"I didn't realize what it was in the moment, and now it's just kind of insane how big of a role that character played in my entire life," the actress says of Emma Ross

By Robyn Merrett
October 26, 2020 04:56 PM
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Peyton List and Miranda May
| Credit: Bonnie Osborne/Disney Channel

Emma Ross is going back to Camp Kikiwaka!

Peyton List, who starred as the budding fashionista in Bunk'd, is returning for its season 5 premiere, set to air sometime in 2021.

"It was really exciting for me," List, 22, tells PEOPLE of going back to a character that "I love so much and will always have a place in my heart."

As fans recall, Emma left the camp to pursue a fashion career in Italy. However, List says an "accident" occurred, prompting Emma to seek "comfort" at the place she once called home. The series, which is a spinoff of Jessie, follows the Ross kids as they head to the Maine camp where their parents met as teenagers. Bunk'd premiered in July 2015.

"At first when Emma comes back, she's talking about her whole life in Milan and fashion and doing what she's always wanted to do," List says. "The whole reason she left the camp and left Bunk'd was to pursue her dreams, and then she comes back and says it's a surprise visit, and we kind of realize as the episode goes on that she's actually returning to camp because it's her place to hide and her place of comfort."

"She basically had this accident in Milan and felt she had no other place to go that was safe other than camp with her best friend [Miranda May's Lou Hockhauser]," she adds. "And that's why she returned."

Peyton List in Bunk'd
| Credit: Bonnie Osborne/Disney Channel

The show has had an undeniable impact on viewers — and shaped List's life as she starred in the series while on her own quest of self-discovery.

"I'm realizing now I am always going to be known as that character," List says. "I didn't realize what it was in the moment, and now it's just kind of insane how big of a role that character played in my entire life."

"I was playing her while growing up and finding who I was as a person," she continues. "I feel even subconsciously playing this character while you're trying to find yourself — it has a bigger impact than you even realize on your whole entire life."

Peyton List in Bunk'd
| Credit: Bonnie Osborne/Disney Channel

"I really do love that character so much," List says of Emma, adding that when she returned to set it felt as though she "never left."

"I said, 'Oh, this is just a muscle that I can come back and pick up at anytime.' I felt a little rusty or a second, but I really just fell back in the whole swing of it. I was like, 'I can come back next week same time?' and they said, 'No, you're just here for one episode,'" List jokes.

Since Bunk'd, List has gone on to land a number of dynamic roles, including Tory Nichols on Cobra Kai.

In June, it was announced that Netflix had acquired Cobra Kai after two seasons on YouTube. The series became available to stream in September and has become a hit for the streaming platform — with season 2 ending with a wild and extended fight sequence.

"That sequence was one of the most fun things I've ever done," List tells PEOPLE. "We practiced over and over for just [one] weekend and it felt like a boot camp. We had three to four days to film everything in the school — all the fight scenes. We didn't have a lot of time, but I think that added to the fun of it."

List says the sequence "was the closest thing I've ever done to having to do a live theater performance, because everyone has to hit their mark and nothing can go wrong."

List also says working with a stunt double was "insane." "I never expected to be able to learn stunts and work with stunt people. That's been a blessing. I realized I really like this," she says. "I've always loved working out, but this is a whole new thing. Karate is something I never thought I'd get into."

"It's kind of wild because I think when I was younger ... I don't think I would do as much character prep as I do now," she adds. "With Cobra Kai, it's really a lot of the physical aspect of how a person holds themselves. I'm learning so much with this character."

Like Emma, List's Tory has become a fan favorite and an inspiration for young girls.

Peyton List in Cobra Kai
| Credit: Guy D'Alema/Netflix

"This woman the other day, she said she has an 8-year-old niece who is getting into Karate because of Tory, and that made me really happy to hear," List says. "It's cool to see the impact it's had."

List is also glad to be able to tell a different story with Tory, who is described as a troubled teen who was raised by a struggling single mom.

"I've always played a lot of privileged characters, so it's cool to play someone who comes from a different background and represent someone who doesn't come from much," she says.

For those wanting to know more about Tory, List promises fans will see more of her "backstory and more of where she's coming from" in season 3, which premieres Jan. 8. The series has also been renewed for a season 4.

Having graced the small screen at such a young age can be daunting, but List says she feels no pressure to be anything other than her truest self.

"When I was younger, I felt the need to not mess up or put something out there that was bad because a lot of parents would come up to me and say, 'You're my kid's role model!' That's a big title and I realized as I got older, I can just be me and if people want to follow along, fine," she says. "I like to think that my ideals and what I like are all positive. I like to lead with optimism. I don't think of it as any kind of pressure."

"I had to work to get to that point," she adds, "but I finally feel good with who I am. And if anyone says anything, the hate doesn't get to me."