‘1883’ Actor Isabel May Couldn’t Get Work Until She Was 16 Because She Was ‘Too Tall’

1883 was a breakthrough role for Isabel May. She had been on TV shows before, but the role of Elsa Dutton graduated her into grown-up drama. Looking back at her emerging acting career, May recalls having to wait until she got older to land the roles she wanted. One reason given was May was too tall as a child.

'1883' star Isabel May was too tall to act until she was 16
Isabel May | Emerson Miller/Paramount+

May was a guest on The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast on April 14. Discussing her early acting career prior to 1883, May said she had trouble getting work until she was 16.

Before ‘1883,’ Isabel May discovered acting in school

May remembered struggling to socialize in school. In sixth grade, her English teacher, Mr. Frank, suggested acting to her parents. May signed with a management team who remain her representation today, through 1883 and beyond. And May said she was always more comfortable acting for work than in school plays. 

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“You want to hold it close to your chest because that means if someone tries to poke and prod at it, it hurts a lot,” May said on Awards Chatter. “I was just too insecure to do it in front of them. But doing it for some reason in a room full of executives who are stone faced looking at a 13-year -old, for some reason I just came to life in that environment.”

Isabel May was a tall child

May only turned 21 in November 2021. She recalled her managers told her she’d have to wait for the industry to catch up to her. It worked out that she would be the right age for 1883 in 2021.

“My manager told me right off the bat, ‘You’re not going to get a job until you’re 16 years old. You’re too tall, you’re too young, there’s the age thing, it’s not going to happen. So don’t worry about that. Just learn,’” May said. “And that’s exactly what I did. I never attended a school or a program for acting. I just went and auditioned and studied the hell out of it and took it very, very seriously, but always looked at it like a hobby, not a profession necessarily.”

The end of school was the beginning of her career

As May approached high school, she knew it wasn’t for her. She completed her education, but she was ready to start working. She still wouldn’t have a love scene until 1883.

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“Then when I went through 9th grade which is what my parents said I had to do, I had to get through 9th grade, all the way through to the end, and just couldn’t,” May said. “I was very unhappy. I thought there’s no way I can do this for three more years. I just want to crank through it. My parents agreed and I did online schooling. I did a dual course so I started college the same year over the summer and I just hauled butt all the way through it and it was a piece of cake. I wish more kids like me were aware they could do that.”

Alexa & Katie cast May in 2018. 

“I got my first job five months after leaving school,” May said. “It was definitely the right decision.”

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