After initially moving to New York to pursue theater, she received her breakthrough role as Anna in the ABC series Once Upon a Time. She then booked a starring role in Freeform's Dead of Summer.
Her only previous acting experience was in a couple of student film productions.
She studied acting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
She was born to parents Dean Franklin Lail and Kay Lurene Surratt in Williamson County, Texas, later moving to Asheboro, Randolph County, North Carolina. She has a sister named Kathryn Dean Lail.
She played the live-action role of Anna that was based on the character of the same name from the animated Disney film Frozen. Kristen Bell provided the voice of Anna in the film.