On a rainy februaryafternoon, Bella Thorne is barefoot in her Los Angeles apartment, wearing leggings and a T-shirt, and sporting her signature Smurf-blue hair. She puffs on a joint as she glides through her home, the style of which could be described as "Willy Wonka goes to Burning Man." LEDs line the stairway in the high-ceilinged foyer, turning the steps into an ascending rainbow. A transparent glass closet sits underneath the stairwell, crammed full of oversize teddy bears.
"I was away, and my sister did this for me for when I got home," Thorne says, pointing to her new companions. "Isn't that so sweet?"
Don't be fooled by the teddies. Beneath Thorne's playful, neon exterior is a precocious, audacious overachiever with a knack for getting the world's attention. At 19, the former Disney Channel starlet has already become a tabloid fixture, thanks to her nipple piercing, love triangles, and revelation of her bisexuality, all of which she broadcast to her 9.9 million Facebook fans, 6.6 million Twitter followers, and 14.9 million Instagram followers.
All the while, Thorne has been fiercely piloting her career. She knew the leap from her Disney sitcom Shake It Up to more mature projects would be difficult, so in 2014 she took matters into her own hands and optioned Famous in Love, a YA novel about a college student who auditions for a Hollywood blockbuster and miraculously lands the part. The story resonated with her.
"Me and my manager were like, 'Let's make this a show,' " says Thorne. "[Pretty Little Liars showrunner] Marlene King wrote an amazing pilot, and we pitched it to nine different networks."
The resulting series, which premiers April 18 on Freeform, is a frothy delight: equal parts Tinseltown wish fulfillment and backstabbing soap opera. But if Thorne can relate to the protagonist's sudden success, her own path to stardom has been much harder. She was born in Pembroke Pines, Fla., where she and her three older siblings all dreamed of becoming actors; when Thorne was 9, her family relocated to L.A. to pursue those dreams full time. Then, in 2007, her father died in a motorcycle accident. "It was hard, especially for our mom, a single parent raising four kids with no money," Thorne says. "We were working all the time, trying to make it happen."
Three years later Thorne finally got her big break, scoring the lead in Shake It Up. She never envisioned herself as a Disney princess but couldn't say no to the opportunity.
"We needed to live," she says, "and this show was gonna help us." She describes her stint in the House of Mouse as a blessing and a curse. As her fan base grew to epic proportions, execs began micromanaging every detail of her personal life.
Forced into the Disney mold, she had an identity crisis. "I was never that proper, sweet girl, but I was so scared to be myself in any way," she recalls. "I became this person I didn't know. Finally, when I got off the channel and started going through my own shit, I got to a point of, 'OK, I know who I am now.' "
Thorne has since developed a reputation as an unapologetic wild child, she sees her lack of inhibition as a sign of authenticity. When a fan asked the actress via Twitter last year if she was bisexual, she responded with a simple "yes" and promptly broke the Internet. "I didn't think it'd be that big of a deal," Thorne says, "but of course my publicist calls me right after, and she's like, "You can't just go around saying that!' And I'm like, 'Why can't you?' It made me even more like, 'Fuck you guys, I'm totally bisexual!' I think it's about time people start stepping into the spotlight with the truth of who they are."
Her candor hasn't hurt her prospects. Thorne has seven films due out this year, including Midnight Sun, an adolescent drama co-starring Patrick Schwarzenegger, and The Babysitter, a Netflix horror comedy with Thorne in the satanic title role. She also finds time to write a blog.
But it's a dance class she recently taught at L.A.'s Millennium Dance Complex that excites her most. "When you walk into a party in Hollywood, you feel the stuck-up noses," Thorne says. "So it was nice to be in a room filled with people with genuine spirits ready to have a fucking dope-ass time."
Bella Thorne's new TV show, Famous in Love, premieres April 18 on Freeform. For more information, click here.
Styling: Dani Michelle
Hair: Aviva at Starworks Group
Makeup: Tonya Brewer at Dew Beauty
Like what you see here? Subscribe and be the first to receive the latest issue of Out. Subscribe to print here and receive a complimentary digital subscription.