Long before Analeigh Tipton had lines to run, she had a runway to walk.
“I really didn’t like actors,” Tipton, 25, tells PEOPLE of her early days in Hollywood. “I had all of these stereotypes about them. I moved to L.A. right after high school to write and direct. I wanted to be behind the camera.”
But soon after her relocation, “Top Model came along and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m tall and this seems fun.’ For an 18-year-old, that was super, super cool and exciting. It was like this giant adventure,” she says.
Despite making it pretty far on the show, Tipton soon learned she wasn’t model material.
“I tried the whole modeling thing but it was very unnatural,” she says with a laugh. “I talked far too much, I wasn’t good at wearing heels and I was always late. Needless to say, I wasn’t at Ford [Models] for long.”
Thanks to her time on ANTM, she landed a small speaking role on The Big Bang Theory. Soon spots on TV and in movies followed. After a part in the hit film Crazy, Stupid Love, “It was kind of like, ‘Yeah, I’m an actor now,’ ” she says.
On her new show, Tipton plays Dana, a quirky young woman finding her footing in a new city and new relationship. And she’s got a lot in common with her character.
“It sounds corny, but I’m actually having my own little Manhattan Love Story,” the actress says.
Tipton, who PEOPLE has learned is dating costar and onscreen suitor Jake McDorman, says nowadays, “I’m relating to so many more things in the script because I’m kind of that girl right now.”
As for the girl she used to be back in her modeling days, Tipton’s learned a lot from her.
“I’ve ran into people who judge me for being on a reality show and have such a close-minded assessment of who I am,” she says. “But ANTM taught me really early on to have a stiff upper lip.”
Manhattan Love Story premieres Sept. 30 (8:30 p.m. ET) on ABC.
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