Mahalet was born in the hilly Ethiopian city of Dire Dawa. The story goes she was a performer as soon as she left the womb. She danced at weddings, sang atop classroom tables and wove tall tales of the career in American movies she always knew she'd have. She immigrated to the U.S. when she was six, and the rest happened pretty much in accordance with how most immigrants pursue the American Dream; work hard, play little. She excelled academically and matriculated from New York University with high honors. She was even awarded the Don R. Mellett prize for most promising broadcast journalism student in her graduating class. After working in television news for a little under two years, she quit her job and started focusing exclusively on acting. As fate would have it, her first network role was as a journalist... no better clue she was on the right track.