You probably know Jason Earles as Jackson Stewart, Miley Stewart’s goofy, girl-crazy older brother on Hannah Montana. But did you know Jason has been a theatre actor, including Shakespeare productions, since he was in elementary school? Or that he’s a middle child who battled ADHD when he was younger? IML caught the serious side of this very talented, very charming young star.
IML: Jackson is quite the character. How are you different from him, and how are you similar?
Jason: I think if there’s a party situation, Jackson and I would probably both be big attention-getters. We’re definitely attention-hogs that way. And we have a lot of the same sort of interests. He likes cars and video games and girls, and all that typical “guy” stuff. I’m probably a more serious student than Jackson. I don’t think that Jackson’s stupid by any stretch, but his priorities aren’t necessarily to strive for that 4.0 GPA. He probably could if he wanted to, but he’s got a lot of other things on his mind. I was always very conscientious and wanting to do really well in school.
IML: You and Miley make a great pair on screen. What’s your off-camera relationship like?
Jason: It’s like an extension of the show! We genuinely love each other like brother and sister. I love her dad. I really feel like I’ve been embraced by the whole Cyrus family. They’ve got a really big family and they’re all really, really cool. But we definitely have our moments where we bicker like brother and sister. And then we have days where if I hear somebody say anything negative about Miley, I’m the first to defend her, I’ll jump in there and look out for her. It really has grown into a close brother-sister relationship.
IML: Do you have any funny stories from the set?
Jason: Well, here’s one that’s sort of an extension of the brother-sister thing. Earlier this season we did an episode where we were stuck in Thor’s truck together, and we were probably shooting for five or six hours in this truck, in close confines. We were joking around and well…gassy stuff came up, if you know what I mean. And she bet me that I wouldn’t do it…so I did! Then a couple of weeks later, there was an episode where she was sleepwalking and I had to throw her over my shoulder and haul her up the stairs. So to get me back for the truck, as soon as I threw her over my shoulder…well, let’s just say she was strategically located to get me back!
IML: That’s a hilarious story! In real life, you’re the middle child of five siblings. What was that like?
Jason: Actually, I think Miley and I are both the middle child in our families. It seems like there are a lot of actors who were the classic middle “forgotten” child, so we really go out of our way to do stuff to get attention. For me, in that big family, the one thing I did that was different from the other kids and that was guaranteed to get me my own individual attention was be in plays. So a big family is great because you have all these built-in friends, but it is really hard to find your own identity and get your own attention unless you find something like that.
IML: How did you all deal with sibling rivalry?
Jason: A lot of fights. It was definitely one of those deals where we fought a lot amongst ourselves, but if anybody from the outside came in, then we would band together and defend one other. I have two older brothers and a younger brother and a younger sister. So the one I really felt bad for was my sister, because she was stuck in this group of four boys who were very rough and tumble, and she had to just deal with them. Now that we don’t see each other as much, we all get along great now.
IML: How did you get started in the biz?
Jason: I started doing plays way back in elementary school. The first thing I ever did was “Hansel & Gretel” in third grade, I played Hansel. My parents took time off work and came to school to watch, and I was like, “Oh, this is a great way to get some attention.” From that point on, any time I could get into summer stock or touring Shakespeare in the Park or community theatre or school plays, I would do as much of that stuff as I could. And then at one point I decided I was going to try it for a career, and moved to Los Angeles. It was weird because all of my experience had been stage, and TV is a totally different beast. Acting is acting, but the technical aspect is completely different. We have the benefit of a live audience on Fridays, and we usually shoot about half or two-thirds of an episode in front of them. We pre-tape other scenes on Thursdays. And you can really tell there’s a different energy on Fridays when we have the live audience laughing and going along on the ride with us.
IML: Do you feel like being involved in arts helped you with deal with stuff growing up?
Jason: Absolutely. I’m sort of a smaller guy. I come from a big family, always looking for attention. I was also ADHD growing up, which was sort of difficult to get a handle on. But that creative outlet, something where I could go and rehearse each afternoon for a couple of hours, gave me something to focus on and put my energy into. It teaches you so many important skills that help you get through a difficult experience like junior high and high school. That’s probably the most traumatic period of your life! And to have something creative to do like that…I think it’s almost essential. Whether it’s sports or music or theater or art.
IML: Can you tell us a little more about how ADHD challenged you when you were younger?
Jason: I was incredibly fortunate that my teachers were understanding and my mom was very involved with my school life and trying to keep me focused. So if I started to get a little amped up in class, it wasn’t like I was just immediately sent down to the principal’s office or put in time out. I had really good teachers who tried to give me more things to do. And my mom was really good about letting me do the theatre or play sports to give me outlets for that energy. She was always there and when I had to do homework, it’s not like she made me sit down for an hour. If 15 minutes was the longest I could focus, and I needed to run around for 5 minutes and come back, she was able to help me split that time up. I had teachers who would allow me to work on a test for 20 minutes and then if I felt myself getting spacey, they would let me stand up and walk in the back of the room a little bit, and then sit back down and continue the test. They were very understanding about that.
IML: What’s your advice for other kids with ADHD?
Jason: I think you just have to find things that you’re really interested in, whether it’s sports or theatre or reading or whatever, and try to teach yourself to focus on those things and participate in them. Eventually you learn how to control those hyperactive impulses. You learn that when you start to feel that way, you use little tricks. If you’re taking a test and you’re not allowed to get up, maybe you stop taking the test and you look around the room a little bit and stretch, move around in your chair and then go back. Just try to find the little tricks for yourself that allow you to focus on whatever it is that you have to do in life.
IML: Do you have a role model?
Jason: I have two, actually! My dad is probably my biggest role model. He’s everything that a man should be. He’s a great dad and a great husband. He works harder than any man I’ve ever seen. He lets me know that he’s proud of me. He’s just an incredible man and if I end up being half the man that he is, that would be a successful life. From a professional standpoint, I really look up to Michael J. Fox. I think he’s the same sort of “type” as me. He looks a little younger, he’s a little slighter of build, has a quirky, funny sense of humor, but there always seems like there’s a little bit more going on than what’s on the surface. I’ve loved everything that I ever saw him in, and the fact that he worked through his physical challenges with Parkinson’s disease and still be successful has really inspired me.
IML: Are you involved in a sport?
Jason: Right now I run quite a bit. Our schedule is so crazy that it’s hard to join a softball team or something like that. I love playing flag football and Ultimate Frisbee. Ultimate Frisbee is probably one of the best recreational sports that were ever invented! You don’t need that many people to play, just a Frisbee and a wide open space. It’s a great cardio workout. It’s very competitive. Any time I get a chance to play that, I do.
IML: What do you think you’ll be doing 10 years from now?
Jason: I hope that we’ve put a little bow on Hannah Montana and it ends up going down as one of the most successful family sitcoms of this time period. Hopefully we’ll do a Hannah Montana movie and it does real well. Ten years from now I could see myself doing network sitcoms, I think that’s a natural fit for me. To be the friend or the quirky guy in the office, to just do some sort of silly character. Again, if I could even have half the career that Michael J. Fox, bouncing back in forth between film and TV, I would be ecstatic with that!
IML: Well then…good luck, Jason! And thanks for talking to us!
Jason: Thank you, and you’re welcome!
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