Lexi Atkins landed her first movie role after only her fourth audition, but in that short span of time, she quickly learned one thing: "Hollywood is really weird," she tells Headlines & Global News.
The 21-year-old Atkins currently stars in the film "The Boy Next Door," but she first shot the horror-comedy flick, "Zombeavers," which premieres in March. In the movie, a deadly zombie beaver takes over her body and transforms her into a bucktoothed, furry-faced human rodent.
"I remember specifically going home each night after filming and being like, "What did I just do? Did I just like growl at the camera being a beaver?" she says.
The role required her to wear prosthetics in her mouth and on her face to create the ultimate beaver look. Director Jordan Rubin also sent her some beaver research, including YouTube clips that changed her opinion of the dam-building mammals.
"It was kind of a joke, but they're actually really scary," Atkins says. "You would not want to mess with one, but we definitely take it to a whole new level."
"Zombeavers" may have a terrifying premise - homicidal zombie beavers attack coeds vacationing at a lake house - but the film also allowed Atkins to stretch her comedy muscles, which she developed at The Second City in Chicago.
At the suggestion of her father's friend, actor Bill Murray, Atkins attended classes at the esteemed school of improvisational comedy where the former "Saturday Night Live" star started his own career. Second City taught and strengthed her skills in writing, stand-up, musical and long form improv, and on-screen work.
"That's where I got some of my best training," says Atkins, who also has studied with renowned acting coach Lesly Kahn in Hollywood. "I think it's so important to take an improv class, to be able to think on your feet. It really gets you out of your body and your mind."
The Illinois native began performing at age four when she would host her own talk show in front of the video camera her mother set up, interviewing various family members. Atkins also grew up dancing, performing in school plays, running high school track and competing in the Miss Teen USA pageant, finishing first runner up in 2010.
Despite her lifetime of performing, her nerves still kicked in when she read the break down for a project with a big name attached, like when she read for "Boy Next Door."
"Coming from the Midwest, you have wide eyes. So I used to get really nervous and think, 'This isn't like me. I love performing. I love acting. I'm fine in class. Why am I so nervous?" Atkins says. "Then I'd read the break down and see, 'Oh my God, Jennifer Lopez.'"
In the movie, Atkins' character dates Lopez's son (Ian Nelson), but she really wants to date the sexy but actually psychotic boy next door (Ryan Guzman). Director Rob Cohen invited her to hang out on set before shooting her scenes, which allowed her to watch everyone work and to meet her co-stars including Lopez, whose music she still remembers dancing to in her childhood bedroom.
"Every time they would set up the shot, we got about thirty minutes to hang out and talk. It was cool to talk to the cast and J.Lo and J.Lo's mom," she says. "It was just a real awesome experience and on my way home I'd have to pinch myself like, 'Oh my gosh, I was just hanging out with J.Lo.'"
Atkins has much more coming up including a recurring role in The CW's new apocalyptic series, "The Messengers." She plays the love interest for Joel Courtney's Peter, a bullied teenage boy who is one of five strangers that collapses from a mysterious shock wave and then miraculously comes back to life.
The young actress plays a teacher in the horror film, "Some Kind of Hate," about a bullied girl who dies in the school and then comes back to haunt everyone in the building. She also has a small part in the upcoming sequel "Ted 2" as a waitress at the diner where Mark Wahlberg, Amanda Seyfried and Seth MacFarlane's talking teddy bear go to eat.
Even with a number of projects in the can, Atkins says that she's still trying to figure out what Hollywood has in store for her.
"Even when you book something, that's a month of you working and your like, 'Yes, I made it.' And then your like, 'Wait, I don't get it. I'm being turned into a beaver?'"