As a big fan of NBC’s La Brea, I was beyond excited when the amazingly talented Zyra Gorecki, one of the show’s stars, agreed to chat with me. Zyra, a 19-year-old Michigan native, has been getting a lot of buzz for her role as Izzy Harris, who is stuck with her mom and brother in Los Angeles traffic when a massive sinkhole opens, pulling cars, people and buildings into its depths. In the series’ dramatic opening scene, Izzy is the only one of her family who remains above ground, while her mom and brother hurtle through what turns out to be a temporary portal to the same location 10,000 years ago. Up above, Izzy reunites with her estranged dad, and they work to unravel the mystery of the sinkhole and bring their loved ones home.
Zyra is earning accolades not only for her Marvel-worthy action scenes and ability to match the talents of seasoned TV vets (who call her a “force of nature”), but also because she is the first amputee to have a major role in a network television show. Zyra’s leg was amputated below the knee after a logging accident when she was 13. As part of our celebration of Disability Awareness Month in March and Limb Loss and Limb Difference Awareness Month in April, we wanted to learn more about Zyra’s experience as an actor and how she inspires others. Read what Zyra had to say, below, and check out highlights of the interview on YouTube (Warning: Mild Spoilers Ahead).
Daisy: It’s so great to meet you. My family and I are such big fans of La Brea. Really, we’ve been watching it since day one.
Zyra: Thank you so much, I appreciate that.
Daisy: From the very first scene it really captivated us. And you were front and center in it. You’re like an action hero, really!
Zyra: Thank you run, for my life!
Daisy: How was it filming that first scene, as the Earth is going beneath you?
Zyra: It was actually quite a lot of special effects. I was sprinting on the street, and you see a lot of that. And then just like jumping, making it look like the Earth was crumbling. And then they had different balance plates that you had to run across. Natalie, who plays my mom, she had a lot more stunts than I did for sure. And then the stunt double was actually the one who reached down and grabbed her hand. It wasn’t as bad as you think it is. It’s super emotional. That kind of stuff is super emotional. And you really have to get into that space. But it was fun. It was a lot of fun. Very intense, very intense.
Daisy: So are you in Australia now filming? Are you on a break?
Zyra No, not yet. We’re still on break. We’re going for season two soon, though.
Daisy: So how does it feel to be the first amputee actor to have a lead role on a network TV show?
Zyra: I didn’t realize like how big of a deal it was. Just because [the way] my family is, it doesn’t matter. We all have something a little bit different. So I didn’t realize exactly what it was to other people to see someone like them on screen. But then, once La Brea came out, and people started to reach out to me and talk to me about it — it’s a crazy feeling. I legitimately can’t even describe it, and I hope I don’t ever disappoint anybody. I just want to show everybody they can do whatever the heck they want to do.
Daisy: I also read that you auditioned for this job after hearing it about it through Camp No Limits. Can you tell me about that camp?
Zyra: Heck, yeah, I can! So Camp No Limits is a camp for differently abled people, people with limb difference. And they have a bunch of them all over the country. The original one was done in Maine. There were like eight campers or something, hardly anybody. And it’s just grown and they’re everywhere. My favorite is Connecticut, because there’s a lot of PT and OT students, which is physical therapy and occupational therapy. And so they get to have a really hands-on experience with people who have experience with amputees, limb difference, whoever it is, and people adapt really well. People are wild, and they figure things out really, really well. And so all these kids coming to show all these PT/OT students like oh, yeah, you just do it this way. That’s a really cool experience. And it’s just super fun.
Everybody looks different there, so you’re just kind of one of the crew. I’m six foot tall, and, you know, one leg, and I usually have blue hair, so I’m used to being stared at and it’s not a weird thing to me. But other kids are not used to that. And they feel it’s a bad thing when people look at them. And so to be able to go to a camp like that, and not get stared at and not get judged, and the only reason someone’s looking at your different limb, is like “What kind of foot you got, can I have that kind of foot? Why do you like this foot?” It’s fun. It’s really fun.
Daisy: So when you lost your leg, how did you deal with that change in your life?
Zyra: So I have a lot of really strong women in my life, like, for generations upon generations, you know, I mean, so I’ve always had that in my brain, and you just rolled with the punches. Like, a year before that, my mom had breast cancer. She’s good now, but she had breast cancer. And so I had just watched her deal with that and just power through. And not too long before that, my grandma, she watched her husband die of lung cancer. And so you just kind of do it. You don’t think about it, you just do it. And obviously, everybody has their bad days, and everybody has those days where they want to quit and give up. But I think it’s legitimately forcing yourself to keep going. It’s a choice every single day is a choice. For sure.
Daisy: So do you think your mom developed in you the resilience and strength that you have to enable you to pursue your career?
Zyra: Absolutely. She was the one behind me being like, “No, you got this.” I’d be like, “I’m, I’m afraid. I don’t know that I want to do this.” She’d say, “Listen, you’ve got this, you’ve really got this.” I was like, “I think I’m going to poop my pants.” She would tell me, “We’ll find you a cork. It’s okay.” That was her response when I was going into an audition that I was absolutely terrified for. She was like, “We’ll find you a cork.” And I’m like, “No, I’m good.”
Daisy: I read that she would have you carrying groceries before and after your surgery, right?
Zyra: Oh, yeah. She never once said, “Oh, no, Zyra can’t do that.” No, no, no, if anything, she was like, “Oh, no, we’re gonna push you harder, because you’re going to get this down pat.”
Daisy: That’s great! So when did you start modeling? And how did you make the transition to acting?
Zyra: I had my leg amputated at 13, and I decided at 14 I wanted to do something inspirational, right, as you do. And so I went out, I got an agent, and I was like, “I want to do modeling.” That’s what I wanted. And she said, “Actually, you have the personality of an actor. So we’re gonna send you on some acting stuff.” And I was like, “I don’t want to do that. I hate acting. I can’t act. No, thank you.” And she told me, “Let’s just get you in front of some casting directors, and you’ll get into modeling, then it’ll be good.” I was like, “Fine.” So I would go on these things, and I would hate it. I hated acting to begin with. And it was horrible, and I did not want to do it. And I would get violently ill before every single one. And it was a mess.
And then I got a gig on Chicago Fire. And it just kind of went from there. And I never really got crazy into modeling. I mean, I’ve done I’ve done certain things, especially after La Brea I’ve done different photoshoots and whatnot. I did a runway show in Chicago.
Daisy: Cool. So how does it feel to be on such a big show so early in your career?
Zyra: Terrifying. absolutely terrifying. I did not know what I was getting myself into. But my goodness, has it been so good. My family firmly believes in “Go big or go home” and speaking things into existence. So it just kind of happens, and I’m so grateful to everybody involved for allowing me this opportunity.
Daisy: You’re also a mental health advocate. What would you share with other kids about taking care of their mental health?
Zyra: Physical health and mental health, you cannot take care of one and not the other. It is a really hard thing to do to convince other people that you’re not okay. Because everybody in this world seems to think that you have to be okay all the time, you have to be ridiculously happy all the time. And that’s not true. You don’t have to, you don’t have to be happy all the time. You just have to be at peace. You have to be content. That’s what the goal is. And it’s freaking hard. And you have to ask for help to achieve that. And you have to learn how to cope with things. And, you know, if it gets to be too much, go see a doctor, go see whoever it is that will help, go to the gym, if that helps you learn how to dance, learn anything that can help you because that’s your own life in your hands.
Daisy: So what do you see for yourself in the years to come?
Zyra: I’m not gonna lie. I’m a fly by the seat of my pants kind of person. But I really want to do a Marvel movie because my grandma’s name, her name is literally Marvel. And I think it would be really funny to bring her to the premiere and say, “Haha, I too have a Marvel” — and play a villain. I think it’d be so much fun to play a villain or you know, anything like that. I feel there’s so many good backstories when it comes to villains, and you won’t have to hold yourself to the standard heroes have to be held to.
Daisy: I can totally see you in a Marvel movie. So, even though 26% of American adults have some type of disability, only 2.4% of speaking or named characters and films are shown with a disability. So what do you think of that? And how do you think that your starring role on such a big show might change that?
Zyra: I think everyone deserves representation. Everyone deserves to be able to see someone that looks like them, sounds like them, is like them on the TV show. And I hope that with me being the first below-knee amputee on a major television show that other people see that and go, “Oh, we can do something like that too.” And other creators can, you know, add that into their story because that’s what everyday life is. You don’t walk down the street and everybody is exactly the same. You walk down the street and there’s a multitude of different people. And I wish that would be shown in more TV shows, movies, any kind of media!
Daisy: So I listened to an interview where you said that you don’t read the parts of the script that take place in the down under so it’s all a surprise. So what was your favorite part or the biggest shocker?
Zyra: I did that originally, right when I when my [character, Izzy’s] dad wasn’t talking to me and communicating to me about what was happening down under, because Izzy would not have that information. And then as they kind of opened up to each other, I started reading more and more of the down under parts. But I think the biggest surprise was, Baby Gavin probably. You know what’s wild? My Grandma called it too. I was sitting there watching it with her. And she was like, “That’s who that is. She said , “I saw the picture of them. It’s in the file. The social worker has the file.” She’s a brilliant human being.
Daisy: That was a nice catch! So what is it like to film in Australia?
Zyra: I like to compare Australians to Canadians with murderous animals. The people are super super friendly, all of them. Um, the animals less so. I mean, we were in the city so there’s not very many murderous animals there anyway. But once you get out of the bush, yeah, no. It was very beautiful, though. Australia is stunning. It’s a super cool place to film. Also cockatoos everywhere, everywhere in the trees, in one scene they had to use cardboard and get them out of the trees because they were so loud!
Daisy: So in the final episode of the first season, you and your dad land on a beach in the down under 10,000 years ago, and a wooly mammoth passes you by. So what do you think is next for Izzy and Gavin?
Zyra: You know, anything can happen in 10,000 BC. I have no idea. I don’t. It’s gonna be crazy, though. Based on the first season, there’s gonna be some stuff happening.
Daisy: So you once said that “I hope that some person or a little kid or whoever it is will see me and go, ‘I can do it too.'” I hope one day I will be a good role model to somebody.” You’ve clearly succeeded with that. And that’s all really cool.
Zyra: Thank you. I truly appreciate that. Yeah. It’s so weird hearing people say that kind of stuff. Because I live in a tiny town of like 2000 people, we have one stoplight. Everybody has known me since I was born. Like, I’m “Barb’s daughter” or “Steve’s daughter.” I’m not Zyra Gorecki. So it’s really weird that other people know about me.
Daisy: I’m sure you’re getting a lot of fans writing and saying how much you inspire them, right?
Zyra Oh, yeah, if anything I have more people coming up to me in person. When I go out to different cities for different events–because I’m not big on social media, as it turns out, it’s not really my thing–every single interaction with somebody has been so heartfelt and so moving and just legitimately makes me want to cry.
There was a person at a runway show I did for Limb Possible. They were in it with me and they didn’t have quite have all the confidence they should have had. And I talked to them and afterwards, they told their mom that when they were feeling insecure they acted like me. They would ask themselves, “What would Zyra do?” And that’s wild to me that other people would do that kind of stuff! Because I go like, “What would Dolly do? What would my mom do? What would my dad do?” I’ve never been the kind of person that you go, “What would Zyra do?” And for them to sit there and say, “What would she do?” And she said I would make some sassy remark.
Daisy: You’re amazing and a true role model to so many people. Thank you, Zyra! We can’t wait to see what’s next for you.
To watch Zyra in action, tune in to La Brea on Tuesdays, 9/8 Central on NBC, or stream it on Peacock TV or Hulu. Follow Zyra on Instagram @_zyra_g.