21-year-old Hannah Zeile was working in the restaurant business when she got the opportunity of a lifetime—to star as “Teen Kate” in the NBC show This is Us. Now entering the show's fourth season, Zeile chats with us about working with Mandy Moore, what her role has taught her and what she’d like to do after This is Us ends.
Congrats on the latest season of This is Us! The trailer has everyone talking—can you tell us any secrets? Will there still be lots of scenes with the teen Big Three?
HANNAH ZEILE: Every year things are pretty tightly locked. We can’t really say too much. Everyone should be excited for this season. I know it’s going into the fourth year and a lot of everyone’s stories have been told, there’s still so much to explore. That’s why it’s exciting we do so much time traveling. There’s still so much to unfold in all of the eras. The teen Big Three are back on set filming. We have to see them deal with grief and grow from grief and all of the things the loss of a parent brings.
When did you know you wanted to act?
HZ: In my elementary school, it was mandatory to do plays. I always had fun doing that. I was a huge Hannah Montana fan growing up. I had gotten the boxed set first season DVD with bonus features. One of the bonus features was Miley Cyrus’s audition tape for the role. When I saw the tape and she was in regular clothes in a room doing the lines, it felt way more tangible. I thought she’s playing dress-up for a living, that’s really cool. That’s what I wanted to do.
Did you ever imagine This is Us would be the phenomenon it is today?
HZ: I came in in the seventh episode. When I auditioned two episodes had been aired already. I was already hooked. You always hope for it to catch on the way that it has. I’m not surprised, the writing is so beautiful and there’s a story for everyone to relate to. I feel like this is the right time for this show to be talking about issues and putting them in the forefront without sugar coating them, breaking stereotypes and opening conversations at home. I’m really grateful to be a part of it.
Has the role of teen Kate taught you a lot about your own life?
HZ: I think that playing teen Kate has been really interesting. Although obviously one of her main issues she struggles with is her weight, it’s taught me the real issue is not the weight itself, it’s your self-image and the way you feel about yourself. It doesn’t matter what body type you have, everyone struggles with insecurities. Although I wear prosthetics and my body is different, I’ve dealt with the same insecurities and self-worth and body image. They’re things we may not want to talk about but everyone goes through. Kate sometimes lets those things hold her back. I learned that you may not be the only one struggling with those issues and you just need to push through being uncomfortable because you may be holding yourself back.
Photography by: Rowan Daly