“You Came Here With Nothing. If You Don’t Get It, You Do Not Lose Anything. If You Do, That’s Great. So, You Can Only Win”
A Conversation With Meg Donnelly Of “American Housewife”
I had the pleasure to interview Meg Donnelly. Meg can currently be seen starring on ABC’s comedy series “American Housewife.” The show follows Katie Otto (Katy Mixon) a strong-willed mother who is struggling to raise her flawed family in a wealthy town filled with perfect wives and their impeccable offspring. Meg shines as Taylor, the eldest of Katie’s three children, who was an awkward, homely student then suddenly grew out of her ugly-duckling phase. On the film front, Meg can be seen starring as Addison in the upcoming Disney Channel Original Movie “Zombies”. The musical follows a semester at Seabrook High School in a suburban town preoccupied with uniformity, traditions and pep rallies until transfer students from Zombietown are integrated into the school. The story centers around cheerleader Addison (Donnelly) and zombie football star Zed. Meg also recently wrapped production on the indie drama “The Broken Ones” (AMK Films).
What is your “backstory”?
I was 6 years old when my dad and I saw a sign in a storefront window that read ‘Coming Soon: Sing, Dance & Act’. That space became Annie’s Playhouse in Far Hills, NJ, which soon after became my 2nd home. For five nights a week and Saturday mornings, I sang, danced, acted, played piano and guitar there. I attended Annie’s from age 6 through 14, when my family and I moved to New York City full-time. It was at an Annie’s showcase that I was ‘discovered’ by my manager at age 10. My first professional gig was ‘Sesame Street’ that same year (‘Juanes’ episode). Since my first day at Annie’s, performing is all I’ve ever wanted to do.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your acting career?
Last year on the set of ‘American Housewife’, we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to cast and crew members on their birthdays. By the end of the year, we also started singing ‘Happy Birthday’ whenever anyone did something nice or kind. Well, this year, the prop master dropped a prop, which smashed on the floor. A cameraman then began singing ‘Happy Birthday’. We all joined in. It was hilarious! Now, we sing ‘Happy Birthday’ so often that no one knows if it’s really someone’s birthday, if someone did something great or if someone goofed!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We have three more episodes to shoot to complete Season 2 of ‘American Housewife’. Then I will start praying for a Season 3!!
I am so excited about my movie, Disney’s ‘Zombies’. The movie’s message of embracing our differences and being tolerant of others is so needed today. It’s amazing that with all the great dancing and singing in the movie, the audience really connected with the message! I am appreciative for all of their support!
While I am always looking for new acting opportunities, I’d like to go into the studio and record a few original songs that I have had for a bit. I am also continuing to learn and practice the Japanese language. But most of all, I’d just like to continue this surreal ride!! I’ve met so many talented and interesting people over the past year. I am so happy to have them all in my life!!
Who are some of the most famous people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I love working with my TV parents, Katy Mixon and Diedrich Bader every day. We are truly a family. They are both so gracious with their time and advice. While both are accomplished and amazing actors, what’s even more impressive is how they treat the cast and crew. They are both so kind and considerate. They make everyone on the set feel important and a part of the show. That is something I try to emulate each day on set.
When I was on the set of the ‘Sound of Music, Live!’, I was fortunate to work with Carrie Underwood, Stephen Moyer, Audra McDonald, Christian Borle and Laura Benanti. It was an amazing experience. They were all so kind to me.
Helen Hunt, Lea Thompson and Chad Lowe have all directed episodes of ‘American Housewife’. We’ve also had many great guest stars, including George Hamilton, Hal Linden and Wendy Malick!
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
When I was young, I did a book report on Rosa Parks. Her story is so inspiring. She had such courage and conviction. She risked everything to take a stand for what she believed in. I think about her when I find myself in tough spots, where I can go with the crowd or stand for what I believe in.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in Hollywood?
You have to love performing, be passionate and work hard. Whether it is singing, acting or dancing, there is just so much talent, competition, and rejection. You have to take advice, accept criticism, and be willing to learn. Surround yourself with good people and have supportive parents. But most of all, have fun! If it is not fun, it is not worth doing! I have met so many wonderful and talented artists, many of whom I am lucky to call my friends. They continually inspire me to grow as a performer and to see life from different perspectives.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m not sure how I’ve used my success to bring goodness to the world (I’m still figuring it all out), but I would like to think that the message of my movie ‘Disney Zombies’, that of embracing our differences, loving yourself for who you are and being kind to one another, resonates with our fans.
I have received many letters and comments on my social media from kids that have watched the movie and have expressed how they now feel better about themselves and will choose kindness over anything else. Other fans write that they have been bullied and now feel empowered to take a stand for themselves and on behalf their friends. While ‘Addison’ was a character I played in a movie, hopefully, I will continue to emulate her in my real life and will bring more goodness to the world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I started professionally at a young age (10), so many things were said to me that I couldn’t understand. I had to experience them.
I was told that auditioning was very competitive. Then one day I remember being at an audition waiting to go into the room for a part in a Broadway musical and a girl came up to me and said ‘You should just go home. I’m going to get this part’. I was shocked. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I did go into that audition. I didn’t get the part and don’t know if she did, but at that moment I understood what “very competitive” meant.
I was told that rejection is part of the process and you have to forget quickly and move to the next audition. My first dance audition was for a part in another Broadway show. I was one of the better performers at my theater school, but when I walked into the dance room for the audition, I quickly realized I was not ready. There was so much talent from all over the United States. After I got cut, I was getting pizza with my dad (best rejection food ever). He said, ‘Meg, this is Broadway. These kids are the best of the best. It’s like trying out for the Yankees (always a sports analogy)’. This just made me work harder. I would get nervous before auditions, especially Broadway musicals, where there are multiple people in the room. To calm me down, my dad would always say ‘You came here with nothing. If you don’t get it, you do not lose anything. If you do, that’s great. So, you can only win’. This always made me feel better (that and ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley on my headphones).
I wish I knew I would have to leave school and be homeschooled, which can sometimes be very lonely. I wish people knew that there is no such thing as an ‘overnight’ success. When I got cast in ‘American Housewife’, I was new to Los Angeles. Many people and publications out here did not know me and were referring to me as an ‘overnight’ success. But that gives fans and young performers the wrong impression. My being cast in ‘American Housewife’ was the result of years of training, hundred of auditions (many of them resulting in a ‘Thank you, but we got what we needed’) and sacrifice on the part of many people, most of all my parents. But now that I am here, I wish someone would have told me how awesome it would all be. That if your talent, hard work and luck lined-up, and you were able to be in a network TV show and a Disney Channel Original Movie, the fans will make you a part of their lives. The outpouring of feelings and emotions that I have received is not something that can be told, it has to be experienced.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I would like to have lunch with Queen Elizabeth II. She’s had such an interesting life. Think of all the people she must have met; from all walks of life. I would like to know how those people and events have impacted her. One of my favorite things to do is to go to cafes and meet new people, hear their stories and try to understand what makes them happy. Queen Elizabeth II would be fascinating, as her life has spanned almost a century and through major events in history. As one of the few women in power for much of her reign, I’d like to know how she has balanced being the Queen and a woman. Maybe someday!