On the Netflix show Prince of Peoria, 15-year-old Gavin Lewis plays a young royal who travels to America incognito to experience life as a regular kid.
The show demands a lot of physical comedy from Lewis, like snapping wet towels and dancing. Eagle-eyed viewers of these scenes have noticed something they won’t see on Daredevil, Stranger Things or most other Netflix shows.
It’s a glimpse of Lewis’ Dexcom site. Lewis was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 6, and he has used his growing celebrity (next he stars in Hulu’s highly anticipated adaptation of Little Fires Everywhere) to raise awareness of the disease. He loves hearing from fans who have spotted the site or noticed his fingersticks.
Lewis recently spoke to Diabetes Self-Management about his diagnosis, how he manages his diabetes on-set, and resisting craft services.
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How did you get into acting?
Lewis: My parents both do theater, so I saw what the acting process was. I auditioned for a film my mom’s friend was doing when I was about 9, and I loved it. I talked to the lead actor, and I asked how to get a manager in Los Angeles. And it snowballed from there.
What do you remember about your diagnosis?
Lewis: I didn’t understand what was happening. The nurse at the hospital was like, “You’re going to have to have a shot every time you eat now.” That was maybe not the best way to learn about it — but I got the gist of what was happening.
Did you exhibit diabetes symptoms before that?
Lewis: That morning, I was drinking a lot of water and felt terrible. I was really, really pale. I also happened to have the worst breakfast for someone with type 1 diabetes, pancakes with syrup and Sunny D! They checked my blood sugar [at the hospital], and I maxed out at 1,000.
Did you know anything about the disease?
Lewis: I didn’t. Everything I learned was from my mom and doctors. I feel like I was a relatively easygoing kid, so I wasn’t too upset. I just realized it was something I’d have to incorporate into my life.
How do you manage your diabetes while filming the show?
Lewis: I have a Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which is a massive help on-set. I can just pull out my phone and check my blood sugar on the app. It doesn’t really get in the way of being on-set at all, unless I drop into the 40s or 50s. Then I’ll stop and have a juice.
I keep on top of changing my sites. I get everything out on time. If I leave the site in too long, it doesn’t go too well.
Do you go to school on-set as well?
Lewis: Yeah, they have a set teacher, so I do it kind of sporadically throughout the day, depending on my filming schedule.
What type of support do you receive for your diabetes management from your family and your co-workers?
Lewis: My mom is a big part of helping me take care of myself. She gets up at night when my blood sugar drops or goes high. She reminds me to change my site. She makes sure I eat healthy.
I get overwhelming support from everyone on [Peoria]. They’re fantastic about staying on top of it, asking me if I’m doing all right.
Is it hard to eat healthy on-set?
Lewis: Yes, it can be. I’ve probably had one donut hole too many, but as long as I don’t spend too much time lingering around craft services, I do well.
Do you hear from a lot of fans with type 1 diabetes? What sort of things do they say?
Lewis: I’ve heard more than I would have expected. It’s been positive, people reaching out and saying they were inspired to see someone with type 1 on TV.
What advice has helped you cope with your diagnosis?
Lewis: Pretty shortly after I was diagnosed, I won a contest to meet Nick Jonas, who has type 1. He’s a big supporter of the diabetic community, and it’s a massive inspiration to see how well he’s done with his diabetes. He convinced me to try the pump and showed me how far he’s gotten with it.
What type of work do you do for Beyond Type 1?
Lewis: I’m an ambassador for them. My dream is to inspire people. They’ve had me do a few interviews they put on their website. I want to give whatever information I can to make people feel better about the new diagnosis and show people who have had type 1 for a time can still do whatever they want to do with diabetes.
What advice do you have for kids and parents managing type 1 diabetes?
Lewis: Focus on what you want to be doing as opposed to how diabetes is holding you back.
Do you plan to continue with acting in the future as a career?
Lewis: I definitely hope I can continue with it. I’m also extremely interested in architecture, so that may be what I do down the line.
Want to learn more about type 1 diabetes? Read “Type 1 Diabetes Questions and Answers,” “Six Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms You Need to Know” and “Living With Type 1 Diabetes: Four Tips to Get You Started.”