Angel Flies to Hollywood

Writer Tom Scanlon
Family Photographer Blue Stitch Photography

Asher Angel — a name that has to rank at least 9.9 out of 10 on the perfect performer name scale — is either one of the most grounded, grateful, loving 13-year-olds around, or he’s a great actor.

But wait — maybe the Paradise Valley lad is both? Perhaps this kid who comes off in an interview as precious, precocious and prepossessing isn’t just acting for the reading audience. Maybe this fast-rising actor is really a great kid; maybe he is doing work on studio lots, but is miles away from the stereotypical Hollywood brat.

As Asher approached his 14th birthday and an enormous career leap as a cast member of Disney Channel’s new “Andi Mack” series, his mother was asked if the kid is genuinely sweet and, if so, how she would keep him that way.

“He is like the teenager I imagined he would be, only more focused and dedicated than I would have expected,” answers Coco Angel. “This is his passion and we merely support it.”

Not that she doesn’t have her cautions.

“I would be remiss to say that we are not worried about the pitfalls that befall young Hollywood actors,” Coco says. “However, there are just as many stories of grounded child actors. We believe that the family unit, values taught at home and the support systems in place reinforce positive behavior.”

That positivity helped Asher land a role on “Andi Mack,” from “Lizzie McGuire” creator Terri Minsky. According to a press release, Asher “is a bright, young talent that brings a fresh face to the channel with a background in musical theater, and is a triple threat being a singer, dancer and actor.”

Though “Andi Mack” is a big deal, it’s not Asher’s first Hollywood rodeo. Asher has done more acting in his first 13 years than some adult professional actors do in decades. Local theater audiences may have seen him as the Artful Dodger in Phoenix Symphony’s “Oliver,” Michael in Phoenix Theatre’s “Mary Poppins,” the title role in Mesa Encore Theatre’s “Oliver,” Michael in Arizona Broadway Theatre’s “Peter Pan” or various Greasepaint Youth Theatre and Desert Stages Theatre productions.

“He was born to perform,” his mother says. “Singing, dancing, impressions — it was and is nonstop.”

And if his family and friends needed any proof that Asher was serious about acting, it disappeared last year when he took on overlapping roles.

“I think the most challenging endeavor he has undertaken to date was when he was performing ‘Oliver’ and ‘Mary Poppins’ side by side,” says Coco. “For ‘Oliver,’ he played Oliver and in ‘Mary Poppins,’ he played Michael. Both very demanding roles with significant lines. He would perform in ‘Oliver’ at the Mesa Encore Theater and then we would drive across town for him to perform at the Phoenix Theater in ‘Mary Poppins.’”

A few weeks before leaving Paradise Valley to work on “Andi Mack,” Asher was relaxing in the Paradise Valley home he shares with his mother, Coco; father, Jody; brother, Avi; and sister, London. He says he’s pretty much a regular kid who likes sports and video games, but he loves acting.

“I did a lot of [youth theater] shows and I loved it so much,” he says. “My mom said, ‘If you keep doing this, I will take you out to Los Angeles’ … My mom inspired me and I love her so much.”

Asher had his first nibble of the big time at age 7, when he was cast in “Jolene,” which starred Jessica Chastain — who would later receive an Academy Award nomination for “The Help” and “Zero Dark Thirty” — and veteran actor Dermot Mulroney.

After that, Asher returned to PV, did a few commercials and hit the Phoenix stages, working acting around his school schedule (his favorite classes are math and reading). He prepares for spelling tests and acting parts the same way: repetition.

“I go over and over the lines; it just gets in my head,” he says.

Memorizing lines is one thing, but truly acting a character — and understanding what the writer is trying to show the audience — takes things to a much higher level. Asher had his aha moment playing the narrator of “Into the Woods,” a challenging role that had him on stage for the entire play.

“I had a lot of lines I had to memorize and had to move back and forth on stage,” he recalls. “It took a lot of time. Then, all the pieces fell together. I kind of realized I was starting to get into it. I thought, ‘I should do this for the rest of my life.’”

He knew he was born to perform shortly after stepping on stage the first time in front of an audience — a thrilling, frightening experience.

“When I first started theater, I was a little nervous,” he says. “I don’t know how to explain it; it was like my new hobby. I was like, ‘I want to do this!’ When I first got out on stage and I was singing, the nerves went away. I thought, ‘Wow, this is an incredible feeling!’”

Years later, he said he wasn’t nervous, but excited when he auditioned for “Andi Mack” and met A-list writer/producer Terri Minsky.

“She’s an incredible person, I love her so much,” Asher says. “I remember before the first audition I wanted to show everything I can do. I said, ‘This is my part — no one’s going to take it from me.’”

He describes his character: “Jonah’s the outgoing cool kid. Like the George Clooney of middle school. It’s a dream part for me.”

Will that dream take him to Los Angeles full time?

“I think we’re staying,” Asher says. “I just love Arizona, it’s such a beautiful place to live. My friends are very supportive. I love them so much, and I thank my parents for doing so much driving, booking tickets to Los Angeles. They do so much for me.”

How he does on camera is one thing, but how Asher grows off-camera is more important to his mother.

“We are a family first,” stresses Coco. “Love, support and most importantly, parenting provide the framework that instills respect, appreciation and kindness in all of our children. With these character foundations, we are hopeful that Asher, and all of our kids, will continue to make decisions that both they and us can be proud of.”

It’s hard not to ponder what kind of acting Asher will be doing a decade from now, as a young adult. Will he be a big-time movie star? His father, Jody, says acting is not the most important thing about his talented son’s future.

“Ten years from now, my hope is that Asher will continue to pursue his dreams and passions with the same commitment, resolve and tenacity that I see on a daily basis,” he says. “He is a kind, sensitive and humble person to begin with, so I expect those characteristics to continue into adulthood. He knows that we are most proud of him, not for any awards he wins, successes he earns or public recognition achieved, but for the decisions he makes and actions he takes in those private moments, when no one is looking. That is the foundation that will determine the man he is to become. A man of integrity, reliability, honor and compassion.”

In the meantime, many around here might be flipping the channels in the near future, then stop and say, “I know that kid! Saw him in a little play.”

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