The Untold Truth Of Isabel May

Isabel May has few roles under her belt so far, but the ones she has played have certainly been memorable. From her breakout role as Katie Cooper on the Netflix show "Alexa & Katie" to the fierce Elsa Dutton on the "Yellowstone" prequel series "1883," May has proven she can tackle a wide variety of roles with ease.

She first burst onto the scene in 2018, where she's worked steadily since. Judging by the high-profile roles she's landed since her debut — not to mention, her incredible talent — it seems likely she'll only continue to wow audiences for decades to come. May may be just getting started, but she's definitely one to watch. You likely don't know much about her yet — she's only been a Hollywood player for a few years, after all — but all of that is about to change. The truth about Isabel May is something you don't want to miss.

Her acting career got off to a slow start

Isabel May decided she wanted to become an actress as a kid, inspired by two of her friends who were also into the performing arts. "I'd always said I'm gonna be an actor someday because my other two friends are a dancer and singer," she told Terroir Mag. "Meanwhile I had zero experience and was terrified."

Getting her career off the ground took a while, though. May explained that it took three years before she booked a single role, but she stayed positive, focusing on school as she waited for her career to take off. "[My parents and I] kind of made a pact, that I had to wait until ninth grade to really commit to something like this," she said, adding that she began to take her classes online after her first year of high school and, not long after, booked the role that would change her life.

Alexa & Katie was Isabel May's first acting job

Isabel May was still in high school when she landed her big role on the Netflix teen comedy "Alexa & Katie," which centers on a high school student with cancer, Alexa, and her best friend, Katie. May screen tested alongside Paris Berelc, and the two ended up cast as the titular characters. "It was weird and interesting, because I never thought I was funny, I had no comedic qualities whatsoever, so it was strange to get a comedy and try to figure out how to do comedy," she told Terroir Mag of portraying Katie Cooper from 2018 to 2020.

May might have been new to comedy — not to mention, television — but she didn't have to dig too deep to portray the character, explaining that, like Katie, she had supported a close friend who had been diagnosed with cancer as a teenager. "It was the most bizarre thing," she said.

In an interview with Bello, May said she loved playing Katie and that her "first acting experience was portraying a genuinely kind, flawed person who just wants the best for others." She added that she hopes the character would serve as an inspiration to other kids "to be a similar friend to one another."

The actress is a total bookworm

Isabel May has both beauty and brains, and her skills and hobbies showcase her intellectual pursuits. "I can speak some French," she revealed in an interview with Bello. "I play some piano. I love to cook and bake (when it's convenient). And I'm a marathon reader, I can go all day and all night."

In fact, it was her love of reading that led to her acting career. May explained to Terroir Mag that, as a kid, she was "completely engrossed in fictional worlds" and that she was also passionate about writing. In an effort to get her out of her shell, her English teacher suggested she try acting. May was already interested in an acting career, but her teacher thought it would also be good for her to "express" her creative side through another outlet.

That love of reading has come in handy when researching roles, such as that of Elsa Dutton in the Western show "1883," the prequel to "Yellowstone" in which she portrays the daughter of James and Margaret Dutton, played by real-life couple, country music superstars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. The show follows the family as they journey westward. "I read probably 50 books, and in particular, the ones that I gravitated towards were journals from young women that made the same trek," May told Fox News of preparing for the role.

She got really deep into the role of Elsa Dutton

Reading dozens of books was just the beginning of portraying Elsa Dutton. The role also required Isabel May to master a historical Tennessee accent, working diligently with a dialect coach to nail it. "Our version of the Tennessee accent today doesn't sound like what it would at that time," she explained to Entertainment Weekly.

What you see of Elsa on "1883" is what you get. May revealed she doesn't wear any makeup on screen — just "dirt and sweat." She explained that the show is all about authenticity, skipping the glam effect we so often see on television. "I'm just trying to look my age, like a real person," she said. "And if I have a zit on my face, then the zit is gonna show." May also grew out her hair — including her underarm hair — to properly portray a 19th century pioneer woman. "I actually really like it," she told Town & Country of going natural. "You don't care what you look like. There's none of that ridiculousness, you're just fully invested."

The show is primarily shot in Texas, where the cast and crew work under some pretty extreme conditions, with May likening the setting to "a free sauna" in her interview with Entertainment Weekly. She joked, "You're a little bit miserable, but I secretly loved it ... I think I could get accustomed to this 1883 life, other than, you know, the frigid and sweltering temperatures."

She didn't have to audition for her role in 1883

There's no doubt that acting is a game filled with wins and losses, but sometimes a loss leads to an unexpected win. That's what happened to Isabel May when she auditioned for "Mayor of Kingstown." While she didn't land the gig, she did leave quite an impression on show creator Taylor Sheridan, who remembered her when it was time to cast the role of Elsa Dutton in "1883."

May recalled to Entertainment Weekly in December 2021 that Sheridan called her and offered her the role, just two weeks after she lost out on the other show, saying, "I want you to be Elsa." May revealed that Sheridan hadn't even written anything yet, but knew that May was perfect for the part. No one was more shocked than May herself, who called her casting "a bit wild and surreal." She added, "It's just crazy."

1883 brings a slew of firsts for Isabel May

While you might recognize Isabel May from comedies like "Alexa & Katie" and "Young Sheldon," she'd never had a leading role on a drama series before, so "1883" gave her a chance to flex her serious acting chops.

The Western also got her on a horse for the first time ever. Born and raised in California, May told Entertainment Weekly that she never considered herself much of an outdoorsy person, finding the nearby ocean to be "kind of gross." Once she landed the role of Elsa, though, she dedicated herself to learning how to ride a horse and soon mastered her new skill. "I'm one of those kinds of people that when it comes to picking something up, I'm not really intimidated by it," she said. "I've been very fortunate in that I picked it up very quickly. For some reason, it felt organic and natural."

She had no idea Faith Hill and Tim McGraw were huge country stars before working with them

It's hard to imagine someone not being in awe of powerhouse couple Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, but Isabel May isn't a big fan of country music. She's also quite young — her birthdate is November 21, 2000 — and wasn't even born when Hill's hit song "This Kiss" was released in 1998. Still, she's gotten to know the superstars quite well, as they play her parents on "1883." "I've never listened to a song of theirs, so I didn't have any expectations, which I'm really glad because they're just like mom and dad on set," she told Entertainment Weekly. "They're incredible people. They're not, you know, music stars, which was really nice."

May developed a close bond with Hill and McGraw, telling The Hollywood Reporter that the couple "kind of became real parents to me" and that she "love[s] them dearly."

Her relationship with the couple not only brought more authenticity to her character, but it also served as inspiration for what she hopes her own love life might look like one day. In a Zoom interview with WrapWomen (via The Wrap), she talked about how incredible it was to watch the "unbelievably supportive" couple on set. "I certainly hope I have something like that in the future because that is the ideal marriage for sure," she said.

Isabel May gets compared to Jennifer Lawrence ... a lot

If you think that Isabel May bears a resemblance to fellow actress Jennifer Lawrence, you are not alone. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, she said she gets told she looks like Lawrence "all the time" and has heard this over and over since she was 13 years old — not that she's complaining. "It's not a bad thing at all," she said. "It's the biggest compliment in the world. I admire that woman to death." May went on to describe Lawrence as "the coolest human being I've ever seen in my life."

It's not just the physical resemblance to Lawrence that has people buzzing, though. "Yellowstone" and "1883" creator Taylor Sheridan told Deadline that something about May's attitude also reminds him of the actress, and it's part of the reason he cast her as Elsa Dutton. "I saw she could represent innocence and hope," he said.

She's a scream queen

While she's primarily known as a television actress, Isabel May has landed film roles, too. She made her screen debut with a small part as "Missing Poster Girl" in 2018's "Age of Summer" and landed her first leading film role the following year in the horror film "Let's Scare Julie." The budding scream queen told Bello that working on the movie "was such an interesting experience," especially since the entire movie was filmed in "a 90 minute uncut take — no stopping, one shot."

May enjoyed her role not only because it was her first feature film but because it was such a departure from her role in "Alexa & Katie," which had just finished filming its second season when "Let's Scare Julie" began production. The film centers on a group of mean girls "who make a plan to scare the new girl-next-door and begin to disappear one by one," with May playing Taylor. May thinks the film is more of a thriller than a horror film, though, which is right up her alley. "I'm not so into the 'blood, guts, gore!' trope," she revealed to Bello. "But a good thriller with a tad of horror?"

While she might be a newcomer to feature films, May didn't have time to get nervous since the movie was made so quickly. Far from being exhausted by the whirlwind, May was excited for the project, especially as it involved a lot of improvisation, which she called "a dream."

She might just have a future as an action star

Isabel May memorably starred in "Run Hide Fight" as Zoe Hull, a high school student caught in the middle of a school shooting who tries to stop the shooters instead of hiding.

The film proved to be controversial, with many distributors unwilling to release it, but May insists the film is less about making a political statement than simply opening up a conversation. "The hope is that the film may create a dialogue between those ideologically opposed or those like-minded," she told The Daily Wire, which offered the film as an exclusive stream to members. "Either way, anyone can have a discussion about it."

Controversy aside, Hull is the sort of empowered character May is becoming known for portraying, and the movie allowed her to show her talents as an action star. "Zoe, to me, represented the countless real people who were courageous enough to do something and often unrecognized for it," she said.

The actress loves to travel

There's no doubt that Isabel May's career will take her places. The sky is the limit as far as her potential is concerned, but she'd also like to do some actual globe trotting. In an interview with Bello, the actress opened up about the places she'd like to visit — or revisit, in the case of "a little village in France" she once visited with her family. According to May, "The experience was so wonderful," and she would "love to go again someday."

May would also like to explore other parts of Europe, such as Croatia, saying the continent is "stunning with fascinating culture and history (and style)." May also revealed she hopes to combine her love of travel with her love for animals someday, saying, "I'd love to go to any region of the world with a significant population of endangered wildlife and offer my support in any way."

Her colleagues have nothing but nice things to say about her

Isabel May is a relative newcomer to Hollywood, but she's already garnered a lot of fans — and not just from people who have watched her on TV. She's also won over her colleagues and seems to already be developing a reputation as an actress who is pleasant to work with. "Yellowstone" and "1883" creator Tyler Sheridan was so impressed upon meeting her that he not only decided to cast her as Elsa Dutton in "1883," but he also began writing the first season with her in mind, telling Deadline, "When I met Isabel, the whole story, all 10 episodes, went right through my head."

May's on-screen mom, Faith Hill, had no problem selling their mother-daughter relationship in "1883," telling Taste of Country that "it was a pretty natural pairing" and that the two "just hit it off."

Then there's another co-star, Eric Nelsen, who plays Elsa's love interest, Ennis. "At just 21, she's one of the smartest people I've ever talked to in my entire life," he raved to Decider about May. "She's such a special individual and a real intellect." High praise, indeed!

Isabel May doesn't spend a lot of time on social media

While social media is especially popular among members of Gen Z – Sprout Social reports that two-thirds consider it "an essential part of their lives," based on a survey of American social media users conducted by The Harris Poll — Isabel May's social media presence isn't huge. While she boasts over 640,000 Instagram followers, she rarely posts. There's a TikTok account under her name, and, while its single video does feature May, the profile is unverified. Still, the account has garnered over 17,000 followers.

May seems to be doing her best to stay out of the public eye as her fame grows, and who can blame her? She once told Bello that she leads "a pretty private life," which has kept her fairly shielded from some of the pitfalls of working in the entertainment industry. May added that working at her dream job "is such a blessing" and that she doesn't "think too much about any of the negative sides." The star concluded, "I'm a homebody, what can I say? Getting to work in this industry and then race back home to a good book is my cloud-nine."