Michaela McManus is the star of “The Village” on NBC, but her journey to the top wasn’t an easy one. The actress recently shared how she veered from the path she set for herself to make it big.
A shy Rhode Islander, McManus had a big dream at a young age. “When I was little, my brothers and sisters and I would watch my mom on stage at local theaters,” she said. “That feeling of sitting front-row-center all dressed up and proud of my mom really left an imprint.”
By the time high school was over, she already had big plans to move to Manhattan to major in theater at Fordham College at Lincoln Center. She did, and after graduating from Fordham, the actress was accepted into New York University’s graduate program for acting.
“I felt like I had everything figured out and I was right on track, playing the long game,” said McManus. “But then, a twist of fate, and the plan I had so carefully crafted took a turn. While playing Harper in ‘Angels in America’ during my second year at NYU, a casting director reached out and asked me to come in and audition for a television show. Technically, auditioning outside of the program was against NYU’s policy, but I couldn’t resist. A couple months later, I got a test offer, which I was able to parlay into agent representation.”
Although she had spent her fair share of time and money pursuing her master’s degree, she was at a crossroads – either she would stay in school or pursue the offer. McManus made the decision to leave school and fly out to L.A., crashing her friend’s couch while she attended that first test. She was excited – but she didn’t land the part.
“I tested for seven shows that first pilot season and didn’t get any of them,” McManus remembered. And, just like that, she was a drama school dropout in deep debt and unsure where to head next.
“It was terrifying,” the actress recalled, but she didn’t give up. “I was pretty sure my stomach would be forever twisted in knots. Somehow, I pulled it together and kept going, and six months later, this glorious thing happened: The net appeared. I got my first part on a show called ‘One Tree Hill.’ I cried when I got the call, and I’m pretty sure my agent did, too. The knots slowly unwound. That first job was everything for me. I could finally exhale.”
Of course, the sense of relief McManus describes is always fleeting in the entertainment world. She explained, “The thing is, no matter how much experience you’ve had or luck you’ve collected, you’re always going to find yourself back on that ledge. To succeed as an actor, you have to take that leap over and over and over and over again. Sometimes you’re going to feel like you’re falling forever before the net appears, and you never stop worrying that one of these days, it might not show up at all. Nobody ever guarantees that you’re going to work again.”
The key is to keep trying no matter what, and to remember rejection is just par for the course. The net will appear and reappear if you can find it in you to just keep going.
As McManus explained, “If I happened upon young me traipsing along the streets of New York with no idea of what was to come, I’d say something like this: ‘Hey, kid, you’re gonna get your heart broken a million times, but if you trust your gut and keep putting one foot in front of the other, that phone is going to ring with good news.”