“I literally (naively!) knocked on doors” – meet actress and rising star Sarah Winter

Last night’s BAFTA Awards has got us dreaming of a glitzy showbiz career. But what is it actually like to work in the most gold-plated but iron-clad industry there is? We asked British actress Sarah Winter who already has her foot firmly in the door and is about to hit the big time.

Sarah has already starred in Casanova, An Adventure in Space and Time and TV show Reign. Later this year she’ll be appearing in hotly anticipated BBC2 drama Versailles. We chatted to her about what her dream job would be and why being persistent is the key to success.

Sarah Winter

Image Credit: Rex Features

1. Can you tell us a bit about your career journey so far?

I came to London after university having no idea how to become a professional actress without drama school training. It seems incredible to me to be in this position now! I literally (naively!) knocked on doors until a very kind agent gave me advice on what to do and I have been figuring the rest out ever since. I have learnt so much from watching the amazing actors surrounding.

I have also learnt the most through doing theatre – the audiences teach you so much and you can improve and adjust your performance every night until you’re (almost) happy with it.

2. What is something about your job that we wouldn’t expect?

One aspect of this career that I hadn’t really anticipated was just how much I would get to travel and it’s something I will never get tired of. Having a glass of wine gazing at the Eiffel Tower after a long day’s filming or taking a trip to Toronto Islands on a day off from a shoot – outside the experience of being on set, those moments remind me how lucky I am to be doing this.

3. Who would you have considered your acting heroes when you were younger? Do you have any early memories of wanting to act?

I’ve always loved the romance of old movies, even when I was very young, so Judy Garland and Audrey Hepburn were big inspirations for me. I was slightly obsessed with watching The Wizard of Oz when I was about 7 and embarrassingly used to sit on top of the climbing frame in our garden singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow at the top of my voice for hours – my poor neighbours!

At 8 years old I got my first real taste for acting when my lower school decided to stage The Tempest and I played Miranda. I can still remember all my lines, but in my memory I am saying them with a slight lisp and fearing the moment at the end of the play when I had to kiss the boy playing Ferdinand. I really liked how Shakespeare sounded to me like a fairytale language. Even though I was really young I decided I definitely wanted to perform it again – even if it meant kissing boys.

Sarah Winter

Image Credit: Rex Features

4. What would you say your dream director/project to work on would be?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with one dream director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who directed Amelie), recently. Amelie is one of my favourite films and so I was ridiculously excited to be on set with him for Casanova.

There are so many more directors I would love to work with though – Whit Stillman, Wes Anderson, Stephen Frears… and I would be thrilled to work with Marielle Heller who directed The Diary of a Teenage Girl. I thought that was such a brave and exhilarating piece of film making and I would love to do something like that.

5. What are your top three tips for any young, budding actors out there?

  • Do National Youth Theatre (I didn’t, but I wish I had) if you can, or any youth theatre you have access to. You’ll get amazing experience and you never know who is going to watch those performances.
  • Write to people. I have written so many letters and emails that haven’t even been acknowledged, but I’ve also gotten jobs that way and occasionally had some beautiful replies. Julian Fellowes once very kindly wrote back to me with a lovely postcard. You never know if your letter or email might pop up just at the right moment.
  • Invest in the people you meet along the way. It helps to be surrounded by people who understand what you’re trying to achieve and it’s really important to feel supported in what can be a really tough career. (They’ll probably need support too!) The friends I’ve made in this industry are invaluable to me.

6. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

In an ideal world I would be living & working in New York (I love that city so much) doing a really exciting TV show, and working on films in the breaks in my schedule – that’s the dream! I’d love to be collaborating with friends on other creative projects too and would most definitely have a dog (I can’t have one in my flat in London and I have to walk my friend’s dogs to make up for it). If I were to ever move though I’d need enough money to take all my friends with me. They are my rocks.

Sarah can be seen in Versailles on BBC2 this Spring. Find out more here.