A Texas teenager who's being dubbed one of the next big stars on Nickelodeon TV is also stepping into a role as a diabetes advocate, based on her eight years of living with type 1.
In just the past few years, 16-year-old Brec Bassinger (@BrecBassinger) has starred in The Goldbergs, Bella and the Bulldogs and Liar Liar Vampire. She now even appears on billboards on Sunset Boulevard and in Times Square!
We were delighted to have the chance to chat with Brec (and her mom), about her personal D-story, how she got her start as a competitive child pageant star and cheerleader, and even how diabetes could be weaved into some of her acting roles if that's what producers might want.
We even talked Nick Jonas, the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) and some Super Bowl predictions for this weekend's big football game...
An Interview with Teen Actress Brec Bassinger
DM) First off, Brec, tell us your diabetes story...?
BB) I was diagnosed almost exactly eight years ago when I was 8, and my diagnosis anniversary was Jan. 22. I’m the only one from any generation in my family who's ever had type 1 diabetes.
Actually, I was very blessed that my grandma, mom and I had taken a trip at that time, so it was just us three together in a hotel room. My mom immediately knew something was wrong and I wasn’t acting like myself – I was drinking so much water, I’d lost a lot of weight very quickly, and I was not a very moody child so that was very unlike me. She got online and everything pointed to symptoms of type 1 diabetes. So we went into the doctor and she pretty much knew what the result was going to be.
Of course, I did not understand it all and didn’t know what diabetes was. For some weird reason, I always thought diabetes was a pill that helped you relieve gas. I don’t know why, but that’s what my 8-year-old mind thought it was.
Unfortunately, I was in the hospital for five days. And my family was and has always been very supportive, telling me I can do everything I could do before and that diabetes won’t stop me.
What tools do you use for diabetes management?
I use an insulin pen. I have never done the pump. There’s always been something that has kind of turned me off (about pumping), so I’ve leaned toward injections. I’m sure at some point in my life I will try it. I like to hear people’s opinions on both.
You just celebrated your eight-year “diaversary,” did you do anything special?
We normally go out to eat. When I was younger, I’d have a very “unhealthy” meal and people would laugh that I was eating such an unhealthy meal with diabetes, and I said, “Exactly!” I think it’s important that we can sometimes go out and eat a dessert -- especially being this age being able to do that.
Let’s talk about your performance career – you actually started out very young, before being diagnosed with T1D, right?
Yeah, I was born and raised in Texas, in a small town west of Fort Worth. I live with my parents and two older brothers. I started doing pageants when I was just 3 years old. And ironically, later on it was actually during that trip (when I got diagnosed) with my grandma and mom for a pageant that one of the judges who was a film director saw me and asked me to be in one of his short films. I came out to California and did that, and loved it. I instantly knew that being an actress is something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I took some acting classes, and have been fortunate enough to find a career in it!
That was my very first time on-set ever, and I was so nervous. But George Segal, who plays the grandpa on The Goldbergs, is such a doll and took me under his wing and really helped me figure out what to do. I played Zoe, a young waitress in the local diner that Adam had a crush on. It was a great experience and I had so much fun.
We just finished our second season of Bella and the Bulldogs this past December, and haven’t found out about a third, but we’re sending good vibes to the universe because we’re all really hoping for season 3. It’s about a girl who was a cheerleader who ended up becoming a part of the football team at a Texas school, which is pretty cool because I’m from Texas and I got to play a Texan. It was literally the best experience ever.
And I’m so excited about the billboards! I texted my dad about the second billboard in Times Square, after the first one was up for a couple of weeks. He had told me it was a "once in a lifetime thing, not twice in a lifetime,” but that happened twice in the same year. I never could have dreamed of that. I saw the Bella and the Bulldogs one in person and that was really exciting!
Have you ever talked to the show producers about weaving T1 diabetes into a storyline?
Not for Bella and the Bulldogs, we haven’t talked about that. But I am working on a film project now, and that’s been brought up. What they talked about was making it come up casually, while I’m sitting at the lunch table as part of a conversation. I thought that was pretty cool because it doesn't have to be the storyline of the whole show, since it's not something that controls our whole lives, but is just an everyday nuisance. To show it’s just something that comes up naturally and isn’t something you have to completely focus on, I think that would be a great approach and message! All of the people with diabetes would notice it, but many people watching without any diabetes connection might not notice it at all.
Did you ever have any issues with low blood sugar on set, especially during cheerleading and football scenes?
Actually, almost no one on set for Bella and the Bulldogs knew I have type 1 until this past October, when I did the JDRF Walk and asked everyone to go. It had been a year-and-a-half, and everyone was like, “You never mentioned that you have diabetes!”
I actually think that’s so cool, that we can live with this and it’s not something we have to show the world if we don’t want to.
But yes, absolutely, I’ve gone Low on set. This one time my blood sugar went low while we were filming a football game. When you’re still in school between ages 16-18, you can only work two-and-a-half hours at a time by law, so we were coming down to the last 30 minutes of the day before all the minors had to go. My blood sugar went so low! They ran Snackwell cookies out to me, and I’d have to eat them between takes and then sprint down the football field. It was very dramatic. It always happens at the worst possible times, but luckily everything ended up perfectly.
OK, on football – any Super Bowl predictions?
Well, I’m a Texas girl, it’s not the Cowboys… So I’m kind of in between. I do kind of like the Panthers, because the Seattle Seahawks are my second-favorite team and the Panthers beat them, and so they’d be able to say, “Yeah, we lost to the winning Super Bowl team.” But I’m also a Peyton (Manning) fan and think he’s such a stellar guy… so there’s that. I don’t know. That’s kind of my hopeful prediction for now, but I want to do a little more research because I like to know what I’m talking about. Either way, it'll be a good game to watch and Super Bowl commercials are always fun to watch too.
What diabetes organization or advocacy work have you been part of?
The first year I was diagnosed, I got involved in the JDRF Walk and we raised a lot of money. Then I started traveling for competitive cheer competitions, so it never worked out that I could actually go and be a part of the walk. But now that I’m back, I can do that again and it’s nice because this is such a supportive community.
I did the JDRF Walk for a Cure again last Fall, and for Diabetes Awareness Month in November I was involved in the JDRF's T1D Looks Like Me campaign. They did great with that campaign, and it was a lot of fun.
In late January, I just became an ambassador for JDRF and I was so so so excited!
It has only been JDRF so far. But I am hoping to expand that and get more involved now that I have more time.
Oh, Nick Jonas! We actually were both at the Kid’s Choice Awards last year, so I was next to him a hundred bazillion times and could have reached out and touched him, and I never actually got to speak to him!
But I saw his insulin pump in his back pocket, and I was like “Oh My Gosh, it’s true, he really is diabetic!” I kind of fan-girled about that. So no, I haven’t gotten the chance to talk with him yet, but I have been in the same room as him. I’m not too worried; I’m sure we’ll have to talk about this when an opportunity comes up.
Any message you'd like to pass on to the Diabetes Community?
Something I always like to say, is that whenever I meet another diabetic I always feel an instant connection. So whenever they meet another person with diabetes, be really supportive!
Actually, I just went on a cruise about a month ago and met another diabetic there. So now we always text each other our blood sugar numbers and diabetes issues we’re dealing with. I think it’s really important to find a diabetes friend or community, and take advantage of that. It really helps to know that other people are going through the same struggles and thinking about diabetes like you are.
I really like the mantra: You Are Not Alone.
Thanks so much, Brec. We're looking forward to seeing where you go from here, both in show business and the diabetes community!