5 Things You Should Know About 'How to Get Away with Murder' 's Karla Souza

The Mexico-born actress shares some surprising facts with PEOPLE

Photo: Vivien Killilea/WireImage

Karla Souza may play meek and mild Laurel on the ABC hit How to Get Away with Murder, but the actress’s bold and daring personality in real life may surprise you.

Here are five things you should know about the rising star:

1. She’s actually already a big celebrity in Mexico – and her fans are rabid.
“I’ve done about 15 movies and four television series in Mexico,” Souza, 28, tells PEOPLE. “My last two movies were the highest grossing in Mexican-cinema history – Nosotros los Nobles and Instructions Not Included.”

Even early on in her career, Souza had a fervent fan base: “One time, I was doing a photo shoot in Cancun, and I had left the terrace door to my hotel room open at night and never thought that someone might climb in,” she says. “It was, like, 5 a.m., and I suddenly could hear someone breathing heavily, and I felt someone over me on the bed and petting my back.”

“I just started praying that he would go away. He was super drunk so I rolled over and just said, ‘Please leave.’ And he turned around and left,” Souza recalls. “It was crazy. But I also have some amazing, amazing fans.”

2. She got her start in acting when she was just 7 years old.
Souza was born in Mexico City but grew up in Aspen, Colorado, until she was 8 years old. The ski town provided her lots of opportunities for celeb-spotting, and she was even cast in the 1993 Paul Gross and Peter Berg movie Aspen Extreme.

“When I was in Aspen, I’d be walking to school and I’d see Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman walking around all the time. I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sally Field at the airport,” she says. “When I was a kid, I did that movie and I wanted to act but my parents were, like, ‘No, you have to have the best grades ever.’ ”

3. She’s not afraid to take risks.
“I think people thought I was crazy for leaving Mexico when I had any project I wanted falling at my feet. But I risked everything to come to Los Angeles, where no one knew who I was, and start all over again,” Souza says. “It was a very hard step to take. However, it was the moment I thought it was right to take a risk in my career.”

“I sort of did the same thing in Mexico,” she says. “I had done my first TV job, and I risked everything, saying, ‘I’m not going to do TV anymore. I’m going to do film.’ I didn’t do the easy and went for the hard. I feel like that is a regular thing I look for.”

4. If she wasn’t acting, she’d probably be a gymnast.
“I would love to be a professional athlete. When I was living in Mexico as a teenager, I did seven years of gymnastics and went to the Junior Olympics,” Souza says. “I was getting to the level of going to the international competitions, but I was only 14, and my parents were really worried because they did not want that to be my life. They knew what I really wanted to do was act.”

5. She almost never got the chance to be on How to Get Away with Murder.
“This was my first pilot season. The title of the show is what caught my eye, and I asked my agents to get me an audition. But it was impossible,” she recalls. “They ‘weren’t seeing anyone,’ so I thought they were just going to offer the parts to more established actors.”

“But I got into the audition room and was able to audition for three of the roles. And I was lucky enough to get Laurel,” she says before leaning in and lowering her voice to a whisper, “which was my favorite.”

How to Get Away with Murder airs Thursdays (10 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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