On ‘Barry,’ Sarah Goldberg learned to love television

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LONDON — In two and a half seasons on “Barry,” Sally Reed, the budding star played by Sarah Goldberg, has become one of television’s most complex characters, inviting both sympathy for her Hollywood struggles and the contempt for his excessive self-absorption.

In Sunday’s episode, that boost of empathy was fully effective. Overwhelmed with emotion onstage at the premiere of her new show, “Joplin”, Sally is the picture of a hard-earned triumph. But her treatment of others before then – she berates her friend-turned-assistant Natalie (D’Arcy Carden) for speaking up at a meeting, demands that her carrots be cut just right, and refuses to let Natalie accompany her to the first – illustrates how success amplified some of Sally’s worst tendencies.

“We saw her being bullied, and now she has a little bit of power,” Goldberg said in a recent interview. “I’m so curious about what people do with power.”

We also saw Sally shake up the series, ending what had become a toxic relationship with Barry, the assassin protagonist played by Bill Hader. This subplot was also thinly layered, with Sally’s initial denial giving way to defiance in a way that perhaps reflects her past experience in an abusive marriage, discussed in earlier episodes.

The showrunners say it was Goldberg herself who transformed Sally, who was originally intended as a simpler love, into someone of such complexity.

“When we wrote it, it was something you’ve seen a hundred times,” said Hader, who created “Barry” with Alec Berg. “When Sarah read, it changed our view of the character in a really positive way, like, yeah, that should be a more complicated person.”

The role earned Goldberg, 36, an Emmy nomination as well as more informal honors that speak to Sally’s mix of heartbreaking and infuriating qualities. (Refinery29 once called her, approvingly, “TV’s least likable woman.”) But in conversation, Goldberg’s affinity for her character is clear.

“I sympathize with Sally; I’ve met a million Sallys,” she said. “I think she had a tough life and had a big dream.” Which doesn’t mean she approves of the way Sally pursues that dream.

“Her tunnel vision is so extreme that she doesn’t absorb anything around her,” Goldberg said. “And if you step into that space, well, what do you bring to your work?”

It’s an unSally-like way of thinking about acting that partly explains why Goldberg, who is Canadian, left New York for London during the uncertain days of summer 2020. She loves London for, among other things, the sense of perspective it gives him.

“Acting is treated here in a much more functional way, much like a plumber,” she said. “I know I’m not saving lives, and I think London is helping you keep that under control.”

Sitting in an eccentrically decorated Georgian townhouse near the city center last month, Goldberg was warm and engaging in conversation. His accent often slipped into a slight British rhythm, common among North American expatriates, and his speech was peppered with Britishisms. (She referred to TV as “TV” more than once).

The move here was a kind of homecoming; Goldberg spent most of his twenties in London. “I’m a London girl again,” she said, “and I’m here to stay.”

Goldberg, who was born in Vancouver, discovered acting at a young age and was motivated by a beloved high school acting teacher to apply to acting school. A self-proclaimed “precocious” teenager, she only applied to Juilliard and the National Theater School of Canada. After being rejected by both, she spent a year backpacking around Europe. Her first stop was London, where she had an “epiphany” outside the British Museum.

“I just thought I had to live here,” she said. “Something sort of overwhelmed me.”

Shortly after returning home, she did. She auditioned in Seattle for the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Britain’s oldest acting school, and was admitted – she spent the next three years there studying everything from Chekhov to flamenco. (LAMDA alumni include Benedict Cumberbatch and David Oyelowo, among others.)

After graduating, she had what she described as “a few lucky moments” in the London theater world, including winning an Olive Award nomination for her performance in Bruce Norris’ play ‘Clybourne Park’. Pulitzer Prize winner at the Royal Court Theatre. She also found work in New York, reprising her role in the award-winning Broadway version of Norris’ play and starring alongside a young Adam Driver in an Off Broadway production of John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger.”

Although Goldberg’s heart had always been in acting, by his late twenties it became clear that in order to earn a living — and, perversely, land more theater roles — acting was a necessity. The transition, she found, was not easy.

“I always felt like I didn’t understand film and TV media,” she said. “I was always very nervous in front of the camera. It took me a long time to learn how to work with this machine in such close proximity.”

After a number of small roles in films and series, Goldberg landed her first substantial TV job in “Hindsight,” a 2015 VH1 time-travel comedy.

“It was my first time on camera, every day, five days a week, 17 hours a day,” she said. “It was a very good training ground, where you are too tired to be nervous.”

“Hindsight” didn’t last long – after initially being picked up for a second season, the production was bought out by the network and the show was canceled. But the money Goldberg, then in his late twenties, received from the buyout paved the way for two firsts in his life: a savings account and the power to refuse bad games.

“It was really liberating to say no to a number of poorly written pilots where the female characters are there to ask questions and give exposition,” she said. Then came “Barry”.

“I read the script and it was so unusual; the tone was so original,” she said. Goldberg thought Sally had hidden depth. in the typical girlfriend role, seemingly sweet as pie, little city girl, perfect teeth,” she said. complex and morally bankrupt.”

The creators credit Goldberg for elevating the role, in part by not being afraid to be off-putting. “Sarah always pushed us to make the character real and complicated,” Berg said. “Even if it makes her less ‘likable’, whatever that means.”

Hader described Goldberg as a nimble, creative performer who became a valuable collaborator — when writing episodes, he occasionally calls her to ask what she thinks of his plans for Sally.

“I trust his instincts,” he said. “She’s a really good writer, so people who have that, you want to incorporate her.”

Henry Winkler, who plays theater teacher Gene Cousineau, also praised Goldberg’s great creativity. “Sarah is the real deal,” he said in a video call.

“She’s an improviser, she’s a writer,” he added. “She thinks like a theater actor in the detail of how to piece together that person’s puzzle.”

Goldberg’s next project will see her direct those abilities and instincts into something all her own, a dark comedy series titled “SisterS” that she spent six years writing with her best friend and former LAMDA classmate. , Irish actress Susan Stanley. Filming is expected to begin this summer.

Goldberg’s early reservations about television gave way to a genuine appreciation for the medium. “The camera’s close and personal ability means you have access to vulnerability and performances that are difficult to capture in a large theater,” she said. If that makes it easier to embody a woman who is as good at charming as it is exasperating viewers, sometimes within the same scene, so much the better.

“I hope with Sally, there are times when we’re supportive of her, and there are times when we’re pushed back by her,” Goldberg said. “Because that’s the gray area of ​​life.”

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