Happy Go Lucky


InStyle (USA) - - First Person - —AS TOLD TO JEN­NIFER FERRISE

All I’ve ever wanted to do is make peo­ple smile. As a kid, I’d make up silly sto­ries and do im­pres­sions. I wanted to be Jim Car­rey when I grew up. Se­ri­ously. I thought stand-up was the way to go, but as I got older, act­ing be­came the dream. Af­ter I grad­u­ated from high school in Gainesvill­e, my sis­ter asked me to go to a cast­ing call with her. While I was there, some­one asked me, “Hey, do you sing, or do you act?” I was ter­ri­fied, but I thought, “What the heck?” I belted out Christina Aguilera’s “Beau­ti­ful” in front of ev­ery­body. One of the man­agers looked over and said, “I don’t think you be­long in Florida.” Deep down I knew she was right. But I’d never even driven on the in­ter­state be­fore. What did I know about mak­ing it big?

I started tak­ing act­ing classes, and even­tu­ally, a few of us trekked across the coun­try to Hol­ly­wood. I got a two-bed­room apart­ment with six other girls. We slept on air mat­tresses, and when one of us had an au­di­tion, we’d help each other prep.

I didn’t get many au­di­tions. That first year I had just three, while some of my room­mates were get­ting three a day. The first op­por­tu­nity that came along was to play Delta Burke’s daugh­ter in a TV pi­lot called Sweet Po­tato Queens. I thought, “This is it!” Peo­ple had al­ways told me how much I looked like Delta. But noth­ing hap­pened, not even a call­back.

I needed to make money, and my agent said I could work as her as­sis­tant. It was a good way to learn the busi­ness. I be­gan tak­ing her younger clients on au­di­tions, learn­ing the names of the stu­dios and cast­ing di­rec­tors.

I ended up work­ing as an agent for nine years, and man, was it tough. Com­mut­ing two hours each way, work­ing for peanuts, all while putting my ca­reer on the back burner to make ends meet. I almost quit and moved home so many times. But hav­ing al­ways been a Pos­i­tive Polly, when­ever I would get dis­cour­aged, I’d just try to find the sil­ver lin­ing. I’d say to my­self, “Chrissy, there are tons of kids sit­ting on their couches right now who are never even go­ing to make it to L. A. At least you’re try­ing.”

It was harder still as a plus-size woman, be­cause the roles I was be­ing con­sid­ered for were so dis­cour­ag­ing. You’re al­ways the side­kick, the butt of the joke. My tall, skinny friends were get­ting au­di­tion af­ter au­di­tion. I tried to ra­tio­nal­ize that qual­ity was bet­ter than quan­tity.

In 2014 I landed a role on Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story, but once my story line ended, I was on un­em­ploy­ment again. I swear, ev­ery time I was about to give up, I would get an au­di­tion. Or just as my gas tank was about to reach empty, I’d get a resid­ual check from a job I’d done years be­fore. It was as if the uni­verse were try­ing to tell me, “You can run, but sorry, girl­friend. It’s hap­pen­ing. You’re hap­pen­ing.”

When I got the au­di­tion for This Is Us, I needed to bor­row gas money to get there. I had 81 cents in the bank. But some­thing felt dif­fer­ent. I walked onto the Sony lot, and when the se­cu­rity guard said good morn­ing, I sang it back like I was in a Dis­ney mu­si­cal. The birds seemed birdier, the sky looked bluer. I put all kinds of good en­ergy into the au­di­tion, hop­ing that maybe this one would turn the tide.

I got the part of Kate, and my life has changed so much. I can take friends to din­ner and not have to make an ex­cuse why I can’t go out. If I need gro­ceries, I buy them—i don’t have to choose be­tween that and pay­ing a bill. I also get to do some­thing I love ev­ery day, which is the most un­be­liev­able part.

Fans come up to me now to say how much my story means to them, which is so spe­cial. I don’t have it all to­gether, but I’m not putting on a façade that I do. I’m proud to be loved for my im­per­fec­tions and all the ups and downs I’ve been through.

I have pinch-me mo­ments all the time, like when I walk on set and see the names of all the iconic shows filmed there, like That Girl and Lav­erne & Shirley. They say you’re al­ways one job away from chang­ing your life. I’m so grate­ful to be proof of that.

Chrissy Metz stars in Breakthrou­gh, in the­aters April 17.

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