Sara Waisglass, actor and self-proclaimed quote lover, recalls a quote, “A lot of people think acting is stepping into a different character, but it’s actually that character stepping out of you,” which she says is an idea that has stuck with her throughout her career. As Maxine Baker, or Max, in Netflix’s Ginny & Georgia, Max doesn’t simply step out of Sara – she twirls out in a warm ripple of rainbow colors with her heart knitted into her wildly patterned sleeve. And while the ripple she casts pushes some away, more often than not, it quickly pulls those in her horizon close to her. Although Sara does not typically consider herself to be as bold or brave as Max, she certainly possesses a strong gravitational pull herself with her humor, kindness, and deep compassion. Like Max, she has taken in the view from every emotion’s height and infuses that view into the characters she plays.
In Season 2 when Max questions herself, her dad [Chris Kenopic] signs in ASL, “You have a talent to make people feel like they have permission to be silly,” while her twin brother Marcus [Felix Mallard] tells her “You can’t lose mojo, it’s innate” (as you can tell, I too am a self-proclaimed quote lover). Just as quickly as Max twirls out of Sara, she twirls back in carrying her lessons with her as they permeate Sara just as deeply. When she talks with Schön! about her passions, Sara speaks about writing and how she gravitates toward writing about brave women because of her mom and grandmother, and while she seems to discount herself from that list of inspiration, we definitely would not.
To introduce one final quote (I promise), Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it,” and it seems that every day that Sara chooses to do what she loves despite her fears, makes her quite a powerful person. In her Schön! interview, she discusses her funniest childhood memory, heartfelt moments on Ginny & Georgia, writing, and more.
Hi, it’s so nice to meet you! First, I want to start by saying how much I love Ginny & Georgia, it’s definitely my favourite show I’ve seen in a really long time! How have the reactions been to this season for you?
Yeah, the difference between Season 1 and Season 2 for me was quite large because in Season 1, I got very loving, beautiful responses from people and there were a lot of people tweeting me saying, “I love you, you’re my favourite character!” That is the nicest thing in the world to know that something you did resonated with someone. In Season 2, they took my character in a different direction and I got a lot of hate. It ended up being fine. The first two days were hard, but it’s all good now. It’s just cool that a character can affect people that much and that people can so aggressively hate someone when a year ago they loved them, it’s crazy! But the response in general in the amount of people who have watched our show and the number of hours that people have streamed it is insane to even think about! I think in our first five days of Season 2, we had 180 million hours in five days! FIVE DAYS! I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
Does a negative audience reaction to your character personally affect you and make you ever transfer those feelings to yourself?
Yeah, I think it’s hard not to. I know that everyone says, “Don’t look at the hate,” but sometimes it just gets thrown at you and you see it anyway. They [hate comments] don’t really affect me that much. It’s only when people are like, “Her voice is so annoying,” because well, that is my voice [laughs]. Then I got one where someone was so vicious and tagged me in it. They wrote, “You’re the shittiest actress on this planet, and you look like a greasy goblin dog,” and I was like oh, thank you so much for telling me your feelings, I appreciate it! I know that the writers this year were very aware that they were taking my character in a different direction, especially Sarah Lampert. She was the first to say, “Just so you know, the things that are coming out are about Max, not you!” So, that was really supportive and great.
Oh wow, yeah, I guess that’s bound to happen on social media, but that’s horrible. For one, I love Max. Now, I want to take some themes from the show and have you relate them to yourself. So, a lot of the show is about roots, or lack thereof. How would you describe your roots?
Anyone who knows me would say I’m a homebody. I know a lot of people get the urge to travel – that’s never really been me. My roots are in Toronto, I love this city and being near my family and my friends. So for people who travel, [being on the go] could be home for them. But for me, when I think of roots, I think of my den with my family sharing chocolate chip cookies and watching a funny movie. In an artistic sense, something that keeps me grounded is that I always come back to gratitude, happiness, and kindness – that’s like my credo.
I know you said you are a homebody, but if you had to choose one place in the world other than your own home to live in, where would you want to go?
The realistic answer would be L.A. because a lot of my friends are moving there so I would have a community feeling there. But my deepest desire would be to go live in Greece. That is a big dream that I have. I’m gonna do it one day!
One thing that really touched me in the show was in the finale when Ginny said that Georgia was their “white picket fence” in the fact that she made things feel safe and happy and secure even when everything was far from it. We see that in little traditions like the car picnics, living room dance parties, and Fry-yay. Is there anything like that from your childhood in terms of little traditions unique to your family?
Growing up we definitely had some things that we did. One thing that stands out the most is to make me laugh, when I was around five years old, my mom would take a big soup pot and put me in it and crack eggs on me and she’d throw flour on me and pretend she was baking me. It always had me dying of laughter and she would do it whenever I was sad – that was hilarious! She actually did it one day before the lice check at school and there was flour in my hair. I had to explain that my mom tried to cook me last night [laughs].
Other than that, I’m really big on tradition. I’ve been trying to get my family into Sunday morning brunches because my sister just moved out, and I moved out last year and I want to be able to see them every week, so I think Sunday brunch is gonna become our new thing!
In your life, what or who do you consider your “white picket fence” even at times when your life feels far from perfect?
I would say two things, with the first being writing. I’ve never been in a mood so foul that writing couldn’t at least pick me out of a little bit. It’s a safe haven for me. And music – especially piano – I play a ton of piano and I can’t tell you how life-changing it can be if I’m having a bad day and I just go wail on the piano for an hour. It’s refreshing in its expression, and it always makes me feel safe.
I know you went to school for screenwriting, is there a particular thing in writing that you most enjoy? Some people enjoy writing in-depth characters a lot, or others love creating a world or a plot in that world.
Everyone says to write what you know which makes me laugh because I don’t know a lot (laughs)! And most things that I write are stories that I’m currently going through, and I don’t know the ending yet so it’s weird trying to predict your future in a way or see how you want them to go and then knowing that it’s boring that way because a character’s journey needs obstacles. I tend to write a lot about brave women just because I have so many brave women around me who have always inspired me. My grandmother is the biggest badass on the planet and so is my mom, so that always makes its way into my writing. That, and fear, weirdly enough.
I read in an interview where you said you tend to be quite a fearful person. For you, does it come from anxiety, overthinking, or just so many different things if you don’t mind sharing?
It’s a mix of both. It’s funny because really tiny things scare me and once I do them, I know it’s fine. But once I have to do it again two weeks later, I’m scared again. So, it’s a weird thing to try and balance. Luckily, I’ve got writing because once I put it down on paper, it doesn’t seem so scary anymore. And I also have such an amazing support system. I think though that if you’re not anxious in this day and age, something is wrong with you! Everybody is struggling so I do my best to put my best foot forward and channel bravery whenever I can. Max helps with that! When I look at the episodes and see the stuff I’ve done, and how I’ve screamed and run around and been singing, it makes me think that I can be pretty invincible when I choose to be.
Yeah, we see especially for Max as Lady Blair in the school play, her big personality and fearlessness makes her thrive on stage and seems to heighten who she already is. On the complete opposite end, some actors are so shy and feel like acting allows them to hide behind a character in a way. How do you connect your own personality with your stage personality?
There’s this really beautiful quote that has always stuck with me and has really helped me in my career. Someone said, “A lot of people think acting is stepping into a different character, but it’s actually that character stepping out of you,” which I thought was so stunning and it’s true. We can’t embody the emotions that our character feels until we find some sort of connection or some moment that you lived that. It can be so small like if you are in a horror movie and you were scared once when you were six. There’s always some sort of real-life connection. So, what I love so much about Max is that she exists and the fact that I’m able to play her means that there is a part of me that is brave and there is a part of me that is fearless. I just need to channel it and find it.
That’s why I think in the past five years, performance has gotten so interesting for me because I’m learning way more about myself than I thought I would. It’s all because of that quote and finding connections with every character because then you can translate that and be compassionate towards people too. You understand emotions so much better and understand that everyone has felt everything.
Yeah, a lot is about empathy. On that note of fearlessness, in the show Marcus said that was Max’s best and worst trait. I think everyone has a trait that borders on being their best and worst – for you, what is it?
Oooh, that is an excellent question. These are deep! I would say my best and worst quality is how deeply I feel. While I can be so happy, I can also be quite sad. And when I care about people, I can be so in love and then when they break my heart, it’s like the world is ending. Everyone says it’s a gift and a curse. But I will say that ends up helping me with my work because I am able to experience the heights of those emotions.
I’m also compassionate to a fault. If I’m in a situation with someone and I’m in the right, and they’re in the wrong, I will beat myself up because I want to make them happy and make sure they’re okay. I hate disappointing people because in the past I have cared more about other people than myself and that’s been a journey. Another quote I heard is, “Compassion without self-respect will lead to self-destruction.” I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m big on quotes (laughs)! But it’s to say that you can care about people deeply, but you have to care about yourself with the same fervor.
I’m glad you said that because I am exactly the same way! It’s people pleasing at your own expense.
Oh yeah, people pleasing is exactly the word I was looking for! And you end up around people who will take that and not give any back!
Back to your portrayal of Max, I am assuming in Season 1 you made some creative decisions in terms of how you wanted to bring to life what was on the script pages. Going into Season 2, after the writers have already gotten the chance to understand how you play Max, did you feel like the script was geared more toward your particular portrayal of her?
I think writers always tend to write for actors. I remember we all talked about this after Season 1, and everyone was like “eh, we did a great job in Season 1, we know our characters so well,” which is true, but then you worry. In Season 2, I was doing something so different, and I was scared to disappoint people. I was very worried about playing where they took Max, but at the end of the day, something I value the most is that everyone does know their character like the back of their hand. When we improv, it’s not us, it’s our characters. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever been part of. You just have to trust that you know what you’re doing. I had to realize that I know my character and I’ve grown with her. She’s mine. I need to move with her through those stages.
You mention improv, is there any particular improv you remember?
I think there was a lot more in Season 2 than Season 1. [We improvised] every time there’s a big group scene with all the high school kids. The one that stands out the most for me is when Max is taking care of Marcus when he’s drunk, and he’s playing the guitar and I’m taking his shoes off. That was 70-80% improv which was really beautiful. I’ve said this before, but Felix [Mallard] as an actor is so intense and so specific with the things he does, and it brings out something really cool in my character. I think we always play off each other really nicely.
The dynamic between Marcus and Max is one of my favourites because you can really tell that they are twins, rather than just siblings. I am a multiple myself, and there really is a bond that is different between twins, triplets, etc. Even when Marcus and Max aren’t getting along, you could feel it. Can you talk a bit more about portraying that dynamic?
It really happened naturally. Right when I met Felix, we started being goofy with each other and pushing each other’s buttons which translated on screen. But definitely something that I love the most about Marcus and Max is that while they can piss each other off like crazy, they also know exactly when the other needs them the most. I think it is a twin thing. I’m not a twin, but I have my sister and I would agree with you, there’s something different about the dynamic between Max and Marcus. It’s a powerful thing to be part of.
I also really love the family dynamic when they are using ASL. Max is such an expressive character and in ASL, expression is just as important, if not more. When filming, did you learn about the facial expressions of sign language too in order to retain Max’s mannerisms?
Before we started shooting, I didn’t know how much of ASL was about facial reactions. I’m normally very reactive – you can read whatever I’m feeling on my face which is funny because I’m an actor so I should be able to hide it, but I literally can’t (laughs)! But again, it happened so naturally. I think one of the things Felix struggled with was that Marcus doesn’t show everything on his face the way Max does. It was an interesting journey for him, but for me it was getting to be Max and adding in the hands and it still works because she’s showing everything on her face anyway. ASL is extraordinary, and definitely one of my favourite parts of working on the show. I picked up so much of it and Chris [Kenopic], who plays my dad, is always so much fun.
One of my favourite scenes is Max’s conversation with her father about her role as Lady Blair and her nervousness about playing a villain. Did you have any favourite scenes while filming?
That was my favourite scene. I think it felt really personal to me just because of where Max had started the season and how everyone was saying she was overreacting. I felt like the writers were reaching out to me saying “You’re not too much. You make people laugh.” That almost made me cry because I care about Max so much and didn’t want her to go through pain, but she has to in order to grow, so whatever (laughs). I also really liked the small scene at the end of Episode 8 when Marcus is lying in bed and Max just comes in and gives him a hug. She knows he doesn’t want to get into it but she’s just there for him, which is such a beautiful thing to do for somebody.
Fans love seeing the camaraderie between the cast, so what were some of your favourite moments working together?
I always think about the first time we all went to do karaoke together in Season 1. We didn’t know each other that well, but we just broke down the barriers. They are all so incredible. I think it’s so funny when I watch the show with my family because I know all these people. We hangout. I text them. I texted them while I was watching. And yet, I’m so invested in their characters and their stories. They can still make me cry and make me angry and laugh. I think that’s a really cool thing because mentally I know they’re fake but they’re just so talented! Honestly, every day going to set was like going to school and learning from all of them.
What are you most looking forward to in 2023?
I think I’m most excited about my writing journey. That’s picking up a little more and it’s a very different experience from being in front of a camera. It’s something I’ve worked very hard on. Sometimes with acting, I can convince myself that I was chosen out of luck or from looks or that I don’t actually have talent. That’s the little voice in my head, but for writing it takes knowledge and training and getting to show that work to people who connect with it is the most validating thing in the world.
Ginny & Georgia is streaming now on Netflix.
photography. Lawrence Cortez
fashion. Ashley Galang
talent. Sara Waisglass
hair. Kristjan Hayden @ Cadre Artists
make up. Sheri Stroh @ Plutino Group
photography assistant. Nicolas Emas Varone
fashion assistant. Vanessa Kiangala
production assistant. Tiffany Chung
interview. Tessa Swantek
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