Dominik Bindi/Getty Missy Peregrym
Missy Peregrym is back in action — and reflecting on one of her breakthrough roles.
Fifteen years ago, she made her debut as a leading lady when she played a rebellious teen gymnast in Stick It, opposite Jeff Bridges.
"It was the hardest job I've ever done. Physically it was so rigorous. We trained eight hours, five days a week," the FBI star, 38, recalls to PEOPLE of the teen dramedy, which celebrates its 15th anniversary on April 28. "I really thought that once I was through training I would be able to represent my country in the Olympics — I was sorely mistaken!"
While she's no longer in touch with her former costar Bridges, Peregrym — who had never led a film before — learned a valuable acting lesson from him.
"I didn't go to school for acting; I was really nervous to work with him. I was so afraid that I was going to ruin his career for being a part of this movie that I felt a lot of pressure for this thing to work. I know that everybody was kind of taking a gamble on me, hiring me, because I hadn't done a lot," she says.
Everett Missy Peregrym and Jeff Bridges in Stick It
She adds: "I remember that we were sitting down one day in our chairs waiting to do a scene, and he wanted me to read the lines without using the words on the page, which was very confusing to me. He was like, 'I just want you to paraphrase it and don't use the words on the page.' Actually, it changed everything for me moving forward in my career because it made me understand exactly what I was trying to get out of every scene and how I felt. It just like, connected me on another level in a different way and I'll never forget that advice. That's the best advice I could ever give an actor is what he told me."
Peregrym has applied that advice to her career — and she also still chases adrenaline-pumping roles, most recently on the Dick Wolf procedural FBI, which is in its third season on CBS.
"I like roles where I get to do stunts and be athletic, so I'm playing the vulnerability every woman has and also the ability to handle crazy situations," Peregrym says of the gig, in which she stars alongside Zeeko Zaki.
While the actress says "I try to pick" badass roles, she jokes she won't be able to "much longer, because I feel like I'm a 1,000 [years old]."
Michael Parmelee/CBS Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki in FBI
She hadn't given much thought to aging in Hollywood until recently.
"It is pretty f----- up," she says of double standards in the industry. "It's something that I've actually only started to think about this year. I'm turning 39 in June. I'm still in this role, so [finding future roles] would be more concerning, when this job is done," she says, before quipping: "Of course, the joke is that Dick Wolf shows never end, so maybe I'll just die here!"
More seriously, though, "It's disappointing, but I think this is why women start making their own projects: They can still have the career that they want, and they're not waiting for someone else to give it to them."
While Peregrym is hard at work now, she got an extended maternity leave last year when she and her husband, actor Tom Oakley, welcomed son Otis in March 2020 as New York City shut down because of COVID-19. Spending much of her first year of motherhood in isolation was challenging.
"Any first-time mom going through this I have a lot of empathy for, because it's already scary and you have no idea what you're doing and then to not have the regular support. ... They usually would be able to get together with other moms, with other children," she says. "I have a lot of space in my heart for [other new mothers]. When I see them in the street, I'm like, 'How are you doing?'"
Peregrym has found the silver lining in an unprecedented year, though.
"Six months with Otis was a huge blessing," she says. Plus, "I had no FOMO — no one was doing anything!"
FBI airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on CBS.