Mckenna Grace Is About to Do the Impossible: Transition From Child Star to Adult Actor

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Mckenna Grace has been a working actor for 13 years. It's an impressive achievement, but even more so when you consider that Grace won't even turn 18 for another few months. The Texas native got her start when she was five, which makes her one of the few actors who has successfully transitioned from child star to adult actor without any sort of break during her formative years.

And yet, even though Grace has achieved critical and professional acclaim in her midteens (she was nominated for an Emmy in 2021 for her role as Esther Keyes in The Handmaid's Tale), most fans—and even some of her peers—still see her as a young kid, best known for when she starred in Gifted with Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer, or I, Tonya, with Allison Janney and Margot Robbie. She's as likely to get “You've grown up before our eyes!” or “Stop growing up so fast” as much as “How do I know you?” or “You've been in everything!”

"I'm like, ‘What do you mean?’ and ‘What do you want me to do [about it]?’” Grace tells Glamour from a New York City hotel room the night after the premiere of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, where she reprises her role as Phoebe Spengler for the second time. “I feel like people just have a consensus that I'm still nine years old, and it's crazy because I'm turning 18 this year. I feel like people still think of me [as that age] because I've been so young for most of my career.”

Octavia Spencer, Mckenna Grace, and Chris Evans in Gifted, from 2017

Octavia Spencer, McKenna Grace, Chris Evans, 2017. ph: Wilson Webb/TM & Copyright ©Fox

Octavia Spencer, Mckenna Grace, and Chris Evans in Gifted, from 2017
©Fox Searchlight/Courtesy Everett Collection

She concedes that it's a very weird place to be “right on the cusp of being an adult because you're kind of too old for the younger roles, but then you're too young for the older roles.” More so, now she's also auditioning against actors who are in their mid-to-late 20s, which is, to put it bluntly, a bit trippy. “You're like, ‘Wait, where did this come from out of nowhere one day?’ So it's such an interesting time in my life to be an actress. I'm just happy to be here, but it's crazy.”

Still, Grace gets it, and admits she's been guilty of thinking that way with other actors. “I'll watch someone for years and then be like, Oh, I’ve loved them since this, and then I realize, That’s weird that people think that way about me [too]. It's so strange.”

Most young actors aren't Mckenna Grace, though. In her 13 years she's been in films and TV shows with such stars as Viola Davis, Eddie Murphy, Brie Larson, and Kiefer Sutherland, in addition to Evans, Spencer, Janney, and Robbie. Considering she has more than 70 credits to her name, you can only imagine the names not listed here. In fact, most actors would tell you they'd be lucky to share the screen with just one of those aforementioned performers.

Grace and Brie Larson at the premiere of Marvel Studios' Captain Marvel in Hollywood on March 4, 2019

Mckenna Grace, Brie Larson, Los Angeles World Premiere Of Marvel Studios' "Captain Marvel"

Grace and Brie Larson at the premiere of Marvel Studios' Captain Marvel in Hollywood on March 4, 2019
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Allison Janney, Margot Robbie, and Grace at the Hollywood Film Awards, where they were honored for their film I, Tonya, in November 2017
Allison Janney, Margot Robbie, and Grace at the Hollywood Film Awards, where they were honored for their film I, Tonya, in November 2017
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for HFA

“I love acting, I love what I do, but I feel like I don't think of myself as an actor,” Grace says. “I feel like I'm just a fan that sneaks onto sets and I'm like, ‘Somebody's going to find me out. Somebody's going to discover how I got in, and they're going to kick me out.’”

If anything, any show or movie would be lucky if she wound up on their set. Pretty much self-trained, Grace is like the secret weapon on any project, whether it be playing the younger version of a main character (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or I, Tonya) or part of an ensemble (Ghostbusters: Afterlife; Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire; or The Handmaid's Tale).

And yet, for as accomplished as she is, the 17-year-old is still very much young at heart, coping with the pressures of working in an industry that's never easy on anyone, regardless of age, and especially gender. When she says she's just happy to be in the room, she means it. There's no ego, no entitlement—just gratefulness.

What's ironic is that for this particular feature—for Glamour's New Here franchise—Grace is young but certainly not new. She's a veteran with the excitement of someone just stepping onto set for the first time. It's an interesting dynamic, and Grace knows it.

So what is Grace's life really like these days? Could she imagine doing something else? Does she want to act for decades to come? What achievement is she most proud of? And why is she still shocked that one of her most popular roles is also the one that fans want to talk about most? For the latest edition of (Not Exactly) New Here, get to know Mckenna Grace. After all, she's not going anywhere.

Mckenna Grace

Mckenna Grace 2024

Mckenna Grace
NBC/Getty Images

Glamour: Hi, Mckenna!

Mckenna Grace: You're never going to believe where I just got back from. I just did the Glamour friendship test with Finn [Wolfhard] where we give each other compliments.

Amazing. And what did he say about you?

He said that I'm a great listener, I'm empathetic, and I'm sensitive in an awesome way.

I love that. Also, I consider myself sensitive, but somehow it’s gotten a bad connotation. How do you feel about that word?

What can I do about it? I'm a very sensitive person, sensitive soul, and it's for better and for worse. There's many different ways that word can be used, but it's not always a bad thing.

How does that factor into what you do for a living? What do you do to protect yourself from how opinionated the public can be?

It can be bad. Somebody always has something to say. I don't keep my Instagram on my phone. It's just so much. There's so many great people out there, but for every nice person there's a bajillion mean ones. No, actually for every mean person, there's a bajillion nice ones. I'm going to look at it glass half full. So yeah, I just try to stay out of it. I think that anyone can have a perception of a person. People don't know you online, so it's easy to not take to heart what people say.

Was there ever a time when you could have seen yourself doing anything else but being an actor?

No. It's all I've wanted to do. But I think about that all the time, like, what would I even do? I don't even know. I wonder what career path I would've chosen, because genuinely, I can't imagine doing anything outside of film and television, anything outside of a creative, artistic space.

What were you like as a kid before you started acting?

I was a very outgoing little child and I just had a very big personality and a lot of imagination and ideas and energy. I just funneled that into all sorts of weird little obsessions and hyper-fixations. I had to do gymnastics, cheerleading, all the things. Then I was like, “I'm going to be an actor. That's my adventure this time. That's my grand pursuit.” Then somehow it stuck and became my life, my favorite thing in the world.

Grace on the set of ABC's Designated Survivor in season one


Grace on the set of ABC's Designated Survivor in season one
Ben Mark Holzberg/Getty Images

You were born in Texas, and then started coming to Los Angeles for auditions before you and the family moved. How do you like LA?

I've been acting for 13 years, and I've probably lived in LA for 12 of those years, which is super weird. I'm just not claiming LA though. I don't know. I don't love LA. I'd like to live in New York or Texas or something.

It's just, I find that I don't have too much of a social life in LA. But I also haven't given it a proper chance because I don't really have a license [and] don't know a ton of people in LA. I just got back from visiting my grandparents in Texas. We bought eight chickens while we were there. We keep them at the farm now, so it's great.

You’ve been acting for so long—do you even get starstruck given that this life and career is your normal? Because the list of people you’ve worked with is insane.

Oh, can I. I do a lot of Comic-Cons, and I ask my Comic-Con agent, “Do you have any clients who work these Cons that's more excited to be here than me?” He was like, “I'd have to really think about it, but I can tell you I don't have one client who goes around and takes more pictures with all the other people working here than you do.”

Who do you go around taking photos with? Comic book characters or superheroes? Or actors?

[Laughs.] I have a professional printed photo of me with Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor, and then I have one of me and Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard. I have a little photo album on my phone called Starstruck with all the pictures that I've collected. I usually don't like to take pictures with celebrities because I want them to know that I truly appreciate their work. At this point, I'm just like, it's too cool. I get too excited. I just love movies and love watching movies, so I'm the biggest fan of everybody that I work with. So I'm always starstruck.

Jim Gaffigan, Viola Davis, and Grace at the premiere of their film Troop Zero at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival

Jim-Gaffigan-Viola-Davis-Mckenna-Grace-2019 Sundance Film Festival - "Troop Zero" Premiere.jpg

Jim Gaffigan, Viola Davis, and Grace at the premiere of their film Troop Zero at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Eddie Murphy and Grace at the premiere of their film Mr. Church in September 2016

'Mr Church' film premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA - 06 Sep 2016

Eddie Murphy and Grace at the premiere of their film Mr. Church in September 2016
Variety/Getty Images

That is so cute. I honestly would not have guessed that.

I'm in no way, shape, or form jaded over any of this. I am just so happy to be here 24/7. I still go up to the OG Ghostbusters who I've been working with for five years and ask if I can take pictures with them.

Who’s the most famous person in your phone contact list that you still can't believe is in there?

Patton Oswalt, because he played Ratatouille, and I love him so much. That's my comfort film. At the Ghostbusters premiere I told him, “Patton, I know we worked together all summer, but I don't know if I ever told you that you're probably one of my favorite actors and I obsessively watched Ratatouille every night of quarantine, especially as I was recovering from spine surgery [for scoliosis].”

Did you even think about what it meant to be a successful actor when you were a kid? Did it mean getting awards? Working regularly?

Growing up, I did this because I loved it, and as I've gotten older, I've just grown such an appreciation for the craft and everything that goes into creating film. It's my dream job. It's my goal in life to be a great actress and keep working.

You’ve already been nominated for an Emmy for The Handmaid's Tale. What was that experience like?

That was the craziest thing ever. I can't believe that happened.

Grace and Madeline Brewer in The Handmaid's Tale. Grace was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding guest actress in a drama series for the role.
Grace and Madeline Brewer in The Handmaid's Tale. Grace was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding guest actress in a drama series for the role.
Everett Collection/Hulu

I’m going to guess you never took an acting class and this all just came naturally to you. Or am I wrong?

It's not like I told my mom, “I want to be an actress,” and she was like, “Okay, five-year-old Mckenna. Let's send you to LA.” It was more like, I begged to be an actor. My mom was like, “No,” but then I convinced her at some point to let me go to an acting class or something. I must have been five. I don't really remember any of it, but from there I met an agent and ended up getting an audition. Luckily, I have a family that has always been very supportive of: “If this is not something you want to do anymore, then you're free to [stop].” It's something that genuinely I've been pursuing.

What do you think is the most misunderstood part of what you do?

People only see the triumphs and the victory, but it's a very discouraging line of work. There's so many nos, and it constantly is a comparison game of you against whatever other millions of actresses there are out there. I am constantly digging my nails into auditions and roles and being like, “I have to play this. I'm not going to take no for an answer.” There's so many losses and rejections in this industry, and I think that it's a common misconception.

Well, with as many roles as you've had, I’m sure people think this must come easy.

I have been very lucky to be consistently working and doing roles that I really care about, but I am constantly getting nos. It's often, and nobody really sees it, but it's a very tough job.

Grace with her parents, Crystal and Ross, at the Ghostbusters: Afterlife premiere in November 2021

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE World Premiere, Mckenna Grace, parents

Grace with her parents, Crystal and Ross, at the Ghostbusters: Afterlife premiere in November 2021
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

What was your audition like for Ghostbusters originally?

I think they originally said, “I don't think that you're going to be moving forward,” and I didn't hear about it for a while. And then somehow I ended up coming back in for the chemistry reads out of nowhere. Now here we are, five years and two movies into the franchise, and I'm just so happy to be here.

What did that teach you about this business?

I got brought back because Ivan [Reitman] really liked me. But I went into the chemistry reads thinking that I wasn't going to get the role. I was like, “I'm just so honored and excited and happy to be here. I'm going to give this everything that I've got anyways.” I got to try on a proton pack in the chemistry reads, and meet Jason [Reitman] as well. I was like, “This is a dream come true just to be in this room.” So I cried a little bit whenever I put on the proton pack, which is so embarrassing.

Not at all! That's so heartwarming!

At the chemistry read, I was like, “Oh, no. This is so bad.” And I think that showing the true passion and heart and love that I had for the project was very helpful in booking it.

The aforementioned proton pack
The aforementioned proton pack
Sony Pictures/Everett Collection

Do you have any superstitions when you’re filming?

No, but Jason Reitman really changed the way I act. He was like, “I don't want you rehearsing your lines before you come to set.” And I was like, “Jason, all I do is rehearse my lines before I come to set. I know my lines a week in advance, and I've gone over them 50 times with my mom by the time I get to set. What are you talking about?” And he was like, “I just don't want it to feel like you know how you're going to say it. I don't want it to be rehearsed. I don't want you to read your lines when you come to set.” And I haven't since. That was five years ago, and since then, I read the script so many times that I'm familiar with everything. And then I kind of learn my lines the morning of on the ride over, and then I don't say them out loud until I get set, and figure it out from there.

That must’ve been really scary at first, but also kind of freeing, I would imagine.

Yeah, for sure. Of course, I still like to run them from time to time, but I don't overrehearse things at all anymore. So, thank you, Jason Reitman, for changing my life and the way I act.

I’ve got some rapid-fire questions now for you. What is your choice of beverage and snack on set?

Diet Coke and trail mix. Ooh, I would chow down on some trail mix right now.

Is there a hair or makeup secret you've learned from all your years on set that you do in your own life?

The trick and the secret is just to get somebody else to do it for you. [Laughs.] I try to watch them do my hair and do my makeup, so I can do it on my own, but nope. My mom still blow-dries and helps me with my hair every day. Whenever I have to go to work or do things, my mom helps me do my hair.

That’s great. What’d you think of your wig you wore in your first Ghostbusters movie?

It was not a wig in the first movie. I dyed my hair and chopped it up to [my chin]. Yeah, it was definitely crazy, but little 13-year-old me loved it. It was cool. It was fun. Anything to be a Ghostbuster.

If you were to be given a superlative on set, what would yours be?

Most excited to be there. Biggest fan. And most likely to know everyone's name. I keep track of everything.

I read your next role is in Olivia Wilde’s Perfect, which is the story of Olympian Kerri Strug. Is that right?

No. That was back in 2021 that we were doing production on that. I don't know what is happening with that film. We prepared for it for a while, but I don't know what's happening with it.

But I am currently doing a film this year that I'm also executive-producing. It's called Straight Lies, and it's a true story about the war on drugs back in the day, and kind of a cultish program that children were sent to. It's the true story of a writer who got sent to this antidrug camp, and she had never touched any drugs or alcohol in her life. And then [I'll film] The Handmaid's Tale hopefully this year. But right now it's all Ghostbusters.

How was this Ghostbusters film different for you compared to the last one in 2021?

It was very fun to be a little older, and to be able to connect with my castmates a bit more. It's very exciting to finally be at the age [I am]…where people kind of feel comfortable connecting with you and being friends outside of work. So it's nice to be finally getting to that point where I kind of like, “Oh, people want to go to dinner with me after work. What?” It makes me so happy to finally be at that point, because that's something that every child actor looks forward to I feel like. That was really fun, hanging out with the cast. And it was very fun having the original Ghostbusters on set a lot more than we did last time.

Grace and Finn Wolfhard in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
Grace and Finn Wolfhard in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
Sony Pictures/Everett Collection

What is the project or moment in your career you’re most proud of so far?

I'm really, really proud and happy with the work that I was able to do in Handmaid's Tale. And I did a limited series called A Friend of the Family, and that was one of my favorite things I've ever worked on. I feel like I changed so much as an actor on that project. And of course, Ghostbusters truly changed my life.

What project do people most reference when they meet you? Is it Ghostbusters?

Young Sheldon, which is so crazy because I've been in, like, six episodes [Editor's note: According to this Big Bang wiki page, it's actually nine appearances] of that show that has been on for so long. It always makes me laugh because I'm like, “How? Me? I was in six episodes of it,” and I feel like I've done a lot of things. So it's always just funny that I get recognized so often for the show that I appear so little in. Young Sheldon is just such a hit with teenagers.

Grace as Paige and Iain Armitage as Sheldon in an early episode of Young Sheldon

Young Sheldon-Mckenna-Grace-Iain-Armitage.jpg

Grace as Paige and Iain Armitage as Sheldon in an early episode of Young Sheldon
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
Raegan Revord as Missy and Grace as Paige in a season six episode of Young Sheldon

Young Sheldon, Raegan Revord, Mckenna Grace

Raegan Revord as Missy and Grace as Paige in a season six episode of Young Sheldon
CBS Photo Archive/Sonja Flemming/Getty Images

You’re talking to the author of The Big Bang Theory oral history, of which there is a whole Young Sheldon chapter, so I am fully aware of the tremendous fandom. Finally, given your popularity, is there a platform or a cause that you hope to advocate for going forward?

I've been very grateful to be able to speak out about child marriage and the fact that that is still such a prominent thing in so many places. I played a child bride in Handmaid's Tale, and a dark role in A Friend of the Family and other things. [But this is a] very real reality for a lot of young girls in real life.

Grace and Jake Lacy in A Friend of the Family on Peacock

Mckenna Grace, Jake Lacy, A Friend of the Family - Season 1

Grace and Jake Lacy in A Friend of the Family on Peacock
Peacock/Getty Images

Given the intensity of these roles onscreen, how do you unwind when you’re not filming?

I find that I get in and out of moods with music. I was so depressed for a month, and then I was like, “This is 100% why I'm sad, because literally all I do is listen to this terrible, devastating music.” And so I have a playlist right now with songs to not be depressed to. I just listen to happy music, like Kesha and 3OH!3. Music is my way to bring myself into an emotion and out of it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jessica Radloff is the Glamour senior West Coast editor and author of the NYT best-selling book The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series.

Originally Appeared on Glamour