Originally from Regina, Saskatchewan, Sabryn started acting for camera at age 11. She’s appeared on several television shows including The Divide, The Listener, and Against the Wall. She’s also an accomplished theatre actor and has worked with several companies including The Stratford Festival, Obsidian Theatre, Soulpepper, Nightwood and Acting Upstage. She was nominated for a Dora award for her work in the 2012 hit Caroline, or Change. Sabryn is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre in Stratford and more recently the Actors’ Conservatory at the Canadian Film Centre. Up next, Sabryn will star in the new play Caught at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto this spring. The Girlfriend Experience executive produced by Steven Soderbergh premiered at the Sundance Festival in January and will air April 10th on Starz.
J.C: I’m so excited to see you in The Girlfriend Experience. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little about your character and how you relate to her?
S.R: My character Kayla is a highly ambitious intern at the law firm who is in constant competition with Christine (played by Riley Keough). She was incredibly fun to navigate as she’s highly political, acutely focused on landing a permanent position and definitely will do whatever she can to get what she wants. On the flip side I also found Kayla to be fairly neurotic like she’s treading water at the firm to try and be noticed by the partners at Kirkland and Allen so that was an exciting counter to explore. Her relationship to Christine was also fun to work out as they’re both pretty strong-minded, stubborn women and after a few rocky interactions start to form a minor bond among the chaos of the firm. Kayla possesses such ambition and strength but I personally think she overcompensates for many insecurities; she’s threatened by Christine because in her mind it’s between the two of them for one of the permanent spots. I connected to her on many levels; I myself am a little obsessive, sarcastic and very much goal oriented so the apple didn’t fall far from the tree…
J.C: I am wondering about the audition process for this role. What do you think you had or did that got you the part? What qualities do you have that made you so successful?
S.R: I had just spent the previous 6 months training in the Actors’ Conservatory at the Canadian Film Centre before landing the Girlfriend Experience. The program itself is a marathon and certainly honed my abilities in overall performance but more importantly for me at that time, the quality of my auditions; I left feeling like those muscles were in great shape and brought ease to my work which I’m sure was helpful in landing the role. I had some great mentors while at the Film Centre who really encouraged me to trust in not only my abilities but my confidence as a person and I think I was able to really let that shine through in the audition room- flaws and all.
J.C: What is it like to have a role that is a series regular? What was your experience during the filming of The Girlfriend Experience?
S.R: I am honoured to have been able to work on such an interesting project as my first recurring role. It is such a luxury to be able to develop a character over many scripts- you have no idea! You really get a chance to get to know not only the whole artistic team but also really delve into your character and experiment and play. I find dayplayer roles so tough; it’s so hard to come in for one day on a well oiled machine and try and seamlessly fit in like you’re just a regular person who exists in that world daily. But playing Kayla over several episodes really helped me to feel grounded but also get to know our incredible director/writing team Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz. Working with them definitely kept me on my toes as I found their approaches to directing very different; it was a great challenge to keep up with them but also still uphold what I’d found in the character throughout the block shooting. Being on set can obviously be a stressful thing and this project definitely had some unique challenges: bouncing around so much -shooting scenes from any given episode in a day, only using natural lighting (I don’t think I ever saw a light on set!) made it even more crucial to get certain shots by sundown . It was shot like an independent film! The whole ‘experience’ (see what I did there?) really felt more like an ensemble of a theatre company rather than a TV show; and our fearless directors were such strong leaders and had a collective vision that I trusted. This allowed me to truly surrender to the process and I cannot wait to see how it turned out.
J.C: How do you feel watching yourself on screen, has that experience changed for you over the years?
S.R: For several years I felt bashful and anxious seeing myself on screen. I still sometimes watch in disbelief and think “That’s actually my face! How on earth did I get here?!” It’s not as uncomfortable as it once was and I’m looking at my work in a completely different way now. I have kind of gotten over the neurosis and insecurities that used to cross my mind on a regular basis. At the CFC I really started looking at my work more critically and objectively- dissecting it and thinking about my choices, did this or that come across, what feelings am I getting from it, was I as present as I could’ve been…and so on and so forth. Not to say that I won’t ever be able to sit back and just enjoy my work, I’m just enjoying the learning curve which will probably never be a smooth straight line..and I’m fine with that.
J.C: As a black actress from Canada what obstacles, if any, have you had to over come to get to where you are?
S.R: I think both in Canada and the U.S we have a long way to go as far as people of colour in prominent roles in film, tv and theatre. One of the biggest obstacles I come across in my career is lack of imagination or simply a lack of noticing that families can come in many different colours and leading men and women can come from all backgrounds. I’m a product of a black father and a white mother with three older siblings who are mixed. Being biracial has been an unsettling tug of war for me in this industry; I’ve had casting directors tell me to “be more black” or “street” and I’ve lost out on parts because I’m not leading lady material or because they’re “looking for a more conventional lead” (white). I find it hilarious that most of these predominantly caucasian casting persons are telling me to be more black even though they have no experience or idea of what that actually means. And women can and should play strong, interesting and complex protagonists or dark, flawed antiheroines and people want to see that! Women can look like real women on screen and not some idealized version of what Hollywood or ad companies think they should be- hell will not freeze over! There’s an archaic notion of the way things “should be” because they’ve traditionally been this way but I think we’ve reached a tipping point. I’m lucky to live in a time where there seem to be a lot of solid creators out there who are willing to take risks and create work without fear that reflects the changing world around us.
J.C: Where do you stand with all the talk about women on screen and diversity issues? How do you think this effects the Canadian Entertainment industry and you?
S.R: Honestly it makes want to work harder and get better and better at my craft so that it isn’t about giving me a part because I’m a minority but earning the part because I am the best person for it. I have a few movie and show ideas of my own that I’ve been thinking about developing- and that seems to be the way things are moving. If you want change if you want diversity in casting, just do it. Make it happen! Stop talking about it and just do it! No more forums, debates, symposiums on diversity. Make your production team, crew and cast diverse with women, people with disabilities and people of colour. Last year I went out for some big roles in some solid American pilots that had such exciting stories and strong female characters and that had never happened before! More and more scripts that I get my hands on seem to have women in the driver’s seat both in front of and behind the camera and this is exactly what needs to happen. I think the U.S is definitely onto something there. I can’t help but feel a bit excluded when I look at some of the major Canadian TV networks and don’t see myself reflected and that makes me feel discouraged but also more likely to create my own content or contemplate crossing the border …although the latter might change after the results of the Presidential election in November…
J.C: What is your best piece of advice for young artists like you?
S.R: 1. No one is like you. Only you are you so don’t be afraid to show who you really are in your work. Don’t think about what they want or how you can be closer to what you think they’re looking for. As long as you do your work and show the best parts of yourself, the rest has nothing to do with you.
- Live your life! Don’t miss out on opportunities for travel, important family events and personal decisions because you might miss out on a possible project. All those life experiences inform your work. The business will always be there- your family may not.
- If you can think of anything you might want to do more, do that instead. This industry is not for the faint of heart.
Catch Sabryn on The Girlfriend Experience. It airs on April 10th on Starz.