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September 16, 2015 11:00 AM

Bellamy Young may be riveting as First Lady Mellie Grant on ABC’s Scandal, but her off-screen story is just as captivating.

“I was adopted, so I was in foster care for six weeks,” the actress, 45, says in the latest issue of PEOPLE. “We only had two lines on my dad and a paragraph on my mom. It said she loved to sing, so my mom who raised me would find any way to let me perform.”

Young says she spent her youth in Asheville, North Carolina, learning ballet and tap dancing and performing at school and church.

After graduating from Yale, Young – who grew up with the first name Amy – spent a few years doing theater in New York before making the move to Los Angeles in 2000 to pursue TV and film work.

“When I went to join the Screen Actors Guild, there was already an Amy Young so I had to register under a different name,” says Young. “I tried to become Susanna or Violet or something fabulous, but it just didn’t feel like I could carry the ruse off.”

So the actress turned to her family for inspiration.

“My first [adoptive] dad died when I was 15, and his best friend, Bill, did all the dad stuff with me, so I did a mushing of our names,” Young says. “I felt like I could get away with it because I’m Southern.”

After years of hopping from project to project, Young was given the opportunity to audition for the role of Mellie on Scandal. The character only had a few lines in the pilot episode, but Young says she showed up at the first table read for the season excited to work.

“[Creator Shonda Rhimes] came around afterward and told everyone what their arc would be for that first season. She got to me, and I was so happy. Then she told me she thought I’d be in about three episodes. She wanted to write a presidential divorce,” Young recalls.

“I died inside when I heard that. But I kept a smile on my face and showed up to work every day. At some point, they decided it was fun to write stuff for me,” continues Young, who has also released an album of cover songs called Far Away So Close. “I’m having such a good time. I don’t want it to ever end.”

For more of Young’s story, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

RELATED VIDEO: Why Bellamy Young Said Olivia Pope Would Be ‘Distraught’ on Scandal Season Finale

Scandal – along with Rhimes’ other #TGIT hits Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder – premieres Sept. 24 on ABC.

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