For years, April Matson struggled to find her place in the acting world. She owed money to her parents and other people, was in debt from school loans and was making just $10 an hour as a technician at a veterinary clinic in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
"It was hard," says Matson, 23. "I'm thinking, 'Why am I getting up in the morning?' But I thought, 'It's just a matter of time.' "
But now and then in Hollywood, an actor's life can change overnight with the right audition.
Matson says she knew her time had come when she tried out this year to play the nerdy sister Penny Chase on the new Fox sitcom "Quintuplets." She plays a 15-year-old on the series.
"I was auditioning for a lot of pilots, and when I got the script and looked at it, I said, 'Mom, this is the one.' I felt like I really related to this girl, that she was very funny and interesting," says Matson. " . . . I had fake nerd glasses. Right before the auditions, I put them on; I drew real energy from the glasses. I was transformed."
She convinced the producers that she was the one to play Penny, who believes she's smarter than everyone else and refuses to conform to the high school world of proms and homecomings.
Since then, her luck has continued. After Fox picked up "Quintuplets" for a summer run, it did well enough in the ratings that the network ordered the rest of the episodes to give the show a full season, premiering Sept. 8. It's winning its Wednesday time slot in the ratings in the advertiser-coveted age group of 18-34.
No, Matson says, she hasn't become rich and isn't living in a Beverly Hills mansion. She lives today in a guest house, essentially a studio apartment, in Venice Beach, but she has paid off her school loans and other debts, including the money she owed her parents.
Before "Quintuplets," Matson had had only one other part on TV, a guest spot in 2002 on the NBC drama "American Dreams," set in the 1960s.
Matson also acted in "Fixxer," a high school sitcom pilot that MTV rejected. And she has acted in "Black Russia" and "God's Little Monster," independent films. "God's Little Monster" screened at a film festival but never went anywhere after that. Matson hopes "Black Russia" will be shown at festivals next year, including Sundance.
She also studied sketch comedy at the Second City troupe's school in Los Angeles.
It's not a long resume, but in Matson's case, a good audition meant more to the "Quintuplets" producers.
"Quintuplets" stars former "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" sidekick Andy Richter as the father of teenage quintuplets, and the sitcom's main joke boils down to the fact that the kids differ in height, appearance, personality and intelligence. The teenagers' efforts to be individuals have drawn young viewers to the show, Matson says.
Matson's Penny, the smartest of the bunch, quickly says funny one-liners putting down her siblings and parents.
"She gets good grades and doesn't have to try too hard," Matson says.
"We are stereotypes of different characters, but we want to be real. We don't want to be cartoon characters," Matson says. "I'm trying to think about high school and what it was like for me and how other people made me feel."Comment on this story
Since the pilot, the writers and Matson have toned down Penny's quirkiness and allowed her to grow.
"She was a social outcast, awkward and insecure, and she was getting kicked around (by siblings and classmates)," Matson says. "The writers and I decided that if we're going to care about the character, she has to have some fight in her."
Matson says she hopes the sitcom will stay on the air for several years and that her main goal after that is to star in action films and other dramatic movies. She plans to eventually attend the University of Southern California film school.
When she isn't acting, Matson enjoys relaxing by participating in endurance (cross country) races with her Arabian horse, Sheba.