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Wingman Wednesday

Sarah Minnich

SarahMinnich_Wingwoman_wednesday3
Photo By: Lesley Bryce

It appears to be more about creative fate than coincidence that Sarah Minnich can be seen starring in a string of period pieces. As a child, the California-born actress who first drew attention for her run as Brenda on “Better Call Saul,” always found herself playfully portraying characters living in the past.

I used to literally play dress up all day long in period costume type stuff because it’s just what I wanted to do,” she said in a recent phone interview.

Years later, that imaginative playtime is paying off for Minnich. She can currently be seen in the buzzy western series “Godless” for Netflix and in the ripped-from-the-headlines six part mini-series “Waco,” set to premiere January 24 on Paramount Network.

 

We recently sat down with Minnich to discuss the pull of history on her career, how she approaches playing non-fictional characters in a semi-fictionalized story, and why the future of filmmaking is looking so bright.

TrunkSpace: In addition to you working on a string of period pieces, we have also noticed that a number of your recent projects, from “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail” to “Waco,” are based on true events.
Minnich: And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ll tell you something interesting… when I was in high school and middle school, I was terrible at history. I always screwed my GPA up because of history classes, but now, in the past five years or so, I’ve started listening to audiobooks, and specifically historical fiction audiobooks. For some reason, I’ve become much more attracted to and interested in learning about history and historical events. It sort of fits right in like a puzzle with my love for doing period piece type of work and trying to explore the character and mindset of folks that used to live in the past.

TrunkSpace: Does playing someone who actually existed or portraying a fictional person who existed within an actual moment of history force you to approach finding a character differently?
Minnich: Typically, my homework before I go for an audition is pretty extensive in terms of researching. Obviously the homework is fairly extensive for any piece that you go in for, but for period pieces, you want to look at the era. You want to look at personal accounts from people that lived in that era. For roles that are based on actual people, that becomes even more difficult because it sort of becomes a process of trying to actually capture that person’s essence, which is friggin’ hard! Then, you run into issues of, “Well, what if you don’t capture it right, and they don’t like that?” It’s kind of this game of guess and you do your best to base it on what you’ve learned and what you can find.

That’s another thing… you can’t always find information on the people that you’re attempting to portray, so you sort of just got to put your best foot forward and go with what the director asks from you, and rely on your instincts, but at the same time, rely on the direction you’re being given.

TrunkSpace: When you’re working on a project that is based on real events, does the vibe on set take on a different feel?
Minnich: When you’re portraying actual folks, it becomes more of a legal concern because they want to do their best to portray the facts, but at the same time, there’s a certain amount of liberty taken when writing about historical events because you weren’t there. I wasn’t there. I can’t say exactly what happened. So on the production that I recently worked on with “Waco,” we had to be really sort of careful in how we portrayed things because you don’t want to step on people’s toes and you don’t want to portray it incorrectly.

TrunkSpace: “Godless” is really turning heads and seems to be quickly becoming the latest water cooler Netflix series that everyone is talking about. For a lot of people, westerns are more of a brand than a genre. If they dig westerns, they are willing to give a new one a try, much in the same way that science fiction fans are. When you were doing something like “Godless,” did it feel like you were working on a series that was automatically going to have a built-in audience?
Minnich: Well, because I was working with Jeff Daniels, and because the show was a Netflix show… right there is your built-in audience. Yes, it’s a western, genre-wise, so yes there’s a mass group of people, just like you said with sci-fi, or just like maybe with romance or heavy drama or dramedy, of a built-in audience, people who are attracted to those kind of shows. What was so great about “Godless” was that it kind of flipped it. Westerns are typically male-driven. Yeah, you have Jeff Daniels as one of the main leads, so there’s a strong male figure in that production, but then you have quite a few females who are playing strong, independent, stubborn-minded type folks, and that’s sort of flipping it on its head. So some people who are normally attracted to westerns are like, “Whoa, what is this?” Some people who aren’t normally attracted to westerns are like, “Whoa, what is this?” It’s nice to walk into something that is both a norm, a norm for a genre, and at the same time flipping a genre on its head.

TrunkSpace: And you touched on this a bit, but when you’re going into a project with that caliber of talent both on screen and behind the camera, while also being a Netflix show, you’re going to get eyeballs on it right out of the gates.
Minnich: Netflix isn’t playing around. If you’ve seen some of their new projects, some of their newer stuff, they are bringing it to the table. Netflix used to be more of this sort of thing where you’d go, “Oh, you know, I’m bored, I’ll stick this on. There’s gotta be something on it.” Now, they’re competing. They’re putting out projects that are literally competing on a bigger scale that are gaining an audience. Like “Ozark?” Holy moly, that was an epic show, and who expected that to come out of Netflix?

Photo By: Lesley Bryce

TrunkSpace: People keep calling this the Golden Age of Television. For someone working within this time period, is it exciting to see television taking this dramatic, character-driven turn?
Minnich: It really is. It’s interesting and sort of surreal for me to sit back from it and be like, “Whoa, this is an era. I’m living in an era because looking back on this time period in 20 years, in 30 years, we’re gonna be like, ‘Oh, that’s when TV sort of was turned and we started to see diverse-driven projects. We started to see female-driven projects.’” And then we have the whole legal stuff that’s going on right now in the industry. This is an interesting time. Although our country is going through some major changes in terms of administration, it’s going through a different sort of renaissance in the film and television industry.

I’m really glad to see shows bringing on leads who are of different, sort of the non-heteronormative, non-stereotypical skinny, white female or strong, tough white male. You’re not just seeing those as the leads. You’re not just seeing these typical type of stories. You’re starting to see the perspectives of other types of folks, of the non-represented, people who haven’t been represented in the past 50 years in filmmaking. So in that sense, that’s beautiful, and it’s great in the film industry because it opens up so many doors and now we can represent those experiences and start to explore those and talk about educating the masses. What I did my master’s thesis on had to do with entertainment based education. I looked at how we could educate people using entertainment, using film and television. Look at what we’re doing now. We’re starting to pull out non-normative experiences… well, what they consider normative… non-normative or considered normative experiences and bringing them out into the light. That’s how we educate the masses in this day and age, so I think it’s great.

TrunkSpace: And while it’s exciting to see it happening now, the real impact will probably be felt in the work of the filmmakers of the future who gr0w up in this particular media age.
Minnich: Oh yeah, I can’t even fathom it. Sometimes I just have to not even imagine things because I don’t even know where that can go. We look at the generations who are younger than us, and we’re like, “Wow, dude, you’re gonna be tapping into stuff that I don’t even conceptualize at this stage.” Just like my parents or your parents who can’t really understand how to set up their Apple TV and they have to call us and have us do it for them – imagine what our kids are going to be doing?

TrunkSpace: It seems the mediums have flipped as well. Earlier generations looked towards film as the true art form, but now it seems like television is becoming that, while film becomes a mostly popcorn-driven media.
Minnich: The demand for content is so insane. The whole concept of binge watching was not around 10 years ago. That was not around 20 years ago. And so now all of a sudden there’s a demand for content, but not only that, there’s a demand for good content. So like I was saying, Netflix is rising to the occasion. That’s just going to continue to move forward. I think the whole TV concept, the episodic concept, people like that because then they have something to look forward to. They’re like, “Oh okay, I watched this episode, and now I can sort of mull this over in my mind for the next week until the next one comes out.” I think for some reason, that’s really attractive to people. They like to have stuff to sort of chew on during their work week.

TrunkSpace: When you look back at your career thus far, what was the turning point for you in terms of more doors opening and more opportunities presenting themselves?
Minnich: I think it might have been “Better Call Saul.” I don’t have a massive role on “Better Call Saul,” I have a recurring small role, but there is something to be said about having a show like that on your resume. So that got doors opened for me that would not have been opened. It’s like this trickle effect – one big thing, which really isn’t that big in terms of what you’re doing, but it’s a big name, and one big name opens a door for you, and then all of a sudden, you get to do this other thing. You do this other thing, and that opens a door. You do this other thing, and that opens a door. So, even doing these teeny little things on big movies or big television sets have opened doors so that finally I’m doing supporting roles, and finally I’m reading for lead roles. In the past 12 months, I’m finally auditioning for lead roles, which is like, “Hallelujah!” So, I can’t pinpoint an exact turning point for you, but I can say that one thing has led to another in a very step-by-step kind of way.

Season 1 of “Godless” is available now on Netflix.

Waco” premieres January 24 on Paramount Network.

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Wingman Wednesday

Elisa Perry

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Photo By: Marc Cartwright

For fans of the western, the new Netflix series “Godless” is the greatest gift they could have received for the holidays. Gritty and gutsy, the seven-episode season plays out like an epic film that you can’t quite look away from, which is ideal for all of those who fancy an episodic binge.

And if “Godless” is the gift you unwrap for yourself this year, series star Elisa Perry, who also recently appeared in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” is the reward waiting for you inside. As Hobbs family matriarch June, the Pennsylvania native brings a strong and memorable character to the forefront, but does so with a soft touch – a delicate walk that she delivers brilliantly.

We recently sat down with Perry to discuss why “Godless” is so innovative, the most exciting aspect of getting involved in the project, and what she’s always marathoning via TV Land.

TrunkSpace: Your new series “Godless” is generating a lot of great buzz. In this particular day and age, especially given the way that people consume content, is there any better platform to be involved with than Netflix?
Perry: Listen, pretty much most of the stuff I watch is on Netflix, so it’s great that I’ll be able to watch something that I’m in on Netflix. (Laughter) They just have such original, such creative, no holds barred programming. “Godless” is a western, but it’s quite innovative. To be perfectly honest, it’s quite innovative from the perspective of women being such kick ass, gun toting cowgirls. It’s an exciting project to be a part of.

TrunkSpace: In a lot of ways it plays more like a film than a television series.
Perry: And I have to say, the way Scott (Frank) directed it, and his writing, it felt much more like a film. I kind of think that’s what he wanted, because he’s a screenwriter, and I think that’s his wheelhouse. It felt very much like that. And it looks like that.

TrunkSpace: For those who have yet to jump on their horse and binge the series, can you tell us about your character June and what her overall journey is?
Perry: June is the matriarch of the Hobbs family. It’s a family that migrated to Santa Fe. Her brother and her husband, they were former Buffalo Soldiers. Her brother, played by the amazing Rob Morgan, he’s pretty well-known for being this kick ass soldier who has a pretty big reputation, especially for that time. That’s something huge. June, being the matriarch of the family, is the person who kind of keeps it together, and sort of keeps her husband, Elias, who can kind of get a little caught up at times… she really works hard at keeping him levelheaded.

She’s a loving mother – she loves her children. She understands her daughter, played by Jessica Sula, very well with the feelings that she has for one of the young men in the town. She’s a pretty strong woman, but a very religious woman. Pretty much everything with her comes from a place of love, but when she has to be strong and she needs to pick up a gun, she will.

TrunkSpace: What did June offer you in terms of character traits that you have yet to tackle onscreen before? Was there something in her personality that you were particularly excited to dive into?
Perry: You know what, the biggest thing for me was the fact that it was a period piece – that it was a western. I love period pieces. I had so badly been wanting to sink my teeth into something that was historical. To play someone like June… listen, I’m an actress, but probably unlike most people, I get excited when they say, “Little or no makeup” because right when they say, “Little or no makeup,” what that says to me is, “Oh my goodness, there’s a lot of places I can go with this,” and that, “I won’t feel like I’m wearing a mask.” Even in the audition they specifically said, “Look as close to the period as possible.” I immediately got excited, because I was like, “Okay, this sounds like something that I can really sink my teeth into.”

For me as an actress, I had never done anything that far, and I had definitely never done a western. I had never been to Santa Fe. So everything about it was attractive to me. I just felt it, even going into the audition, emotionally. I was immediately emotionally connected to who she was and what I needed to bring to her. What I knew for me was the foundation of who she was, was someone who definitely came from a place of love and caring, but had a very grounded sense of strength about her.

TrunkSpace: When you’re working in a period piece, do you approach performance differently? Even though it’s grounded in reality, people presented themselves differently during different periods if history. Is that something you needed to consider when you’re taking on someone like June?
Perry: Yes. One of the things I definitely had to remind myself of was, my modern day feminism. She’s the woman of the house, but at the end of the day, her husband is in charge of that house. He is in the “man in charge.” There’s a moment in one of the episodes where she just has to really back off and let him be the father that he is. As painful as it is, once again, for that time, you had to know your place, at least this type of woman. She never goes to bars. She’s a woman who makes all of their own clothes. They grow their own food.

There were moments where I had to remind myself, in the process of preparing myself to play June, that, “This is not what Elisa would do. This is not how Elisa would handle it. This is how June would handle it, based on June’s journey as a woman, as a mother, as a wife, as a sister, and as a daughter.”

Perry in Godless. Image courtesy of Netflix.

TrunkSpace: So in a way, it’s not only being true to the character, but being true to the time period as well?
Perry: Exactly. For me as an actor, those are very important. I’m one of those people who… I can get caught up. I can watch a movie and I’ll look and see where someone is supposed to be such and such a character. If they’re poor or they’re destitute, I’ll look and see, “But your eyebrows are waxed.” Not that that’s wrong, but for me, I’m just more detailed in that way. Even with my hair, as a black actress in this business – and this is a black woman period – our hair is always an issue. So, I really worked with the woman in charge of hair ahead of time, researching how my hair would be. I was like, “Just don’t give me some kinky, curly wig.” I wanted to be as true as possible because detail is very, very important. I wanted to connect as close as possible to everything that’s happening.

TrunkSpace: It’s like if you were playing someone who was deemed the “villain” of a story. You have to approach it as the villain would… what their motivation is… so that you can understand why they’re making the choices they are making?
Perry: Exactly! And why is that? Because there are moments when I’m able to merge how Elisa would handle it versus how the character would handle it, but the key is that it makes sense for me, as an actor, in that moment.

There’s a scene in “Godless” where we meet Jeff Daniels and his crew, and when you see it it’s like, “Oh God, why would that happen?” Even preparing for that I had to, once again, take myself on that journey of, “This is not an Elisa choice, this is a June choice.” Back then people could just show up at your house and you would offer them water, and you would invite them in and offer them food. Now, it’s like, listen, you don’t even let friends in who haven’t called. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) If someone knocks on the door you’re not expecting, the move is to shut off the lights and pretend you’re not home.
Perry: (Laughter) Exactly! You’re like, “Are you expecting anybody? I’m not.”

I live in a building that’s pretty secure, which makes me even more nervous if someone is knocking on the door. It’s like, “How did they get in?”

TrunkSpace: In a lot of ways westerns seem more like a brand than a genre. Those who enjoy a good western will tune in to for a new one, even if they’re unfamiliar with the story. Did it feel like you were going into “Godless” with a bit of an established audience already in place?
Perry: Oh, absolutely! Let me just tell you, I am a huge western fan. I’m the person who watches marathons of “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke” and “The Big Valley” every day. Now, I might be showing my age right now, but it’s called TV Land. (Laughter) My fiance laughs at me all the time. He’s like, “Okay, here we go…” I’m like, “Listen, you leave ‘The Big Valley’ alone. You better not mess with Audra Barkley!”

Being a woman of color, even with all of these westerns, it’s not that often that you see us in that time. For me, it was really exciting to be a part of this project where it was, “Wow, there we are! We’re right there. We did exist then, and we weren’t slaves. We weren’t working someone’s field. We’re a family, the Hobbs family. We have our own home. We have land. We’re known in the community.” That in itself… I think Scott Frank just really nailed it.

Season 1 of “Godless” is available now on Netflix.

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