For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed award-winning actor-writer-producer Sarah Wharton. Her feature That’s Not Us played at more than 35 festivals around the world and was released as a Netflix exclusive through Strand Releasing. She previously collaborated as an actor and associate producer on Percival’s Big Night and Jane Wants A Boyfriend, which aired on Showtime.
She has produced work in Oslo, London and New Orleans, and served as associate producer for the Harare International Festival of The Arts in Zimbabwe. She is currently in post-production on Bite Me, a subversive romantic comedy about a real life vampire and the IRS agent who audits her. Her feature, The Ring Thing, a documentary-narrative hybrid about same-sex marriage currently on the festival circuit will premiere at Newfest in New York City on October 21st and will be distributed by Gravitas Ventures. To learn more, visit her website.
Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.
I am an actor-writer-producer, so there are always multiple project pots on my creative stove. The one that is currently boiling most urgently however – can you tell I just made dinner? – is a feature film I am producing called Bite Me. It’s a subversive romantic comedy about a real-life vampire – yes! There are people in the world who believe they are vampires! – and the IRS agent who audits her. We wrapped principal photography on September 7 and are now beginning post production.
Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
The inspiration and impetus for the project is all due to the very wonderful Naomi McDougall Jones who wrote, produced and also starred in Bite Me. She wrote the film with the very specific and honorable mission of making something that would bring joy to an audience. I think comedy is one of the best and hardest things to do well. When I first read the script I felt like I had the experience of falling in love – I laughed, I cried and giddily wished for more. In joining Naomi as a producer, my wish came true and it’s been an honor and privilege to work on it every day. It’s a story that reminds me there is good in the world – the hope it gives me inspires me every day.
Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?
Oh! So many!
Currently: Jill Soloway. When I watch their work I can feel my atoms rearranging themselves. I’ve learned so much about myself and the kind of creator and person I want to be through experiencing their art.
Foundationally: Stella Adler. “Growth as an actor is growth as a human being.” If I ever forget why I want to be an artist, I read her book.
Consistently: Shakespeare. The language, the characters, the size of the emotions – Shakespeare always reminds me that anything is possible. Plus, my parents met while working at The Shakespeare Theater in D.C. so technically I owe my whole being to him!
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?
My colleagues. They are such brilliant, hopeful, dedicated, interested and interesting people. They keep me honest, inspired and challenged. I work hard in order to keep up with them!
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
I produced and starred in a feature film called The Ring Thing that is currently on the festival circuit. I play a character aptly named Sarah who, when she accidentally proposes to her girlfriend, embarks on making a documentary about marriage in an effort to figure out what marriage means to her and how her past might be holding her future hostage. We play at Newfest in NYC on October 21!
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
There’s this quote from Shaw that always kicks me in the guts: “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
I realized recently that for the last year or so, I arrive at the end of each day thoroughly worn out from having filled my mind and hours with things that I care so very deeply about. There’s a certain kind of exhaustion that comes from boredom and despair – I am incredibly privileged to be in a place now where I am consumed by the pursuit of what I love instead trying to slough through what I do not. I feel constantly occupied by my vision, so I know I must be living in it.
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
I’d be a showrunner of a show I created.
Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
Figuring out what my vision is! I think it’s really easy, especially as an actor and a woman, to get wrapped up in what other people think your vision should be. It took me a while to understand that what makes me happy is feeling empowered to tell stories that I care about. For me, that means being in control of what those stories are and how they are being told. Becoming a producer in addition to being an actor has made me feel like a more complete, happy artist. It took time to figure out that’s what I needed, though, particularly because it meant stepping off the path that is traditionally recognized as being the way to success for actors.
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
My work demands that I show up to it with my creative self intact – sometimes, however, my creative energies can feel depleted or blocked. When that happens, traveling always reignites my creative self. “Traveling” can just be walking down an unfamiliar street or visiting a part of the city I’ve never been to before – anything that gets me out of the pattern of “knowing” and into a more curious mind frame.
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
Fear of making mistakes. For the love of Goddess – FAIL! Learning hurts so good.
Q: What is your favorite piece of art?
New York City.
Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?
My parents. And Nelson Mandela.
Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
Connecting people around the world through art.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
Online window shopping.
Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
Ok – look. I know you love school. And you are very good at school! Keep being good at school – for now. Soon, you are going to have an opportunity to go to a great school. A great college, to be specific. But here’s the thing. No one is going to care if you are “good” or not. I dare you to ask a lot of questions and make a lot of mistakes. Take risks. Literally no one is going to look at your report card once you graduate so stop. playing. it. safe. Find out what happens when you lose control.
Q: Where would you most like to live?
New York City. With an apartment in Paris and one in Cape Town, please.
Q: What is your idea of success?
When the wishful purpose behind making a piece of art comes true. For months, sometimes years, you can sit in a room with your collaborators and talk about why what you’re doing is important, the audience you’re making it for, what you hope people will feel and think afterwards … when you finally put it out there in the world and a total stranger takes the time to reflect back to you that you actually achieved the thing you set out to do – that is success to me. Fulfilling a specific purpose.
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
Doing what I love with people I love.
Q: Final Thoughts?
I feel incredibly privileged to have a choice in how I spend my time and how I make a living. That choice is not something I take for granted. I ask myself on a fairly regular basis, “Is this still what you want to do?” It’s important to me to continue to answer that question honestly. This is not exactly the most stable or financially sound profession I have chosen. I always hate it when people say “if there’s anything else you can do, do it.” There are lots of other things I could do! But I don’t want to. I honor my choice in that, and the privilege that is the pursuit of my own happiness. If being an artist stops making me happy, I’ll choose something else that does. Until then ..