EXCLUSIVE! We're spending the holidays with Shay Rudolph
Shay Rudolph wears her heart on her sleeve—or, perhaps more accurately, on her bedroom walls. "These have been up for a while. I actually really want to redo it and get something fresh," she says of the colorful assortment of mementos hanging up behind her, like posters of her fave movies (Lady Bird and The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Polaroids of Shay with her besties (hi, Malia Baker, Mckenna Grace and Momona Tamada). And then there are the results of a hardcore quarantine crafting phase. "All over TikTok, everybody was making little hanging butterflies, and I was like, 'That's really cute, I wanna do that!'"
Shay's walls may have stayed constant for a couple years, but the same can't be said for the rest of her life. After a star turn in The Baby-Sitters Club on Netflix (she played the stylish and sophisticated Stacey McGill in the series based on the beloved books), she's now a podcast co-host and producer (take a listen to The Smart Girl's Podcast) and has a movie coming up, too.
Yep, the 17-year-old San Diego native is keeping her schedule jam-packed—and in the most surprising ways. While she always aimed to act (she got her first big break in 2018 with a recurring guest role on the TV show Lethal Weapon), Shay never saw podcasting or producing on her career bingo card. But when The Baby-Sitters Club was abruptly canceled last March after just two seasons, Shay opened herself up to new opportunities.
Enter The Smart Girl's Podcast. "It's been a career transition, but in a very natural way that feels right for me and where I am in my life right now," she says of the hosting gig, which she shares with 48-year-old cultural expert Jess Weiner. "I'm finally able to step into projects and contribute in a way that I didn't really feel comfortable doing before."
Shay describes the podcast as "a deep dive into what growing up is like and all the struggles that come with it." Addressing key topics like school, crushes and friendship drama, Weiner (along with experts they bring on) shares experience and wisdom, while Shay offers the honest perspective of someone going through it all in real time.
"It's helped me find my voice—and realize that my voice is worthy of being shared," she says, adding that part of her producing job is to contribute ideas that impact her peers. "Reading the comments of the people who've listened and seeing the impact the podcast has had on them, I feel like I can help people go through things in their life while I'm also going through those same things. Just having them know that they're not alone—that's really important."
But that's not to say Shay's giving up on acting. Last spring, after she got the news about The Baby-Sitters Club, she was cast in the comedy film The Present alongside Isla Fisher and Greg Kinnear. The movie (which is now in post-production) follows the story of a boy who uses a time-warping family heirloom to try to prevent his parents from separating. Shay plays Emma, the boy's sister, who works with him to try to bring their mom and dad back together again before it's too late.
While her character in The Present might be dealing with relationship drama, things on the romance front are rock-solid for Shay IRL. She's got an adorable BF named Charlie (who occasionally pops up in her TikTok vids and Instagram posts—check out their dreamy prom and homecoming pics) and isn't afraid to admit she took the initiative after they hung out as friends for a bit.
"I made plans for our first date. I didn't really wait for him to make the first move," she says. (They got boba together after school and spent hours talking, in case you were wondering.) "Normally, people will be like, 'Oh, wait for the guy to make the first move,' but I'm the type of person where I'm like, 'If you want it, just do it!'"
Now, with winter break coming up, she's looking forward to enjoying the full range of festivities with Charlie. "I've never been ice skating, so I really want to go with him," she says, proceeding to list all the other activities she has planned for the two of them: "make gingerbread houses, watch Christmas movies, bake cookies...al those very typical holiday things that I don't usually do."
As for what she'll be getting Charlie for Christmas? "I might need some advice for this one!" she says, laughing. Her general gifting rule: "Try to get something that's personal" to your shared bond. "Charlie and I build a lot of Legos together, so I've gotten him Legos as presents. We have these little Lego keychains where they connect and make a heart." (Relationship goals much?)
Although Shay's contemplating that perfect BF present, it's clear she's become quite the pro at dishing out advice on a wide array of other topics (so much so that The Smart Girl's Podcast has already been renewed for a new season in 2023). Even her 19-year-old sister Rhys, a college student, listens up when Shay offers guidance.
"She'll call me up and start talking about what's going on in her life, and I'll kinda offer my unsolicited advice...even though I know that she's indirectly asking for it," says Shay. "It's funny because I've always looked up to her in that very 'little sister' sense. I used to always turn to her for friend or crush advice."
Despite the years (and now, with Rhys away at school, the miles) between them, the two sisters remain tight. "Anytime we get a chance to relax and literally do nothing, it's the best. Just sitting on the same bed, watching TV, playing games on our phones and just sitting next to each other in silence and comfort—I think that's the nicest thing ever."
Shay is used to maintaining long-distance connections. Besides keeping up with Rhys, "a lot of my friends live far away right now" (like her Baby-Sitters Club co-stars Malia and Momona) "so a lot of things have to happen over FaceTime. Watching Netflix and staying on the phone all night long, like doing virtual sleepovers—those are always super fun."
But Shay's idea of the perfect friend hang? It's all about getting creative. "It's so cool to collaborate with somebody that's such a big part of your life," she says. "Even just doing a really small art project together is really fun, so hopefully I can do it again on a bigger level one day. My dream would be writing or directing a film with someone I know."
It's something that's on her mind a lot right now as she applies to colleges (her intended creative writing major will come in handy for the screenplays she hopes to draft one day). Her ultimate career goal? Starring in—and even creating—her own coming-of-age movie "with drama and comedy and sweet romance," she says. Bonus points if it's directed by Greta Gerwig ("I think her films are amazing, and I would love to work with her") or made by the production company A24 ("I've always, always, always wanted to be in one of their films").
For now, Shay is focused on seeing out 2022 in style. First things first: Wearing a sparkly outfit on New Year's Eve (we may have given her a few ideas at this photo shoot) and indulging in her family's long-running year-end tradition of feasting on their favorite foods (her picks this year = spaghetti and watermelon) and just spending time with one another.
Shay's not sure just what the new year will bring, but if things continue in the way they're going, one thing's certain: She's going to have a lot of new memories—and accomplishments—to hang on her wall in 2023.
Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that this story originally ran in our December/January 2023 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE.
Interview by Keely Weiss. Photographed by Mike Azria. Styled by Lo VonRumpf. Hair by George Fragkioudakis. Makeup by Sophia Hutch. Story edited for digital coverage by Kathleen O'Neill.
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