Las Vegas actress’ road from scream queen to Disney mom

Over the years, Disney Channel stars have leapt at the chance to be provocative.

Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera did it onstage and in music videos. Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez did it in “Spring Breakers.” Miley Cyrus simply can’t stop doing it, no matter how often you ask.

Cerina Vincent, though, is going about things backward. After playing Areola, the clothing-challenged foreign exchange student in the 2001 spoof “Not Another Teen Movie,” the Las Vegas native launched her career as a horror movie scream queen the next year with a starring role in Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever.”

At 8 p.m. Friday, she begins her third season as Suzy Diaz, the harried mom of a sprawling family, on the Disney Channel comedy “Stuck in the Middle.”

“I think Disney Channel was probably a goal of mine when I was, like, 10. But then I kind of forgot about it,” Vincent admits. “I’ve done a lot of things in my career, edgier type roles, and I didn’t think that I would be considered for a series regular on the Disney Channel. However, I have been wanting to and trying to make that move into doing more family-friendly television and movies.”

A big family of her own

That transition began in 2013 when she played a gossip blogger in the Hallmark movie “The Thanksgiving House.” “I was really excited about that, because as an actor it opens so many doors, especially as a woman and as you age,” says Vincent, 39. “You can’t run around in a tank top from monsters your entire career.”

Suddenly, she went from not being able to even get an audition to play a mother to fulfilling two childhood goals at once. Not only was she on the Disney Channel, she had seven children — at least on TV.

Vincent comes from a huge family, with two younger siblings, Gino and Angela, and 36 first cousins. She moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Durango High in 1997 but still comes home every few months to see them. “As a little girl, I wanted seven kids, and I wanted two of them to be twins,” just like an aunt and uncle had, she says. That’s the exact premise of “Stuck in the Middle.”

The actress doesn’t yet have children of her own, but she gets to experience the best of both worlds as an on-set mother. “There is a lot of love and cuddles and tickle scratches and laughs, and I learn a lot from them. I learn what words are cool. I’m kind of like the dorky mom. I don’t know what ‘on fleek’ means,” she reveals. “I get all of that goodness and then, yeah, I can go home and just have a glass of wine or go to happy hour with my girlfriends. It’s great.”

A ‘maternal’ makeover

After a career built on bombshell roles, “Stuck in the Middle” is decidedly unglamorous. In the first episode, Suzy was introduced while hiding from her kids in the pantry, squatting on a can of corn and wearing ratty-looking sweats. She also had jelly in her hair.

“In the very beginning, there was concern about me not looking ‘maternal.’ I don’t know what that means. Season 1, I was definitely wearing clothes that were two or three sizes too big,” the curvaceous actress recalls. “I love makeup and I love all things girly, you know? I love all that stuff. But this is great. This is the first time I don’t have to worry about, ‘I shouldn’t have dessert because I have to be in a bikini tomorrow morning.’ Those things don’t go through my head anymore.”

For the “Stuck in the Middle” episode set at a water park, not only was she not wearing a bikini, she was wearing long sleeves.

Another place you won’t see Vincent in a bikini is on social media, at least not anymore. “Half of my Instagram followers are between 9 and 12 years old,” she says with a laugh.

‘Kids automatically trust you’

That’s a far cry from her previous fan base. “The horror world and those genre fans have been so good to me. I feel so grateful for that part of my career,” Vincent says. “It would be awesome to go back and do another really cool horror movie again.”

But there’s something about motherhood, even when it’s just on TV, that puts life in perspective. “The kids are so sweet and pure and innocent,” she gushes about her youngest fans. “There’s this weird thing that happens when you’re a mom on a show, kids automatically trust you. They just will come up and jump into my arms and give me hugs and let me hold them.”

No doubt her older fans would do that, too, if they thought there was a chance it wouldn’t land them in jail.

The Disney connection puts Vincent front and center at a variety of events for children’s charities, and she couldn’t be happier. The day before this interview, she and the rest of the cast hosted a boy from the Make-A-Wish Foundation who just wanted to visit the “Stuck in the Middle” set. “It’s hard for me to not burst into tears and cry,” Vincent says of the experience. “It’s tough to hide all that emotion.”

“It sounds cliche, but it does feel like this is why I’m here. It is to just give back,” she concludes.

“I feel lucky to get to do what I do for a living. I work really hard. I hustle every day. And it is all about giving back. It really is.”

Speaking up about sexual harassment

On Oct. 17, Cerina Vincent added her voice to the #MeToo movement addressing sexual harassment.

“Looking back, I’ve had enough stories of levels of inappropriate, it could be a miniseries … at least,” she posted on Instagram. “And not just from the entertainment business. This is happening all over the world, and for decades. No one story is special. I’m just happy we’re collectively having this conversation. Love and light to everyone who’s felt violated, disrespected, embarrassed, ashamed, annoyed, infuriated, insecure, disgusted or afraid over someone else’s selfish behavior.”

Asked simply, “What’s wrong with men?” she responds, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“I am elated, elated, every time something comes out because the fact that these men — and, you know what, it can happen the other way around, too, like, I know that it can — I don’t know where they get it. I don’t know how they go to sleep at night. I don’t know how you move through life knowing deep down that you’re a scumbag.”

Vincent, who co-authored the book “How To Love Like a Hot Chick: The Girlfriend to Girlfriend Guide to Getting the Love You Deserve,” still loves romance despite having had “so many different versions of experiences like this.”

“When men come at you like that, or just hearing these stories, it’s so gross,” she says. “What happened to the classy, romantic man?”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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