Take away the infectious giggling and Elle McLemore sounds less like an actress on the rise than one in the twilight of a long, distinguished career.
She’s realized her “ultimate dream” as a performer. She even needs to have her food cut into small pieces before she can eat it. Spiritually, she seems closer to Emmanuelle Riva than Jennifer Lawrence.
This despite her looking young enough to be carded at the movies. And not just the R-rated ones.
There’s a very real possibility the Palo Verde High School grad is Benjamin Button-ing.
“She’s very sweet. She comes off a little naive. I guess I’ve been called that before,” McLemore says, describing the ways she’s like her character, newlywed Holly Truman, on “Army Wives” (9 p.m. today, Lifetime). “She’s kind, but people mistake her for a weak person. And she’s new to everything.”
McLemore, 21, is the youngest of the show’s stars and the least experienced. “Army Wives” is her first regular TV role. But, after some initial nervousness, she’s learning from the drama’s stable of veteran actresses the same way Holly — a pie-baking, bespectacled farm girl alone on a military base for the first time, thanks to her husband’s recent deployment — is being taken in by the other wives.
“I had to use those nerves and turn them into something that would be real for Holly. And it worked,” she says. “I hope.”
The drama’s seventh season could be called “Army Wives 2.0.” McLemore, who makes her debut next Sunday in the second half of the two-part season premiere, is one of several new faces at Fort Marshall, including Brooke Shields, Torrey DeVitto and singer Ashanti. But it’s the one new cast member with a Y chromosome that makes her giggle, this time like an embarrassed schoolgirl.
Holly’s husband, Tim, is played by singer Jesse McCartney. For her 17th birthday, McLemore went to his concert at Mandalay Bay. She met him when, as part of a contest, he visited Palo Verde High School. Her friends remind her that she even used to joke about marrying him one day.
“I actually just told him this story yesterday, because I didn’t want to gross him out in the beginning,” she says, calling during a break from filming the season’s seventh episode in Charleston, S.C. “He was really sweet about it.”
You’d think that would have been her most exciting, dream-fulfilling celebrity encounter.
You would be wrong.
“I think I screamed because I’m such a big fan,” she says of a different meeting the week before. “I’ve never been so star-struck.”
During a trip to Disney World, she had a dinner date with Winnie the Pooh.
“Pooh is my soulmate,” she says, giggling uncontrollably. “He’s just so loving!”
McLemore’s long road to cozying up to her childhood crushes began at the ripe old age of 4.
Her parents, Todd, a pyrotechnician now with “Tournament of Kings,” and Gail, a dancer, worked for Melinda, “The First Lady of Magic.” McLemore was part of the show as well, portraying a younger version of the magician, mostly so she had a reason to be on the tour.
“My big thing was walking across the stage with a candlestick,” she recalls, “and I would blow it out.”
By high school, she was performing with her fellow Palo Verde students in “Grease” and alongside Strip entertainers in the benefit “God Lives in Glass.”
“I was Peter Pan my junior year at Palo Verde, and, for some reason, that kind of led me to believe that (acting is) what I wanted to do.”
That summer, McLemore found a manager in Los Angeles. Her mother, who’s now managing her, would drive her there one day a week for coaching. Guest spots on Disney’s “The Suite Life on Deck” and ABC’s “The Middle” soon followed.
She left school a year early, completing her final classes via independent study, but was still able to graduate with her class. She’s been plugging away on her own ever since.
“I felt like I was 85 by the time I turned 21,” she says.
A celebratory night out with her sister, Brittany, at Lavo and XS didn’t help.
“It was kind of silly. I was just sitting in the corner. I was, like, ‘I need to be better at this.’ ”
McLemore is so bubbly, it’s hard to believe she was never a cheerleader. Until she played one in a movie. And on Broadway.
She gave that movie, “At the Top of the Pyramid,” her all — including the two front teeth that were knocked out during filming. Two root canals saved the teeth, though. Sort of.
“But I can’t bite into anything,” she laments, “because they could just break off. ... From here on out, I have to just cut up all my food and eat it in the back with my molars because they’re so fragile. Sometimes I get a little, like, frisky, and I’ll bite into a sandwich or something. And that’s me being a rebel.”
McLemore parlayed her pompom prowess into a national tour of “Bring It On: The Musical” that kicked off in October 2011 before it settled into Broadway’s St. James Theatre last July.
The first show she skipped after more than a year was for her “Army Wives” audition. She missed two weeks when filming began, but was able to return during a holiday break in December to close out “Bring It On’s” run.
“Broadway was, like, my ultimate dream,” she says, her voice quavering a bit. “I’m such a musical theater nerd. It was everything I expected.
“I’m lucky that I get to move on to something a little bit different, because I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do? I fulfilled my biggest dream. What happens next?’ ”
Her first thoughts once she realized that she’d accomplished everything she set out to do by the time she was 21?
“I’m like, ‘Is this the end? I’m so young!’ It’s depressing.”
Then she collapses into yet another fit of giggles.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4567.