Chrissy Metz Talks Putting Plus Front & Center On This Is Us

Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
For all of mainstream media’s demonstrable embrace of body diversity, there’s been little visible change at this point. But look around the landscape of this season’s network TV debuts, and you’ll see a heartening shift via one woman in particular: Chrissy Metz. Metz stars in one of this year’s most exciting new dramas, This Is Us, which premiered on NBC September 20. Her character, Kate, promises to be one of the most poignant and relatable roles on prime time. But on top of that: Metz is a plus-size woman in a leading role. As Kate, she is neither punchline nor victim. True, her weight is a major focus of her arc (or so it seems, thus far). But from the start, it is clear that Kate's size is not her defining characteristic. It’s perhaps a subtle shift, but a great leap forward, too. I got the chance to talk with Metz during this turning point in her career — which also happens to be a turning point for the TV industry at large.
Watching you in the pilot was such a poignant experience for many reasons. I think primarily because it's so rare to see somebody on TV who doesn’t fit into a very particular size and/or standard of beauty, but also because it’s rare to see a plus-size character humanized and presented as a lead. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on that, as someone who’s been in the industry for a while.
“I don’t think art has caught up. You know, art imitates life, but it can take time to catch up to it. And it's really nice actually, not only to have a role like this and have it be on a huge network, but to have it be very real and very relatable. It’s not just, ‘Oh, she's a butt of the joke or the stereotype.’ Yes, of course you deal with issues, because being a plus-size woman, it's something that comes up continually. While I'm not defined — and she is not defined — by her weight, it is a part of who she is. It’s balancing who she is, who I am, and who she's trying to become. On the show, that’s what everyone's contending with.

I've heard, 'You're too pretty to play the big girl.' What? Wait, so plus-size women can't be attractive?

Chrissy Metz
"I think a lot of people are relating not only to Kate, but to all the characters in the show. We all have something that we're not very proud of, or things that we don’t really talk about, whether it's Toby [Chris Sullivan] going through things that he covers up with a sense of humor. Or there’s Kevin [Justin Hartley], who wants to be respected as a great actor and not just a really handsome guy. I think we all can relate to just trying to do the best we can with what we have. "It's kind of a trifold thing. Kate also works in the [television] industry with her brother, who is a really hot, gorgeous actor, so she struggles with that. And it's magnified because she is a plus-size girl — but she also isn't feeling sorry for herself in every aspect. Like, 'Oh, my life has gone to shite!' She's still pushing through and trying to become who she knows she's supposed to be — without giving all of herself away. Because she’s tired of living in the shadow of her brother. "It's so relatable, whether you're thin, if you're overweight, race, creed, status, you know? And it's really exciting because you just don’t see those kinds of roles on television, much less a network television show."
Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
I think you hit the nail on the head when you point to the equalizing factor among the main characters, in that they're all passing through a particular threshold onto what they hope comes next. With Kate — I mean, there’s always going to be a conversation when someone’s body doesn’t conform to the cultural beauty standard.
"Right." So, it’s exciting to see, even from the first episode, that it isn't the entire conversation. Yet, the show isn’t willfully shying away from it, either.
"Exactly. And I feel really lucky to have this platform on a network scale. I've had women and men reach out to me already like, 'Wow, I actually can see myself on television, and we're not just being made fun of continually.' "So there is a responsibility, of course. I feel a sense of responsibility to represent actors, plus-size actors, plus-size women, or people who are struggling with their weight. I have that experience, and I really want to do it justice. You know, it's one thing to struggle with your weight here and there, but for me, it's been since I literally was a child, since I was a little girl. I get it. I get it as me, Chrissy, and then Kate, as a character." I imagine you can't help but feel a weight on your shoulders. You’re in a unique position. But, as you point out, you have personal experience on which to draw. Who better than you to take on this role?
"I'm grateful that there is something like this because, it just doesn’t happen often. And it should. We see so many of the same types, and these beautiful, gorgeous, perfect women and men. You know, it's wonderful to look at, but it's not always — it's just not real life." What has it been like — up until now, at least — working in an industry that has such a narrow idea of what like a body looks like on television?
"It’s interesting, because I've heard, 'You're too pretty to play the big girl.' What? Wait, so plus-size women can't be attractive? "I think it also brings up things for people and their — perhaps their issues. Like, 'Oh, I'm not supposed to be attracted to a plus-size woman. It makes me feel weird.' They can't really wrap their heads around it — whether or not they feel comfortable announcing that they are attracted to someone who is plus-size. It definitely makes them feel uneasy because that’s what we’re taught: If we're different, maybe we're not attractive in any capacity, whether it's tall, short, overweight, a different race, whatever. What I love is that it's kind of challenging, even in this role. It challenges people to sneak outside of the box. When that happens, it affects everyone, whether it's deliberate or not. "But yeah, I've had people say either, 'You're too pretty to play the big girl,' or 'You're too overweight for this particular role.' And I'm like, okay, fine, sure. Whatever the producer had in mind, I get it, and it's their project. But it's difficult because, why can't an attorney be overweight? Can't somebody in a high-profile job be overweight? People deal with weight issues no matter what job they have." Right.
"It's definitely been a challenge, and there have been a couple times when I thought, 'Maybe I can't hack this. Maybe I should just go back home.' But then I think, Wait. I don’t want to be miserable at home. I'd rather be miserable here, trying to do what I want to do. "It definitely takes its toll on you if you let it. I'm not a pioneer, but for anyone who is 'unconventional' in any field, it’s gonna take a little longer. And I've been here for, gosh, 11 years. I had some success, and then American Horror Story [in which Metz had a featured role last season] was a prolific show, and that helped. But it's definitely not for the faint of heart. But I'm grateful, because anything that means anything, you have to work for it. It's not always gonna be pretty. Body positivity and body diversity are sort of “on-trend” topics. From your perspective, do you see any real movement in that direction?
As I was saying earlier, art imitates life. I think it just takes a minute to catch up. There's a significant amount of people who are overweight in our country. And because now people are becoming body positive, there's a sense that, no matter what size you are, you can feel comfortable — but also if you want to lose weight, you can, if that’s what you want to do, too. We aren't taught, as a society, to really love ourselves. It's always: You're not enough of this. You're not enough of that. But now, it's like, well, damn it, yes, I am. I am enough. I think that idea is kind of piercing into art as it’s occurring more to people. Obviously, it’s people who create the art, so that in turn affects what's on TV and in movies. But we could talk for days about this."
Photo: Noel Vasquez/Getty Images.
It’s a huge question, I know! So, how about your relationship to your own body? Does the concept of body positivity resonate with you?
"I truly believe that if you don’t accept yourself or where you're at, you can't get to the place where you want to be, or become the person you feel you're supposed to be. I go back and forth. I’m like, 'Yeah, I'm cool, it's fine!' And then, 'Ugh.' "I'm not ever gonna be a tiny girl, but I have an idea of a size that I would like to be. I've always had this idea in my mind, but at the same time, I'm not beating up myself. I'm not saying, 'I wish I was this, I wish I was that,' because it's counterproductive. Some women and some men feel comfortable being plus-size, or some people feel more athletic, etc. Whatever makes you feel good, that’s what I think you should pursue. I'm kind of in both worlds. Part of me wants to change, and part of me is like, 'No, I'm good.'"
I think a lot of people feel that way. I think part of body positivity is accepting that you're not always gonna be 100% confident on every single day of your life. And that’s okay.
"Right, right. And I know women who are conventionally beautiful, who are size zero, and they still have those issues." Of course.
"It's about so much more than your actual body size or the number on a scale. It's your mental and your emotional health, and that is also super important for me." That reminds me: The scene in the pilot when you weigh yourself, nude? That was intense. I have to ask, what was it like to shoot that — or even to be asked to do it?
"It was in the script, but I thought, It’s network television. I’m not really going to be naked, whatever. And then, of course, when I booked the role, I found out I was. Initially, I thought, Damn, this is gonna be scary. I'm not only gonna be mentally and emotionally exposed, but physically exposed, in front of a crew of 100 people.

I truly believe that if you don’t accept yourself or where you're at, you can't get to the place where you want to be, or become the person you feel you're supposed to be.

Chrissy Metz
"But really it's like, 'Chrissy, this is so important to you, this character, and on so many different levels.' After I did it, it felt super liberating. You’ve just gotta embrace it and just go with it. And also it was liberating in that I know that I'm not just my body. I'm so much more as a woman, a human being, a soul — as opposed to just this vessel that we're living in. "I think anybody who gets on a scale finds it scary and nerve-wracking. We take all the clothes and the earrings and everything we can off to make sure that every single ounce is accounted or not accounted for. I spoke to the women working behind the scenes after we did that scene. And they were saying, 'My god, I could have never done that.' But why? Why could you never have done that? Why do we care so much about what other people think? All that matters is how you feel about yourself. That’s all that matters. Everybody else has their own thing. Indeed.
"What people think about me is not my business. But this is what this woman, Kate, is gonna do. She's not gonna have all of her clothes on. Also, you never see my body shape on television. You don’t see women or men — well, maybe more so men, but not women — completely exposed that way. I had never seen it before, not in that capacity. "Knowledge is power, and if you're never exposed to something, you don’t really understand it. So then, of course, you fear it. Like I said before, I think it makes people consider, 'Am I supposed to be attracted to this?' or 'This makes me uncomfortable.' That’s what art does and what life does. It brings up different feelings you never thought you had."

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