Anna Chlumsky Shares Why She Quit Acting for Nearly a Decade After 'an Out-of-Body Moment'

"I've learned a lot in my career," former child star Anna Chlumsky, who is currently starring on Netflix's Inventing Anna, tells PEOPLE

Anna Chlumsky has been acting for over three decades, but the former child star nearly chose a different path.

"We know so much more about what it is to be a child who is put into performing," Chlumsky, 41, tells PEOPLE.

The actress, who shot to fame at age 11 with 1991's My Girl, co-starring Macauley Culkin, adds, "As a kid, you're just along for the ride, but it can be extremely damaging. [In college] I had this out-of-body moment where I realized, 'I don't have to do this anymore.' "

And so, Chlumsky took nearly a decade off from performing before eventually returning to Hollywood with notable and critically acclaimed roles in shows like Veep and Halt and Catch Fire.

Now, the actress is starring in Shonda Rhimes' new Netflix series, Inventing Anna, based on the real-life exploits of Anna Delvey (a.k.a. Anna Sorokin), a fake German heiress who conned New York's wealthy and powerful.

Anna Chlumsky, Macaulay Culkin My Girl - 1991

Chlumsky says her time off gave her career a new perspective.

"Throughout my adolescence, I was not getting booked, I was told I was too fat or too ugly," she recalls. "You live on a risk-reward system and I wasn't getting much reward. And I knew I always wanted to go to school and get my education so I did that. And I'm glad that I did."

Chlumsky attended the University of Chicago — where she met her future husband, Army veteran Shaun So — and then worked as a fact-checker for Zagat and as an editorial assistant at Harper Collins.

But eventually, the pull of entertainment called. "I was seeing a lot of Broadway, and I was inspired again," says Chlumsky. "And it was alluring to apply my creativity towards something and tell a story — but of my own decision making."

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, left, and Anna Chlumsky in the comedy series "Veep."

The star enrolled in the Atlantic Acting School. "I told myself I'd give it a year," she recalls. But on the first day, she was hooked: "I realized, 'I'm not giving this a year. I freaking love it. I'm giving this the rest of my life.' "

Now, three years since the final episode of her "life-changing" role on Veep, Chlumsky, who is mom to Penelope, 8 and Clara, 6, is finding continued joy in acting, including in her latest role.

In Inventing Anna she plays Vivian Kent, an ambitious journalist intent on exposing the truth about Delvey (Julia Garner).

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Inventing anna
David Giesbrecht/Netflix

"It was an extreme pleasure to go to work every day," says Chlumsky of her experience with the cast and crew. "Everyone was there to just do their best job."

And contentment within her profession is not something Chlumsky takes for granted.

Anna Chlumsky attends The Hollywood Reporter & SAG-AFTRA 3rd annual Emmy Nominees Night presented by Heineken and Anastasia Beverly Hills at Avra Beverly Hills Estiatorio on September 20, 2019
Amy Sussman/Getty

"I've learned a lot in my career," she says. "And [what I've been through] is life-defining. But I have a lot of gratitude. And I still love what I do!"

Inventing Anna premieres Friday on Netflix.

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