shonda style. To be able to be a part of this was such an honor."

Ryan didn't take the role lightly. She spent weeks researching before she got on set to play Hailey, a teenager whom neurosurgeon Amelia Shepherd ( Caterina Scorsone) meets in rehab. "I went online a lot, and I talked to a people who have done cocaine. Cocaine being their drug of choice really tells a lot about them," Ryan says. "Cocaine messes with your brain's ability to absorb dopamine, so it gets you very very high and then it drops you very very low."

At first, Hailey's past is a mystery. "You find out later that she's had a couple of tragedies in her life," Ryan says. "She's had a couple of people who were close to her slip away or die, and as that happens, you see a lot of people turn to [drugs]. Playing an addict is very interesting because you have to kind of decipher their mental state. As an addict, it's like, 'What made me this way? What are you trying to push away?'"

Ryan says Scorsone, whose character has been on a downward spiral for a while now, told her something that helped her channel her character's desperation. "Caterina told me for addicts, the world is very loud to them and that's why they're trying to silence it," Ryan says.

Because the two had such intense scenes together, they made sure to sit and talk about their characters. They both made playlists to get in their characters' mindsets, so they shared the songs with each other. Ryan says her songs included "No Easy Way" by Digital Daggers, After Dark" by Katie Costello and "Don't Let Me Go" by the Summer Set.

debby-ryan-caterina-scorsone-private-practice.jpgThat helped her bring depth to the role. "I created a backstory for [Hailey], for her best friend, for her boyfriend who she lost," Ryan says. "I saw this girl, I saw her life, I saw her parents not being in the picture and by the time she was too addicted to stop herself, the people who could've stopped her weren't around enough or didn't care enough about her to stop or didn't care enough to see that she was really calling out for help and then it became too late."

What also helped? Watching a lot of "Private Practice."

Ryan has nothing but kind words to say about her scene partner, Scorsone. "She is phenomenal. I think she's one of the most underrated actresses on television," Ryan says. "She's so amazing, the way that she connects to her character. I was blown away but not only her professionalism -- how kind and cool she was to everyone on set -- but also how cool she was as an actor and how much she respected her craft and the role she was trying to play. I learned so much."

While Ryan is interested in doing more dramatic roles, she says she'll never forget her Disney background. "I'm never the kind of person who's like 'Great! I want to completely abandon my fan base,'" she admits. "I have so much love and respect for my fans and my demographic and my place of work. That said, I realize that I won't be in Disney forever and I won't be in sitcoms forever. Actually, I began acting to do drama and really emotional-feeling things."

As for tonight's episode, Ryan says that like many addicts, Hailey's story might not have a happy ending. "My character actually -- spoiler alert -- relapses and falls back into it. Basically, when you leave rehab, no matter what you've done and no matter how clean and sober you are, it's about going back into the exact life you had and learning how to cope with life knowing what you just learned. Ten percent of addicts recover -- 90 percent relapse -- which is a really huge statistic."

The "Private Practice" two-hour special airs Thursday, Nov. 17 at 9 p.m. on ABC.

Photo/Video credit: ABC