The actor behind the wannabe starlet discusses her character’s humble roots, big dreams and thoughts on the acting class’ newest recruit.
HBO: What can you tell us about Sally Reed?
Sarah Goldberg: Sally is a small-town girl who has moved to Los Angeles with big, big dreams. She’s a tricky mixed-bag because she’s very vulnerable and open, and at the same time incredibly narcissistic and self-serving. I think she has tunnel vision. She wants what she wants so badly that she often has blinders up to everything else around her. She’s one of these people who in a better set of circumstances, she’d be a much lovelier person.
But as it is, the world is sort of sh*tting on her, and she has a personality that responds to her environment. In class, where she has the status and is clearly the best in the room, you see this monster come out because in the rest of her daily life, she’s struggling. I’ve always said with Sally, you don’t have to like her, you just have to know her. I feel like I know that girl. I’ve met that girl in LA and she’s heartbreaking because she’s not a bad person, she’s just stuck.
HBO: Why does Sally want to be an actor?
Sarah Goldberg: I think she’s genuinely passionate about it and she’s not coming from a terrible place. Somewhere along the way I think competition got the better of her. She can be quite cruel, honestly, and I think she lies to get what she wants, but in equal measure she can be warm and lovely when the opportunity presents itself.
[Executive Producers] Alec [Berg] and Bill [Hader] did a clever thing where they give her some evolution. She learns a little bit about working with others. I wouldn’t say she’s going to be in the ensemble...it’s going to be a one-woman show. Acting takes a village and I think she’s not there yet.
HBO: In the first episode, Henry Winkler’s character, Gene, berates Sally but she’s grateful for it in the end. Why?
Sarah Goldberg: He can be quite cruel in that room and also, loving and generous. Everybody in the show is pretty desperate for something, desperate for change, desperate to get out of their situation and everyone’s living these double lives. Bill and Alec are so clever in the way they’ve written these public and private personas for all the characters. We get to see these wildly different sides of people, which is pretty real in Hollywood.
HBO: What does Sally see in Barry when she first meets him?
Sarah Goldberg: I don’t think Sally sees Barry at all. I think Sally sees herself reflected in Barry’s eyes. He worships her talent and that’s all she cares about. All she can see and hear is that. When she first sees him in the class, she thinks, “OK, here’s fresh meat,” because everybody else in the class is tired of doing scenes with her.
She’s got a new bit of clay to mold, and to give the one-line role in the scene where she has all the lines. I think she’s attracted to that. And then she’s attracted to someone who is seeing her and thinks that she’s got what it takes to make it. If she was really looking, she’d realize this person is utterly clueless about acting, but him telling her she’s going to be a star is enough for her.
HBO: Are there any parts of Sally’s character that resonated with you?
Sarah Goldberg: I had such a different trajectory coming up in acting, I didn’t understand Sally’s competitive and ruthless side. But as we got into it, I empathized with her more and more and understood that it’s really hard when you want something so badly; I really identified with that and I felt for her. She reads as somebody who’s a bit lost in that way where you can get lost when your dream is acting. It’s a tough life she’s chosen and it’s tough for all of us who choose this life.