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The Transformation Of Isabel May From Childhood To Yellowstone's 1883

While "1883" actress Isabel May might seem like a newcomer to the scene with her breakout role in Taylor Sheridan's "Yellowstone" prequel, she's been acting (or trying to) since she was in middle school. Her fellow cast members speak to her ability, with Sam Elliot saying she could have a long career in the industry. As Elsa, she's fallen in love twice, became a pants-wearing woman, and even suffered an injury from an arrow. 

Although her name is synonymous with Elsa Dutton, that isn't the only high-profile character May has played on screen. From Netflix sitcoms to indie horror, she is working her way through multiple genres of Hollywood and all the new experiences they bring. Her first role after several years of auditioning was a main character, believe it or not, and her career has only continued to rise. 

From learning how to be comedic on camera to experiencing the extreme weather that comes with traveling the Great Plains in the 19th century, the young actress has tried on many hats over her surprisingly short time in Hollywood. Let's take a look at Isabel May's life from being a young reader growing up in the City of Angels to snagging her signature role. 

Isabel May's teacher encouraged her to become an actor

May grew up in Los Angeles "I'm an only child," she discussed with YouTuber Pop Star Extraordinaire Maya in 2020 (at the 6:43 mark). "So it's just my mom and my dad and I." She describes herself as being an avid reader and writer when she was a young child.

"My English teacher pulled my parents to the side in sixth grade," May told Terroir Magazine in 2018. "And said you gotta get her doing something else, because she has to express [herself] in some way." In her interview with Pop Star Extraordinaire Maya, she shared that this teacher wanted her to be more social and involved with the arts, but even though May had never liked the theater, she stumbled into acting.

"I'd always said I'm gonna be an actor someday because my other two friends are a dancer and singer," she shared with Terroir Magazine. "Meanwhile, I had zero experience and was terrified." In the same interview, May admits that she "did not commit" to acting the way she thought she should, sometimes even forgetting to go to the class.

May spent three years auditioning with no luck

She auditioned on and off while attending school, though her main focus remained on education. "I did audition for three years, but I was devoted to school, as were my parents," May discussed with Terroir Magazine. "We kind of made a pact, that I had to wait until ninth grade to really commit to something like this." This decision allowed her to continue her education, but have a solid timeframe on when she would take her acting career to the next level.

While she continued to audition and maintain her focus on school, she also had a "normal" job like other teens. In an interview with KTLA 5 in 2019, she detailed her first job as "horrible." She spent a year working retail at Brandy Melville, a clothing store, though she was quick to note she didn't model any of the clothing. "I didn't do the whole modeling thing," she told the news team. "I did the nasty stuff ... such a good experience."

Over the course of these three years, she experienced rejection, but believes it helped her on the journey to where she is today. "Looking back on the many things I was rejected on, I'm so glad it was a rejection," she shared with Terroir Magazine. "It made me a better actor."

She landed her first role sixth months after starting online school

When May turned 16, she began online school, accelerating her education, and within six months she'd secured her role as Katie in the Netflix sitcom "Alexa & Katie." During the audition process, she knew there were two other girls screen-testing with Paris Berelc (the Alexa of the duo), but she didn't feel nervous or pressured

After she got the call that she'd booked the role, it took a moment for reality to set in. "I didn't really react right away," she told Pop Star Extraordinaire Maya (at the 7:00 mark). "I went to the grocery store with my mom ... I got really emotional in the parking lot." She goes on to say she forgot that booking a role after all the auditions could actually happen.

May connects with Katie in a significant way. "One of my closest friends, at fourteen had lymphoma," she detailed to Terroir Magazine. "We kind of looked at each other and went Did I just book this show, and it's your story?" In addition to understanding what the character was going through, she was given the opportunity to help develop who Katie was. "I also kind of got to jump in and craft," she discussed with Pop Star Extraordinaire Maya (at 3:45 mark). "I really got to create a creative character ... and flesh her out."

May learned about comedy while she played Katie

The young actress learned the art of comedy in her first role. However, May doesn't think she's a funny person outside of the character. 

In her interview with Pop Star Extraordinaire Maya, she said "I'm too nervous to crack jokes because they never work," though she applauds those that can make a whole room laugh. Before she started working on "Alexa & Katie," she didn't know she could be funny. "I was definitely not as aware of my comedic capabilities when going into this show," May told Young Entertainment Magazine. "I didn't really know that I could be funny."

As she filmed, she learned how to be comedic. "I have quite a long body," the actress discussed with Terroir Magazine. "So I found I could express myself comedically, physically in certain ways." In her interview with Young Entertainment Magazine, she details that she began using her arms more, and over time more physical comedy was written into the show for her character. In trying to figure out how to be funny, she discovered physical comedy was more her speed, allowing her to grow and hone a new skill. "I learned so much on this show that I wasn't aware of," she continued. "The comedy stuff was a little tougher, but in a great way. In a really satisfying way."

She joined the cast of another major show

After booking "Alexa & Katie," May was cast in the recurring role of Veronica on CBS's "Young Sheldon." She plays a love interest of Georgie, Sheldon's brother. Her character first appeared in Season 2 and hasn't appeared on screen since Season 3, likely because May has become so busy with other work. The role is quite different from the goofy Katie she played for Netflix, described as a "bad girl" by fans; Veronica smokes and drinks, but found her way again by pledging her life to Jesus and Christianity. 

May has spoken positively about her experience on set and with the cast of the series. She described her favorite part of being on the show as "observing how [the writers] work together" in her interview with Pop Star Extraordinaire Maya. "The cast is fantastic," she told the news team of KTLA 5. "Annie Potts is in it ... she's like a legend."

Though she hasn't appeared in the two most recent seasons of the show, fans believe Veronica could be Georgie's first wife. If this were the case, could May reprise her role in a later season? It remains to be seen.

May's first feature film gave her several new experiences

May's first prominent film role came in 2019's "Let's Scare Julie" (originally titled "Let's Scare Julie to Death"), a thriller following five teens as they prank their neighbor. Over the course of the evening, things go wrong and the teens begin disappearing one by one. Her involvement with the Jud Cremata project was confirmed by Deadline in 2018

It was very different from the sitcom work she had become accustomed to, in genre, intensity and the grueling nature of the film's primary gimmick. "Everything about it was so different to 'Alexa and Katie'," the actress told BELLO Mag. "All aspects of the experience was brand new ... It's a 90 minute uncut take — no stopping, one shot. Really, really fun and creative and strange." 

She was drawn to the project for the challenge, as well as the new filming environment. "I really wanted to experience gritty filmmaking," May discussed with Pop Star Extraordinaire Maya (at the 8:39 mark). "The challenge [of a one-shot take] was appealing." Before that, she had only filmed on a sound stage. In addition to a new type of filming, she got to flex her improv skills. "We didn't have to rely on the script," she described to BELLO Mag. "We got to improvise which was a dream. It felt so real."

She puts her all into her projects

"Let's Scare Julie" isn't May's only film. She subsequently played Zoe, the main character, in the 2020 survival thriller "Run Hide Fight." The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2020 before being picked up by conservative news outlet The Daily Wire for distribution. It follows a teen as she tries to save her fellow students from the unthinkable. 

"It was an interesting challenge to walk this fine line: an otherwise normal teenage girl dropped into an overwhelming and terrifying ordeal," May told The Daily Wire. "Zoe, to me, represented the countless real people who were courageous enough to do something." She also speaks about how she prepared for the role, practicing shooting and researching how people behave when such an event happens, even working with an on-set expert to understand the victim's experience. 

May did many of the stunts in the film herself, but some were best left to the experts. "Falling through a ceiling was beyond my expertise," she detailed to The Daily Wire. "Fortunately for me, that was reserved for an incredible stuntwoman."

A single audition led to her becoming Elsa

One audition led to May landing her role in "1883," and it wasn't even an audition to be Elsa

"I tested for something else, another one of [Sheridan's] projects," May told Town & Country. "That didn't go through obviously, and he sent me a letter and said, 'I will find the role for you.'" This other project was "Mayor of Kingstown." "He [Sheridan] flew three girls out to Texas, including myself," she detailed to The Hollywood Reporter. "So I auditioned for that, and I was terribly wrong for it."

Fortunately for May, the third time was the charm. "He called two weeks later and said, 'You're Elsa Dutton. I want you to be Elsa Dutton,'" May told The Hollywood Reporter. "'Well, of course, I'll be Elsa Dutton because you're Taylor Sheridan and it's my dream to work with you.'" It was a no-brainer for the young actress.

The first thing May knew about Elsa was that she was narrating the series. "He [Sheridan] actually wrote Elsa with me in mind," she told The Wrap in 2022, which was something she hadn't fully experienced before. As he finished scripts, they were sent to her, but it took a bit to register that she was the show's voice. "It took until the last episode for that to sink into my head," she discussed with The Hollywood Reporter. "I haven't fully wrapped my head around it."

How she continues to grow with 1883

May has continued to develop in her "1883" role, learning new skills and pushing herself. 

"The minute I knew I was doing this," she described to Town & Country in 2021, "I immediately said, who can I ride with right now?" She began training with stunt coordinator Jason Rodriguez's wife Deidre Rodriguez, and joined in Sheridan's three-week Cowboy Camp, where she was "riding with wranglers all day .... and sweating like crazy," according to her interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

"I don't know when I'll ever be able to do something like this again," May continued. "I'm just savoring it as much as I can." 

Filming "1883" has been unlike any other job, from the 100-degree Texas days to the freezing Montana winters, and it has sometimes taken its toll. "I got bronchitis the last week of shooting," the actress lamented in the same interview. "I lasted five months in extreme weather without getting sick, because I refused to." She also revealed in a live stream with Eric Nelson (who plays Ennis in the show) on the "1883" Instagram account that she injured her back in the final week (at the 31:46 mark).

May has since gained a new perspective on life since becoming Elsa Dutton. "Living in this world for the last few months has been so enlightening and truly eye-opening, and it's made me appreciate what I have," the actress shared with The Hollywood Reporter. "It makes me want to take the harder path sometimes."