From working with such stars as Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando on Superman, playing Pamela Lynch on the hit TV series Falcon Crest to doing voice work on the animated series Green Lantern, actress Sarah Douglas has had quite an interesting career. Recently, we had the chance to talk to her about life in the movie business and her recent role in the time travel thriller ‘Displacement’.
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue acting as a career?
Sarah: Oh my goodness well, I’m speaking to you from Stratford-Upon-Avon which is my hometown, so I was born and bred here. Back when I was eleven or twelve I was already doing stuff, by the time I was fourteen I was in a youth theater company and at that stage, there was never anything else, it was always going to be acting. I did all the right things, I did a couple of years with them, a couple of years of schooling, I went to drama school, I did everything the right way. I think there was definitely an influence from living in Stratford-Upon-Avon, I could see the theater from my window here but having said that I’ve never worked at the Stratford Theater and did very little Shakespeare, so it’s all a bit of BS, isn’t it really?
I believe you might be the first actor I’ve talked to who said they did everything the right way, step by step.
Sarah: I kind of did but having said that, I didn’t complete drama school. I should have done three years but I left after one because fortunately, or unfortunately maybe, I don’t know, there was this organization called the National Youth Theater which back in the day was really very big and they were auditing three and a half thousand girls and I think they took twelve or something like that out of England and my family said if you can get in we’ll be behind you and support you and I did, spending my first year in the summer months with people like the lovely Alfred Molina, who is a great mate, who is in my group and we went all Europe touring, and the year above was Helen Miren, Elton John was the sponsor of the National Youth Theater so it was the hot ticket. So when I got to drama school at the tender age of seventeen, having finished my education, after about a year I found it very difficult to settle down because I had already been out there and seen it, I thought I’d done it. I didn’t settle for drama school but I was fortunate enough that after a year I left and very quickly, within two or three weeks got my first film. That’s where I deviate from the norm because back then you had to do theater to get your acting card before you could go into the union and you had to do so many weeks in the theater to get that union card and I somehow circumvented that and went straight into film, I did my first film, called The Final Program, and that was my very first job. Then it just went on, it was splendid, my twenties were fabulous, I just assumed it was always going to be like that, believe me, I’m in my sixties, I know it’s not always like that but back then it was just one thing after another and I took it like it was the most normal thing in the world. But it was a good start and in the beginning, I played the good girl, who was just a little bit naughty on the side, I didn’t get really bad until Superman and then that was that, the rest is history. So now I’m just the evil wicked queen with different hats on.
I see you moved into the voice acting part of the industry. How did that come about and would you be interested in doing more voice work in the future?
Sarah: Well, it came about because they asked me, that is really the simple answer to the story. I lived in L.A. until 82’, 83’, I don’t even know what my first job was but it was just wonderful. I just kind of fell into it, I had a voiceover agent and everything else, but the minute I discovered animation and the voices and working with other actors and the joy of not having to learn my lines and not having to put makeup on, get all dressed up and all of that, I loved it. I was doing quite a lot of it and I have to spend time, although I’m a resident back there in California, I have to spend time with my family back here in England at the moment, so it certainly, as we say here in England, put a stop to my gallop. I’m still doing work here but I’ve yet to get into any animated stuff. My voice work here is really just a lot of different little bibs and bobs. One of the things I was disappointed about was Green Lantern because we knew my character Scar was going to go on to do wonderful wicked deeds, knowing as they had already spoken to me about the following year, but then the movie didn’t do so well and consequentially the merchandising didn’t do so well and so that was the end of the animated show, which was a great shame. I do a lot of audio books, something that happened here in England but not there, which I can’t figure out audio wise but I’m happy to do whatever they say, I’m there.
I had the chance to watch Displacement recently and I found it to be very interesting and smart movie on the subject of time travel.
Sarah: I’m glad you enjoyed it, glad you found it very smart. I found it way too smart, I really did. I’ll tell you, the young Courtney Hope who I thought was fabulous and did a great job, my gosh she’s just so smart! You arrive on set and usually, you’re talking about last night’s dinner or something and this kid is heavily into time travel and quantum physics and I thought oh my lord, I’m so out of my depth. I’m not trying to be too flippant about it but I don’t really understand these things. I have done a massive amount of work that entailed going through dark holes and vortexes in my career and I always come out the other side going shoot, can I get away with it if I don’t really understand it? I found this movie intellectually quite stimulating and it’s just damn clever, very damn clever so I was very pleased. It was quite a long time, the process, with this particular job and I don’t even know when we started it now, two years ago perhaps, I’m not sure. I met the director/writer Ken and he was so enthusiastic and I think that makes a hell of a difference as opposed to a director that’s just there. He had so much enthusiasm which rubbed off on me, even though half of the time I had to have someone explain to me what the hell was going on. It’s great when you get old, they just sort of pat you on the head and say ok, that’s fine, you’re doing fine. I hope this movie gets a bit of mileage because we worked hard and it turned out bloody good. It was great for me because I was able to introduce Susan Blakely, she’s an old friend of mine, to Ken and then Susan was able to introduce Bruce Davison, it was really nice the way it all came together, I’m very pleased.
As an actor, did you enjoy the challenge that came with dealing with the subject of time travel?
Susan: Yes, it was a challenge and quite hard at times. It wasn’t so difficult for me as opposed to Courtney, although she had a tough time but was really on top of it. I had to really approach it in a way that when one is playing a part as an actress, you are forever playing characters that are often doing or saying something that you as a person have not experienced. The challenge for me then was to hopefully portray the character that people believe, that they truly believe you know what you’re talking about, while at the same time there’s that little part of you screaming oh my god, what is this really all about, and really that’s what acting is. For example, surprising as it may sound when I was doing Superman I had never really been to Krypton, and I got a bit nervous about it because I really did wish I could follow it more. Doing a lot of these other sci-fi/ fantasy roles, a lot of it is quite a bit of nonsense. I shouldn’t say that because the fans scream at me when I say that, for example, Stargate, when fans say when you did this and why did you do that and I said I really can’t remember but I probably didn’t know at the time, and the fans were mortified. The fans are on top of everything and I’m not going to try and BS them but I know for a fact that I’ve gotten jobs in the past because I speak with an English accent. There is this idea that has been going around that we at least sound like we know what we’re talking about so I’ve done quite a few roles where I’ve lots of dialogue that sounded incredibly bright and articulate and intelligent when in fact I’m not exactly sure what I’m talking about.
That is one of the strengths of Displacement, that being the characters are very believable in what they are saying and doing, which makes it a lot easier on the viewer concerning the complicated subject matter.
Sarah: Yes, absolutely. I’m glad to hear that, that means we did our job. It wasn’t always easy but it was made easier by working with people like Courtney Hope, who was so much fun, had such passion and energy and the fact that we didn’t have a big budget but were a tight group, who were on top of what was happening and that made it easier. If we’d been on a big movie there would have probably been enormous storyboards everywhere and we would not have been so close but this was not done like that, it was almost a family affair, we were all involved in every aspect so it was really fun to be a part of this film, it really was.
Do you like working on smaller films like Displacement as opposed to the bigger blockbusters, or is it nice to have a mix of both worlds?
Sarah: I love these indie films and I’ve known one or two big actors who’ve done wonderful jobs on these smaller films. Doing these small films, working under difficult circumstances, it’s so rewarding when you get these great finished products in the end. Believe me, Displacement really was a small indie film, I can’t say we had too many perks. I’ve worked on big budget films, such as Superman, Conan and there was so much sitting around, there really was. I truly enjoy the smaller indie films and Displacement was a real joy to work on, I had a lovely experience.
You’ve had numerous roles on big projects, such as Superman, Conan and Falcon Crest. Do you have a favorite memory or favorite actor that you’ve worked with over your career?
Sarah: Well, I think my favorite actor to work with was Gene Hackman. In fact, April 17th, forty years ago, I had my first day’s work with Marlon Brando. Obviously, Brando was a superstar and that was a whole different experience, an extraordinary experience as well. But actually working with Gene Hackman, he was so wonderful, so generous and we had so much fun and I just adored him. I had known him from French Connection and different things, but he was such a pleasure to work with and would definitely be high up there on the list of people I most loved to work with. I’ve been very fortunate, there’s been a couple that I haven’t really enjoyed and that’s a rare thing for me because, by nature, I love being on a set, I love the whole business of making movies. I’ve done a bit of theater in the past and continue to do a bit of theater but I’ve never been comfortable with it but being in front of the camera, that’s where I’m most content, so let’s hope there’s still work out there for me.
I want to thank Sarah for taking the time to talk with us