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Rising Star Sarah Elizabeth Mitchell: “Value the little things as much as the champagne moments; Too often we are seduced by the iceberg illusion of success”

Value the little things as much as the champagne moments. Too often we are seduced by the iceberg illusion of success. The tip of the actor’s iceberg that the public sees is say, walking the red carpet or receiving an award. Supporting that fleeting moment for the actor is ten plus years of training, criticism, […]


Value the little things as much as the champagne moments. Too often we are seduced by the iceberg illusion of success. The tip of the actor’s iceberg that the public sees is say, walking the red carpet or receiving an award. Supporting that fleeting moment for the actor is ten plus years of training, criticism, trolls, auditions, callbacks, moving, networking, sacrificing the security of a traditional job, relationships and missing out on time with family and friends.


As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing actress Sarah Elizabeth Mitchell. Sarah is an award-winning actress living and working in Hollywood. Sarah studied theater at Bard College and attended the British American Drama Academy in London to study classical acting for a semester. She has trained at the National Theater Institute, in acting for film and television with the Stella Adler Art of Acting Studio in Hollywood and in private coaching and on-camera acting with Gregory Berger-Sobeck of the Yale School of Drama. Her dream roles are strong heroines.


Thank you so much for joining us Sarah! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was seventeen, I was cast by my high school drama teacher as the lead in a play that metamorphosed me into an actress: “Love of the Nightingale” by Timberlake Wertenbaker, a feminist, modern retelling of an Ancient Greek myth that tells the story of the rape of Philomele.

I spent all summer preparing: looking at paintings, reading poems, songs, and the original texts that were the basis for the script. I felt I had discovered I had a superpower that went something like this: use your intellect, experience, emotional inner life and creativity to touch the lives of others and encourage them to investigate their own human condition.

I could cry real tears on stage. Expression in this medium came easily to me, like opening a conduit to tell stories for others through the power of performance and metaphor; peeling back the layers to expose the pithy insides of the deeper emotional life we all have but rarely share publicly.

PHOTO CREDIT: Francesco Secci, photographer; Tyler Yoder, stylist; dress by Zadig et Voltaire.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

I have worked as an actor on the east coast for several years but just moved to Hollywood from my hometown in Massachusetts about a year ago.

The most interesting thing about living in Los Angeles is how easy it is to meet other creatives and produce work together. You never know who you might meet out and about: stylists, makeup artists, composers, directors, cinematographers, models, star actors, struggling actors et al are your neighbors.

So many people have moved here to take their shot at making it in the entertainment industry and are eager to make work and prove themselves. It’s exciting to live in an environment where you can quickly form connections for future collaboration and bond over shared interests and creative visions.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Not funny, but I made a bigmistake two years ago when I was offered an audition through a referral for the title role in a feature film for a major studio that got a wide theatrical release. I didn’t take the audition because I was out of the country. They ultimately cast an actress who was very similar to me. I soon believed I’d blown my one chance for a breakout role.

On reflection, I came to understand that I need to work even harder to put myself in the path of opportunities of a similar scope. To that end, I decided to put myself in the position to audition for work more frequently so I moved to Los Angeles, the epicenter of casting for the American film industry.

The funniest mistake I consistently make is never knowing how formally or informally to dress for which occasions. A friend took me to a screening at LACMA of a film Leonardo DiCaprio produced. I was wearing jeans and a ‘Shot on Kodak’ tee from a recent project assuming it was a casual event. I sat in front and was more than a little mortified when Leo himself came out from backstage to introduce the film and snapped some pictures on his phone of the audience.

PHOTO CREDIT: Francesco Secci, photographer; Tyler Yoder, stylist; dress by Zadig et Voltaire.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Currently, I’m auditioning and seeking theatrical agency representation.

This summer, I wrapped principal photography on He Devil, a short thriller film. I play the protagonist, Lori, a woman who escapes an abusive relationship with a man who she discovers is a demon disguised as a handsome stranger.

A short film, Spin Cycle, in which I star, just premiered at Hollyshorts at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s an honor to screen at this festival with shorts made by and starring both renowned and upcoming filmmakers and actors.

At Hollyshorts, Spin Cycle was awarded ‘Best Shot on Film’ presented by Eastman Kodak. Notably, screening at the festival satisfies the eligibility requirements for shorts to be considered for nomination for an Academy Award.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

I can’t tell you many of my best stories because I signed non-disclosure agreements and I definitely don’t want any of the studios to sue me.

One of my best stories, for which my NDA has expired, has to be working on the feature film Chappaquiddick. I played Ted Kennedy’s secretary in the senate in what I believe would have been the opening scene of the film. Though the scene was ultimately cut in the editing room, I had a marvelous time on set.

On the day of filming, I got a honeywagon, which is the tiniest little dressing room in a trailer you can get on set — as a newbie I was so thrilled to have it and go to hair and makeup. I got to work directly in a continuous walking two-shot with lead actor Jason Clarke who was a kind castmate especially considering how green I was as an actor that day.

After we wrapped, I spoke briefly with our director, John Curran, who encouraged me to make greater headway in my career as an actor. That gave me the vote of confidence I needed to take bigger risks for my career. Thankfully, I’m already starting to see the rewards.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Value the little things as much as the champagne moments. Too often we are seduced by the iceberg illusion of success. The tip of the actor’s iceberg that the public sees is say, walking the red carpet or receiving an award. Supporting that fleeting moment for the actor is ten plus years of training, criticism, trolls, auditions, callbacks, moving, networking, sacrificing the security of a traditional job, relationships and missing out on time with family and friends.

PHOTO CREDIT: Francesco Secci, photographer; Tyler Yoder, stylist; dress by Zadig et Voltaire.

You have to find a way to celebrate screening for an audience of five as much as you envision you could appreciate winning an Oscar. Savoring the work itself and the little victories is what helps you to survive the other ‘thousand natural shocks’ the actor’s life is heir to, as Shakespeare put it.

PHOTO CREDIT: Francesco Secci, photographer; Tyler Yoder, stylist; dress by Zadig et Voltaire.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My college roommate, Hanna Mitchell, a person of truly great influence as a career-long activist, taught me three principles we must abide by to take care of our planet and ensure our own survival: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I especially appreciate efforts to increase sustainability on film sets, which can otherwise produce so much waste.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

PHOTO CREDIT: Francesco Secci, photographer; Tyler Yoder, stylist; dress by Zadig et Voltaire.
  1. Keep your own counsel. All advice was not created equal; screen advice-givers carefully. Example: Even very wise non-industry folks may not be qualified to advise you on how to navigate the industry. Look for a mentor in your field who can guide you. My understanding of the industry has expanded tenfold by talking to more established actors.
  2. Keep after your goals. Make your personal development your first priority. Example: I lost decades because I worried too much about what other people thought of my choices. Don’t take a job, choose a major, live in a city, enter into a relationship or etc. that’s in conflict to what you really want. Find your true north and stick to your path.
  3. Keep your head up. Stay positive; surround yourself with positive people who are rooting for you. Example: Build your circle of trust with care because the strength of your support network determines your aptitude for success. Think of this as building a team. I’m so thankful I can now count on a handful of mentors to call upon for advice. I hope to pay them back in kind and pay it forward to other actors too.
  4. Keep going. There will be days when you want to quit because it all seems impossible but tomorrow is a new day with new possibilities. Example: Part of being an actor is managing your expectations, so often I think I didn’t book a certain project after my audition or meeting, only to hear back that I did book it months later. Don’t despair. In my experience, you can feel most hopeless when massive opportunity is right around the corner. It’s always darkest before the dawn.
  5. Believe in yourself: you don’t need a permission slip from anyone to follow your dreams. Example: If opportunities aren’t coming your way yet, make your own opportunities until they do. I’m a big believer in producing and writing your own projects. I often get cast in a film and also find myself pitching in to pre-production, often earning a producer credit for my effort to see things get made and made well.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Baz Luhrmann, director of one of my favorite films from the 90s, Romeo + Juliet, adapted a speech originally penned by journalist Mary Schmich into an inspirational song entitled “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).” Honestly, it’s the best life advice:

“Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now:

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; or never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked […]

Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Francesco Secci, photographer; Tyler Yoder, stylist; dress by Zadig et Voltaire.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I think about my family and friends who have offered their support in so many forms and favors and all the actors, directors, teachers, agents, bookers, managers, casting directors, casting interns, peers, modeling agents, models, role models and cast and crew I have worked with — I think if gathered everyone would hit the seat minimum to be declared a small Broadway-sized theater; so, you know who you are and I’ll thank you in person.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I’d love to have lunch with Greta Gerwig and the cast and crew of the forthcoming feature film Little Women.

Also, I’d be thrilled to have coffee with casting director Nina Gold and ask her about how she cast Game of Thrones and Stranger Things.

I’d love to break bread with the casting director for the forthcoming Circe, a new series from HBO with a feminist point of view on Ancient Greek myths.

Filmmakers, if you’re reading this and want to cast me, I’d love to have coffee with you. Please reach out!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website:

SarahElizabethMitchell.com

Social Media:

Instagram.com/Sarah.Elizabeth.Mitchell

Youtube.com/SarahElizabethMitchell

Facebook.com/SarahElizabethMitchell

Twitter.com/SarahElizaMitch

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

Thank you so much for reading. Stay in touch!

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