Following her mother’s footsteps onto the stage, our latest woman to watch has tackled everything from crime labs to courtrooms on *CSI and Law & Order; the supernatural as a cut-throat werewolf on Vampire Diaries, and starring on the cult teen drama One Tree Hill. *

Back with a major role on NBC’s reality-twisted dream drama *Awake, Michaela McManus stars as a sports coach filling a void in a family’s life. McManus sat down to talk with us about growing up in large family, infidelity with a pseudo-married man (on-screen!), and stress release through firearms.*

* *Tell us about yourself.

*McManus: *I grew up in Rhode Island and I spent my childhood watching my mom perform on stage. I grew up loving theater so the bug bit me pretty early on. When I started performing—and I was such a shy kid—I got on stage and I could feel an electric current going through my veins. It was a feeling I never wanted to let go of. Theatre was really my first love. When I was a kid, my brothers and I used to make movies together, write up fake commercials and film them—it was a fun Friday night growing up.

* *Any funny ones you’d like to tell us about?

*McManus: *We did fake Calvin Klein commercials. I think it was around the time that Ck1 commercial came out. We made a funny one, and then we did a fake Gap commercial singing that Madonna song with the “I want to dress you up in my love.” My brothers will probably kill me for admitting all this. We had a lot of fun growing up.

* *Any interest in doing Calvin Klein modeling now?

*McManus: *[Laughs] I don’t know about that…

* *Who do you look up to in the business?

*McManus: *I have to bring it back to my mom. She was a supermom growing up—raised five kids, ruled the roost, but also followed her dreams at the same time.

* *In an interview with EW in December 2010, you were talking about your role on the Vampire Diaries; you explained how your mom was nervous about a potential shower scene where you might have had to take your clothes off. Though it didn’t turn out to be your character, would you have?

*McManus: *It really depends on the role for me. It’s one of those, “I’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it.” It’s certainly not something I’m opposed to, but it would have to be the right role for me.

* * What was it like to be on the show? Do you have any interest in going back if your character was resurrected? It is the supernatural world after all.

*McManus: *Yeah! I had a blast on that show. It was my first experience doing stunts and playing an action role. It was so much fun.

* *What’s the most intense stunt you had to do?

*McManus: *I had to shoot a gun for the first time. That was just something I had never experienced so I was sort of afraid of it. But after a couple takes, I felt weirdly liberated and was really into it. I’m actually working on another film right now that calls for gun use so that’s pretty exciting. *On your new TV series *Awake, the main character Michael (Jason Isaacs) and his family get into a car crash. After the crash he can’t tell if he’s awake or dreaming. In one ‘world’ his wife survives the crash, and his son in the other.**You play Michael’s son’s coach, tell us about her.

*McManus: *It’s probably the closest character I’ve played to myself, she’s sensitive and caring. But she’s also seeing what Rex (Michael’s son) is going through, the tragedy with the accident and losing his mom. Tara really gets a sense of the pain that he’s feeling; her role in his life is to help him, to lend a shoulder, and maybe help mend this broken family without stepping on any toes.

* *It’s evident in the pilot that there’s definitely some sexual tension between you and Michael (Jason Isaacs). What’s going on there?

*McManus: *That’s the question. It’s going to be interesting to see where the writers take it. But it’s definitely tricky as his wife is very much alive in one world.

* *It’s an interesting scenario because the audience really doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not at this point. It remains to be seen if Michael stays faithful to his wife in one world and not the other.

* *Does the cast know which world is real yet? Or do you have a guess?

*McManus: *No, no. To be honest with you when I first read the premise of the show, before I even read the pilot, I was really gunning to know what is real and what is a dream. But now, I’m so invested in all of the characters that I don’t really care to know.

* *Tara’s a complete reversal of the character you played on Law & Order SVU

*McManus: *Oh wow, yes! It’s a very, very, different role.

* *First, *CSI: NY, then you played an Assistant DA in *Law & Order SVU; DA in Hawaii Five-O; and now the crime thriller Awake. What keeps pulling you back to these crime shows? Are you sure you weren’t meant to be a cop?

*McManus: *That’s a good question! I’m just drawn to complex characters where there’s a lot for me to play with. I think all of the roles have been different, but equally challenging.

* *You don’t prefer being the hard-ass versus the sweet girl?

McManus: No! [Laughs] But it’s refreshing playing Tara because I feel like I can relate to her a lot more.

* *No yelling, crazy crime drama…

*McManus: *No, I’m not really a cold bitch in real life. At least I hope not!

* *What do you have coming up? You’re in your brothers’ film Funeral Kings, which is premiering at South by Southwest.

*McManus: *Yes! I have a small part in that. So I’m going to go to the festival next weekend and check it out with my brothers and parents. I’m excited because I’ve never been to Austin. Then it’s back to LA to see what’s next!

* *Do you have a dream role?

*McManus: *Yes I do. It would be to play Maggie in House with the Fallen Roof. One day, I’d like to get back on stage – that’s my dream role.

* *When was your first time reading Playboy?

*McManus: *I don’t know if you’ll hate me for saying this but I’ve never read it! Growing up in such a Catholic home the closest thing to Playboy I saw was my brother tearing out the lingerie ads in the Sunday newspaper!

AWAKE airs on NBC Thursdays 10/9c. Follow her on Twitter: @MichaelaMcManus