When Bean Dad rose to 2021 Twitter infamy on January 3—for reference, that was one day after Tampon Dude and two days before the Mahjong colonizers—his ruthless insistence on making a 9-year-old child spend hours trying to open a can of beans was, for many, a reminder of another legendary figure.
"What is Bean Dad and is it related to Even Stevens?" wondered one confused tweeter.
Some worried Beans, played by Steven Anthony Lawrence, may have wandered down a problematic path in the 20 years since his Even Stevens debut. A testament to the hazards of child stardom, perhaps, or being too closely affiliated with legumes. But Disney Channel's ultimate "Cousin Oliver," who arrived as a youthful injection of sass in the middle of Even Stevens' second season, is seemingly okay.
"I can open my own can of beans," the now 30-year-old Lawrence quipped to VICE. "And my favorite type of bean is a jelly bean."
Lawrence's path to tween sitcom glory began in Fresno, where community theater led to commercials, which led to driving three-and-a-half hours to LA for guest appearances on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Amanda Show, and a starring role in Everclear's "Father of Mine" music video. And then, around the time he was 9 years old, Lawrence got an audition for a small part on Even Stevens, by then already a hit Disney Channel series.
"I had a schtick when I was a kid: I would always tell a joke at the end of an audition," Lawrence said. "So, I told the Even Stevens producer a joke, and when I got the sides for the next callback, my joke was written in the script. I'm going, Oh God, I hope I get the part because it's going to be awkward if my joke's in here and I'm not."
He didn't have to worry. Lawrence's unique look and precociousness landed him the part, and soon "Beans"—whose full name was Bernard Aranguren—went from a season 2 guest star to a series regular.
"I would just get written into the next episode and the next episode," Lawrence said, adding that his tactic of sidling up to the show's writers between takes paid off. "I'd kind of go and hang out with them so they knew who I was, and maybe, hopefully, get back into it."
As Beans wreaked havoc on the lives of Louis (Shia LaBeouf) and Ren (Christy Carlson Romano) with his lack of boundaries and obsessive love of bacon, Lawrence's new castmates welcomed him with open arms into the Even Stevens fold.
"Christy is and was very mothering," Lawrence said. "Shia was a little corrupting."
(Lawrence declined to discuss the recent allegations against LaBeouf, saying, "I don't want to get too much into Shia right now because of obvious reasons, hopefully.")
While Beans quickly became an iconic, bizarre character, not everyone was a fan of the bacon-munching sidekick. "We had some fundamentalists who weren't too hot on bacon send some pretty interesting letters to me—Muslims, ultra conservative Jewish people," Lawrence said. "Being a kid and being threatened with religious crimes was interesting."
During the show's run, Lawrence lived in an LA motel with his dad, who drove him back and forth from Fresno to film. While the situation may sound like the plot of Honey Boy, LaBeouf's semi-autobiographical film about his time spent living in a motel with his abusive father while filming Even Stevens, Lawrence said their experiences could not have been more different. "Mine, thankfully, was a lot healthier," he said. "Dad was always very supportive, but it was always my dream to act and never any stage parenting."
Lawrence stayed enrolled in his Fresno private school and did his schoolwork on set or attended classes in person whenever he was on hiatus and back in town. And lest you fear he was being bullied by the other kids for his lisp or rise to tween fame, think again.
"No, honestly, if anything, I was kind of an alpha guy when I was younger," he said with a laugh. "I might have been the bully."
When Even Stevens came to an end after three seasons and a Disney Channel Original Movie in 2003, Lawrence continued to book memorable roles in family films like Cheaper by the Dozen and The Cat in the Hat. But by the time production started on Kicking & Screaming in 2004, he had begun to experience male pattern baldness. He was only 14.
"They say baldness comes from the mother's side, but I think that's bullshit because my mother was Sicilian and her dad had a full head of hair," he said. "I mean, it sucks, but you come to terms with it."
Like most of the challenges we discussed during this interview, Lawrence simply shrugged it off: "I was never really a vain kind of guy. I've never been one for appearances. Now, I shave my head. I don't have to look at it. What the hell do I care?"
Still, his extensive hair loss made booking roles as a teen actor nearly impossible. And then, on his 21st birthday, Lawrence's father was diagnosed with cancer, and he fully put his career on hold to take care of him before he passed away. Lawrence also lost his mother to the disease. "You're being a caregiver, you've got to be there to change diapers. And you can't do that when you're on auditions," he said. "That's physically impossible. It just wouldn't work."
He and his father had been incredibly close, a bond cemented on those long drives from Fresno to LA when they'd blast CDs and talk about life. Without his dad, Lawrence felt adrift.
In December 2015, fans spotted the actor working at a Christmas photo center at a mall outside of San Francisco. They posted pictures beaming alongside their apron-clad childhood fave who looked equally delighted to be in their company. Headlines declared "Beans From 'Even Stevens' Works as Santa's Helper at a Mall Now" and outlets speculated he must be researching for an upcoming role as an elf or had fallen on hard times. The truth was more heartbreaking.
"I was kind of going through a bit of a depression, to be honest," he said. "Dad was really into Christmas. He was a big Clark Griswold guy. So, this was kind of my way to feel close to him during the holidays and do something cool for people."
In fact, Lawrence is intent on paying it forward and hopes to one day open up his own brick-and-mortar acting studio to help underprivileged kids hone their craft. During the pandemic, he's been offering virtual 1:1 lessons through Koji. "It's my way of passing it on to the next generation," he said. "Honestly, it's almost a little bit more rewarding than acting because the only thing you're going to leave behind is what you teach other people in this world."
He also co-hosts "a bipartisan political talk show" called The Rice and Beans Show on YouTube and said he fundraised for Hillary Clinton in 2016, as well as the Human Rights Campaign and Americans for Responsible Solutions, Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords’ super PAC. "The whole birth of Trumpism really kind of inspired me to kind of get more active," he said. "I know I'm an actor, but you're not going to LeBron me and tell me to shut up and eat bacon."
He's still close to his Even Stevens co-stars Christy Carlson Romano and Nick Spano, and he's even on Cameo, where he'll jubilantly reenact his memorable on-screen moments for eager fans. You may notice, however, that he's currently missing a front tooth. There's a story there.
"I was taking care of a friend's big ol' fish. I was right next to this thing going, 'Here fishy, fishy, fishy,' and this stupid thing kind of splashed and startled me, and I went forward into the [tank] and chipped my damn tooth," he said, conceding, "It's extremely embarrassing." He plans to visit the dentist to have it fixed once the pandemic is over but thinks "cosmetic shit can be put on hold right now."
In non-Covid times, Lawrence can be found just living his life amongst the rest of us and happily indulging the fans who somehow still recognize him and approach him in public.
"You do the mouse ears, you say you still like bacon, give them a hug. And that's it," Lawrence said. "Most people are kind of simple. They want the selfie and then they bounce. I'd rather have a conversation."
Occasionally, timid fans will stare at him from across a restaurant, too nervous to ever approach. "Sometimes, I'll stare back. Other times, I'll order a big plate of bacon just to screw with their mind a bit," he said.
"You gotta have a little bit of fun, man."