After being in the business for more than 35 years and starring in more than 150 stage productions, Sara Wood founded the Actors Space West Studio to teach and mentor young actors.
Honestly, the best thing about my job is when I can help someone kick fear in the ass and find their voice. When you can help flip that switch in someone’s head that allows them to ditch that cloak of invisibility, to give themselves permission to be seen — wow.
Alisa Damaso: How long have you been an acting coach and how did you get into it?
Sara Wood: I was an actor most of my life, so when my kids wanted to audition for movies, I was the one who went over the scripts with them. So, I suppose that was my first coaching job. My daughter [Evan Rachel Wood] was screen tested for the film Interview with the Vampire when she was 5 years old. She had to learn four very difficult scenes; we worked on that for three weeks. She did so well it was narrowed down to her and Kirsten Dunst, who eventually got the part. Kirsten’s coach was John Homa; he was impressed by how I had coached Evan, and he offered me a job at his acting studio in Burbank. I started teaching at The Shop/Simply Acting in 1997 with him and Andrew Magarian, and worked there for four years before I took time off to work for Evan as her career took off. After she turned 18, I wrote a movie blog for a year and also worked as co-producer on a couple of projects that never flew. So, in 2008, I opened my own studio.
AD: Who were your biggest influences when you started out in theater?
SW: My first acting influence was my older sister and my brother, actually. They were performing with various children’s theatre companies and my mother took us to all their performances. I immediately fell in love with it all and couldn’t wait to be involved. I was cast in my first play when I was 9.
As an adult I worked at a summer stock theatre with an actress named Monica Bishop. I don’t know what ever happened to her, but she was quite wonderful and had come out of the Master’s program at Southern Methodist University, which was one of the best in the country at the time. I learned so much from watching her and hung on her every word about art and acting. As far as famous influences… Joan Allen, absolutely. Saw her on Broadway in Burn This and The Heidi Chronicles, and her performances changed my life.
AD: What’s your favorite thing about your job? Least favorite?
SW: My favorite thing about my job is that I don’t have anyone to tell me what to do. The least favorite thing about my job is that I don’t have anyone to tell me what to do! Honestly, the best thing about my job is when I can help someone kick fear in the ass and find their voice. When you can help flip that switch in someone’s head that allows them to ditch that cloak of invisibility, to give themselves permission to be seen. Wow. Teenagers and young adults especially, ‘cause, a lot of them have let this power be taken from them and they need a nudge. It’s an exciting time because there is so much more awareness and embracing of differences!
AD: What kinds of challenges are you faced with in your work, and how do you overcome them?
SW: Most of the challenges I face is just the day to day grind of marketing my business when I am a complete computer flunky! I am not good at the daily minutiae. Or cleaning my room. This is why setting goals is so important for artists. ‘Cause we usually get bogged down by things like daily maintenance.
Setting goals is so important for artists. ‘Cause we usually get bogged down by things like daily maintenance.
AD: What advice would you give your younger self?
SW: To my younger self… Do not get sidetracked by wanting to fit in and be liked. You know what you want, figure out how to get it. Oh and also… there is not plenty of time. Do it now!
AD: How do you de-stress?
SW: I wish I could say I meditate and do yoga, ‘cause I know that would be good for me, but, what I actually do to de-stress is watch true crime stories and play Backgammon and Spades on my iPhone. I also roller skate whenever possible.
You are not a passive observer, or a plastic garbage bag blowing in the wind. Work hard. Believe in yourself. Honor yourself as the absolutely unique being you are!
AD: What are you working on right now, and what are your plans for the future?
SW: I am learning to edit so that I can direct more, and I’m looking for other ways to expand filmmaking opportunities. ‘Cause, I do love movies. I am starting a young adult book I have been wanting to write for some time; had the idea when I was 14, but didn’t think I could write it. Then, I read Twilight just for comparison’s sake and was like, Oh I can do better than this!
For the future… I definitely wish to establish a higher profile for my acting studio. I think the work we do here is great and not the same refried bullshit. Also, mentoring is a big thing with us and I am pursuing some high profile directors and actors to be part of a program.
Looking back, there were some people who thought I was going to do big things. “Mention me in your Oscar speech!” they’d say. I am in that time of life where I realize, I owe myself better than what I have accomplished thus far. I had been a mother since my 20th birthday, and when I turned 50 I felt like I no longer had a point and became depressed. But now I have to get off my ass and do the things I wanted to do in the first place! It’s been a tough transition.
AD: Any words of wisdom for those just beginning their journey in this industry?
SW: Every great philosopher in history has said it in one form or another: “Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.” “Seek and ye shall find.” You have a choice. You are not a passive observer, or a plastic garbage bag blowing in the wind. Work hard. Believe in yourself. Honor yourself as the absolutely unique being you are! Be bold. Seek. Knock. Ask. Just do it.
For more on Sara Wood and to sign up for classes, visit valleyactors.com