If you grew up in the early 2000s, you’ll probably remember Lizzie McGuire, the Disney Channel show that made its star, Hilary Duff, into a teen idol. You might also recognize Carly Schroeder, the actress who played Lizzie’s little brother’s best friend on the series. And, if you do, you won’t believe what she’s up to now.
Schroeder was born in 1990 in Valparaiso, Indiana, to parents Paul and Kelli. And for their part, the couple had no intention of guiding their daughter into an acting career. Instead, in 1993 she went with her cousin to an acting audition. And it’s there that a casting director noticed the then-three-year-old Schroeder and wondered if she had an interest in working, too.
Meanwhile, Schroeder’s mom Kelli didn’t know how to answer at first. But, with further thought, she realized that her daughter’s work could pay for a college education in the future with the money she earned. So, Schroeder got the green light to begin working as a print model for big-name stores like Sears and Lands’ End, as well as for Chuck E. Cheese’s and other brands.
Furthermore, by the time Schroeder had turned five, director Bob Ebel had cast her in some television ads. Two years after that, the young actress then made the leap into an even bigger role. Indeed, she nabbed a part on the soap opera Port Charles, a spin-off of the long-running series, General Hospital.
On the show, which ran from 1997 to 2003, Schroeder played Serena Baldwin, the daughter of widower Scott Baldwin and his deceased wife, Dominique. Meanwhile, two years into the soap opera, the young actress’ acting had begun to receive notice. Indeed, she earned nominations for a Young Star Award in 1999, as well as for Young Artist Awards in 1999 and 2000.
During Port Charles’ run, Schroeder found work in movies and on other TV shows. For instance, in 2000 she played the part of Susan Olsen – also known as Cindy Brady – in the television movie Growing Up Brady. For it’s part, the film sought to show the behind-the-scenes lives of the actors on the 1970s sitcom.
Meanwhile, in the same year, Schroeder acted in two episodes of the hugely popular teen drama series, Dawson’s Creek. The next year, she starred in Virtually Casey, another television movie. Then, of course, came her role as Melina Bianco on the Disney Channel’s Lizzie McGuire.
Lizzie McGuire focused on its titular character, played by Hilary Duff, and an animated version of her who articulated her true feelings. Lizzie dreamed of becoming popular with the other students at school. But a lot of the storylines focused on her life at home with her parents and little brother, Matt.
And that’s where Schroeder’s character came in. Interestingly, she had initially signed on for a one-time role on Lizzie McGuire. However, that singular episode turned into a dozen appearances over the course of the Disney Channel show’s run as one of Matt’s best friends, Melina Bianco.
Over the course of the show, Schroeder’s character evolves with the rest of the show’s storylines. At the start, Melina serves as Matt’s best friend who often tries to get him into trouble. Then, as the pair gets older, they start to realize that they both like each other as more than friends.
Schroeder’s role on the popular TV show earned her a part in the feature-film conclusion to the series, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, which premiered in 2003. Although the televised version of the show features Matt’s other best friend, Lanny Onasis, Melina is the only one of his buddies to appear in the movie.
When both Lizzie McGuire and Port Charles concluded in 2003, Schroeder’s career path was left wide open once more. After a featured role on an episode of the CBS detective drama, Cold Case, the young actress starred in the independent film Mean Creak the following year, alongside actors Josh Peck and Rory Culkin.
In the movie, Schroeder played the part of Millie, the girlfriend of Culkin’s character, Sam. Unbeknownst to her, Sam and his friends plan to teach the school bully a lesson – but it goes devastatingly awry. And the thriller earned glowing reviews for the entire cast. Indeed, they won the Humanitas Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Festival’s Special Distinction Award as the best ensemble cast.
Then came Schroeder’s role in the 2006 thriller Firewall, in which the legendary Harrison Ford played her father. The movie sees Ford’s character, Jack Stanfield, trying to save his family – including Schroeder’s character Sarah – from criminals who want him to wire them money from the bank at which he works.
The next year had Schroeder starring as the titular character in the movie Gracie, based on a childhood story from producer and fellow cast member, Elizabeth Shue. In the movie, Schroeder’s character loses her brother, then honors him by taking his spot on the all-boys soccer team at their school.
Meanwhile, in order to prepare to play a skilled soccer player, Schroeder embarked on a three-month training regiment. For its part, the grueling routine included general physical fitness and soccer techniques – as taught to her by professional athletes. And the movie earned mostly favorable reviews, with famed critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper giving the flick “two thumbs up.”
Once Gracie hit theaters, Schroeder’s next film began to garner critical attention. Eye of the Dolphin featured her as Alyssa, a teen who loses her mother, so she goes to live with her estranged father in the Bahamas. And there, she realizes that she, like her dad, can easily build relationships with the undersea mammals.
Meanwhile, the Tribeca Film Festival, among many other similar events, selected Eye of the Dolphin as one of the movies they screened in 2007. And the well-received flick earned Schroeder accolades, too, including the Best Child Actor award from the 2007 International Family Film Festival.
Then as Schroeder grew up, she began to delve into different genres and roles. For instance, she played Sandy Channing in 2009’s Forget Me Not, a supernatural horror movie. Then, in 2012 she landed a role as one of the main character’s best friends in the romantic comedy Slightly Single in L.A.
In the midst of filming these and other flicks, Schroeder also graduateed from Thousand Oaks High School in 2009. After that, she went on to California Lutheran University. And there she earned her degree in communications and psychology and a minor in theater in 2014.
After graduating from college, Schroeder’s on-screen career started to slow down. She has three film credits post-grad – 2015’s Prep School, 2017’s One of Us, and 2018’s Ouija House. Indeed, she won the award for Best Actress in a Dramatic Feature at the Studio City International Film Festival for Prep School.
Schroeder also made a brief return to General Hospital – the series from which Port Charles derived – in 2017. Earlier that year, the actor who had played her grandfather on the show, Peter Hansen, had passed away, and Schroeder came back to the show in his honor.
Between then and early 2019, though, Schroeder remained relatively quiet on the acting front. Indeed, no new credits appeared on her resume after the last ones she earned in 2018. And after a year out of the spotlight, the actress finally broke her silence and revealed the surprising reason why she had disappeared.
On Instagram, Schroeder wrote in February 2019, “For 22 years, I’ve played dress up for a living. As an actress I’ve been kidnapped, gone blind, nearly eaten by lions and murdered on more than one occasion. I tormented Lizzie McGuire’s little brother on the Disney channel, was a dolphin trainer, the first female soccer player on an all boys team and Harrison Ford once rescued me during an intense home invasion.”
But, as Schroeder revealed in her Instagram post, she wanted to change course. She added, “That’s exciting and all, but in January I decided to raise my right hand and swear into the United States Army.” Indeed, with a college degree under her belt and high scores on her qualifying exams, Schroeder had gotten into Officer Candidate School.
Obviously, the decision would surprise her fans, so Schroeder went on to explain why she had made such a choice. The first of her three reasons, she said, was the fact that her education had “opened [her] eyes to global injustices.” More specifically, she learned just how much human trafficking went on within the U.S.
Her time in the Army would allow her to make a difference in the realm of human trafficking, Schroeder hoped. She went on, “I’ve written papers, spread awareness and as an Army Officer I intend to learn skills I can later apply when I’m on a team helping these victims.”
Similarly, Schroeder’s second reason for enlisting had to do with helping people. But, this time, she wanted to become a better spokesperson for veterans and their rights. She wrote, “Serving my country will give my voice more validity. I can better serve and advocate for veterans once I am a part of their community. The military is a family and family always has each others back.”
Finally, Schroeder said, her family had a strong military tradition. She added, “My brother is a Marine and my papa was a Green Beret… There is no way I am going to let the boys have all the fun.” She concluded by thanking her brothers, who had supported her decision to join the Army.
After Schroeder posted her message to Instagram, the comments flooded in – and many people lauded her courage. One user wrote, “Welcome to the Army… family. Use that loud voice of yours to tell the Army story and the stories of your soldiers.” Another person added, “… As someone also serving, you definitely have my respect and support.”
Schroeder’s Instagram post garnered plenty of attention from the media, too, and she helmed an interview with TMZ. Afterwards, she took to Instagram once again to share more about her plans. And in March 2019 she wrote that she would “head to basic training in April” of that year.
Then, Schroeder said that she was “looking forward to working hard and earning respect from [her] fellow soldiers,” even after her Army plans had become headline news. She added that she didn’t deserve as much credit for enlisting as all current and former soldiers did for their service.
Schroeder continued on Instagram, “Despite my story being publicized, I want to communicate that the veterans and currently enlisted personnel really deserve the recognition for their sacrifice and service. I am proud to become a part of your family.” Finally, she reiterated that her enlistment would fulfill her initial intention to make a difference in the world.
“I have set high goals for myself,” Schroeder wrote. “I am determined to make a difference and help others [and] I have had a lot of people tell me that one person can’t make a difference, but at the very least would she try.” And she would have plenty of time to do so. Indeed, in a later Instagram post, she shared that she had signed an eight-year contract with the Army.
Meanwhile, Schroeder wasn’t the only Lizzie McGuire cast member to change course after the hit show stopped filming. Take as an example Adam Lamberg, the actor who starred as Lizzie’s best friend, David “Gordo” Gordon. He, too, quit acting, although he made his exit from Hollywood long before Schroeder did.
In 2008 Lamberg earned his bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of California, Berkeley. He then spent two years studying for his masters in public administration from Baruch College. Bustle wrote in 2014 that Lamberg had then gone on to work for the Irish Arts Center in New York City as a developmental associate.
But Lamberg shared via Tumblr that he struggled to make the transition from the big screen back to real life. He admitted to an inquisitive fan on the site, “I finished college and figured all I really knew was acting and gave it a go after a long layoff. After a couple of early highs, things have gotten tough and now I’m probably somewhere between the denial stage and the acceptance stage as to whether I still can/want to do this with my life.”
Meanwhile, Lalaine Vergara-Paras, the actress who played Lizzie McGuire’s other best friend, Miranda, also disappeared from the spotlight shortly after the show ended. She acted in two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2003, and starred in the movie Easy A. Since 2015, though, she has had no film or TV credits on her resume.
Of course, some of the stars of Lizzie McGuire have, indeed, continued to successfully pursue their acting careers. For her part, Hilary Duff cemented her teen idol status in movies like A Cinderella Story and Raise Your Voice. Now, she stars on television once again on TV Land’s Younger.
Still, Duff seems to appreciate where she got her start – and the actors with whom she shared the screen. Fourteen years after Lizzie McGuire premiered, Jake Thomas, the actor who played the titular character’s little brother, Matt, shared a photo of himself, Duff and Lalaine having a smiley reunion. Indeed, for them and for Schroeder, the future can hold just about anything.