Sundra Oakley pushed her limits on the CBS hit Survivor so it seems fitting that she should end up on TNT's Legends, a show with similar severity. The actress isn't new to television, with memorable stints on series like Lost, CSI, Parenthood, Days Of Our Lives, and House Of Lies.
HYC talks with Sundra about her role in Legends, her weary decision to join Survivor and why actors should always be "an empty cup."
RP: You studied at prestigious institutes like NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and Georgetown University. What did you take away from your time there?
SO: The idea that this life is a huge grab bag filled with the most amazing delectable experiences for us to have. It is up to us to put our hand in the bag and grab one!
RP: Congratulations on Legends. Can you tell me a bit about your role?
SO: Thank you so much! I am so excited about the show! I play Nisco Rice, the wife of Tony Rice who is played by Morris Chesnut. Nisco is a wife, mother, no-nonsense and loves her family fiercely. She does not give in or give up easily.
RP: What was the audition for that like?
SO: The audition was relatively painless I have to say. I had a very good rapport with the casting director, so I remember feeling much more relaxed than usual. Auditions are some of the most unnatural things you go through as an actor and can drum up so much anxiety, so it was nice to have that bit of reprieve.
RP: I can imagine that a lot of the work must be intense. Have you had any wild stunts to perform?
SO: Unfortunately, no wild stunts yet, but I do hope to the action gods that it will come up! I am a martial artist, so I live for and love that kind of stuff!
RP: I have to ask you about Survivor! What made you decide to do that show? I know you were a bit wary originally.
SO: I believe that things come into your life for a reason, and Survivor was definitely one of those things for me. At the time that I was approached, I was feeling very much in a life slump and actually had said to myself that I desperately needed something to shake up my life and make me feel alive again. Well remember that saying, "Be careful what you ask for!" LOL. Yes, I was quite hesitant about doing it because the idea of doing reality TV never appealed or occurred to me. A wise woman once advised me to just keep saying 'Yes!' to life, so I took the chance and said yes. And I am so glad I did!
RP: Were you nervous to enter the world of reality TV?
SO: Absolutely! I was already a working actor and the world of reality TV was seen as a threat to our livelihoods as actors. But as with anything in life, it is so important to really look at things with a broader view. What I respected about Survivor is that it is completely real, nothing is handed to you behind the scenes. Nothing. Not a sip of water, not a square of toilet paper. Nothing. Nada. Rien. The hunger is real, the thirst is real, the sleep deprivation, discomfort, mental and emotional toil are real. So the idea that I would be in those kinds of circumstances and would be testing my personal limits, lit a fire within me.
RP: Overall, what was being on the show like?
SO: One of the hardest, toughest things I have EVER done outside of childbirth, but without a doubt one of the most absolutely rewarding things I have ever done! Plus I made friends with whom I am still in contact to this day. I am so grateful that Survivor chose me and for the experience I had. Thanks, Uncle Mark B.! LOL
RP: I can imagine you must tap into certain things you learned on Survivor for different roles you play. Do you find that it helps you?
SO: Tapping into and discovering my mental and emotional fortitude has definitely helped me not just in my acting life but in all areas of my life. So the answer to that would be yes!
RP: To end on an inspiring note, what is you best piece of advice for aspiring actors?
SO: Study all the areas of your craft - you do not want to be a one-dimensional actor. Study the ones you consider the greats and become almost obsessed with learning about what they do and borrow from them as long as it feels organic to you (hey, as artists we all borrow from each other in some form or fashion). Know that to be able to work in this industry, whether it be screen or stage, that it is a huge blessing, so honor that and do not let ego trip you up. Always be an empty cup ready to be filled with more information, and lastly, believe in yourself like hell! You will hear 'no' way, way, way more than you will ever hear yes, so give yourself that supportive 'yes' so you may carry on when the days seem fruitless.
Oh! And definitely have a life outside of this business - indulge in your hobbies, interests, etc. Not only does it feed your spirit, but it makes you a much more interesting human being and actor.
RP: Thank you for your time!
SO: It has been such a pleasure; thank you for having me!
Follow Sundra on Twitter @SundraOakley & catch her on TNT's Legends.