How a chance encounter at a nail salon helped bring the child star back to the big screen
She broke your heart and won rave reviews as the earnest kid in the coming-of-age drama My Girl. And then, a few years later, Anna Chlumsky had her own heart broken – by Hollywood.
“Show business got really tainted for me,” the actress, now 28, says. Growing up with her mother as her acting coach and manager didn’t always help, and scoring Hollywood fame at the age of 10 was in some ways more of a burden than a joy.
“Kids are brought into show business because they are cute and see truth and they’re very bright,” she says. “But there’s a sense of doing it because you want the adults to be approving of you. You want to make them happy.”
Today, Chlumsky has found her way back to the craft she loves, and is costarring in the ensemble comedy In the Loop. But her comeback almost never happened. After a period of difficulty landing roles in her teens, Chlumsky had decided to remove herself permanently from the Hollywood scene.
Goodbye to Hollywood
“I didn’t want to go down any scarier path of low self-esteem than I was already on the track for,” she says. “So during my second year of college I was like, ‘I’m over it! I have to go see what this other thing called life is about!'”
She focused on her studies at the University of Chicago, where she majored in International Studies, and after college worked for two years in the publishing world in New York, including a non-glamorous stint as a fact-checker for the Zagat’s restaurant guide.
“We were in this little room with no windows and we’d make cold calls to all the properties in the books and go through a 15-minute questionnaire. I’d call up the restaurant and say, ‘Hi, this is Anna Chlumsky from Zagat and we’re putting you in the book this year. Congratulations!'”
All seemed to be going well – yet something was missing. “There were a lot of signs being thrown at me,” says Chlumsky, “a lot of angels I was meeting, inspiring me to get back into show business.”
And then there was the run-in with singer Roberta Flack at the nail salon.
Chlumsky’s manicurist decided that the two women should meet. “I was so embarrassed,” she says. “Oh my God, it’s Roberta Flack, and her feet are in the pedicure bowl! To my absolute surprise, she knew who I was she asked me what I was doing now. I said, ‘I left show business, I’m not doing it anymore.’ And she just looked at me, kind of like how my dad looks at me, like I-know-better, uh huhhhh. And she was like, ‘You keep going, you keep doing it.'”
Chlumsky dove into acting classes in Brooklyn, where she has lived for the past seven years, and soon found work on stage. “I haven’t looked back,” she says.
Shooting In the Loop in London last year, “I got sooo into tea, it was ridiculous. After I got home I’d make cream scones every day for a month! I started making them from memory. [My husband] Shaun would come home from work and we’d watch a soccer match and have tea!”
Shaun So is Chlumsky’s husband of over a year, a fellow U of C grad and Army reserve member who popped the question over morning coffee and croissants at their favorite patisserie. “It was wonderful,” she gushes.
Happily married, she’s also happily working again: Chlumsky will appear in the romantic comedy The Good Guy with Alexis Bledel later this year. “It’s like breathing again,” she says of her return to acting. “Even on the worst days I am without a doubt still happier doing this than I am doing anything else.”