Hannah Zeile plays teenage Kate in the NBC hit show, This Is Us. In the show, Kate struggles with confidence, body image and teenage angst. In a case of art imitating life, 20-year-old Zeile says Kate’s struggles are not only familiar to her but to teenagers everywhere. Zeile sat down with INBETWEEN to give some very real advice to teens and parents of teens on how to make it through some of these tough issues as well as shares her hopes for Kate, going into season three.
What has it been like working on This is Us?
It’s been amazing working on the show. I’ve grown a lot working with people that have raised the bar for me. I’ve gotten to grow as a person just meeting new people that are so emotionally connected to the show. The ability to connect with people on a deep level has completely changed my life and I’m super grateful for Dan Fogelman and everyone who’s taken a chance on me.
How does it feel working on one of TV’s biggest shows?
Honestly, it’s hard to fathom, whenever someone asks, “what’s it like to be on one of TV’s biggest shows” it’s so crazy to just figure it out. And this sounds so cliché but, when I was younger, I was that girl who wanted to be an actress; I wanted to be here, I’ve dreamed about this for so long. So, it’s truly a blessing to be where I am today.
How was it filming that episode where viewers got to see how Jack dies?
It was intense. The scripts were printed on red paper and hand-delivered to us so that it couldn’t be copied. Everything was secretive and just as fierce on set as it was on the air. Working with real fire and a furnace, as well as our whole camera crew in full firefighter gear, was extreme. Overall it was a memorable experience, and different from anything that I’ve ever done and so watching it all come together was truly amazing.
What do you like most about playing teenage Kate?
It’s remarkable, although I’m a counterpart character. There’s adult Kate, younger Kate and I’m playing a role that’s messaged to other people but also it feels like it’s very much my own, which I love. I feel that it’s a lot different from her younger and older self; teenage Kate is kind of independent and a little angstier. The reason I think her, and Jack are so connected is that she’s kind of the rock of the family and that’s another thing I really love about her.
Kate as a young girl and Kate as an adult have weight issues, but in her teen years she seems to have a grasp on it, or does she? What do you think?
Kate’s whole life has circled around these body image issues and insecurities; however, I don’t think that you must be a certain weight or certain body type. In Kate’s teen years the show shadows that she lost a bit of weight, and she can fit into her dress that she’s worked so hard to get into. When she looks into the mirror she doesn’t see what everyone else is seeing, so really it comes down to a self-confidence issue and that’s Kate’s biggest issue. That’s what leads down to her insecurities with Rebecca and her insecurities with her weight even being able to perform as a singer, she allows those insecurities to get in her way a lot and that’s the underlying issue of Kate’s character.
Have you experienced any body image issues?
Growing up I dealt with being small. I was more underdeveloped and looked a lot younger than I was. I had comments and jokes about looking 12 years of age when I was in high school. It made me self-conscious to go out with friends and meet new people because of how small I was compared to the girls my age.
As a young actress in Hollywood, how important is it to have a positive body image?
I think that it’s important to be comfortable in your own skin. There are always people that are going to say things that aren’t nice, there’s always going to be people who will say negative things. On my Instagram, for instance, there are those few that will say things that aren’t nice and then there are those that will show a lot of love. In Hollywood, the focus is on looks and people are sizing you up a lot so, for that matter, it’s important to be confident and happy with yourself to push forward.
How do you stay confident in yourself?
I would be lying if I said I’m confident all the time, but I’ve learned that sometimes you have to fake it ’til you make it and push yourself because you never want to stand in the way of your own opportunities. I’ve always been super passionate about music and singing, but I used to be very self-conscious and scared to sing outside of the shower. However, playing Kate Pearson has taught me a lot, so now I’ve been posting covers and even working on original music that I can’t wait to release.
What would be your advice to teens on having a healthy body image?
Being comfortable and confident in yourself is so important. The best thing about our bodies is that you can physically work on it, which is key, and that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you, it’s just getting to the point where you want it to be. Don’t feel like you need to look like a certain body type – everyone’s body is different, and a lot of photos are edited anyway. Young girls (see images online) and think that’s how they should look but it’s not healthy to go for a certain body image that you see online.
What is your advice to parents whose teens are struggling with weight issues?
Most teens require love; body image is a sensitive subject. It can be painful from the child’s perspective, so being supportive is helpful. Sometimes it’s about more than just weight issues, which is why I think it’s important for parents to be assertive and show their child a lot of love. When someone is struggling with weight issues, there’s a huge chance a story is attached behind it that triggered the weight. So, to parents out there, it’s important to be patient, extremely loving and understanding of the issues your teen is going through to help them overcome it.
This is Us is almost back on air! Can you tell us anything about season 3?
Honestly, I don’t know too much. Dan Fogelman and the writers during our hiatus spend their time working and writing away. We had a meeting in season two with a basic outline of what to expect so I’m hoping the same goes for this season as well.
What do you hope for your character going into season 3?
I trust the writers 1000% with what’ll happen with Kate, but if I could invent something for her it’ll be to focus more on her singing. I’m curious to see what goes on with her music path, that’s my hope for her character for the next season.
Season 3 of This Is Us premieres Tuesday, Sept. 25 (9/8c, NBC)