Diary of an actress #19: Sarah Louise Lilley - new girl on Twitter

Candy Washington: How did you get your start in the entertainment industry? What led you toward acting?
Sarah Louise Lilley: I found my love of performing when I was pretty young. I grew up in England where I did elocution lessons and speech competitions in school from an early age; when I was 8 or 9, I won a prize reciting A.A. Milne’s poem Forgiven about a boy who loses his beetle, and I can still remember most of the poem! We would see pantomimes (quintessentially British, over-the-top fairytale-inspired musicals) every Christmas; and we lived in Chichester, one of the UK ’s premier theater towns – so I was exposed to great shows from an early age. I can still visualize the production of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros that my mum took me to; I was way too young to understand it all but I’d never seen anything like it. People turned into giant puppet rhinoceroses, and it blew my mind!

After moving to the US, I went to UCLA and got a BA in Theater, Film and Television. I drove cross-country to NYC after graduating to intern for the avant-garde director Richard Foreman. A few months later he asked me if I’d be interested in performing in his next show. I auditioned and got the role of the Child in Bad Boy Nietzsche. It was my first AEA show, we opened in NYC and than took it to Belgium, Holland and Tokyo – it was amazing!
CW: You have a very impressive reel! What are some bodies of work that you are particularly proud?
SLL: Thanks so much! My latest short film Nothing Happened, which I produced and starred in, has screened at over 30+ festivals including Cinequest, Berkshires, Bend, Woodstock and London BFI; we’re now talking to distributors. When you produce a low-budget movie you wear so many hats. I can see my fingerprints all over the film – from the choice of director and location, to the artwork in the background (almost a character itself) and the costumes. I’m really proud of the film we created and of its success. I’m also very grateful to all the people who collaborated on the film and donated money so we could make it!

I performed “Come and Have a Chicky Meal, Cuz You’re Gonna Love This Deal” with JMandle Performance (http://juliamandle.com/) in various venues around NYC including Exit Art, The Art Directors Club and the Alexander Kasser Theater. Julia is an amazing performance artist/activist and it was so inspiring to work with her. I also really enjoyed being able to use my experience with dance and contact improvisation, because there was a lot of movement and choreography. After performing with Julia, I worked with her as a producer; I facilitated a 5-week residency in the Chelsea LAB School that culminated in a large-scale street performance with 60 students; we also created pieces in Pittsburgh together, and traveled to New Orleans to create a performance with students there for the opening of Prospect 1 - the New Orleans Art Biennale. Sadly, Julia moved the company to Amsterdam a couple of years ago.

I played the female lead in the feature Blue Road a few years ago. It was a road trip/love story shot in 12 national parks over 2+ months. I’m very proud of my work and my collaborators’, and really wish the film was out there in a bigger way. It played some festivals but never got the recognition I felt it deserved!

CW: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as an actress? How did you over come then?
SLL: I’m also a mom to an awesome 2 year old! Balancing motherhood and acting has definitely been a huge challenge. When my son was tiny, Nothing Happened was on the festival circuit, and I’m proud to say he attended his first film festival at 7 weeks! At first it was easy; they are so portable at that age. Then there was a difficult period of adjustment - both logistically and financially. It was a struggle to find time for auditions and to focus on my career, and also to give my son some focus and stability. I initially had a strange misconception that sharing about my son would harm my career – but I have found the opposite to be true. I used to be told I wasn’t old enough to be a young mom, but suddenly “young mom” became one of my types. I have had some great conversations with casting directors and agents about kids; I even had someone tell me that they remembered me because we have children the same age. Being a mom is such a huge part of who I am: so I think talking about it shows the real me, and people can connect with me more easily. I also think it has made me a better actor because I am more vulnerable… I teared up just reading my son a Curious George story about a kid who gets lost at a baseball game!

CW: You have dual citizenship of the US and the UK – has that every played to your advantage in the acting world?

SLL: I have many American friends who can do a perfect British accent, but I’ve booked some commercials because the producers wanted to guarantee authenticity by hiring only British nationals. I do go out for British roles so I’m sure having my citizenship on my resume helps. I was also just featured in Jason Bell’s book “An Englishman in New York” about British people living in NYC. It also features Sting, Kate Winslet, Stephen Daldry, Sir Peter Shaffer and Chef April Bloomfield - so that was pretty cool!

CW: My reader’s are dying to know, you have a very unique and attractive look, what are you favorite roles to play and why?
SLL: I always want well-written material, but I really tend to gravitate to people rather than to specific roles. My ideal career is finding people I love to work with – writers, producers or directors – and collaborating with them over and over again. I love the creativity and shorthand you get when that happens. I’m lucky enough to have already found a few of those people. I’ve worked many times with Jessica Provenz, who wrote Nothing Happened, and I’d sign on anytime without even reading the script because I trust her so implicitly. I worked on Late Night with Conan O’Brien a lot when he shot in NYC, and his writers are brilliant; when I’d get the call I’d just say “You don’t have to tell me what the sketch is: I’ll do it.”

Someone once told me my roles have a theme in common – characters that are torn and struggling between two choices – whether it be two worlds, two men, two cultures or two personalities. That wasn’t something that I sought out but oddly it is somewhat true. Even my favorite films often have that theme too.

CW: What’s one piece of advice do you have for other actors that are just starting out?
SLL: Search out Dallas Travers! (http://www.dallastravers.com/) I recently discovered Dallas, who is a creative career coach and actors’ advocate. She has a book, a free newsletter and a Facebook page as well as numerous classes and seminars. I think she offers an amazing blend of practical actor tools as well as spiritual/mental tools to deal with the ups and downs of this business, and I highly recommend connecting with her.

CW: When you’re not acting, how else do you like to spend your time?

SLL: Acting and horseback riding have always been my two passions, and I wrote and produced my first short Raising the Bar (which premiered at the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival) just so I could ride a horse on film. A couple of years ago I rode across the Namib Desert on horseback: 10 days on a horse that had unbelievable stamina, and with no civilization in sight, flying across the desert at breathtaking speed – pure joy and freedom!

CW: Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing for a role?
SLL: I love that stage of the process. I always start with myself and find some common ground with the character. Sometime just my experiences and imagination are enough; other times the role is very removed from my world and it takes a lot of research for me to understand and feel connected with the character. I’ve done everything from spending the night on Hollywood Boulevard as a homeless girl, to reading endlessly about being the child of an alcoholic, to spending hours doing improvs of events in a character’s back story, to interviewing hookers, to sinking into art and music that my character would love. Then the challenge becomes trusting yourself, letting all your homework go and just being present in the moment.

CW: What’s your top 3 favorite films of all time and why?
SLL: Such a hard question – I have so many favorites! Steve Martin’s Shopgirl is definitely in my top 3. It is visually beautiful as well as funny and heartbreaking. It has a wonderfully insightful, subtle, poetic quality. I think his latest book An Object of Beauty is in development for a feature, I would LOVE to work on that project.

Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s Sugar is beautifully done. It has everything - it is topical and raises really interesting/problematic questions yet is also funny and deeply moving.

The Woodsman made a huge impression on me. Kevin Bacon is amazing in it. Great storytelling and you leave feeling such empathy for his struggle, which is a huge feat considering the topic of pedophilia. It is not a perfect film but a very brave one.

I’m sneaking some more in…
Honorary Mention – The Visitor
Fav Rom Com – Waitress
Fav Foreign movie – The Lives of Others.
Fav Laugh out loud movie - Shaun of the Dead
Fav recent genius low budget filmmaking award – Compliance
Fav guilty pleasure – The Notebook

CW: What’s one thing that only my readers can find out here about you?

SLL: I resisted social media for so long but am a recent convert. I started a Facebook page a little while ago but have yet to open a twitter account. The day this blog goes live, so does my twitter account! You heard it here first!! Be the first to follow me @SarahLLilley

Monthly newsletter – http://eepurl.com/phXLH
Website – http://www.sarahlouiselilley.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Sarahlouiselilleyactor
NEW Twitter - @SarahLLilley

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