Sarah Minnich is in love with the camera. While many actors prefer the stage, the California actress can't get enough of being in front of the lens. "Maybe it all comes down to some desire to rewind to childhood," she told us, "and play pretend."
Best known for her role as Brenda on AMC's hit series Better Call Saul, Sarah has created a wonderful career for herself. It is one that not only spans across television shows, but music videos and films as well (including Sicario and Adam Sandler's The Ridiculous 6).
We caught up with the inspiring actress to discuss her recurring role on AMC's new series Preacher, and more!
RP: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Sarah! To start off, I wanted to ask you about your time at University of New Mexico. You've said, "teaching was possibly the greatest acting training I ever had." What is it about teaching that you think advanced your acting skills?
SM: Thank you for the opportunity to talk! I am always honored to answer questions about my life, thoughts, experiences and career!
To answer your question, I think that teaching forces a person to look at themselves; to look at their own methods and approaches to whatever it is they are teaching. I was teaching communication and was therefore forced to pay close attention to how I communicate both on and off screen. This was, of course, helpful in my day-to-day, but also in the audition room and on set. On top of this, one of the reasons I chose to study communication was that it felt most like what I do on camera… communicate. Practicing communication, and in turn helping others to communicate, gave me an inside view into the communication occurring between characters in a story. In other words, it’s almost easier for me to fall into normal communication patterns (as I would with another person in my day-to-day) when I am in character… to drop the acting, if you will.
"I think that teaching forces a person to look at themselves."
RP: What ultimately led you to follow the acting route instead of pursuing your PhD?
SM: I still plan on pursuing my PhD somewhere down the line. For now, though, I am sticking pretty strictly to acting. In my personal opinion, there should be a break between any pursuit of graduate-level education. Grad school is kind of like working out, except for the mind. If you load up the machine with heavy weights and then go all out for 10-12 reps, it’s absolutely necessary to take a break and let your muscles revive. Same goes for grad school; it’s akin to an intense set of reps and requires revival time in between those heavy sets of learning. As I’m sure many of my cohorts would agree, it’s easy to burn out when studying heavy theory. Acting calls on a different part of the brain: the creative part. I do find myself missing my studies occasionally, but all and all, I wouldn’t trade acting for education any time soon.
RP: I read that you truly fell in love with on-camera acting when you stepped onto the set of your first film. What is it about being on-camera that you love specifically, as opposed to acting in other mediums?
SM: Hands down, being in front of the camera. As I have said before, I have been in front of the camera since the moment I was born… literally, the moment. There’s something about it; something about the capturing of reality on a medium that spans time. There’s something about the ability to rewind, to go back, to re-observe an action that happened in the past. Maybe it all comes down to some desire to rewind to childhood and play pretend.
RP: You've done a lot of work on music videos. What has playing a role with no lines, where your emotions solely appear through physical work, taught you about acting? The fact that you practice yoga and maintain a healthy lifestyle has to help.
SM: Acting with no lines, or non-verbal acting/communication, is my FAVORITE kind of acting. Go figure, non-verbal communication was my favorite class in grad school. Don’t get me wrong, I need to speak sometimes. If I never spoke, it would take the enjoyment out of not speaking. Some of my favorite professional ‘star’ actors are amazing because of their non-verbal communication skills. On the big screen, an actor has to be pretty skilled to communicate via the eyes effectively, without over communicating; it’s a delicate art. If you give too much non-verbally, it looks silly. If you give too little, it looks bored. I think this has to do with how close the camera is on an actor's face… it really leaves very little room for 'oops.' This has taught me to DIAL IT DOWN! When I watch my audition tapes, I specifically look for my non-verbal communication (how effective it is, how over or understated it is, how frequent it is, etc.) This is the trick with music videos; an actor has to be able to tell the story, in the mood of the story, as the story unfolds… without saying anything about the story. A mastery of non-verbal communication helps in this effort. I would suggest for any actor to pick up a non-verbal communication textbook and just digest it. It’s amazing what ‘ticks’ we all have that we aren’t even aware of; non-verbal communication helps the actor to identify and become aware of those ticks.
RP: Congratulations on landing Sindy on Preacher! How did you get involved with the show and why did the role appeal to you?
SM: As is usual for co-star roles like Sindy, I auditioned with the local casting director working on Preacher, Kiira Arai. Kiira is awesome, down-to-Earth, intelligent, talented and a beautiful woman. And no, I’m not just saying that to suck up to her… she is truly the crème de la crème.
Anyway, I actually read for Preacher three different times, for three different roles. The first role I went in for was Lacey (the girl running through the field getting chased by the paintballing group in episode 4); her role was supposed to start earlier in the show but ended up starting in ‘Monster Swamp’. I got close to booking that role, moving all the way to what producers call ‘First Right of Refusal’. This is a situation where production is deciding between two or three different people, but want to make sure no one goes and takes another job while the production is still deciding. Usually, when one makes it to FROR, there is a good chance that he or she will book the part, however, I am seeing more and more productions putting multiple people on FROR and then taking multiple people off. Getting taken off FROR simply means you didn’t get the part. C’est la vie!
The next role I went in for was 'Waitress' (the role ended up going to my good friend Audrey Walters, a classy and sweet hearted local NM actress), which ends up being Jenny, the waitress in episode 5. Finally, after two misses, I got a hit with the role of Sindy; I was thrilled! I really just wanted to be a part of the show, period. AMC is one of my favorite networks, alongside HBO and Starz, so it was a no brainer that I would want to work with them whenever possible.
RP: What is it about Sindy that challenges you as an actress?
SM: Crying on cue… I am still learning this art. Crying isn’t the tough part; the tough part is going between crying and then taking direction from the director and being reasonable, and then crying again. What a back and forth! I remember being on set, working myself into tears, and then they would hold the roll. And I’m like, “Uhhhh, I’ll just keep crying over here.” Then again, working up to tears, then the director is giving direction to another actor and I just have to keep crying. It does take a toll. Some people can just cry for no reason, at any moment, for any duration of time… I guess I wasn’t blessed with that skill. It’s much easier when you are in a dialogue or moment with another actor and can get into the emotion, but when you are starting the scene from dead quiet, while reading from the bible, and must cry like you’ve been crying for a while, it’s a bit more difficult.
"I actually read for Preacher three different times, for three different roles."
RP: The show has been developed by amazing talent like Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and Sam Catlin. Were they on set, and did you get to work with them? Who was your favorite person to work with on Preacher?
SM: I didn’t get to work with those awesome gentlemen. However, I did get to work with Ruth Negga; she is pretty freaking cool. Not to mention, I randomly ran into her at Yoga in downtown Albuquerque and she was even cooler off set. I think that my favorite thing about working with her was her no-bullshit character portrayal. I like that Tulip is full of piss and vinegar, and I like that such a real and approachable person is playing her.
RP: I also want to ask you about The Space Between Us. What is your role in that?
SM: In The Space Between Us, I play a reporter at the lift-off ceremony for the mission to Mars. It’s not a large role, but boy was it amazing to do. The feeling of working with 500 to 1000 background actors all around you is intoxicating. Not to mention, I LOVE public speaking (I realize the mere thought of public speaking is some people’s most horrific nightmare, but I’m odd).
RP: You've worked with a lot of very acclaimed talent throughout your career. Has there been an instance where someone you really look up to in the industry gave you advice?
SM: Actually, yes! There usually isn’t much time for leads to spend talking to day players about career advice, but once in a blue moon a name talent will have a few moments to spare and the intro conversation will lead smoothly into advice-giving (since it really isn’t appropriate to go up to a lead and be like, ‘hey man, can you tell me how to make it in acting?’).
"A week after filming I received a twitter message from him."
One such instance happened was when I was working with the freaking awesome Joe Gatt on a TV series that shot its latest season in NM. If you don’t recognize the name, think back to the movie Thor and the scary frost giant named ‘Grundroth'. Or think back to season 4 of Game of Thrones, the guy who played the ‘Thenn Warg’… yeah, that guy. He is so, so, so approachable. Yes, he is 6’1; yes, he could probably tear someone’s head from their shoulders with all his physical strength; and yes, he is pretty intimidating from afar; but in reality, he likes cats (animals in general), has a loving wife, a charming British accent and the heart of a gentle giant.
Anyway, I got to talking to this wonderful human and developed a pleasant acquaintanceship. Maybe a week after filming, I received a Twitter message from him with some killer social media advice: a tip as to how to improve my social media image. Gosh I appreciated it! He also teaches ‘The Business of Acting’ classes and is in this to enjoy his work, but also to help other actors bring their game up a notch. I really respect and commend successful and kind hearted people like him.
RP: It's wonderful that you strive to touch people's lives through your acting. How does this actively influence your approach to taking on a project or preparing for a role?
SM: In the past two or so years of my career, I have started playing roles that actually have the ability to possibly influence or touch peoples’ lives, like Amber in Priceless, Kate in The Merry Maids of Madness, Janie in Shot Caller, or (most of all) Kate in Days Young and Golden. Because of this newfound depth in the characters I am playing, I have found it necessary to increase the level of research and prep-work I do before working.
For example, in Shot Caller, I play a girl stuck in a gang, responsible for keeping the members ‘happy’ (if you know what I mean). When I booked this, I did a lot of research of what this kind of life looks like and also spent a lot of time getting my body into shape for a pretty revealing scene.
Another example, in Days Young and Golden, I spent more time rehearsing my character than any other role I’ve ever worked on.
Finally, in October of this year, I will be working on a TV show that I am very excited about. For the audition for this show, I hired a dialect coach and purchased a costume that fit the character’s era. I really try to go all out when it comes to getting into character before auditions and going on set.
"Don’t ever forget that there will always be another role."
RP: Sounds very smart! Do you have any other upcoming projects you'd like to share?
SM: Yes! I recently starred in a little film called Days Young and Golden, coming out in August 2016. I cannot wait to show this to the world. The story is of a woman who makes peace with some of the most difficult years of her life. This concept is really close to my heart because I have also had to overcome some serious mistakes and life lessons in my journey to where I am today. On top of this, I just love and endlessly appreciate Andy Kastelic and his company Balian Pictures, LLC, for the kind of work he stands for. I remember telling Andy, after seeing the rough cut, “I am going to look back on this moment as being the moment in my career when I realized I was good enough.” If that is any indication of how passionate I am about this project, then I have said my piece.
RP: To end on an inspiring note for our readers, what is your best piece of advice for aspiring actors?
SM: Don’t ever forget that there will always be another role. It may be a while… it may be months, or it may be tomorrow; but either way, there will always be another role. Don’t fold your hand; just keep believing and betting on yourself.
Thank you for asking such great questions! I appreciate the depth and breadth of subject-matter.
Be sure to catch Sarah on Preacher and keep up with her on twitter - @sarahaminnich