Leave it to McKayla Maroney to impress the Bones casting directors even when she's under the weather.
"I had strep throat when I went in. I didn't know my lines or anything!" Maroney tells TVGuide.com. "I kind of just winged it. I honestly had no idea how I did. ... So when I got the part, I was so excited."
The Olympic gold medalist and meme queen guest-stars on Friday's episode (8/7c, Fox) as Ellie, a gymnast who becomes Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and Booth's (David Boreanaz) prime suspect after her rival Amanda is murdered. And not just murdered — her remains are also struck by lightning! "The plot is so crazy," Maroney says. "It's funny because a lot of people have been tweeting me, 'I always knew she was a little dangerous. Of course she'd go in for this. Of course she's a suspect.'"
Holiday TV calendar
Maroney, who is "obsessed" with Bones, jumped (no pun intended) at the chance to audition for the show. And though Ellie is a gymnast, the part called for Maroney to flex her acting muscles more than her gymnastic ones. For one, her signature high-flying vaults are MIA.
"I probably would've done some vaulting, but they didn't have any set up for the level that I am. They were all for younger gymnasts," she says. "It's more acting-based. I had to do gymnastics, like I did a round of handspring layouts, which I do every day in the gym and isn't hard for me to do. But it was very hard for me to be ready to do gymnastics and then be ready to act. I would do a tumbling pass and then have to talk. But that's how it's supposed to be, like I'm in the gym and it's OK if I'm out of breath. It was an amazing experience. I had so much fun. Everyone was so nice."
While Maroney, who turns 18 on Monday, naturally won't spill the beans on whether Ellie is guilty or not, she does concede that Ellie is as driven an athlete as they come. "She wants to be the best, which I can relate to, and [Amanda] was her top competition. When this happens, she's scared and freaked out," Maroney says. "The weird thing is, when I was on set, it was really emotional because a little part of you thinks, 'What if this happened at my gym?' It's scary." In reality though, Maroney insists that the competitiveness between gymnasts is nowhere near as ruthless or deadly as so often portrayed on-screen, especially between fellow teammates.
"With the Olympic team, we're best friends forever and you have to be to win a gold medal. You're competing together and you need to support each other," she says. "With gymnasts from other countries, I don't know their languages and most of them don't know English too well. We all want everyone to do well because if everyone is performing well, that shows who the best is. You want to beat the best. We're extremely competitive, even with my best friend Kyla [Ross]. We're like, 'I love you, but I'm going to try to beat you.' It's not personal; it's gymnastics. When we're not competing, we're best friends. Same with the other countries — we get along quite well, I'd say. There definitely aren't any bodies struck by lightning!"
Since the London Olympics, where she took gold in the team event and silver on vault, Maroney has also parlayed her stardom into a recurring role on Hart of Dixie, where she's set to return later this season. Between that and Bones, she's gotten her acting fix for the time being, as she turns her attention to training for the Rio Olympics. In October, she defended her vault title at the World Championships — a year after fracturing her left tibia — and now has her eye on mastering a triple twisting Yurchenko vault that could be named after her.
TV couples: Hot or not?
"That's definitely something I'm planning on working on," she says. "Right now I have an injury in my knee and I have one more week for it to heal, and then I will get back in the gym and start working on those. I'm just focused on gymnastics right now. No acting thing has come up at the moment. I'm just spending every day, six hours a day, at the gym and if something comes up, I'm like, 'I'd love to do it.'"
And for the record, no, she does not do the "not impressed" face on Bones.
"I didn't do the face in the episode. Because I was impressed!" Maroney quips. "No, it's more serious. For them to throw in the 'not impressed face' wouldn't fit in. But I did do it on set!"
Bones airs Fridays at 8/7c on Fox. Watch a sneak peek of Maroney's episode below.