Actress revisits lexington roots

Maybe it all started in Lexington, or maybe not.

Allison Miller's first few acting experiences were in Lexington. There was a role as a Native American in a Thanksgiving pageant in elementary school at Christ the King School. ("I had the paper bag costume," Miller recalls.) Next up was the role of one of the gingerbread children in a production of the Hansel and Gretel opera.

They're memories, if not exactly the launching pad, that led Miller to the cast of the new NBC drama Kings, which premieres Sunday.

The show is based on the biblical book of 1 Samuel, starting with the story of David and Goliath. But in Kings, the setting is Gilboa, a modern country a lot like the United States if it were a monarchy, and David (Christopher Egan) defeats Goliath in the form of a tank, rescuing the Gilboan prince in the process. When David is invited to the castle by King Silas (Ian McShane of Deadwood), he meets the princess, Michelle, played by Miller.

"She's very strong-willed and stubborn," Miller says. "She's an activist for health reform and trying to do good for the people, because most of the people running things have forgotten the people."

Miller says that rereading Samuel will give viewers a basic outline of what is going on in the show, "though there are some twists and surprises in there."

Kings is the biggest role to date for Miller, who says the spark for her to pursue acting might have been getting turned down for the musical theater program at the University of Florida.

"In college, I tried a bunch of different majors like linguistics and visual arts," Miller says. "Then I tried out for the musical theater program and didn't get in, and that made me more determined."

She was eventually accepted into the drama program, thinking she would live the life of a starving artist in New York. But she got a manager and instead ended up doing a number of guest roles in series including Cold Case and Desperate Housewives. She also has done a little movie work, including the unreleased Asian horror film Blood: The Last Vampire and the Zac Efron comedy 17 Again, in which she got to kiss the High School Musical heartthrob.

If it was at all lost on her how lucky she was to be in 17 Again alongside one of the biggest teen stars in a while, a visit to a Los Angeles high school reminded her.

She and others from the cast, including Efron, were at the school unannounced to study, and remember, what high school was like.

"It was like a game of telephone," Miller says of how quickly word spread that Efron was in the house. "We saw what was happening and had to get out of there.

"When I finished shooting, I came back to Kentucky and was talking to my mom's friend," Miller recalls. "Her daughter is 8 or 9, and as soon as I walked into the room, it wasn't like, 'Oh, hi.' It was, 'You kissed Zac Efron!'"

Miller, daughter of former Herald-Leader city editor John Winn Miller and his wife, Margo, was born in Italy and moved to Lexington when she was 1. She lived here about 10 years, attending Christ the King from 1990 to '96.

When her family moved to Pennsylvania, "I was very upset. I have a note to my parents saying how upset I was. It was on stationery, and I drew pictures of horses."

From Pennsylvania, the family moved to Florida, and Miller got into acting at a summer camp.

"My parents said they saw me in a summer camp play and said, 'Oh, yeah, she needs to do theater,'" Miller says.

Her parents now live in Washington state, and the family comes home to Lexington for the holidays, where she stays with her grandfather, attorney Harry Miller.

"I had a nice childhood there," Miller says of Lexington. "We lived in a house on Bell Court for a while and then we moved to Ashland Park. I used to remember running around playing on Henry Clay's estate, in his garden. That was my favorite hangout as a kid, the garden in Ashland."

From the statesman's garden to princess — not a bad career trajectory.