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McKayla Maroney's second act

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
updated 7:36 PM EDT, Tue October 2, 2012
Gymnast McKayla Maroney flashes a smile for the camera at the USA House at the Royal College of Art in London in August.
Gymnast McKayla Maroney flashes a smile for the camera at the USA House at the Royal College of Art in London in August.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • McKayla Maroney snagged an appearance on the CW's "Hart of Dixie"
  • The gymnast says she's "always wanted to be an actress"
  • She assures fans she's not cutting her gymnastics career short for acting

(CNN) -- At 16, gymnast McKayla Maroney has already accomplished enough to give her license for a break. But the gold- and silver-medalist isn't stopping, even while on the mend from a recent injury.

Maroney hurt her left leg after suffering a fall during a stop on Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions in September, and she's been recovering slowly but surely, she recently told CNN. One upside to her time away from the tour, though, is that she was able to squeeze in an appearance on The CW's "Hart of Dixie," which returns for a second season Tuesday.

Yet for Maroney, it wasn't simply a fun opportunity -- it's part of a larger goal to one day become a working actress.

"I've always wanted to be an actress ... Ever since I was very little, I really liked being in front of a camera. I've always been drawn to it and I've always wanted to pursue it, just like gymnastics," she said. "It's something that you kind of put in your brain and you never let go of. "

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With gymnastics being a sport that retires its athletes at a young age, Maroney has been putting all of her energy toward her athletic goals while she has youth on her side. But "after it's all said and done with the Olympics and Worlds and whatever I get the chance to do, I think that would be my time to really get into acting, something that I want to have as my job when I'm older," she said.

If there was one actor she looks up to and hopes to pattern her career after, the gymnast said, it'd be Angelina Jolie.

"I really like Angelina Jolie, all the jobs that she's done," she said, pointing to Jolie's turn in the action thriller "Salt" as a favorite. "I'm kind of more into movies, because I'm really into getting into [character] and being that person and selling it as well as she always does."

"I like comedy, I like romantic stuff. I think the movie 'Easy A' is super cute and I love Emma Stone, she's an amazing actress and I love how she does all different sorts of things, and that's what I'd like to do. I'm not one kind of person, and that's the whole thing about being an actress, being able to play all different kind of roles."

And so, with help from an agent she acquired a few months before the Olympics, the 16-year-old champ has been looking for ways to break into the industry. The "Hart of Dixie" guest appearance in an upcoming episode came through said agent, and, given that she was momentarily at home from the tour, she went for it.

"It was my first time ever doing anything like that," Maroney said. "Gymnastics, you're in the gym eight hours a day and acting, that's a full-time job as well. So I finally had the time to do it, and I had the best time."

The CW show stars Rachel Bilson ("The O.C.") as Dr. Zoe Hart, a city doctor who's had to adjust to living in small-town Alabama after accepting a job from a physician who left half his practice to her in his will. Maroney will portray the friend of Rose (McKaley Miller), herself a friend of Zoe's.

"Zoe has this guy that she's going on a date with, and Rose really likes this guy, and there's a little bit of drama and I'm kind of backing up Rose," Maroney explained.

Maroney may be green, but she's without trepidation, saying that learning lines and acting on set felt like it came naturally.

"I've done acting classes before, and school plays, and I've always loved it," she added. "It's weird, I was watching ['Hart of Dixie'] the same day that my agent told me that they might want me on the show. I really like the character Rose on the show ... and I thought if I was ever going to be on the show, I'd really want to play her, and then I ended up being her best friend. So it was really surreal and kind of special."

She's also lined up a guest actor role on "Pretty Little Liars" (as a huge fan, she said, "I kind of always thought that it was Toby" who was the elusive "A"), which she hopes to shoot at some point in the future.

"Everything that I'm doing, I love to do. I really just take things one step at a time. Even when things get hard, I just believe that everything happens for a reason," she said. "Life goes on, and you have to make the best of everything. You really do have to enjoy life, because it's short."

But before fans of her athletic prowess fear Maroney's cutting her gymnastics career short in favor of Hollywood, rest assured that she's not done yet.

"Right now, I'm only 16, and gymnastics will always be a part of me," she said of her future plans. "I'm really an athletic person and I don't think I could let go entirely of the sport. I really want to try to go to this next Olympics, [and] after I heal up I'll be back in the gym working as hard as I possibly could just like I did for this Olympics. You can't just say that you want to try ... you have to be focused for whatever you do, just like acting. So I'll really be getting into trying to work for the next Olympics, and in between that I'll be doing, hopefully, little things like what I just did."

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