You don’t often see two characters on a network TV show discussing the difference between single- and multi-axial prosthetic feet. But that very thing happened within the first minute of Episode 1 of La Brea, the new sci-fi series that’s airing Tuesday nights on NBC. That bit of dialogue introduced another rarity for network TV: a limb-different character that’s played by a limb-different actor.
In fact, the performer in question—19-year-old Zyra Gorecki—is the first amputee actor ever to land a central role in a network series. Gorecki plays Izzy Harris, the youngest member of a family that gets separated when a swath of downtown Los Angeles plunges into a monstrous sinkhole. Izzy sprints away from the yawning chasm on her prosthetic leg and manages to stay topside, but her mother and brother tumble into the abyss. She and her dad spend the rest of the series trying to liberate their loved ones from the bizarre netherworld lurking under LA.
The show’s reviews have been mixed, but Gorecki herself has largely drawn praise for her performance. The Hollywood Reporter labeled her “the next big thing,” People calls her “one to watch,” and Glamour describes Gorecki as “the actor who’s stealing every scene” in La Brea.
Amplitude spoke to Gorecki on the eve of the series debut to find out how she got the gig and how it feels to raise the portrayal of limb difference to a higher plane of visibility. Here are ten things we think you should know about this up-and-comer. (Read more of our conversation here.)
She was raised in a veritable amputee colony.
When Gorecki lost her leg in an accident at age 13, she became the seventh amputee in the small Michigan town where she grew up. The community’s rate of limb loss per capita is about twice as high as the national average.
Her first line of dialogue on network TV was “[screams in agony].”
Gorecki didn’t deliver this soliloquy on La Brea. It came in her only previous TV role, a one-episode cameo on Chicago Fire in 2016, the year after her real-life accident. “I played a struck pedestrian,” she says. “[My character] was in an accident and my leg snapped sideways. [The paramedics] would snap my leg back into place, and I would scream.” The episode, titled 100, is from Season 5; you can find it on Hulu, Peacock, Amazon, and other online portals.
She has terrible stage fright.
Before the Chicago Fire appearance, Gorecki’s only acting experience came in elementary school. “My second-grade teacher had a Christmas play,” she says, “and she told me that I was going to be playing the queen. That was my big break. I still, to this day, remember those lines. But I developed terrible stage fright.” When her agent started sending her out on casting calls, Gorecki used to get sick before every audition. “I was absolutely terrified—so nervous,” she laughs. “It was awful. The thought of going onto a stage makes me want to vomit. But being on set is a totally different feeling. That’s super fun.”
She got recruited for La Brea by an old friend from amputee camp.
To find an amputee actor for the role of Izzy, La Brea’s producers reached out to David Harrell, a limb-different actor and disability advocate with strong connections in the amputee community. Gorecki met Harrell when she attended Camp No Limits for several summers after losing her leg. “He sent out an email to all the campers,” she says. “I had been trying to get my foot in the door and push my career forward, so for this to come around was absolutely nuts.”
Her favorite actor is . . .
Heath Ledger. “He was so incredibly picky about which movies he chose to be in,” says Gorecki. “I respect that, for sure. He owned every single movie that he was in. So he’s someone who I looked at and said, ‘Oh, this is what it means to be an actor.’”
Her family’s resilience in the face of prior health challenges helped Gorecki adjust to limb loss.
During the years immediately preceding Gorecki’s accident, one of her grandfathers died of lung cancer, the other battled cancer and COPD, and her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Two months after she was clear of cancer,” Gorecki says, “I had my leg amputated. But since I’d already seen my family deal with those kinds of things, I knew about trauma. And I knew I had no choice [but to adjust].”
She did her own stunts during the filming of La Brea.
One scene required Gorecki to dangle over the lip of the sinkhole while hanging on to Natalie Zea, who plays her mom. That part of the production, she told Glamour, “did not seem like fun. I was totally safe, but I’m afraid of heights.” The script also required her character to flee one hazard after another. “There was a lot of running for a lot of days,” Gorecki laughs. For those segments, she relied on the prosthesis she received shortly after her amputation from Amputee Blade Runners, a Tennessee nonprofit that covers most or all of the cost of expensive running devices. “They are truly the most amazing people I have ever met,” Gorecki says. “Words cannot describe how much they care and how much passion they have. And they do it all out of the goodness of their heart.”
Her two favorite movies are . . .
The live-action version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, starring Jim Carrey, and The Silence of the Lambs. “I’m fascinated with every character in that movie,” Gorecki says. “The cast is insanely talented. It boggles my mind how they could get into that headspace consistently, time and time again. They played it to perfection.”
She’s got mixed feelings about the whole “inspiration” thing that amputees often deal with.
On the one hand, Gorecki is grateful that her La Brea fame gives her a platform to set a positive role model for other people with limb difference, especially kids. “To be a person that other amputees [and] other limb-different people can look up to…is a completely indescribable feeling,” she told People. But she also feels embarrassed that when she first went into modeling, her goal was to inspire other people. “[That] now makes me cringe,” she says, “but that’s what I was thinking at the time.”
Ultimately, she told Amplitude, “What I want the most from all of this is for amputees to be able to walk down the street and not be seen as this freak that people just stare at. I want amputees to be seen as people—as human beings with emotions. And I want to teach amputees that it’s okay to be the way you are, because you are absolutely amazing exactly the way you are, and you don’t ever have to be ashamed.”
Before she discovered acting, Gorecki dreamed of growing up to become a mortician.
So if anyone out there is planning a reboot of Six Feet Under, you know who to call.