Kyla Pratt is one of the most recognizable faces and voices in the entertainment industry. From her beloved role as Penny Proud in Disney Channel’s The Proud Family to starring in the multi-sequel film series Dr. Dolittle, Pratt has made her mark in film and television history with no signs of stopping. With more recent projects including Fox’s Call Me Kat and Disney+’s The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, Pratt has continued to evolve as an actress.

Pratt keeps her youthful presence and an effervescent glow, resembling the days when she played spunky teen characters on the hit tv-sitcom, One On One, and the live-action animated comedy, Fat Albert. How does she do it? Simply put: “I drink water and mind my business,” Pratt, 36, tells ELLE Canada. She also credits staying moisturized from head to toe, exercising, spending time with her children, and saying “no,” as the major keys to achieving inner and outer beauty.

We chatted with Pratt about season two of The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, growing up in the spotlight, mental health and her relationship with the late Call Me Kat co-star, Leslie Jordan.

The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder returns February 1 on Disney+ for season two— how has the response been since the ending of season one?

The response has been amazing. There’s so many people who enjoyed the show the first time around who were excited about us coming back—and there were so many new fans of the show. Everyone is super excited that we were able to get this opportunity and a lot of them are a little frustrated because they’re like, ‘Where is season two?’ So a lot of what I get now is, ‘Hey, I love you guys…But can y’all hurry up.’

As you mentioned, everyone was super excited for the return of the show, especially one particular person…Queen Bey! I have to know, what was your reaction to seeing Beyoncé and her family dress up as the Proud’s for Halloween?

Oh, I was extremely excited. I’ve been a part of what you call the Beyhive probably since it was created. But, you know, Beyoncé, Destiny’s Child and Solange were a part of The Proud Family the first time around. I know she’s always been very interested in projects that are amazing for our culture, so I wasn’t surprised—but I was extremely excited.

What can viewers expect with the return of season two?

You can just expect us to be even louder, prouder [and] just staying our authentic selves. We got a lot of stuff going on with Suga Mama and Penny being a little closer. That’s a little scary because Penny [has] a mouth on her and Suga Mama [doesn’t play with] that. We [also] have a lot of the same things that we’ve been bringing [up in previous seasons], but [also] different types of stories. What’s amazing about our show is that we’ve never shied away from any topic, any subject and we are dedicated to representation.

You’re also in another hit comedy series, Call Me Kat. Season three of the show returned in fall and I know you all just lost a fellow cast member and friend, Leslie Jordan. How are you and the rest of the cast coping right now?

It’s been extremely difficult, especially because we are all so close. Leslie didn’t have family on the West Coast, so we felt like his family. It’s hard to imagine not seeing him every day. It’s hard to realize that he’s no longer here. I feel like sometimes in life, when there’s something personal going on, you can kind of have a way of escaping it [by] jumping into work and making yourself extra busy. Work would have been my escape but he was at work, so there was no getting away from it. When we did take some time off, it was difficult because everyone in the world knew. But he was an amazing individual and right now I’m just trying to remember and remind myself of the fact that I was very lucky to be in his presence, [I got] to enjoy him personally as a person and as an entertainer and [now we] just move forward like he would want us to.

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In Call Me Kat, your character Randi is an artist and IRL, you’re currently working with Popsicle and the National Art Education Association for their Stick with Art Contest. Can you talk to us more about this?

I’m really excited to partner with Popsicle. There’s so many schools and so many different communities that are not receiving arts program funding and that’s just ridiculous. Popsicle and I both agree that a kid’s imagination is their superpower. People sit back and want to be by the book all the time or think art is an elective when it needs to be something that is mandatory. It just helps our brains function better and helps us in different situations. My daughter literally [came] home maybe a month ago, with a bridge built from popsicle sticks that she did at school. Then for this [partnership] to come about was a little surreal. I’m happy to be a part of it and I’m happy that we’re getting funding for these schools that are entering the contest. I hope [contests] like this continue to happen so we can make sure that kids are allowed to stay kids. Then as they grow up, they can still keep that kid-like quality to themselves [because] life is a little bit easier when you’re able to do that.

As someone who grew up in the spotlight, I know sometimes it can have a negative effect on your self-esteem and image. What’s something you learned that you wished you knew earlier, but can now share with your children and others?

One thing that I learned [and] that I’m still learning is just discussing body image. Coming up, as a young [person], we’re always talking about each other’s bodies. ‘Oh, look at your arms, this person looks skinny, they’re gaining a little weight,’ and I think it just makes people self-conscious. We’re not all supposed to look alike. We’re supposed to be different sizes, different colours and different shapes. It starts so young that we don’t even know that [certain comments] are embedded in our brains. Just focus on being a healthier, happier you instead of what shape and what size you are. If you focus on being healthy, then you’re going to feel good and no matter what, it’s going to vibrate from you and be seen. Your beauty will shine through.

Looking at social media today and how it operates, the pressures young people face are never-ending. How do you think social media would have affected you if it was heavily present back when you were a child actress?

Oh, no. I say constantly that I’m very happy that I didn’t grow up during the social media era. Social media puts a filter on everything. It makes people seem perfect, body-wise, relationship-wise and who they are as a person. For the sake of mental health, I like reminding people [not to] focus on what someone’s posting, what someone looks like or what they did to their bodies, because that might not even be what they’re experiencing or what they’re going through. It’s pretend. Just like how movies and TV [have] actors, social media is the same thing.

I know you’re a mental health advocate. What are some practices you use to make sure your mind is in check?

Reminding myself that it’s okay to say no to something that you know is not for you. Like, that’s a big one. [Also] doing some type of physical activity— I try daily to do some type of physical activity. [Finally], making sure I surround myself with like minded people with good energy. I’m just making sure that I’m trying to grow into a better me every day.

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How do you do that as an actress? Was that something you learned along the way, or have you always been like that?

I don’t think I’ve always been like that. I think as kids, we want to be little people pleasers and want to make somebody happy – trying to behave and do what you’re supposed to do. As I got older, I kind of recognized that if I keep saying yes to things that are not making me happy, I’m not going to be happy. Ultimately, I need to be the best person I can be especially for my loved ones around me, especially for my kids. They need to see me vibrate higher and feel good about myself and I can’t do that if I’m constantly trying to please other people that are not me.

You’ve worked with so many amazing people in your lifetime, from Eddie Murphy, Kenan Thompson, Emma Roberts, and recently, you worked with Issa Rae on HBO’s Insecure. Is there anyone you’d love to work with in the near future?

I love Angela Bassett. I would love to have the opportunity to work with her. Who else? I love so many people. Regina King. There’s so many people that I have worked with. I mean, those are the two that first popped into my mind.

With such a long-standing career that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, what next can the world expect from you?

The world can expect from me [to do] more on-camera work, but also venturing behind the camera and learning and operating in that field. Being a part of projects where you might not necessarily see my face, but my name and work will be there.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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