If you’re lucky enough, and I mean exceedingly, win-the-lottery-twice kind-of lucky, your end-all career comes from a place of yearning and unimaginable passion. Almost as if it was written in the stars, actress Sarah Stiles expresses this type of gratitude towards her blossoming career, as she details her work on the Netflix series, The Crew, as the ultimate dream job. Through honing her natural-born talents on the silver screen and equally amidst the velvet curtains of the theater, Sarah expanded her creative-palette through music, as she recently released her debut EP, You Can Ukulele With Me. In this exclusive interview, Sarah discusses where she draws inspiration from when preparing for each role, how her childhood impacted her infatuation with the arts, and notable challenges she has faced, and embraced, throughout her career.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to pursue acting?
Sarah Stiles: I believe, unconsciously, I’ve been pursuing it since the day I was born. My mom says it was destined to be because I was born at home with a midwife to an audience of family friends cheering me on. No joke, there was a sweet bedroom full of hippies “oohing” and “awing” as I took my first breath.
MM: Can you give an overview of your past in the entertainment industry and how it led you to where you are now?
SS: I came to NYC in the fall of 1999, went to AMDA, a musical theater conservatory program that lasted just over a year, and started working in theater right after. I did a lot of regional theater and worked pretty consistently. It was hard work and it hardly paid enough to feed me, but it was so much fun and so satisfying. Once I got a manager, I started booking bigger jobs. I climbed the ladder, starting as an understudy in my first Broadway show, eventually getting to replace leads, and finally started originating roles and managed to pick up a couple of Tony nominations along the way. I’ll always be a theater girl and I always come back to it. But, film, television, and animation have taken up most of my time. I’ve been pursuing that side of the industry over the past six years and it’s been so wonderful learning new skills, techniques, and finding my joy in those mediums. The Crew is the ultimate hybrid of theater and TV, because of the live audience tapings on Friday nights. I really love working off of an audience, they teach you so much about your performance in-the-moment and what to dig into. For comedy, it’s so important to get that immediate feedback, because it leads you to places you may not have thought of on your own.
MM: You star in the newly released Netflix series, The Crew…. Congratulations! Can you give us some insight into what your experience was like filming this project?
SS: We shot seven episodes, pre-pandemic, and it was a dream job. First of all, we got Kevin James, who is such a lovely, generous, and crazy-talented person. He is a real leader and champion for our cast, who are also wonderful, crazy-talented, and hilarious humans. We had a writing team, director, and crew who you wanted to spend all your time with, because they were so much fun. We had a live studio audience every Friday and at the end of the night, we’d pile into Kevin’s dressing room and eat pizza, smoke cigars, and drink whisky together. It was such a fun place to work. Truly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. And, I just love playing Beth. She is so full of joy and spunk, it was a really nice energy to exist in. We had to take a few months off once the pandemic hit, but, we were lucky to come back together at the end of August and finish up the last three episodes. The hardest part of that was not hugging and hanging out as much as before. We were all quarantined in hotel rooms, driving ourselves to work, and confined to our dressing rooms when not on set. We were red zoned! I had to kiss the top of Kevin’s head in a scene and after each take, the Covid nurse would race onto the set and spray us down with alcohol. What an insane, scary time! But, even inside that, with all the procedures in place, rules followed, and safety measures taken, we found ourselves laughing so much and having a ton of fun. We really love each other and I think you see that when you watch the show.
MM: You were most recently seen in the show-stopping role of Sandy Lester in the Broadway production of Tootsie, which earned you a Tony, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama Desk Award nominations! How did you originally get involved in the world of Broadway?
SS: I’m heading back to elementary school for this answer. If given the opportunity to choose my own format for a presentation of a school project, I would create a play and act out my work. I would also perform dance routines with my little boombox at recess and sing the National Anthem at snack time. (This makes me sound so crazy obnoxious, but I was overall very shy and quiet at all other times. I wasn’t looking for attention, it wasn’t about that, I just loved performing). To continue, my fifth-grade teacher took notice and sent me home one day with a local newspaper clipping with a few theater summer camp advertisements circled with a note attached saying, “Get your mom to take you to one of these!” [laughs]. My mom listened and that summer, I discovered musical theater and it opened up a huge magical world of sparkles, jazz fingers, belting, way too much stage makeup, and crazy circus clown friends; I have never looked back. From that summer on, it was just a countdown to Broadway. It was all I thought about and worked towards. In the many years that followed, I discovered, beyond the sparkles, the challenge and skill it took and grew to be really passionate about the art form.
MM: What does your overall process look like when channeling a new character?
SS: I look for the first line or moment that makes me go, “Oh there she is. That’s her in a nutshell.” The moment or line that gives me a ton of information, is like a jumping-off point. With Beth, it’s actually the very first moment you see her. In the opening scene, she runs in breaking up a fight between the boys, very reasonable and nurturing in her approach, but does a total 180 as soon as Kevin explains what happened. I got that she is a problem solver, respected by these guys, and not afraid to get in the middle of a fight. It also told me she is a wildly passionate, spitfire whose love of the sport is so deep, that she is not above losing her cool to defend it. That moment permitted me to go from zero to one-hundred, so I knew I had a lot of room emotionally with her. It’s so fun working on a series because you are constantly getting new information about your character. I remember finding out that Beth steals food and paper products from the garage. That is golden information, it says so much about her. It’s totally inappropriate and sad, but also naughty and hilarious. The more I learn about Beth, the more I like her. She has a good heart and is a people pleaser, but she doesn’t let people walk all over her and she doesn’t take any sh*t. It's important to me to find what I love about my character and let that really get into my heart.
MM: This past summer, you recently released your debut EP, You Can Ukulele With Me. How did you begin to find your love for music?
SS: There is no beginning or ending to finding and loving music. That’s the beautiful thing about music, it’s around us all the time, gets into our bones from day one of life, and is constantly evolving. My EP is just a tiny spark of a much bigger picture that I just started painting.
MM: Where do you tend to draw inspiration from when creating your music?
SS: I wish I could take credit for writing the songs on my EP, because they do feel like they are coming directly from my heart, BUT that credit goes one-hundred percent to the brilliant Holly Gewandter. Holly and I created a one-woman show at Joe’s Pub and wanted to keep working together. She wrote the La La Song for that show and it was my favorite thing to sing and I was like, I know you have more of these. She played me four more songs, and I expressed to her that the songs were quirky, beautiful, and filled my heart with sunshine. Let's make an album. So, we did. We recorded just weeks before the pandemic, barefoot in Harlem Parlour Studio, snacking on Goldfish and sharing small spaces and instruments. It was such a gift before the lockdown.
MM: Do you have any hobbies you enjoy partaking in when you’re not acting or singing?
SS: This pandemic has inspired many craft days in my apartment. Back in March of last year, I started doing art classes with my niece and nephew over Zoom. We made toilet paper roll creatures and wine bottle monsters with them (to be clear, I had the wine bottles) and really enjoyed it, so I started crafting more. I got into embroidery, rediscovered my love of knitting, and crochet. I was coloring a ton because it made me calm. For my June birthday, I wanted to have a picnic and coloring book party, so my husband arranged for my friends from all over to color pictures and send them to me, in place of an in-person party. I have amazing, hilarious pictures from all different groups of friends, from Ray Romano, who I did Get Shorty with, to my best friend’s two-year-old.
MM: Have you ever experienced any notable challenges throughout your career?
SS: It’s really easy to get stuck in a box. If you sing, they think you can’t act. If you get a Tony-nod for acting in a non-singing play, they think you can’t sing anymore. If you’ve only done theater, you couldn’t possibly be good at TV. If all they’ve seen you do is comedy, there’s no way you can carry anything serious. It’s endless and exhausting at times, but, it is also so satisfying when you change the record. I work really hard to learn different skills and try new things so that there is always more to unwrap. It can be cozy in the box, because you know what to expect, but I start getting itchy after a while. I want to keep expanding. I’m in this for the long hall, and I want to be a little-old-lady busting out some crazy sh*t no one expected.
MM: Where do you hope to see yourself in 5-10 years?
SS: Busting out some crazy sh*t!
Photos Courtesy of Sarah Stiles