The actor and singer Chrissy Metz chuckles a little when she calls herself “a positive Polly.” Metz, who grew up in Gainesville, Florida, spent nine years as a talent agent, a natural fit for a woman accustomed to putting other folks first. “So much of my life has been lived for other people,” she explains, noting that it’s only now, at age forty—with an Emmy nomination for her poignant, unguarded portrayal of Kate on the NBC series This Is Us, among other accolades, under her belt—that she’s stopped asking, “Oh gosh, do I deserve this?” Traveling back and forth from L.A. to Nashville as she writes and records her first (as yet untitled) EP, Metz jokes that “some days I’m like, Do I have clean underwear on? Like, Which way is up?” But she adds that she wouldn’t change her newly hectic, high-profile life for anything. Metz feels immense pride that her work has touched so many, that she’s representing for all the overlooked, small-town dreamers out there. “We all deserve what makes us happy, ya know? I try to remind myself of that every day.”
You grew up in Gainesville. I went to high school in Jacksonville…
I have no shame about being from Florida. I know some people do. Gainesville raised me, so I’m very proud of it. I used to feed horses when I would walk to school. We’d bring carrots and apples. Growing up, we’d swim in the quarry and the springs. I love that I had that experience.
We were always playing in ditches. Did you have water moccasins or alligators in your yard?
Oh, girl, we had a creek that went through the whole neighborhood, and we would take our inner tubes and ride down it. I swam in retention ponds. I know that sounds real country. My mom was not happy about that. But yeah, water moccasins. There was an alligator once in my good friend Becca’s pool.
That is some Florida realness.
Yeah, it’s funny, when I say I’m from Florida, people go, “Ohhhh, you’re from [drawling] Gaaaainesviiiiille?” I’m like, boy oh boy. But this is what we’ve been taught through media. Until you’ve experienced the South or unless you are Southern, it becomes a caricature. I feel like real stories need to be told so we can sort of reeducate people. When it comes to the South, it’s kind of like: I can talk all kind of smack about my family, but don’t let nobody say nothin’ about them or I will jack you up. [Laughs.]
You’re currently recording a five-song EP in Nashville.
I have been writing songs for the past two and a half years. About everything I’ve experienced in the last fifteen years pursuing my dreams, moving across the country. I write from a place of authenticity. And then it becomes a therapy session. I’m like, Oh, I thought I was over that. [Laughs.] I grew up listening to classic country music. Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and all those women who paved the way for women to be heard in ways they hadn’t before. And they had something to say, you know?
I love your lyric “I got this new thing, don’t do anything I don’t wanna do” in your song “Feel Good.”
Oh hell yeah, right? I have always lived my life for everybody else, in the shadows of everybody else. Either I was too afraid or feeling insecure or not worthy of the process, and I just have come to a point where I’m like, my life is my own.
Like you write: “A little less lookin’ back / A little more lookin’ up / Less empty in my glass / Little more happy in my cup.”
Yes. I think through playing Kate on This Is Us, exposing myself in that way, I realized the more vulnerable we are, the more people will relate to us. It’s not about having to be fill-in-the-blank of whomever you aspire to be. I don’t have to compare myself to anybody else.
When did singing become important to you?
In middle school. All the cool kids were in band and my mom could not afford an instrument, so I went into choir. And from that moment, I was making little tapes in my bedroom on my boom box. I was too afraid to share them. I was afraid of my own shadow.
And now you’ve performed at the Opry and the Oscars.
Lord have mercy. When I sang at the Oscars, I just said, “Chrissy, you’re really gonna take a moment and you’re really gonna experience this.”
Do you feel more vulnerable as an actor or as a singer?
As a singer, a thousand percent. It’s one thing to perform somebody else’s words and create a character. It’s another thing to bare your soul in music. The energy of everybody communing, appreciating a particular line or song, that’s one of the coolest things ever.
Any advice for those struggling to find their voice?
I know this is gonna sound like stoner talk and I don’t even smoke, but the idea of you coming into existence as a human being and having a life means that you’re purposeful. To me that means that you deserve to do what it is you want to do and not care about what other people think. I firmly believe that your heart will never lead you astray.
Who paved the way for you?
My grandmother. She was really tough, but she saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. And my mother was a single mom of four and there were times when she didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough food for all of us. Their resilience and determination to me are like, holy moly. They were not stopping for nothing.
If you could change anything about your past, would you?
The only thing I wish is that I would have gotten out of my own way sooner. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t have learned the lessons and I wouldn’t have the stories to tell.