The height of optimism is having faith in the faintest of possibilities, per se, the ever so daunting, one-in-a-million chance. Nonetheless, it’s the individuals who interpret this daunting phrase as an exciting challenge, not a formidable statistic, who ultimately rise out of the ashes, to conquer greatness. Similar to the thrilling twists and turns of her show, This Is Us, rising actress and aspiring singer, Hannah Zeile, details her one-in-a-million story, explaining how her life as a Chiptole employee quickly transformed into the ever-so-glamorous world of Hollywood. Now, Hannah can be seen showcasing her evolving talents through the world of prime-time television, as she is seen playing young Kate Pearson on NBC’s hit show, This Is Us, as well as exploring the world of music as an emerging singer/songwriter. In this exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to chat with Hannah to discuss how her break-out role has shaped her life, what she hopes her life consists of in the future, and where she draws inspiration from when creating her latest melodies.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to pursue acting?
Hannah Zeile: My mom was an Olympic gold medalist, so having someone so high-achieving in my life, I knew that I wanted to do something valuable with my time. Weirdly enough, it was mandatory in my school that we did a play each year, and I always loved doing that. I was always memorizing everyone's lines and got really into it. I also remember getting a DVD set of the Hannah Montana seasons when I was younger, because I was a huge Hannah Montana fan. The DVD came with bonus features and it was really cool because they showed Miley Cyrus’s audition tape for the role. That was when it all felt tangible to me. When you're young and you see people on a television show, you have no idea the real practical steps it takes to get into acting. Seeing her in regular clothes, doing the scenes in the audition room, I was like, “Oh, this is something that I want and can pursue.”
MM: Can you give an overview of your past in the entertainment industry and how it led you to where you are now?
HZ: I started by doing some auditioning when I was thirteen or fourteen, but I eventually decided that school was more important at that time, so I took a full four-year break where I didn’t go on a single audition. I was young, and my friend group and I were going into high school, so I wanted to focus on that; school was my priority. When I turned eighteen, I was working at Chipotle as a cashier. I remember just thinking to myself that acting was what I was always so passionate about, so it was kind of a wake-up call. I contacted my team who thankfully took me back on and then weirdly enough, the first audition they sent me on was for This Is Us. I got the call to meet with our creator, Dan Fogelman, while I was on a shift at Chipotle. Every time I tell this story I get chills. I can so vividly remember being at my shift, my phone buzzing, and being like, “I gotta go!”
MM: This Is Us is now in its fifth season! What can we expect to see from your character, young Kate Pearson, in season five?
HZ: We've currently seen some of the big storylines for Kate, such as the abortion. I think that that's what I love about playing her throughout her teenage years because I think that's when a lot of her trauma ensues. Those storylines are the catalyst of why she is the way she is as an adult. That's what I love about this show, is that you're never really left wondering; viewers get to see from childhood into the transition of adulthood. It’s really satisfying.
MM: Your character, and many of the characters on the show, face many relatable adversities throughout the series. What has your experience been like portraying these intense storylines?
HZ: Whenever I receive material for this show, I'm always excited that they trust me to take on such heavy topics, but, I'm also a little bit intimidated and nervous. I want to do it respectfully and do every situation justice, and I know that it's not just television to a lot of viewers. I know that it's storylines that people are really resonating with, so I feel extremely grateful to be in this position. I've met people who have cried to me about the effect the show has on so many people. I had a woman tell me that her daughter was able to open up to her about an eating disorder that she was struggling with because they watch the show together. Just being there crying with this woman, it's so much more than television. To be on this show that not only challenges me as an actor, but also helps me grow and make human connections as a person is amazing. I really couldn't ask for more in a project.
MM: What has your overall experience been like working on this series?
HZ: We all say it when we talk about the show and it sounds so cliche, but we’re such a family and it's such a well-oiled machine. Shows like this don't happen without the top trickling all the way down the line of everyone involved. The creator, the writers, the whole entire crew, and everyone behind the scenes are just so incredible and contribute so much to the success of the show. This is one of those experiences that I'll carry with me for the rest of my career. Working with people like Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia is incredible, they’re such talented professionals and they're just good human beings at their core.
MM: You also are a budding singer/songwriter! How did you begin to find your love for music?
HZ: I have always loved to sing. Something about singing feels much more vulnerable, probably because when I'm acting I leave my own reality, but when it comes to music, it's very much who I am to the fullest, especially when I'm writing the songs. When I first booked the show [This Is Us], they never had me sing in my audition, but then it happened to be incorporated into my character. I always had stage fright when singing, but I think that it was just kind of a perfect storm to sing on the show.
When the pandemic hit, I was stuck at home with my little home studio, so there wasn’t much of an excuse to not make music. That's why I released my first single, Ode to My Anxiety, just because I've already been struggling with anxiety, but during this time, it was heightened. I think a lot of people that have never even experienced anxiety were sort of experiencing it. When I wrote this song, I really had no intention of putting it out, because I make music all the time just to be creative. But, this one felt different; it was the right message at the right time. Even though I was nervous to do it, I just threw my hands up and went ahead and put it out. I think I do that with a lot of things in life, otherwise my anxiety and insecurities would hinder my growth completely. That's the advice that I try to give to anyone that asks, just to push past your insecurities, otherwise, you're not going to be able to succeed or fail if you never even try.
MM: Where do you tend to draw inspiration from when creating your music?
HZ: I think that everyone is different with songwriting, and I think that a lot of times it’s just storytelling. Ode to My Anxiety was definitely talking about myself and personal experiences, but sometimes I like to write about relationships that I've experienced, or, writing about people that you love and care about and writing from their perspective. That's what's cool about songs, they become the listeners’ own. It's your own story that you resonate with, not everyone has to look at every song in the same light.
MM: Do you have any hobbies you enjoy partaking in when you’re not acting?
HZ: I like to sketch and draw; I'm not necessarily the best, but it's fun and relaxing to me. I like to cook, which has definitely been something that I've always loved to do, but when it wasn't convenient, I wasn't doing it. Now that I have some free time at home, I can work on recipes. I'm always hoping to grow, find new hobbies, and continue to expand.
MM: If you could see yourself ten years from now, where would you hope to be in your career and personal life?
HZ: This question now holds so much different weight to me, because coming into 2020, I would've never expected this. I'm someone who really just tries to go day-by-day. You know, I was working at Chipotle one day and then was on a television show literally the next morning [laughs]. I would just like to be happy, healthy, and living near my family as I do now, that’s all I could ask for. I would also love to work on a film. I've loved television, but I think it would be a really cool experience to deep dive into one character for a period of time and then pack that up and move on to the next. So hopefully I'll have some films under my belt.
Photography by Krystena Patton