If you grew up in the early 2000s, chances are you’ll remember Lizzie McGuire, the Disney Channel show that made Hilary Duff into a teen idol. However, you may also recognize Carly Schroeder as the actress who played Melina Bianco – the mischievous pal of Lizzie’s little brother. And if you do, you won’t believe what she’s up to now.
After Schroeder entered the world in 1990 in Valparaiso, Indiana, her parents, Paul and Kelli, had no intention of guiding her onto a showbiz path. In fact, Schroeder stumbled upon the career choice quite by chance when she tagged along to one of her cousin’s auditions in 1993. And there, the then-three-year-old caught the eye of a casting director.
Apparently, Schroeder’s mom, Kelli, wasn’t sure about the idea of putting her child into the spotlight. But with further thought, she reportedly realized that the entertainment industry might help pay for things such as college admission. And so, Schroeder got the green light to begin working as a model for big-name stores such as Sears, Lands’ End and Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Then, at around five years old, Schroeder began appearing in television ads. And two years later, the young girl made the leap into acting. Indeed, she nabbed a part on the soap opera Port Charles, which was a spin-off of the long-running series General Hospital.
In Port Charles, which ran from 1997 to 2003, Schroeder plays Serena Baldwin, who is the daughter of Scott Baldwin and his deceased wife. And her portrayal of the character certainly turned some heads in the industry. In fact, the young actress earned a nomination for a YoungStar Award in 1999 and two Young Artist Award nods in 1999 and 2000.
Meanwhile, Schroeder also found work in films and other TV shows during Port Charles’ run. In 2000, for instance, she portrayed the actress Susan Olsen – also known as Cindy Brady – in Growing Up Brady. The made-for-TV movie focuses on the behind-the-scenes lives of the stars on the 1970s sitcom The Brady Bunch.
That same same year, Schroeder appeared in two episodes of the hugely popular teen drama series Dawson’s Creek. And in 2001 she starred in Virtually Casey – another television movie. Then, of course, came arguably her most iconic role: Melina Bianco in the Disney Channel’s Lizzie McGuire.
Lizzie McGuire focuses on its titular character – played by Hilary Duff – and an animated version of her who articulates her true feelings. Lizzie dreams of becoming popular with the other students at school. But a lot of the storylines focus on her life at home with her parents and her little brother, Matt.
And this is where Schroeder’s character, Melina, comes in. Interestingly, the actress initially signed on for a one-time role on Lizzie McGuire. But this singular episode turned into a dozen appearances over the course of the Disney Channel show’s two-year run as one of Matt’s closest pals.
Over the course of the show, we see Melina evolve along with the rest of the characters. At first, you see, she serves simply as Matt’s friend who is determined to get him into mischief. However, as the pair get older, they start to realize that they both have deeper feelings for each other.
After the popular TV show came to an end in 2003, Schroeder earned a part in the feature-film spin-off, The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Although the television series features Matt’s other friend, Lanny Onasis, Melina is the only one of his buddies to appear on the big screen.
However, after the release of The Lizzie McGuire Movie and the final season of Port Charles, Schroeder’s career certainly didn’t slow down. The young actress nabbed a role in an episode of the CBS detective drama Cold Case, for instance, before returning to the big screen in independent film Mean Creak the following year. And the coming-of-age movie gave Schroeder the chance to work alongside actors Josh Peck and Rory Culkin.
In Mean Creak, Schroeder plays the part of Millie, who is the girlfriend of Culkin’s character, Sam. And unbeknownst to Millie, Sam and his friends plan to teach the school bully a lesson – but it goes devastatingly awry. The thriller certainly impressed critics, picking up several accolades and nominations. For instance, the movie won the Humanitas Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and an Independent Spirit Festival Award for the best ensemble cast.
Then, in 2006, came Schroeder’s appearance in thriller Firewall, where the legendary Harrison Ford plays 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 following year saw Schroeder starring as the titular character in Gracie – a movie based on a childhood story from producer and cast member Elizabeth Shue. In Davis Guggenheim’s sports drama, Schroeder’s character loses her brother and decides to honor him by taking his spot on the all-boys soccer team at their school.
And in order to prepare to play a skilled ball player, Schroeder embarked on a three-month training regiment. The grueling routine included learning general physical fitness and soccer techniques from professional sportsmen. Upon release, Gracie earned mostly favorable reviews, with famed critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper giving the flick “two thumbs up.”
Meanwhile, another movie was also attracting attention for Schroeder. 2007’s Eye of the Dolphin sees her flex her acting muscles as Alyssa – a teen who goes to live with her estranged father in the Bahamas after the death of her mom. And there, Alyssa realizes that she possess her dad’s unique ability to talk to dolphins.
The 2007 Tribeca Film Festival – among other similar events – selected Eye of the Dolphin as one of their movies to screen that year. And the well-received flick earned Schroeder accolades, too, including the Best Child Actor award at the International Family Film Festival.
Then, as Schroeder got older, she began to explore different genres and roles. In 2009, for instance, she played Sandy Channing in supernatural horror movie Forget Me Not. And three years later, she landed a role as one of the main character’s best friends in romantic comedy Slightly Single in L.A.
Off-camera, meanwhile, Schroeder also had to keep up with her education. And so, in the midst of the star’s various acting projects, she graduated from Thousand Oaks High School in 2009. She subsequently went to California Lutheran University, too, where she earned a degree in communications and psychology with a minor in theater.
After leaving college behind, however, Schroeder’s acting career started to slow down. In fact, she has three just post-grad film credits: 2015’s Prep School, 2017’s One of Us and 2018’s Ouija House. The young star nevertheless managed to impress, with the former movie earning her an award for Best Actress in a Dramatic Feature at the Studio City International Film Festival.
What’s more, in 2017 Schroeder also reprised her role as Serena Baldwin – this time, in General Hospital, the series from which Port Charles derived. Earlier that year, you see, the actor who had played her grandfather on the show, Peter Hansen, had passed away. And so, Schroeder came back to the show in his honor.
However, between then and early 2019, however, Schroeder remained relatively quiet on the acting front. No more credits seem to show up on her resume following her brief stint on General Hospital, in fact. But after a year away from the spotlight, the actress finally broke her silence – and revealed the surprising reason why she had disappeared.
“For 22 years, I’ve played dress up for a living,” Schroeder wrote on Instagram in February 2019. “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.”
Yes, it certainly is an impressive résumé. It seems, however, that Schroeder wanted to change course – and in quite a dramatic way, no less. She added, “That’s exciting and all, but in January I decided to raise my right hand and swear into the United States Army.” That’s right: with a college degree under her belt and high scores on her qualifying exams, Schroeder made it into Officer Candidate School.
It’s fair to assume that such a wild career move would come as a surprise to Schroeder’s fans. And so, she went on to explain why she had made the choice. The first of her three reasons, she said, was the fact that her education had “opened [her] eyes to global injustices.” More specifically, Schroeder had learned just how much human trafficking was going on within the U.S.
And Schroeder’s time in the Army will hopefully allow her to make a difference in this particular area of activism. Schroeder hoped. She explained on Instagram, “I’ve written papers [and] 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 also had to do with helping people: to become a better spokesperson for veterans and their rights. The actress 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 other’s backs.”
Finally, Schroeder explained that her family has a strong military tradition.“My brother is a Marine, and my papa was a Green Beret,” she added. “There is no way I am going to let the boys have all the fun.” The star concluded the Instagram post by thanking her brothers, who she said 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, for instance, wrote, “Welcome to the Army family. Use that loud voice of yours to tell the Army story and the stories of your soldiers.” Meanwhile, another person commented, “As someone also serving, you definitely have my respect and support.”
What’s more, Schroeder’s Instagram post garnered plenty of attention from the media, too, even landing her an interview with TMZ. Then, in March 2019, she took to the social media site again to share more about her plans, revealing that she’d be starting her training in April.
Plus, Schroeder added, “I am looking forward to working hard and earning respect from my fellow soldiers.” And although the actress’ Army plans became headline news, she insisted that she didn’t deserve any more credit for enlisting than non-celebrity soldiers do.
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.” And finally, the star reiterated that her enlistment would fulfill her initial selfless intentions.
“I have set high goals for myself,” Schroeder wrote. “I am determined to make a difference and help others. I have had a lot of people tell me that one person can’t make a difference, but at the very least we should try.” And Schroeder would certainly have plenty of time to do so. In a later Instagram post, you see, the actress revealed that she had signed an eight-year contract with the Army.
Meanwhile, Schroeder isn’t the only Lizzie McGuire cast member to change career path after the hit show stopped filming. Take as an example Adam Lamberg – the actor who starred as Lizzie’s best friend, David “Gordo” Gordon. Lamberg, 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. And Bustle wrote in 2014 that Lamberg had subsequently gone on to work for the Irish Arts Center in New York City as a developmental associate.
However, Lamberg shared via Tumblr that he had 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 [or] want to do this with my life.”
Meanwhile, Lalaine Vergara-Paras, who portrays Lizzie McGuire’s other best friend, Miranda, also seemed to disappear from the spotlight shortly after the show ended. She acted in two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2003 and starred in the 2010 movie Easy A. Since 2015, though, Vergara-Paras apparently 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. Hilary Duff, for one, cemented her teen idol status in movies like A Cinderella Story and Raise Your Voice. And now, she making her mark on the small screen once again in TV Land’s Younger.
Despite Duff’s success, however, she still seems to appreciate where she got her start – and the actors with whom she shared the experience. For instance, 14 years after Lizzie McGuire premiered, Jake Thomas, who played the titular character’s little brother, Matt, shared a photo of himself, Duff and Lalaine having a smiley reunion. It looks as though for Schroeder and the rest of the Lizzie McGuire crew, then, that the future can hold just about anything.