Metz was already familiar with the film's story of Joyce Smith, whose son, John, fell through ice on a lake in January 2015 and was drowning for 15 minutes before paramedics even started resuscitation efforts. By the time the boy was in the emergency room, he had gone so long without a pulse that doctors were ready to call time of death.
But Smith wouldn't accept it. She was given permission to pray at her son's feet as a last attempt at CPR was performed — and, much to everyone's surprise, John's pulse returned. And, eventually, he fully recovered from the accident.
Metz recalled her first meeting about the film adaptation with producer Franklin and executives from distributor 20th Century Fox. "I thought we were just generally meeting, and then I ended up sharing the story of my mother's medical emergency."
In 2017, Metz's mother, Denise, suffered a massive stroke, and even in front of her mother, doctors were openly pessimistic about a return to quality life. Metz recalled her fury. "I told those doctors, 'You might think you know my mom, but you don't know my mom. And you don't know what she's capable of ... So, if you don't have anything nice or positive to say, you need to actually leave my mother's room,'" she said. "And then, of course, we come to find out that Joyce said those things to John's doctors."
Metz's mom is home, walking, making what Metz called "a strong recovery" — and provided inspiration for her daughter's portrayal of Joyce. "To play, wholeheartedly, a woman who believes in miracles, you have to believe in miracles to some degree, I think," explained Metz, who didn't connect with the real-life Smith until two weeks into filming.
"I felt like I already knew her," Metz noted. "I watched her on TV. I read her book, 'The Impossible.'" But making the one-on-one contact did inform her performance. "Meeting her, you can't help but realize she has been through hell and back, and is better for it."
Three years ago, the 38-year-old Metz was perhaps the least-known of the seven original "This Is Us" leads. And while each in the cast has landed extracurricular gigs since the acclaimed and popular series' 2016 debut, Metz is the first to be top-billed in a major studio theatrical release.
"It's mind-blowing to know that when I first stepped foot on 'This Is Us,' I felt like the inadequate, doesn't have a resume, can I do this girl?" Metz said. "I learned so much from the cast collectively," she continued, crediting her "This Is Us" co-stars for teaching her what it took to head up the "Breakthrough" cast.
Metz said movie scripts "aren't pouring in," but they're coming, and the big issue is whether the movie is the right thing at the right time. She said she connected with her "Breakthrough" character and the film's message of hope, as well as the producers' eagerness to let her pursue another passion: singing. Metz performs the new Diane Warren song, "I'm Standing With You ," over the film's end titles.
"For me, it's important for a movie to change me or change someone else," Metz said.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Mike Cidoni Lennox at www.twitter.com/CidoniLennox