Zyra Gorecki is well aware of the historic nature of her first series regular role on the NBC series “La Brea.”
“There’s not a lot of representation for disability in media, and to have a character actually be played by an amputee actor is huge,” said Gorecki, who is one of the few real-life amputee series regular/lead actors on a broadcast TV series. “Being an amputee, you have a different mental state and how you react to things and how you experience things. And to be able to bring that to a character who is an amputee is something that a fully limbed person would not necessarily be used to because they haven’t experienced it.”
“La Brea,” which premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday on WMAQ-Channel 5, details how a massive Los Angeles sinkhole upends the lives of a family, separating them in the process. Gorecki plays Izzy Harris, a teenager whose mom and brother tumble into the hole.
“The script actually was really good when I first read it. I went: ‘Oh, this is going to be fun,’ ” Gorecki said. “Also, not being an extra character is already a huge step ahead in my book. You’ve got that, plus a really good plotline. The entire first script was really fun to read and really fun to film. I was just sitting there going, “What’s next?,’ the entire time I was reading it.”
Gorecki, who splits her time between Chicago and her native Michigan, lost her left leg below the knee at 13 in a lumber accident. She says some people miss a level of understanding when it comes to ableism.
“I think people try to be good; they try to be caring and understanding of other people, and that’s not always the case,” said Gorecki, 19. “And that’s totally fine — you can come back from that, absolutely. It’s just a matter of going to the people who have disabilities, going to the people who are different and understanding. Take something from a conversation with them and going: ‘Oh, I did do wrong. Now I can fix this.’ ”
Gorecki says she receives constant support from fans who find inspiration in her story. She is involved with Amputee Blade Runners, a non-profit organization that helps provide amputees with free running prosthetics.
“I do have quite a few messages in my inbox asking me for advice and different things; it’s really scary on social media, though, because it’s a fetish,” said Gorecki. “Sometimes people ask me for pictures of my stump. Even though I want to help everybody and educate them, you still got to be careful about that kind of stuff.
“Blades aren’t covered by insurance because it’s considered recreational. Amputee Blade Runners gives blades to people who want to get back into running — they do it all for free.”
In 2016 Gorecki spent time in Chicago filming a bit part on the hit NBC series, “Chicago Fire.” She appeared on the series’s 100th episode.
“I showed up, and I walked into the makeup trailer. It was the most bizarre experience of walking in being this dorky little kid, and seeing all of these people that I’d seen on TV for forever,” said Gorecki. [‘Fire’ cast members] were super chill people. Everybody on ‘Chicago Fire’ is so cool, and the directors were amazing. It was really fun. It was a really good first experience.“
What does Gorecki think audiences will get out of “La Brea?”
Familiarity, she says.
“[The series] has the family connection I think a lot of people can relate to,” said Gorecki. “I don’t want to say it’s entertaining to watch, but it is fascinating. It’s like when you go down the road you see a car accident you’re like: ‘This is horrible, but I cannot take my eyes off it.’ I think people can relate to ‘La Brea’ especially after the pandemic because there’s a lot of times in the show where you feel completely helpless and hopeless.
“You don’t know what’s going on and you don’t know how to save your family, and you’re in this crazy storm and you are holding onto whatever you can find and hoping that you survive. I think that’s what’s going on in the world right now.”