Ever since she gave a powerhouse performance (and issued that devastating wink) at the 2016 Olympics, Laurie Hernandez has had a whirlwind year. She won the mirror ball trophy onDancing With the Stars, hung out with Zac Efron, and taught the Dolan twins how to do gymnastics (sort of). All the while, she’s stayed tight with the other members of the Final Five. That’s enough to make anyone’s head spin, but 17-year-old Laurie’s handling it all in stride. And up next? A role on a Disney Channel show, NBD.
She’s guest-starring on a special episode of Stuck in the Middle as herself. The cameo definitely throws Georgie Diaz, played by Kayla Maisonet, for a loop as she tries to navigate what it means to be a Latinx teen in America, and how much of her culture she and the rest of the Diaz family should be experiencing in order to feel truly Latinx. But as she finds out, there’s no one right way to celebrate your heritage, and you can bond with other members of your community in a genuine way.
Teen Vogue caught up with Laurie ahead of the episode’s premiere on Friday, June 23, to talk about what made acting different from anything else she’s done before, and why the episode’s message resonated with her as a Latinx gymnast. She also clued us in on what’s coming up next for her, including a return to gymnastics. Does this mean the 2020 Olympics are in sight? Well, Laurie’s taking it day by day, but you should never say never.
Teen Vogue: How does it feel that your episode of Stuck in the Middle is about to premiere?
Laurie Hernandez: It feels amazing. I’m so excited. I really can’t wait for the day. I’m definitely going to sit by the TV and just stare at it the whole time.
TV: Between the Olympics, Dancing with the Stars and now Stuck in the Middle, you’ve been a fixture on TV lately. How does it feel to catch yourself there?
LH: I definitely am not used to it yet. I haven’t even gone back to the Olympics and watched all the routines. For Dancing, it was like if we came home early enough we got to watch the show, but even now it’s still a little different.
TV: You’ve said in the past that being on the Disney Channel was kind of a dream for you. How does it feel now that the dream is reality?
LH: Well, when I had the opportunity to be on this show, I was so excited because I really do love Disney. I had the opportunity, and I definitely took it. I know the cast is so sweet and they were so accepting. It was definitely an exciting week for me.
TV: What was the process like of preparing for the episode?
LH: We woke up really early, basically every morning. I was there for about a week. The first day we had to pick out our outfits and how I was going to look and whatnot. We had quite a few different outfits. It was a lot of fun, it was kind of like playing dress up. It took a little bit of time to get used to saying lines over and over again, because it has to feel very real and authentic. After a little while I got used to that, but towards the end I felt very comfortable speaking with everybody. We all got pretty close.
TV: You share a lot of scenes with Kayla. Did the two of you bond to prepare for that?
LH: Yeah, we did bond a little bit. I think we definitely bonded over our hair, because we both have very curly hair. I got to go to the RDMAs a few weeks ago and we saw each other. It was really sweet being able to have that little reunion.
TV: One of the themes of this episode is really about Georgie learning to embrace her Latinx heritage. How did you feel about that message?
LH: It was exciting. It really got the point across of connecting to your roots and making sure that they live on for generations. You enjoy that and you embrace that, because it’s definitely a really big part of you. I felt like I could relate to it, which is really helpful.
Ever since I was a little girl my parents always kept that culture alive. Over the holidays my mom would make her typical, authentic food. She is really good at making rice and beans. My dad is always playing music and we’re always dancing. That’s something that I definitely look forward to every year.
We would also have our family come over. A big thing about our culture is it’s family and we’re very close to everyone, even if we’re not even blood-related. You always make family wherever you go. This is definitely found in the episode.
TV: One of the lines that you say in the show is about how great it is to see other Latinx athletes. Is there anything you hope that Latinx athletes take from this episode, and from the work you do as a gymnast?
LH: I hope that they see that it’s OK to embrace your culture and you shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to step into your roots and be proud of that. Honestly, if anything, you should go out there and you should own it. You should show the world who you truly are and show the world how passionate you are about your country and about your culture.
TV: Do you think you could reprise your role on Stuck in the Middle in the future? What other roles would you like to take on?
LH: Well, I mean, that would be incredible. I’m definitely looking forward to any open opportunities in the future, but for right now, I am doing a lot of traveling. I do a lot of speaking with kids, but if I had the opportunity, I think I would take it in a heartbeat.
I know I’ll probably be easing my way back into gymnastics by the end of the summer, so that should be interesting and also it should be a lot of fun. I finished my junior year of high school, and I’m looking forward to senior year.
TV: How has it felt to take such a well-deserved break from gymnastics?
LH: It definitely feels different. I’m not used to taking so much time off of my sport. They always say as a gymnast, one week off is two weeks to come back. I definitely taken a lot of time off, but it was something that was well-needed. I needed a mental and physical break, and I feel like I’ve had that. I’ve definitely enjoyed it, but I don’t want to take too much time out. I should start easing my way back into it.
TV: Have you even thought about the next Olympics yet?
LH: I do think about it often. I had such an incredible experience in 2016. I’d love to experience that again, but, again, I’m just taking it day by day. I want to make sure when I come back I do it the right way, and I don’t have any errors. I’ll definitely just take it slow in that sense.