When looking from the outside, Hollywood may be an industry leader in stereotypes. The classic tale of a young actor heading out west to make it big is universally known. So is the story were some undiscovered talent happens to be the janitor at a studio or waiter for a famous producer then suddenly their big break happens. That is the plan for many making the pilgrimage to La La Land, but sadly, it’s rarely the actual outcome.
But how else can you break in? What other choice does a young actor have other than a move to the left coast? Sarah Minnich knows the answer to that question. Born and raised in L.A., Sarah weathered life’s storms and almost gave up on her – and many other’s – dream. After relocating to New Mexico and during a successful stint at university, she took a chance to dream one more time. But this time she’d do it from the deserts of the Southwest, not the latte covered streets of Los Angeles.
Sarah’s resume is already impressive with roles in Sicario, Preacher, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul just to name a few, and titles like Priceless, Shot Caller and The Space Between Us on the horizon. Ms. Minnich was kind, thoughtful and an absolute delight as she stopped to share her thoughts with us. Our latest guest to the onFiction studios, here’s my conversation with the wonderful Sarah Minnich:
onFiction: Tell us a little about how you came to acting.
Sarah Minnich: I have technically been acting since 2006. I took a hiatus from late 2006 to 2011 to deal with life and learning. In 2008 I wasn’t acting still, I came to New Mexico and started pursuing a bachelor’s degree and finished that in 2013. While I was pursuing that degree I started auditioning here in New Mexico, for little roles, and because it’s such a great market to be a part of these days I started booking and have been on a roll since then. Back in 2006 when I kind of gave up on my dream and sort of said, “it’s over” and thought that everything was done, I didn’t think that I would ever go back. I though it was over and it was a really sad and depressing time for me. Acting and being in front of a camera and getting a chance to express myself had been a dream for many, many, many years. So when I was able to finally get back to it and begin to develop faith in myself again and having potential, it really was such a release and such a god send that I was able to come back to it.
I’m known for my lead role in Spring Break Massacre, which is as cheesy as it sounds, a movie about a massacre. And when I got to New Mexico I had a small role, basically glorified background, but it was my first S.A.G. role in Breaking Bad as Jesse’s dance partner. That kind of got the ball rolling. I worked on a TV series that filmed out here called In Plain Sight about the witness protection program and my part was cut out of that. That was really sad for me because it was only the second TV thing I’d worked on, but it was a learning experience. And then as I went I started getting these little parts and working my way up. I booked a recurring on Better Call Saul when things really started to take flight. Most recently I worked on The Space Between Us, I worked on Sicario this past year and I worked on a movie called Shot Caller with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Then I did something on a movie called Priceless done by the Smallbone brothers, they have the band For King and Country, that’s gonna be an awesome film and that’s coming out this year. Also, I have a couple TV shows in the can that I can’t talk about but that I’m really excited for. They’ll come out sometime this year. It’s been a long journey and I love what I do. I’m so thankful I even have the opportunity to do this. Life is about coming to terms with the fact that you are valuable enough, you’re good enough to do what you want to do in life and I’m finally at a point where I can do this.
oF: That’s a great story. You said you’re on a roll and you’re not kidding. The list of credits you have plus everything that’s still yet to come out is enormous. Recently you were on Preacher, how does the experience on that compare to the other work you’ve done for AMC?
SM: I always love working with AMC. I think they’re fantastic, the people in general are just wonderful. I love their shows. Half the shows they have out right now I’m a fan of. When I first started working with them on Breaking Bad it was one of the first times I’d been on a real, high budget, epic set. There were cranes coming down with a camera and there’s background everywhere. I remember Aaron Paul with the meth on the table and I was just blown away. A lot of the actors on AMC, they’re not playing around. These people are in it to win it. On Better Call Saul, the place that I work at on Better Call Saul is called Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, and it’s literally a giant office building here in Albuquerque. One time I remember in the first season, the episode Pimento, we have background players on every story for three stories up, and there’s tons of them, and I got a clap-out for the season which is where everybody claps for you if you’re done with the season, and I remember being so awe-struck when three levels of hundreds of background players clapped for me.
And around the time I started working on Preacher is when I was starting to feel more comfortable on set, more like I belong here. I’m not just this person that needs to walk around like a wounded dog. Because when you first get there you’re like, “What if I do something wrong? What if talk to the wrong person, what if I don’t say my line perfect the first time?” It’s really intimidating. By the time that I’d got to Preacher I was finally ok with myself. I don’t need to be scared, I don’t need to worry. They hired me because I have something they want. It really made the experience a lot more enjoyable because I wasn’t afraid, I wasn’t shocked that they’d actually booked me. I’d gotten to a point were I was comfortable. Working on that set I got to work with quite a few local actors that I think are wonderful. Really great local people that have been working out here for many years – since I got here and started in 2011 – that I have a lot of respect for. It’s really great to see them doing things with their career. And also there were some amazing actors that were brought in to lead. They’re just wonderful people, enjoyable to work with. The experience in general was really rewarding, I remember there being a lot of downtime on that set, we’d have three or four hours, myself and Alex Knight, between the two parts of the scene we shot. The first part of the scene I leave from upstairs and the second part of the scene we see Tulip after she’s just thrown a guy out of the window. So in between that time Alex and I got to sit there and talk about acting, talk about the region and how well New Mexico’s doing, how much work’s coming here and how New Mexico actors are starting to be looked at as quality talent. It’s not, “Oh, you’re not from L.A.? Well, you’re nothing.” And I’m sorry to say, but that’s kind of the stigma that follows in this industry sometimes. “Where are you from? You’re not from L.A.? Oh, well I’m gonna think twice about booking you.” but in reality that is starting to become not the case anymore. Both Alex Knight and I were both, “Thank god,” that productions are starting to see the value in hiring locals that aren’t just local people, these are people that are really passionate, that their dream is acting. They’re trying to fight against the stigma that you have to be in L.A. And I’m one of those, I’m one of the people that believe that you don’t have to be in L.A. to be successful, you don’t have to have a Hollywood zip code to be considered as a good actress or a good actor. Even being born and raised in Los Angeles, which I was, I got out of that place, I had to come somewhere where there was wide open spaces, where it’s a little bit more down to earth. I’m not saying that Californians are not down to earth, that’s not what I’m saying, I’m just saying I didn’t fit in and it wasn’t for me and now that I’m here I love it. And I’m so glad to work with AMC and Preacher.
oF: One of the things about your story that makes it so interest is that you’re doing the opposite. Most people wanting to be in your industry can’t wait to get to L.A., you were born there and couldn’t wait to get out. And it’s great you’re finding success in New Mexico, but what are some of the challenges you’ve discovered trying to make it outside of Los Angeles?
SM: There are issues say, for instance, some of the bigger roles, some of the more recurring roles on TV shows, the series regulars, and the bigger roles on feature films are cast out of L.A. It’s really hard to get in the room, if you will, or people to take you seriously on tape if you’re not right there. So sometimes I have to fly out to L.A., randomly. Or, another example, is all of the red carpet events are in L.A. For the Preacher red carpet me and my boyfriend, he’s so supportive of my career, he drove me to L.A. for the premier. And I ended up doing three or four auditions our there. It’s really one of those things where I have time to go to L.A. I’m gonna call my agent, “Hey I’m gonna be in L.A., can you get me something so that I can make it a full trip?” Sometimes casting directors don’t have a ton of time to hem-haw around while you book a plane flight. If they want you in L.A. the next day you gotta find a way to be in L.A. the next day. That can be challenging and frustrating. And sometimes the flying situation, the airlines situation can get a little bit messy. We just went to Cincinnati to do some filming and ended up on the way home being stuck on a plane or laying in the airport for twenty-plus hours. So you can’t always depend on traveling to get you where you need to be exactly when you need to be there.
- A. The auditions. Sometimes they won’t see you out of L.A.
- B. Publicity. When you’re working on events you’ve got to figure out a way to be in L.A.
- C. My headshots were done out of L.A. with Theo & Juliet Photography and I had to go to L.A. for the headshots and come back, and that’s costly.
So it’s extensive to kind of have to travel so much in and out of L.A. But at the same time being in L.A. costs an arm and a leg. They want for a one bedroom $1800 a month, for a two bedroom $2200 a month, I used to be a leasing agent. The time that I was on a hiatus from acting I was a leasing agent and I remember becoming familiar with these pricing points for living in that area. So that’s the third challenge, we’ve got auditions, we’ve got publicity and we’ve got money.
oF: I’ve seen comments you’ve made about the New Mexico acting community being so much more supportive and friendly and that it’s less of a competition and more of people just trying to further their career, why do you think that’s developed in such a different way than L.A., which is pretty much a shark tank?
SM: Well, L.A. market is super saturated with actors. If you go to any restaurant in L.A. 5 out of 10 of the wait staff are gonna be actors trying to work. And I respect that, but at the same time the market is so saturated in L.A. either you have to know somebody that has major connections in L.A., or you have to have some other way in that I’m not going to speculate about. Or you just get really lucky. Being in L.A., oh my gosh, when you’ve got seventy-thousand people you’re competing with just in your, seventy-thousand females that are in my age group trying to act. How the heck are you supposed to get anywhere? It becomes less about a community and more about eat or get eaten.
I think the more community based mentality out here in New Mexico has to do with the fact that we don’t have seventy-thousand people trying to audition. And that’s one of the reasons I thought it was beneficial to move to New Mexico. Not only because my parents moved here and that I wanted to get a degree, but also because this is a really great place to be acting because I can get an agent. I don’t have to fight tooth and nail to get an agent, to get an agent to even look at me. They’re getting five-hundred submissions a day. How would any human expect an agency to go through five-hundred submissions a day and know you’re gonna be an actor they should spend or use their time on? It’s virtually impossible. Out here, because we’re not so over saturated, we have the room to be able to make connections with people. So the casting directors out here, I know all of them personally. That is impossible in L.A. unless you are so connected, I don’t even know how to say that. You have to have the highest agencies in L.A., the top fifteen agencies in L.A. that are connected to every single major casting director, and how many casting directors are out there, six-hundred? Out here there are five. And how many women in my age group with my look or with blond hair with my credits are out here for me to compete with? Five? Seven? Ten? The number is reasonable. The number is something that isn’t so competitive, the number is more like, “Oh, well I can become friends with these people, build a community with these people because it’s not tooth or nail.” Because we’re not fighting out here to make a living, we’re not having to compete against seventy-thousand other people, which is much more manageable. I’m not calling actors vicious, but it’s vicious. It can be rough.
oF: What are some of the other major differences? It sounds like you get to know the other people and that you get to work with them instead of against them.
SM: In an audition room, in L.A. lots of times you’ll see ten or fifteen girls that have a very similar look to you and you’ll go into the waiting room and nobody will say a work to anyone. It’s like this kind of quiet, “Don’t talk to me and I won’t talk to you. I’m gonna try and win and you’re gonna try and win.” It’s very intimidating. In New Mexico, on the other hand, when you walk into the room, you sit down and fill out the sign-in sheet and another actor walks in and we can actually communicate with each other. We can sit there and talk and not treat each other like you’re a separate human being that I’m not allowed to communicate with because you could potentially be trying to screw me over before I get in the room. And I’ve hear actors talk about that. I’ve heard in casting director workshops in Los Angeles, the actor asking the question to the casting director, “Should I talk to other actors before going in the room? I’ve heard they try to mess you up before the audition.” Seriously? That’s a thing? In New Mexico, maybe that’s a thing, but I don’t run into that. I don’t see that, I don’t see people giving each other the shit eye before they go into the room.
When people go into the room here in New Mexico, the actors sitting in the waiting room all go, “Break a leg” or “Good luck” something like that to each individual person. And when that person leaves they say, “bye.” It’s not scowling at each other, that’s something I’ve seen in L.A. And by no means am I saying that that applies to every actor in L.A., I’m not saying that. I’m saying that it’s just a different mentality, different kind of group thing. There’s a bunch of actors in New Mexico but all of them know each other. We all know each other, we all know of each other. Maybe we don’t go out to dinner and hang out, but we all know of each other. It’s more of a let’s all try and show the casting directors and producers and films that come out here that we are talented enough to work on their projects. I’ll talk to an actor, we’ll both audition for a role, and the first thing we’ll say to each other is,” I hope we don’t lose it to L.A.” It’s because we’re not competing with each other, we’re competing with L.A. It’s because of that stigma of, “If you’re from L.A. we’ll hire you, if you’re not from L.A. we won’t hire you.” and by no means is that always the case, because if it were the case we wouldn’t get hired. We do get hired, we are working, we do have things to add and finally we’re starting to see that.
oF: It’s a shame more areas don’t take that same approach. Things seem to go better when there’s less negativity.
SM: It really is. When it can be more about a community supporting each other it’s a much more rewarding experience. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories of people coming home from casting or a casting director workshop and just crying. That’s why I suggest to actors, “Don’t try and make it in L.A., how are you gonna make it in L.A.?” It’s virtually impossible unless your parent is a major producer or casting director or something like that. Go to a regional market and credit up and then try to get into the room in L.A. That’s so much more affective.
I want to thank Sarah for being an amazing guest and taking the time to talk with us. Part 2 coming soon!!
** Photos of Sarah Minnich by Lesley Bryce **