Photo Credit: John Tsiav
“It is hot here in LA!” Sarah Clarke chimes as we embark on our phone call. “We have a house from the ‘20s and it stays really cool for most of the year so we’ve never gotten A/C thinking - we don’t really need it. But we’re dying here!” She sends laughter through the line that is so infectious I almost think she could be a giddy teenager.
Not having air-conditioning in LA is a blip on the radar of risks and adventures Sarah has taken. Despite her affliction for gambling, she has chosen a career that is quite possibility the biggest bet of them all. As most people know, acting isn’t necessarily the sturdiest of paths. However, for those up for the challenge and in it for the long haul, it can be the most rewarding risk of all.
For Sarah, it the leap has certainly paid off. A bountiful career trails the Missouri Native, with notable performances in 24, Cover Affairs and, of course, as Bella Swan’s mother throughout the Twilight series (which I’m guessing you may have heard of). The actress is famous for her ethereal blend of curiosity and down to earth energy. I caught up with Sarah to discuss her new role on Bosch, how studying abroad inspired her follow her bliss, balancing family life and what she has learned from that whole Twilight thing.
RP: So you were on set today? Thanks for taking a break!
SC: I had a fitting because we’re going to Vegas! We’re staying and playing at the Mirage. My character plays poker very well – which I do not so much. (Laughs). I’ve been doing a lot of research and quick games with friends! So we had a last minute fitting for what I’ll be wearing there.
RP: Sounds exciting. I read that you were drawn to acting because you love pretending. It sounds like that will be a fun thing to pretend doing this weekend!
SC: Exactly! I am very happy pretending that I’m losing someone else’s money. (Laughs). Or like, you know, putting my house up for a mortgage that is not really mine. Normally, I play it so safe. I’ve always been very low risk in that department. Especially when you’re taking care of children. The whole gambling mindset just makes me very nervous! I like to know what I have. So it’s funny that I chose a career where there is always a big unknown. That to me I can embrace. But, when it’s just sort of leaving it up to chance and I know that someone else is controlling - that the odds are ridiculous - I have no desire to go up against that.
RP: That is funny, because you are right, acting can be a huge gamble as a career.
SC: It’s a huge gamble, but what I found is that at the same time I knew I was always up for adventure. I learned it when I was in Italy for a year – you kind of ride the day. You look at what’s presented to you and decide to go in a direction, because something guides you toward that. All this planning I had was falling apart so let’s just look at what’s presenting itself and enjoy that.
“I knew I was always up for adventure.”
I really do feel like that has helped me in acting. Certainly there are times when you think, “Oh, I really want this job. This jobs is going to be it!” and everything is pointing to it and then for whatever reason it falls apart or it just doesn’t get made or doesn’t get released or whatever it is. You have to enjoy the process of getting there just as much as the result. Then you’re sort of in your bliss, I guess, is what I’m trying to say.
“You have to enjoy the process of getting there just as much as the result.”
RP: Yes - you have to follow your bliss.
SC: You do! And you have to not be so results oriented. It’s not to say that you don’t have aspirations or things you want to go for, but I have really learned that flexibility is one of your best friends in this business. You have to be able to roll with what comes at you.
RP: Going back to Italy - I know that while you studied there, when you were in college, you decided to be an actress. You spoke to the adventure aspect, but what exactly inspired you when you were over there?
SC: You know I had done things through high school – I was a dancer and was always in the school musicals – but I really didn’t understand what acting was beyond imitation. Basically, I would imitate my mother (Laughs) – she was a bigger personality than me so I decided “Oh that’s acting!”
“I wanted to be inside the picture that I was trying to capture and live it.”
When I got to Italy and I really wanted to blend in. I really started to see what it meant to be Italian, live in the culture and sort of disappear. I began to look at all the nuances of what it meant to be Italian and the daily life. The culture influences, the weather, the planet – everything sort of dictated how these people lived in different ways than in America! It was a revolutionary experience for me in terms of how to take on another person’s experience. I got to do it for a year and it was coupled with the fact that one of my best friends in the program was an actor. So we would talk about it in ways I never really thought about. Having that along with the experiential transformation that I went through to sort of blend in clued me in to what acting could be.
It still took me two and a half years to study acting after that, but that was the first taste I had. Then I started to realize as I pursued another career in photography, I wanted to be telling the stories, I wanted to be inside the picture that I was trying to capture and live it. So that’s what led me to theatre school in NYC.
RP: That’s really cool. I’ve never heard an answer like that! I can definitely relate. Whenever I have taken photos at industry events I always long to be the people in the pictures!
SC: It’s so cool, right! I feel like now, because we have these amazing devices that can capture things so quickly, there is something to be said in being the voyeur - and getting to just watch people being natural. It’s harder and harder to find because people are constantly videoing, but at the same time I feel like we’re moving toward this self-reflective society where we are more comfortable in front of the camera. People are just used to them all the time with all these reality shows. So it’s such an interesting time for the idea of being in front of the camera, being behind the camera – it’s all sort of blending now!
RP: You just blew my mind, Sarah!
RP: I want to know if there are any people in front of the camera that have always inspired you as a performer?
SC: Absolutely. There are actors that I’ve followed since I was much younger - as far as people’s careers that always surprised me and did something interesting. I always say “the Kates” blow me away. Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet. They’ve always had performances that took me to different levels and really moved me.
Meryl Streep always. It’s a marvel of transformation watching her work.
France McDormand, I’ve always appreciated her authenticity. She’s always trying to be this genuine representation of a strong woman – or funny woman – it doesn’t feel like there’s any artifice at all.
It’s interesting what I go to now as far as what I want to emulate. It’s such a balancing act with my family now – wanting to do what I’m doing, but also be available as a Mom. There are moments of inspiration for different reasons. All the people I’ve mentioned bring this authenticity and really strong presence.
RP: I give you and all the other parents in the industry so much credit. Just trying to be an actor and look out for yourself – with no other responsibility - is kind of insane, but to do what you do… I mean the amount of hats you wear – my hat off to you! That’s amazing that you’re able to still work and take care of everyone simultaneously.
SC: Thank you! I definitely have help. We have a lot of family around.
RP: Do you bring the kids to set at all when you can?
SC: My younger daughter came with me on the last Twilight movie I did.
RP: And now you’re doing amazing work on the show Bosch. Congratulations! Can you tell me your favorite thing about being on that set?
SC: Well, I will say, Titus Welliver is such a fantastic actor and person.
Being introduced to this whole world of high stakes poker and given sort of a very glamorous plan –the poker you might imagine from the James Bond era. That to me is just very fun – to get to play in that world.
Sarah at a Bosch screening in Hollywood
RP: How did you originally develop your character?
SC: Well, Michael Connelly had written these fabulous books – so I started reading them. He gave me one that introduced Eleanor Wish. It has been great because it gave me a wonderful backbone. It’s invaluable as an actor to have all the backstory in these novels.
RP: Does Eleanor have A/C?
SC: (Laughs) Very much so. In fact, Eleanor wears a lot of silk, which cracks me up because she lives in Vegas. I mean, I sweat in silk. (Laughs). So I think she lives a very air-conditioned life, but her background comes from a much crappier place.
She used to be an FBI profiler. That is what we focus on more in the first season – she comes in to help Bosch profile a criminal he is following. Doing that research was fascinating. I’m definitely hypersensitive to extreme violence and the minds that create it. So that was a hard leap for me to investigate that mind. It was fascinating to talk to a real FBI profiler and see how she handles it. She looks at it like a puzzle. That was really fun.
RP: At the opposite end of the spectrum, as the show has developed and the writers have gotten to know you better as an actress, would you say that a lot of yourself comes through? Do you share any qualities?
SC: Well I’ve found that with most of the characters that I have played there is a string of me that I accentuate or expand to fill that character. Certainly there are aspects of Eleanor that I can relate to. On the surface I look at her as very different from me, but being in a relationship like the one she has with Bosch and having a child who is fifteen – these are very relatable components.
"You draw on things that you remember."
You draw on things that you remember. It becomes a very mysterious process after a while. But I always find, especially on a TV show when you play this person for a very long period of time, you start to feel yourself lining up with them. I think that’s just part of the process.
RP: There is an amazing light you carry on screen no matter what role you are playing. It is very enjoyable to watch and was certainly prevalent in Twilight. I am quite positive that you are bombarded with questions on that franchise all the time, but I have to ask. As an actress, what about that experience has really stuck with you?
SC: It had such a long range so the experience changed...
Certainly with the first movie everyone came together like – “this is going to be such a fun independent film.”
(Laughs). I had worked with Catherine (Hardwicke) before on Thirteen, which was like a million dollar budget and truly truly fly by the seat of your pants independent. And that character was a continuation of what I feel like Renee was. Catherine is one of the most creative people I have ever been around. She is so talented in so many different areas and is constantly creating. To create a character with her is really really fun. We had this whole backstory for Renee that we shot, even, in this one opening scene. It establishes how it’s possible that a mother could be like “yeah go live with your dad and I’ll be talking to you every month or so…” That was one thing in the book that I didn’t get. It felt crazy to me. So that was really hard. What Catherine and I knew was that because she was a single mom for so many years and because her childhood was kind of taken away from that experience – Bella sort of became the more adult of the two and said “you can go and have this free wheelin’ life of living on the road with your baseball boyfriend.” That was what we showed in this first scene, which was much longer and then they cut it to like a hug goodbye! That along with all the eclectic things they gave me, at least fed me so that when I was on screen I could have that energy coming in. It’s funny to think back on it because at the time my kids were so young and so attached to me. Now I’m thinking – “I would never be that mom!”
Kristen Stewart & Sarah in Twilight Eclipse
RP: Most actors would love to do a big blockbuster film. I’m very interested in knowing, is there one acting lesson you took away from being in the Twilight series? Anything you feel that impacted you as a performer?
SC: I think I really saw that whether it’s a huge blockbuster or small independent film, the focus and attention on how you work is the same. I take it just as seriously. The main difference is that things just take so much longer on a huge blockbuster. So, one scene might take all day. Like, they’ve got this crazy setup for a set and you gotta be on that scene for maybe three days.
I would also say, staying grounded. You have this sort of carnival lifestyle and it’s really helpful when you can stay grounded in family and friends. Since it can feel crazy at times. I was lucky in that I had a family that I would go back to. I wasn’t living in a hotel for four months in Vancouver trying to make sense of it in my twenties. I had a jumpstart of understanding how valuable the sense of a life outside of it was, because once it’s over you have to return to it – which can feel strange.
Sarah in the Twilight franchise
And always for me is respect for every part of the process. Everyone there is in support of the same thing. So you respect everyone involved from the drivers to your hair and makeup to the grips… I mean if they weren’t doing a good job your performance would suck! (Laughs). Remembering that – that it’s not just about what I’m doing. All of the people there are making it what it is. Valuing their time is a big part of being a good performer.
RP: Are there any other upcoming projects you’d like to share?
SC: Yeah! I did a fabulous film called House Cat. I had such a great time on it!
RP: What would you say is your most valuable piece of advice for aspiring actors?
SC: Follow your bliss and listen to your gut.
So often on projects where things haven’t sat right with me – either what they’re asking me to do or what someone else might be doing. It is a collective experience and yet at the same time you have to, ultimately, live with yourself. If you have to comprise so much of yourself for a job and you’re coming home feeling terrible you might ask yourself why you’re doing it. In the end you don’t want to give everything away to something that doesn’t really care. You have to create a life and a world that feeds you so that you can go out and be what you need to be in the business, but come home and still have yourself to live with. Does that make sense?
RP: Yes - definitely! That's beautiful. Thank you so much for your time, Sarah.
SC: Thank you – you were a joy to talk to. Stay cool!
Be sure to watch Sarah on the show Bosch, now streaming on Amazon.