Stephanie Wyatt booked her first movie within days of moving to Los Angeles. But then, on the set, someone said something to her that would resonate through her entire stay in Hollywood.
"This lady turned to me and said, 'You're just like, real, aren't you?'" Wyatt recalled.
"I was so caught off guard by that," she said. "I was like, 'What? Are we not being real here? Are we being fake? I missed the memo. No one gave me the memo that we're supposed to be fake now.'"
But as she learned through attempts at landing other roles and jobs working for agencies and other outlets, being herself was not a valued trait.
"I wasn't skinny enough to be the leading lady to them," Wyatt says. "I wasn't fat enough to be the fat friend. I was in this gray area that no one knew what to do with. I had agent after agent tell me, 'We don't know what to do with you.'
"I had an agent straight-up tell me: 'Lose 20 pounds or gain 20 pounds. You let me know.'"
In 2012, Wyatt decided to come home to Central Kentucky. But the desire to make and act in movies never left.
On Thursday night, she will host the world premiere of her film Jane's Everlasting Heart Condition at the University of Kentucky Student Center's Worsham Theater. The film was shot partly in Chicago, a city she says she liked much more than L.A., and partly in Kentucky.
Wyatt typecasts herself as "the funny, pretty one," but the movie comes from some deeply personal, wrenching experiences.
Her character, Jane, has to choose between two men: an intense but unrequited love or a safe but not as passionate boyfriend.
"I'm all for taking risks, but even I have my limits," Wyatt says of the personal experience that inspired the story. "I made a decision based on fear. I went back to my security blanket because of fear."
Later, when she returned to try to declare her true feelings, Wyatt says she chickened out, and that inspired events portrayed in Jane's, in which a woman on her deathbed reflects on the one who got away.
It wasn't quite supposed to be structured that way.
When she started shooting in Chicago in 2010 the first film project of her own making, it was supposed to be self-contained. But then a significant portion of the footage was lost, Wyatt says, and too much was gone to make a coherent film. So, with no money to restart production and the cast and crew unavailable, she reluctantly shelved the project.
"The story was gone, and there really wasn't enough to make a short," Wyatt says. Her collaborators said they understood, but Wyatt couldn't let it go.
"I was the creator and the executive producer, and I gave my word that we were going to have a project, and the fact that we didn't made me insane," Wyatt says.
But then, back in Kentucky, she started thinking about it and developed the idea of creating the flashback, with older, dying Jane reflecting on and filling in the holes left by the lost footage.
"It is different, but it is very parallel," she says.
She plans for Jane's Everlasting Heart Condition, made under the moniker Modern Day Jane Films, a Jane Austen allusion, to be the start of a larger foray into filmmaking, drawing on her experiences in Los Angeles and Chicago, where she was involved in independent film.
Wyatt, a Winchester native, went to Chicago after studying theater at the University of Kentucky but never getting the roles she hoped for.
"I truly believe things happen for a reason, and I think that situation gave me the push to go to Chicago and try to get something started," says Wyatt, who has a number of Chicago films to her credit. "If I had been a star player there, I might have gotten comfortable and never left. Who knows?"
Since returning to Lexington, she has worked in her family's real estate business and acted locally, most recently in Studio Players' production of Perfect Wedding, in which she was a strange woman who ended up in a groom's bed the morning of his wedding.
"I have met a great community of actors here," Wyatt says of co-stars including Alex Maddox, who played the groom, "and they were the first ones to step up and get tickets when I announced my film premiere."
Whether she will stay in Lexington, or make another move to boost her film work — possibly to Atlanta or New Orleans — is an open question. But she is sure of one thing: "I am going to cast real people in my movies because that's who goes to see these, real people."