Andrea Lewis on Hilary Duff ‘Cadet Kelly’ Movie Being Queer Coded 5

Andrea Lewis is looking back on starring alongside Hilary Duff in the Disney Channel Original Movie Cadet Kelly and the film’s newfound resonance.

In the 2002 film, Duff portrays Kelly Collins, who is forced by her new stepfather to enroll in the George Washington Military School as a means of teaching her discipline. While she struggles to adjust to the new environment and has a rival in her commanding officer (Christy Carlson Romano), Duff’s Kelly befriends Carla (Lewis).

When reflecting on the role in the beloved Disney film, Lewis said she was “very excited” for the project.

“I loved Disney Channel, loved Even Stevens, loved Lizzie McGuire … I was a [The] Famous Jett Jackson fanatic. I loved the content,” she told People magazine. “So when the movie came in — and I guess this is me revealing something about myself — because I was an actor as a kid, I would more so look at the basics. It was like, ‘Oh, movie or series,’ and you’d be like, ‘Oh, yay, OK.’ ”

She added, “And then you’d be like, ‘Do I like this character at all?’ [I] liked the character, thought she was fun, but like I said, I didn’t process what it was, who was in it, nothing of the sort.”

When she saw already Disney darlings Duff and Carlson Romano walk into the read-through, she realized the project was “kind of a big deal.” The actress, who also starred in Canada’s teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation, described the experience as “probably one of my most fun shoots I’d ever had — still to this day.”

She also praised her former co-star Duff and Duff’s mother: “Hilary was great. Her and her mother were so, they were very influential for my mom and me. Hilary’s mom is who encouraged us to come to L.A. and encouraged us to pursue certain things, and just to really stand on stuff.”

She added, “Hilary was the first person I had met who had, at the time, a 360 deal. She had a record deal, she also was going to be doing a movie, and she also had a series. I never heard of that. So I think in many ways, meeting Hilary when I was so young was very aspirational. You got to see somebody doing their career at a larger level.”

With the film now being over 20 years old, Lewis said she’s still recognized for the film. “I did not expect that part of it or even the magnitude of people’s excitement for the film. To be recognized still so frequently for Cadet Kelly shocks me very much all the time,” she said.

She also addressed the film being considered “queer coded,” something Duff and Carlson Romano have also discussed.

“Something I discovered only as an adult about Cadet Kelly is that it’s like a coming out movie for people. I would never, in all my years, have looked at that movie like that, seen it like that, but I discovered that during the pandemic, that it was this big coming out movie for people,” she said. “Because I know when we were shooting, it wasn’t a thought. And now looking back, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, wait, we paint her hair in a rainbow. There’s all this tension. Yes, it was a queer movie! Did somebody know that?’”

In a 2022 Cosmopolitan interview, Duff said the film being “queer coded” was brought to her attention by her How I Met Your Father costar Tien Tran.

“She was like, ‘Oh my God. It is a moment in the queer community,’” Duff said of Tran. “All that close-talking with Jennifer. I didn’t know that. But if it helped anybody, I hope so.”

Meanwhile, Carlson Romano reflected on the discourse on her YouTube Channel: “What I find interesting about the interpretation of the relationship between Cadet Kelly and Captain Stone is that there is a narrative that is in the culture right now that people are saying maybe they were in love, maybe there was an undercurrent of tension between the two girls.”

She added, “It really helped a lot of girls identify their sexuality. The military has traditionally been strict about that stuff and at the time that the movie came out we were not talking about that stuff. This character, Captain Stone, was the sexual awakening for a lot of the girls that felt that way at that age. I had a part in that! That’s crazy, I never even thought about that. I’m very flattered.”

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