Paris Berelc is suiting up for an adult role in the new Netflix NASCAR-inspired comedy series The Crew as up-and-coming race car driver Jessie de la Cruz, who is trying to bump Jake Martin (Freddie Stroma) out of his car in order to make history as the first female driver for Bobby Spencer Racing.
“We have a really entertaining rivalry throughout the show and we both have these things that we want,” Berelc tells Monsters & Critics in this exclusive interview. “He’s trying to keep his seat, and I’m trying to take it. So, yeah, it was a fun rivalry relationship to play around with.”
The Crew stars Kevin James as a NASCAR crew chief for the above-named fictional Bobby Spencer Racing team. When Bobby steps down and passes the team off to his daughter Catherine (Jillian Mueller), Kevin has to protect himself and his crew from her attempts to modernize the team.
“There’s a lot of female drivers,” Berelc continues. “It’s interesting now because I feel like in the past, women didn’t get the opportunity that men do, especially when it came to cars. There’ll be female drivers, but they wouldn’t have the best car, so they didn’t exactly get the same opportunity. I see that that’s shifting now, which is great.”
Berelc was pleased to be able to play a strong female character who knows what she wants and is going to do everything she can to get the opportunity to do it, but what was even more important to her was the representation.
“I love that they made her Filipino without saying it, because her last name was de la Cruz, which is actually my Nona’s maiden name,” Berelc says. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God. This is great.’ And I have a jacket that says de la Cruz on it, so my Nona was very, very excited about that.”
Read on for more of the conversation with Berelc, who also talks about her plans for the future, and a cause that she takes very seriously, human trafficking.
Monsters & Critics: The Crew is set in the world of NASCAR. Have you actually ever been to a race?
Paris Berelc: No, I’ve always wanted to, though. I’ve always wanted to go to a NASCAR or Formula One race. Watching it on TV is fine, but it’s nothing like actually being there, and experiencing everything like hearing the car and how fast it goes.
I’ve always heard from people that have gone to a race that once you hear them go by you, it’s just this crazy experience because then you’re really seeing how fast the cars are going.
M&C: We all have heard of Danica Patrick because she drives Indy cars. But there are lots of female NASCAR drivers. Did you have an opportunity to chat with any of them?
Paris Berelc: I didn’t get that opportunity, but I’m sure I will someday. They studied Natalie Decker and Hailie Deegan when they were creating Jessie. I didn’t even know that there was a whole truck division for NASCAR before I got the show, which is super cool because I’m from Wisconsin, so I grew up in trucks.
M&C: And that’s going to be reflected in the show, possibly if it gets a second season. Are you up for that?
Paris Berelc: I haven’t heard anything about Season 2, or if they will be bringing me back, but I would totally love to do it. I love working on the show. It was super fun. Everyone on it is great and funny and talented. Actually, some of the crew from my Disney shows worked on the show, so it was nice being around familiar people. I would totally come back if I had the opportunity.
M&C: You’ve done several shows and you’re still so young. Do you feel like this is like your first adult comedy?
Paris Berelc: It definitely is. I said that a lot in previous interviews. I have done sitcoms, but they were in the kids and family category and now this one is moving into adults, so it’s a different kind of humor and it’s a different audience, which is exciting.
I was nervous to be on set because everyone has been in the business for so long and has much more experience than me. I was nervous because I’m just popping in like, “Hey, I’m a little girl. How are you?”
But they all were great. They welcomed me in. I learned a lot from them, and they’re all so funny. I was just cracking up at lunch, and they all have, like, their own sense of humor. They’re a really fun group on and off-screen.
M&C: Actors say that drama’s easy and comedy is hard. Do you find that because you have to have that perfect sense of timing to make comedy work?
Paris Berelc: I think it’s definitely a different type of acting. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that every comedian can do drama, but not every person who knows drama can do comedy. I think that there’s so much going into making someone laugh. There’s timing and the tone.
I feel like with Jessie, hers is very dry and sarcastic, and then you have Dan [Ahdoot] or Gary [Anthony Williams] and they’re bigger, you know? They change the way their voices sound.
It’s fun finding a character and finding those quirky things to do to make it funny. It takes a very talented person to be able to do that, which is why this works so much because like they found all the right people to be a part of this cast.
M&C: A lot of people may think race car drivers aren’t real athletes, but this shows all the stuff that goes into it, including staying in shape in the workout room. In Alexa & Katie, you played a high school athlete, as well. Are you a natural athlete in real life?
Paris Berelc: Well, in Alexa, we didn’t really play basketball. We did maybe a couple times and I’m terrible at basketball. So, when we were filming, I was like, “Look, I don’t know if I’m going to look good doing this. Can we make her a gymnast? I can do a flip. Can we do that?”
I grew up doing gymnastics, so I love sports. I love watching sports. That was such a big part of my life. And then when I became an actor, I dropped gymnastics, but I still do it. I still like doing some training and flipping around. Eventually that’s what I want to do in my films. I want to do action movies or a gymnastics movie, so, hopefully, that happens one day.
M&C: You started working so young and you’ve accomplished so much. Are you sure that acting is your end all and be all?
Paris Berelc: I don’t know if I will be an actor forever. I will definitely stay in the business in some way shape or form. What I really, really want is to have my own production company and create my own content. I want to be like Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Margot Robbie, or Will Smith.
I’ve been acting since I was 14. It’s almost a decade, which is crazy, because it doesn’t feel like that at all. But I want to see what else is out there for me, and I really want to get into producing. I don’t think there’s a lot of young adults like me who are trying to produce right now. I love acting and, I think, I will always do it, but I definitely want to explore the producing and the writing side of the business.
M&C: I was looking at your Instagram. You have postings for the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and I wanted to know why particularly that is an organization that you’re supporting.
Paris Berelc: My mom is from the Philippines. She came over to the U.S. when she was 13 and I have three younger sisters. We have a big family of girls. When I was really young, my mom, she didn’t hide that side of the world from me. She was very open and honest about it, not to scare me, but just to be like, “Hey, this happens. So, you better be careful because it can happen to anyone.”
When she was a kid, she was actually kidnapped in the Philippines and my Nona found her in a van. And, then, when she was a teenager, her friend tried to sell her. So, that was something I knew and something I became very passionate about, especially last year.
It’s, in my opinion, the biggest issue that we have. Yes, climate change is obviously a thing and people are going hungry and those are all big problems in the world, too. But human trafficking, there’s like 40 million people a year, and people don’t know about it.
The media and social media do a really poor job of making people aware of it. I think they censor a lot. I don’t know why, but I think it should definitely be talked more about than it is. I don’t know why people aren’t talking about it more, and I’m trying to do my part and make it known and trying to educate people around me.
The Crew is currently streaming its first season on Netflix.