“Don’t be afraid to hear no, because you’ll hear that a lot. Don’t stop going after your dreams because of that.” – Mallory James Mahoney
Since 2018, Mallory James Mahoney has played Destiny Baker on the Disney Channel’s hit show, Bunk’d. The show, about a group of kids who spend their summers at a camp in Maine, has just started a new season where we’ll see her experience some changes. She “gone from camper to counselor, getting more responsibility and has her own crazy campers to take care of,” she told me. “You’ll see a lot of her struggles of adjusting from fitting in.”
Mahoney took some time to chat with me about Bunk’d, playing Destiny and how she originally got the part. She also talks about her recent guest starring role in On My Block, how she got started, if she still gets nervous on set and her advice to young actors. These are edited excerpts from that conversation. For the full interview, check out the video below or watch it on YouTube.
Before you started this season, did they tell you about that, or did it just happen?
Mallory James Mahoney: Once we found out the season was going to happen, they told me. But I was really excited because it’s something I’ve kind of wanted for her. I thought she deserved it, because she has been on the show for three years and we’ve seen her grow a lot in her personality and the things she enjoys. In this season, you’ll see a lot of her struggles of adjusting from fitting in, just being one of the cool kids, to having to be an adult and be like, “No, don’t do that. You’ll die.”
You’ve done almost 80 episodes of the show?
Mallory James Mahoney: Yeah, it’s amazing, I’m loving everyone. So it’s been really awesome. But yeah, that’s crazy.
It must be fun to see how your character has grown from your first season to where she is now.
Mallory James Mahoney: Absolutely. I started when I was 12 years old. I’m almost 18 now, so I myself have grown a lot on the show. But it’s really nice getting to grow up with everyone and everyone’s so nice, and I love them all so much. It’s really like a second home to me.
How long does it take to film a full season?
Mallory James Mahoney: It depends, because when I started in season three, we only had 16 episodes, I believe. So, that one we did in a few months. But then season four, I think season five, and then now season six are taking pretty much a year to film, because we have 30 episodes this year. Yeah.
There’s not a lot of time to do other stuff, I would imagine?
Mallory James Mahoney: Not much. During one of our weeks off, I did a guest starring role on ‘On My Block’ on Netflix, and that was really fun, because it’s cool to just take your week off and go do a totally different character.
I would imagine by this time and how many episodes you’ve done, it’s easy to go in and out of a character.
Mallory James Mahoney: A little bit, yeah. It’s nice because also being on the show so long, we’ve kind of merged a little bit where I find where our similarities are. So, she’s not totally different from me, so it’s really easy to just switch in and out of the character. And she’s pretty much me, but just takes everything a little more to the extreme.
What are some of the things that aren’t you?
Mallory James Mahoney: I would say, we’re both very competitive, but she’s much more competitive. When I started, she was this ruthless pageant queen and she was extremely competitive about that stuff. We both love the environment, our friends, obviously. But yeah, we have a lot of similarities. I think the biggest thing is just how intense she gets.
I can even see with a lot of the characters on the show, you see them start to merge with who we are versus who the character is because there’s just more similarities brought in throughout the series and as we figure out our characters.
And that’s one thing I’ve done with Destiny. I figure out, when I’m just reading a script now, I know how she would say each line, which is just kind of a weird, cool thing that you just develop as you’re working on it.
The character you played on ‘On My Block’ was that totally different than who you play now?
Mallory James Mahoney: Very much so. She was an interesting character. She was really fun to play though, because she’s really different from me. I was like a pop star with my 15 seconds of fame, and it was a very different character than Destiny. But I have a lot of fun playing characters like that, because it’s just cool to be someone totally different than who you are.
How did you get your started acting?
Mallory James Mahoney: I started when I was about four years old? I went to a play with my family, and I was watching all the actors up on stage, and I was like, “That looks fun. That’s what I wanna do.” And I told them that, and they didn’t believe me because I was really shy as a kid. They were like, “No, you’ll hate it.” And so, I kept asking them for about a year. I was asking them over and over, and finally when I was five, they were like, “Okay, we’ll put her in a local theater just to kind of scare her out of it.” They thought that once I was up on stage in front of people, I was going to hate it. About a week into the class, they get a call saying, “Hey, we want to give Mallory the solo.” And my mom’s like, “You’re talking about the wrong Mallory.” And she’s like, “No, it’s your daughter.” And that’s kind of where it all started. I fell in love with it.
Do you remember what the play was?
Mallory James Mahoney: I think it was a Stewart Little play.
Any thoughts about going back and doing more theater?
Mallory James Mahoney: Possibly, but I really do love film and TV, that’s kind of where I found my home.
And you have no time, really.
Mallory James Mahoney: Yeah, it makes it a little difficult with my schedule.
When you booked this show, how long had you been acting?
Mallory James Mahoney: I’ve been acting since I was seven years old… Or at least in film and TV, I’ve been acting since I was seven years old. And I booked it at 12.
Wow. Do you remember your audition?
Mallory James Mahoney: Well, I went in and I did a self-tape for the audition, and then they called me in for the screen test. I thought I bombed it. I thought I did terrible. I walked out of there and I was like, “There’s no way I’m getting this. It sucks, but it’s just how it’s gonna be.” And then next thing I know they called me and told me I booked the role.
It was actually for a totally different character. I met with the writers after on a Zoom call before Zoom even existed. They were talking to me and they were asking me like, “Well, do you know what pageants are?” And I was like, “Yeah.” They’re like, “Oh, so have you been in a pageant?” And I was like, “Well no, but I’m from Texas, so I know what they are.” They were asking me what talent I think I would have. And I was like, “Tap dancing.” And they’re like, “Oh, do you tap?” And I was like, “No, it just sounds fun.” [laughter] So that’s kind of how we worked together to create this character of Destiny.
And in season three, that was her talent. She did some tap dancing. But it was really cool, they kind of built it around me once I was cast, which was amazing.
With all the episodes of the show you’ve done, plus your other appearances on other things, do you still get nervous when you’re auditioning for something?
Mallory James Mahoney: I would say I get a little nervous, especially if it’s a role that I’m really excited for. I put a ton of pressure on myself because I’m a bit of a perfectionist.
I do stress myself out a little with auditions, but honestly afterward, I just kind of let it go. I’m like, “If they call me back and want to see me again, that would be great.” But I don’t ever really expect too much from it, because I think that’s just the best way to go through this business and not let your feelings not get hurt all the time.
What about like when you showed up to ‘On My Block’? Were you nervous that first day?
Mallory James Mahoney: A little bit. I actually knew the creator of ‘On My Block’. I had done a pilot with her before, so she kind of wrote the character for me, which was amazing.
I had watched the show for years because I loved it and I thought it was hilarious. And so, I guess, it was a little weird, but everyone was really nice there and they all welcomed me so much, which was amazing. I was pretty comfortable once I came on.
Do you have any advice for young people who want to be actors?
Mallory James Mahoney: I would say, don’t be afraid to hear no, because you’ll hear that a lot. Don’t stop going after your dreams because of that. Always keep working. Make sure you really love it, but just keep working at it and keep trying to grow.
What’s been your worst audition ever?
Mallory James Mahoney: My worst audition ever was actually my first audition that I did in LA. I came out here for a pilot season and I went into the audition. I was really sick when I did it. So, I didn’t sleep at all the night before. I feel like I messed up quite a few of those lines. I knew I did terrible. I was like, “This is awful.” I got really lucky because that project ended up being on the shelf for a couple of months, and then they brought it back and they asked if I wanted to send in an audition to them. I did and I actually ended up booking it off of that. I know if they just had that first audition to go on, no way would I have booked the part. It was not good.