In an ensemble show like NBC’s new “This Is Us,” which premiered Sept. 20, and seems poised to be the next “Friends” or “thirtysomething” — a series that speaks to a generation — Chrissy Metz is a standout. For her beauty, her ability to telegraph tenderness or self-doubt in a glance and, yes, for the fact that you just don’t see many actresses like Metz on TV.
A Florida native, she started out as a preschool teacher before moving to Los Angeles 11 years ago to try her luck at acting. A five-episode arc on FX’s “American Horror Story: Freak Show” got her noticed.
On “This Is Us” — also starring Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia and Sterling K. Brown — she plays Kate, a woman juggling weight issues, a hottie-actor brother, a potential new boyfriend, and the prospect of turning (gulp) 36. Turns out several folks on this show share the same birthday, and their lives intersect in unexpected ways.
Roles like this don’t come along very often.
When I saw the character breakdown, I thought, wait — a plus-size woman on network television? With a love interest? You don’t see this or, if you do, she’s always the butt of a joke. We never see her journey. What a concept. I called my agent — constantly. [She laughs.] He said, I know, I know, you’ll get the audition.
Do you not consider yourself a role model?
There’s so much responsibility with that term. I’m human, I make mistakes. I slip — like with losing weight. People say, “You’re promoting obesity.” And I say, “No, I’m trying to help people who don’t understand it take a second look at why people overeat.” It’s no different than gambling or whatever we do to fill the void. Food is the symptom, not the issue. As a plus-size actress, it’s been tricky. Auditions are few and far between. A couple of times, I considered packing it up. My mom said, “You might as well be there and miserable and at least pursuing what you want to do, rather than not having your hat in the ring.” [She laughs again.] Mom was right.
It must be tough in Hollywood, where it seems there are so few women above a size 2 or 4.
Zeros . . . I hope to show people you don’t have to be . . . perfect. We’re all just trying to do the best with what we’ve got. I hope I help people see themselves on TV.
And help 30-somethings get through year 36.
Yeah. In real life, I’m actually turning 36 at the end of the month. Cute, right? I started coming into my own at 30, discovering what’s important to me, not caring what other people think.
You don’t care?
My character, Kate, cares. Chrissy doesn’t. I guess I’m the eternal optimist. There are plus-size women who’ve paved the way — Rebel Wilson, Gabby Sidibe, Melissa McCarthy. I can’t wait for the day when I can have a conversation and it’s not about the size of my pants but how I prepared for the role.
Fair enough — how’d you prepare? And is there an aspect of Kate that’s tough to play?
She’s more timid than I am. She finds most of her self-worth in the number on the scale. And suddenly she meets this man who likes her for who she is. She’s not sure how to handle it. I’m divorced, and dating someone now, but I know plus-size women who haven’t had boyfriends. They think they’re not attractive. I’ve been there. So that’s a challenge . . . to go backward.
I hear you were discovered in a Florida talent show.
My sister’s tall, thin, model-esque. I am not. She wanted to go to this talent search. So I took her. I was filling out her paperwork when an older woman recognized me from my high school. She said, “Weren’t you in the drama department?” I said, “No, chamber choir.” She said, “You should be auditioning.” I’m thinking . . . who are you? She didn’t work at my high school. She got really serious. “You need to audition.” So . . . I did. I think I sang some Christina Aguilera song. They’re like, “What are you doing in Gainesville?” I said, “Teaching preschool.” They’re like, “No, no, no.”
So that woman was right.
And I’m not kidding — I never saw her again. “Where’s the woman with the hat?” Nobody knew who I meant. She’s like my guardian angel. I wound up training in acting, did a showcase with managers in L.A. and it’s all history.
Some little Podunk talent search. It happens. Even when you feel you’re never gonna . . . bust out. There’ve been tough times, but this show is amazing. I‘m buckling up and enjoying the ride.