Interview: Sarah Wynter
Amazon, like its rivals Netflix and Hulu, is definitely making its mark when it comes to original series.
With critical hits, such as The Man in the High Castle, Bosch, Transparent and Hand of God, the streaming service has put out a successful string of series. Well, you can add one more to that list with its latest drama Goliath.
According to Amazon, Goliath has already become its most binged first season of a US-produced Amazon original series ever. The series was created by David E. Kelley and stars Billy Bob Thornton, William Hurt, Maria Bello and Sarah Wynter.
Many of you may know Sarah Wynter from her roles on series such as 24, Californication, Dead Zone and Elementary. Most recently, she starred in the NBC series American Odyssey.
We sit down with the Australian born actress to talk about her new series and her character Gina Larson, what it was like working with Billy Bob Thornton and her thoughts on how television has changed over the past decade.
Pop Culture Principle – What was it about the script for Goliath that made you want to be part of the project?
Sarah Wynter – It’s funny, I didn’t get the entire script, but was emailed a scene to put myself on tape. Usually when you live in New York and you are requested to put yourself on tape, you never think you are going to get the job. I put myself on tape and I ended up getting the job. It wasn’t until I booked the role that I actually got the script. I read the script and thought it was really good and knew that I had to do it.
Once you learn Billy Bob Thornton is attached and it’s a David E. Kelley show and actors like William Hurt and Maria Bello are also attached to the project, it was one of those no-brainer moments. The initial script did change a lot. The original title of the series was called Trial and they changed it to Goliath. They tweaked a couple of characters and added some characters and the show kind of just developed from there.
Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us about the basic premise of Goliath and your character Gina Larson?
Sarah Wynter – Goliath is essentially a story of redemption. Billy Bob Thornton’s character is formerly a very successful lawyer who was at the top of his game and built this incredibly power law firm with his former partner. He’s had a serious fall from grace and has become an alcoholic, lost his wife and is barely in contact with his daughter. His career is in the toilet, he’s living in a motel and things are not good for him.
This case is presented to him and my character is connected to the case. She is an unwilling participant who at first doesn’t want to be involved with it because it involves the death of her husband. My character is surviving as a single mother raising a teenage son and she doesn’t want any part of it. She thinks that the case is just a way to try and get money. As my character learns more and more is uncovered, there are more questions than answers and it kind of snowballs from there into this incredible journey of what actually happened on the boat.
Pop Culture Principle – In what ways did you relate to your character and does that help to enhance your performance as an actor?
Sarah Wynter – You know, it has to. I think there are two reasons for that. Now that I am a mother and being able to play a mother is obviously something that I relate to. I understand the maternal experience and I understand what it’s like to love children, fight for children and defend your child. The love you have for your child is completely different to the love you have for a parent, spouse, a friend or a partner. It is indescribable until you are a parent.
I think the other side of motherhood for me, because I feel so much more and feel so many more things in my heart and my head, I can’t help but feel that this makes me a better actor because I am able to tap into so many more emotions and feelings. Not to put anybody down that isn’t a parent and there are certainly plenty of amazing actors out there that aren’t parents. But for me personally, it just opened up my well to draw on emotions that I could tap into. In my life, nothing compares to being a mom to my boys.
Pop Culture Principle – You shared some great scenes with Billy Bob Thornton. What was it like working with him?
Sarah Wynter – I loved working with Billy Bob Thornton. I think it’s amazing how these almost intimidating film actors have had these second careers with television and it has afforded them a much bigger audience in some weird way. Not that they still aren’t amazing actors and doing great work in film.
When I first started out, no one was doing television. You either did film or you did television because you didn’t do both. Writing was so much better in film and at the time, television was considered second tier. I think there has been a complete reversal. There is so much more available on television, so many more roles and the writing is incredible. The roles that are written for women in television now are so incredibly exciting.
It’s funny, I didn’t know much about him except that he might be a little strange which was incredibly judgmental on my part because I didn’t really know much about him except his roles and articles about him in People magazine. He’s incredibly smart, he’s funny and he’s professional. He’s a genius when it comes to acting, but he also thinks like a writer and a director because he’s done all three. Although he’s this triple threat of talent and experience, he’s an incredibly generous person to work with and he made me and everyone else feel very comfortable and he works very hard. He wants to know other people’s input and he wanted things to feel natural. If something didn’t feel natural to me, he wanted to hear it and encouraged me to speak up which I found so incredibly respectful and kind.
To be honest, I wound up learning a lot from him. Just watching how he works and seeing his thought process. I was incredibly impressed with him. Even if there had been none of that, I still would have walked away with an amazing and positive impression of him. The fact that he was so much fun to work with and I felt like a part of this jigsaw puzzle that it takes to make a show was really amazing and I feel very fortunate that I got to be a part of it.
Pop Culture Principle – Also impressive was the young actor Britain Dalton who played your son. What was it like working with him?
Sarah Wynter – I got to work with him over a good nine-month period. From meeting at the first table read through rehearsals to the premiere. He grew a lot over that time and he evolved a lot as an actor and a boy/young man. He was so focused and committed to doing a good job. That was such a pleasure to watch and be a part of. We also had a great rapport and there was a comfort between us. I have three sons and I know how to relate to boys.
My oldest son is eight and Britian is a teenager, but we had a great time and he had a great energy that only children can have. He was very professional and really keen to do a good job and I am really proud of him and really happy to have worked alongside of him and spend a good chunk of my day with him on the show. He also taught me a little bit about rap and we came up with a couple of raps together and he also taught me some things about social media.
Pop Culture Principle – Where there any major differences shooting a series for Amazon Prime as opposed to a network or cable series?
Sarah Wynter – I think the big glaring differences are the content. You can say a lot more, do a lot more and show a lot more on an Amazon show. The writers weren’t limited to writing for commercials so you can sustain some momentum whereas I think when you are writing for a network, you almost have to build in those commercial breaks and I think It’s a much freer way for writers to write. As actors, it was really nice to be able to improvise and not worry about swearing because we weren’t appeasing advertisers and network parameters.
The other big thing is that once it’s out, it’s out. It came out and everyone could see all eight episodes right away. You didn’t have to wait to see next week’s episode or you have to build an audience or wait for the ratings or wait for what the critics would say. It all came out at once and that was exciting and a little terrifying at the same time. People might not like it or they might like it and would talk about it on social media, but you don’t want to give anything away.
It was a new format that was fun and I would love to do another show on Amazon or Netflix. I have no complaints and there was nothing bad about it. We were creatively freer to explore scenes and words in the writing which was pretty liberating. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved every experience I’ve had doing network television, but this was a little different and a little freer. I can’t think of a better word.
Pop Culture Principle – It would seem that that way you promote and do press for this series is very different from press and promotion for a network or cable series. Would you agree?
Sarah Wynter – I guess it’s kind of spread out more. For a network, there is a build up to the first episode and if it becomes a big hit, you do more, but it usually just drops off and you leave it to the Nielsen ratings and the Gods. For this, these series can be sleepers and become hits over time through word of mouth. Everyone can go at their own pace watching a show on a Netflix or Amazon. Also, some journalists have seen the entire series and some have only seen a couple of episodes, so that is a little different.
With a network, journalists have only seen one or two episodes and they have no idea how it’s going to unfold and sometimes the actors don’t even know how it is going to unfold. Also with a show on a streaming service, you don’t have to worry about the show being yanked off the air before the season is completed. On Netflix and Amazon, you can’t yank us off the air because we are done and it's out there! Our work will be seen and it wasn’t for naught.
Pop Culture Principle – As an actor, do you enjoy series where a case like this evolves over the entirety of the season or do you like the one and done episodes?
Sarah Wynter – For me, it’s the role, the story and the character and does that character resonate with me. I think that format can be interesting. With television, unlike movies or plays, your characters can be ongoing and you never know quite where your character is going to take you. In a movie, you know there is a beginning, a middle and an end and you can sort of map it out. With television, such as life, you never know where you are going to end up and don’t know what will happen next week. To me, television can be a little more like life.
Pop Culture Principle – What do you think has been the biggest change with television over the last 10 to 15 years?
Sarah Wynter – It has to be the amount and volume of television now. When I first started out, there was network and nothing else. Then cable became cool and HBO happened and all these incredible shows on premium channels. Now, with the internet, webisodes and Netflix and Amazon doing their own content, there is just so much more and that is exciting as an actor. There was a period as I said were there was only network television and then network started doing reality shows. That was really scary for actors because there was so little to choose from, so few roles and it was very competitive.
Now, there is a much richer variety of roles to be in the mix for. Also, all these great writers have all these outlets because of television now. So many wonderful writers are coming out of television. Many incredible young writers want to work in television because who wouldn’t? There are so many amazing stories that people want to see go on and on. As a viewer, it excites me and obviously as an actor, it’s incredibly exciting because that’s how I make a living!
Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the first season of Goliath?
Sarah Wynter – What fans should not expect is your typical law show. In fact, it’s not even your typical David E. Kelly show. Obviously, the writing is amazing. David E. Kelley and Jonathan Shapiro are incredible writers who have an incredible in-depth knowledge of law.
Goliath is a tale of power, revenge, control, redemption and fighting for the right thing. What I love about the show is that the characters are incredibly nuanced and have mulit-layers. Billy Bob’s character could easily be an unlikeable character and Billy Bob manages to make a very unlikeable person likeable and you are rooting for him. It takes an amazing actor to pull off something like that.
There is also the David and Goliath aspect with Billy Bob and William Hurt which makes for such great drama. Also, there are a multitude of female characters in the series that are so different and have fascinating backstories and they each have an amazing journey that they go on. Usually you hope for one or two female characters like that in a series, but this is just an explosion of female talent and I am so happy and proud to be a small part of that amazing group.
We would like to thank Sarah Wynter for talking with us about her new series Goliath. The entire first season of the series is now available on Amazon. If you would like to keep up with all of Sarah' s latest news and projects, you can follow her official Twitter account @sarahwynter.
**Photos courtesy of Amazon**