By Susan Bromley
Ireland Sexton, an aspiring actress, didn’t even need to use her acting chops for her national television debut.
Her reaction to being called from the studio audience to the stage to play a game on NBC’s “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” was real and unrehearsed.
“All of a sudden, she asked for Ireland Sexton to come down,” said the 2014 Brandon High School graduate. “It felt like a dream and I was screaming as loud as I could and I ran down and then I got nervous and I thought no way she called my name, but she did and we introduced ourselves, and I got to hug her and it was the greatest thing ever.”
The former Brandon Township resident, 21 attended film school at the Motion Picture Institute in Troy and moved to Los Angeles last August to try and make her dream of being an actress come true. She is working six days a week as a waitress at the Smokehouse Restaurant, across from the Warner Bros. studio, and it was at work that she met her friend Devon, who had an extra ticket to a taping of “Ellen” in March.
She recalls at that first show, an Ellen staff member was inviting audience members to stand up and dance during a commercial break, which turned out to be Sexton’s “big break.” She accepted the invitation, jumping up to dance in the middle of the aisle, with the camera aimed at her. Ellen DeGeneres, the comedian, talk show host, and famed voice of “Dory” in the animated movies “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory” pointed at Sexton from a corner of the stage. As the commercial break ended, Sexton sat back down. But after the show ended, as staff told the audience they could exit, they requested that Sexton and her friends stay. They then took her information including phone and e-mail and told her she could expect to be contacted. The following week, she had four Skype calls from the producers of the show, and tickets to return.
“They said, ‘You guys were fun and we’d like to have you in the audience again,’” said Sexton. “All of a sudden, we have seats that are amazing and so close to the stage and nothing could be better, and it’s the greatest thing that ever happened.”
But it was about to get better. She recalls dancing with “Twitch,” Ellen’s DJ, and hearing the announcement they were going to play the “Make It Rain” game on the show— in which contestants stand beneath umbrellas hung over the stage and answer simple questions, pulling strings to have either a prize or a gallon of water dumped on them. Then her name was called to be one of those contestants.
Sexton was so excited to find herself on the stage, she found herself flustered at simple questions and her opponent was the first to answer two questions correctly, but got water dumped on her. Sexton incorrectly answered a question about the titles of the movies in the “Cars” franchise by giving a character name, but when Ellen stated that actress Gal Gadot was “Wonder Woman” and then asked, “What was the part?” Sexton correctly responded, “Wonder Woman.”
“I looked so stupid, but when you’re up there, you don’t know,” explains Sexton. “Finally I was right and I pulled the umbrella and the whole gallon of water fell on me.”
The final question, about the best animated movie of 2016, correctly answered by Sexton as “Finding Dory,” gave her a 50-50 chance of winning the ultimate prize— $10,000. She pulled the cord, money flew down and Sexton fell to the ground and cried.
“It’s the craziest thing that ever happened,” she said. “They hand you a whole thing of cash after… It was just the craziest thing and I got to go behind stage—Andy is the producer and Ellen always scares him and I love him and he said ‘Congratulations!’ And I said, ‘Oh my God, you’re real.’ They gave me a dressing room, and an Ellen shirt and flip-flops and all this amazing stuff and I left and all these people came up and said ‘Congratulations!’ and it was so insane and I became friends with this woman I was against and helped put the TV she won in her car and then I called my mom and she cried and I cried and I’m very grateful for that whole situation.”
The episode on which Sexton appears aired last month. She has watched it, her friends posted clips on Facebook, and her parents, Brandon Township residents Carolyn and Robert Sexton, even hosted a viewing party.
Sexton plans to use the money she won for acting classes, professional headshot photos, and for rent as she continues chasing her dream.