A Disney Star Is Born
Being a teenager can be challenging enough, so imagine throwing a career and fame into the mix.
Such is the life that 16-year-old Ethan Wacker has come to know over the past few years. On Disney Channel, he plays affable, and at times — in his own words —dweebish Bernard “Bernie” Schotz in Bizaardvark, a comedy series. In real life, Ethan juggles time at home in ‘Āina Haina with the demands of a job in Los Angeles, schoolwork, keeping up with childhood friends and everything else in between.
To say Ethan is busy would be an understatement, but it’s a dream come true for the self-professed Disney Channel fan who seems to have struck the perfect balance.
“I’m in the middle of the pack, where I’m not famous, but some people know who I am,” he says. “So I get to go out in public and be normal, but I also get to brighten people’s days when I meet them. It’s really great.”
Now, local fans will get the chance to meet Ethan at Keiki in the Kitchen Oct. 28 at Hawai‘i Convention Center Rooftop. Presented by HMAA, the event is all part of this year’s Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival (see accompanying story on page 32).
“(I’m looking forward to) trying good food and meeting fans,” he says.
Ethan’s path to fame can only be described as kismet. It began about five years ago with a radio ad that asked, “Do you want to be on a Disney Channel show?” Those who were interested were invited to attend an ad call at a Waikīkī hotel.
From a young age, Ethan had entertained the idea of one day becoming an actor, so he asked his parents to take him. Naturally, they said no. But after wearing them down, he went and was turned on to someone in Los Angeles, who referred him to another contact and another and another.
Eventually, Ethan connected with an agent, and then went on countless auditions. “No” was a word he heard quite often.
“I got rejected from a hundred things before I booked one,” he says. “But I liked the process. It was fun. I got to improve and take notes and learn about the business.”
In fact, Ethan got pretty lucky, to hear his mom Eileen explain how things progressed.
There was a Pizza Hut commercial, an appearance onJimmy Kimmel Live!and voice acting forMiles From Tomorrowlandon Disney Junior — and it was that last gig that really got the ball rolling.
“(Disney) put him in two pilots, which is the first time since Selena Gomez, and he hit one of them,” says Eileen. “He’s very quiet about that.”
That one turned out to be Bizaardvark. Currently in its third season, Bizaardvark follows best friends Frankie Wong (Madison Hu) and Paige Olvera (Olivia Rodrigo) as they make videos to post on Vuuugle, a YouTube-like website. Bernie (played by Ethan) portrays their friend and eventual agent. All of the characters have their moments, but it’s Bernie who really seems to serve as comedic relief.
In some ways, Ethan can draw comparisons to his fictional self. They both, for example, never give up. But that’s where the similarities end. Ethan is athletic and Bernie is not. Bernie can sometimes be insecure, but the same can’t be said of the actor bringing him to life onscreen.
“I’m not insecure,” shares Ethan. “I’m pretty confident.”
There’s no word yet on a fourth season, but Ethan has his fingers crossed — and the experience so far has been one to remember.
“It opened my eyes to a whole new world,” he says. “I didn’t know how it worked, but the crew, the executives at Disney, the producers, they’re all such great people, and it really shows you how much goes into making a show.
“It’s given me appreciation,” he adds, “but I mean, I’m still a Disney Channel fan.”
Ethan’s gig with Disney Channel makes for quite the packed schedule. While he was filming the third season of Bizaardvark, for example, it meant he could only come home once every four to six weeks — time away from the beaches Ethan now realizes he has been spoiled with and Hawai‘i people he thinks are the nicest.
But shooting a TV show isn’t all Ethan has on his plate. Formerly a student at Punahou School, Ethan now takes courses online with Stanford Online High School (affiliated with Stanford University) and Connections Academy.
It hasn’t exactly been the easiest balancing act, especially with the number of AP courses he’s currently enrolled in, but Ethan insists it’s important. Regardless of where acting takes him, Ethan plans on going to college. And while his junior year of high school may have just begun, he has big plans. Right now, it entails majoring in business and minoring in pre-law before heading off to law school.
Still, that doesn’t mean he won’t dream. Among his favorite movies are Django Unchained, Lone Survivor and Saving Private
Ryan. He expertly lists them off with the names of each director, too — Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg happen to be at the top of his wish list of filmmakers to work with. So if the right opportunity one day presents itself, there’s no stopping Ethan. His current repertoire may primarily encompass comedy, but Ethan is fearless.
“I think I’m capable of doing it all because you got to think that you’re capable in order to be successful,” he says. “I think I’m capable. I believe with the right opportunities, I could do it.”
In the meantime, a good chunk of Ethan’s time is also spent giving back to the community. Whether it is reading to kindergarteners, participating in a charity walk or cleaning up beaches, he’s there. Finding ways to support the military is a cause he is particularly passionate about.
“Community is important,” says Ethan. “In places like Hawai‘i, it’s like a big community; everybody’s happier. With the military stuff, I just respect the sacrifice that they
make for me. It’s just huge what they do, and it’s super important and someone’s got to do it. It’s not the most glamorous job, and it comes with a lot of sacrifices, but they do it so everyone else doesn’t have to.”
All of it, he says would not be possible without those tuning in — and he’s always up for interacting with them.
“I love meeting the fans because they’re the reason that we’re even successful in the first place. They’re the ones who watch, so it’s super cool, super cool to meet them.”
To keep up with Ethan, find him on Instagram (@iamethanwacker).
Keiki in the Kitchen
There’s a lot to do at this year’s Keiki in the Kitchen, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at Hawai‘i Convention Center Rooftop — and according to Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival CEO and founder Denise Hayashi Yamaguchi, it’s the event’s most important attraction.
“It offers kids of all ages a chance to meet, talk story with and grab a photo with our 120-plus celebrity chefs who come for the festival,” she explains.
Big names to be on the lookout for include Roy Yamaguchi, Francois Pa-yard, Michelle Karr-Ueoka, Lee Anne Wong, Alan Wong and many others. Shaymus Alwin, Nyesha Arrington and Rory Herrmann, meanwhile, will serve as judges for the Localicious Recipe Contest, along with Top Chef Junior finalist Milo Fleming and MasterChef Junior contestant Sophia Stark.
Other attractions include food from local eateries – such as Big City Diner, Flour & Barley and Honolulu Burger Co. – games, activities, fitness challenges with chefs and a special screening of Ferdinand at 3:30 p.m. Food Network star Duff Goldman from Ace of Cakes will be leading a Halloween-themed cookie-decorating activity with the first 750 kids who show up.
Keiki also will get the chance to meet Disney Channel star Ethan Wacker. Mom Eileen, a children’s author, will be reading and signing copies of Red Penguin and the Missing Sushi, which tells the story of a group of animal friends as they prepare to celebrate the Moon Festival. Ethan will be on hand with sister Natalie to take pictures with fans.
New to the lineup this year is the Made in Hawai‘i Marketplace for Kids by Kids, a program of Hawai‘i Agricultural Foundation for which Yamaguchi also serves as executive director. Sponsored by Zippy’s, the marketplace will highlight locally made items by students in culinary and agriculture programs from 10 public high schools: Campbell, Farrington, Kalani, Leilehua, Mililani, Olomana, Radford, Roosevelt, Wai‘anae and Waipahu.
“It’s one thing to learn to cook, bake and make something, and it’s another thing to learn how to price, package and market those goods,” says Yamaguchi. “Working with high schools to teach the business side of food and farming opened up a whole new way for the festival to make a difference.”
Admission to Keiki in the Kitchen is $5, or free for HMAA members. For more information and details on other Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival events, visit hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com.