Photo: Miller Mobley

Hometown: Asheville, NCOccupation: Actress

What's on her plate: Reprising her role as steely first lady Mellie Grant on the third season of the television hit Scandal. Premiers October 3 at 10 P.M. EST on ABC

Being a Southern woman is a privileged tradition. It's something that people see in you well before they hear you speak or taste your cooking. It's thoughtfulness and gentility and a certain kind of grace that always makes a person say, "Where are you from?"

My real name isn't Bellamy. It's Amy. When I joined the Screen Actors Guild, Amy Young was already taken by the child star of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Yep, a 4-year-old stole my name. I toyed with Amaryllis or Amanda, but then Bellamy came to me. I thought "I'm Southern. I can pull that off."

My acting career began at age 4. It was baby acting class at the Flat Rock Playhouse near Hendersonville, North Carolina. We would pretend to fry like bacon or melt like ice cream.I'm a Dean Smith baby, Tar Heel-to-the-bone kind of girl. But, weirdly, when it comes to football, I root for Duke out of allegiance to my stepfather. Somewhere in Heaven my father is probably shaking his fist at me.

I learn Scandal's newest plot twists and turns at the table read the day before shooting. It's like life—you don't know what's around the corner; you meet it in the moment and do your best. I presume that this season Mellie will still be jockeying for position in The White House and fighting for her man with any weapon at hand.

Photo: Miller Mobley

Asheville is an experience that you can't understand until you've been. It's a joy for me when I can get people there and then meet up with them after their visit. We just sit and have a quiet, knowing moment about the amazing ineffable magic of Asheville.

I may be vegan, but my mama's buttermilk biscuits are the most delicious thing I've ever tasted. Asheville is a great city for vegan foodies. There's tofu lasagna at Avenue M, located a block from my childhood home. The vegan Reuben sandwich from the Laughing Seed—ridiculous. Then there's The Hop's vegan milk shakes. So good I could cry.

There is nothing like the peace I feel when I'm walking in the North Carolina mountains. My favorite is a hike just outside of Burnsville. It's where I'd like to be forever. Do they let you spread ashes there? It really is Heaven to me.

The South is not just a geographic location—the South is a way of life. I live in Los Angeles, but being Southern is constantly with me, in large part because I'm always on the phone with someone in North Carolina. My body is here [in L.A.], but my heart is there.

I'm a dogged defender of the Southern idiom. For example, "y'all" is a very underused and undervalued word in the English language. It speaks to everyone, and it speaks you. What other word serves the purpose it does? No. Other. Word.

Photo: Miller Mobley

When I went to college at Yale I caught a lot of flack for the speed of my speech. I spoke...verrry...slowly. People would leave the room before I finished a sentence. But I'm a singer and take great joy in all the vowel gymnastics we Southerners can create. We can get more tone in a vowel than any Italian opera singer!

My mama drilled in me the importance of thank-you notes. Today I think they're the best things in the world. People want to feel appreciated, so get the word out there and let them know what they mean to you. You can thank them for something from present day or something from the past. There's no statute of limitations on gratitude.