#90. A Conversation with Sarah Hagan
Jason Anders: So let's talk about you career even before Freaks and Geeks, when you made your television debut on Ally McBeal; What do you remember about that experience, and do you remember what originally inspired you to be an actress?
Sarah Hagan: I actually booked Ally McBeal after I filmed the pilot for Freaks and Geeks. My mom had to work and I couldn't find a ride to the audition, so my manager had a limo pick me up and take me to it. It was kind of my manager to book the limo for me, but when I found out that was my ride I was really embarrassed and nervous about going. I was expecting this stretch limo to pick me up cause I just assumed that's what limo meant, but thank goodness it was just a town car size. When we got to the studio, instead of parking in the garage like everyone else, the driver dropped me off right in front of the stage door where the other girls were waiting. I remember trying to get out of the car before the driver had a chance to come around and open my door, but he was too quick for me. I waited with some other girls in the lobby for what seemed like forever.
For the audition, we had to sing a song like a couple of girls in their bedroom singing to their favorite song on the radio. From the lobby, we could hear a girl in her audition just belting out her song. Eventually she finished her audition and started heading to her car, and the casting director ran after her and brought her back into the room. I immediately thought I was doomed... this girl definitely got the part. She finally left a second time and so did four or five other people in the room... I'm guessing all producers. The casting director called me in and it was just her sitting in the chair for the audition. I sang "All My Life" by KC and JoJo and played the air guitar. A few days later I got the part. I was very surprised, but at least the limo wasn't for nothing!
There was nothing really that inspired me to want to become an actress. I mean, I always enjoyed watching movies and shows when I was growing up, but I never thought about working in movies and shows myself. I was an extremely shy kid and my mom thought that if she put me in musical theatre then it would help me come out of my shell. Well, I fell in love with it and that's the story. I get tremendous satisfaction from acting.
JA: Who inspires you now in the world of acting? Do you have a top three list for favorite actors?
SH: Hands down, Meryl Streep. She is absolutely amazing in every role she takes on. There is something about her that just demands your attention. I think it's her eyes, they are always watery and glistening. And it never looks like she is trying to act at all, even when the role requires her to imitate an actual person. Like when she played Julia Child... while watching that movie never once did I say, "That's Meryl Streep trying to act like Julia Child"...nope, she was Julia Child and that's amazing. She is just brilliant and engaging. I could just go on and on. I aspire to be as great as her one day. Johnny Depp is another great actor. He always brings so much depth to his characters, not generic at all.
JA: If you could star in any television show of the past, which role would you take on and why?
SH: This is a really tough question! I know this TV show is not of the past yet, but I would love to be on Mad Men. I think the writing is just great, and the characters all have so much going on, it's really an actors dream! I can't say what role I would take on because the show's not over and there are so many good characters that are continually being introduced. Arrested Development is another great show with awesome characters. It looked like it would have been a really fun show to have been a part of. When I was younger, everyone used to say I looked like Punky Brewster. That definitely would have been a fun character to play... very mischievous!
JA: One of my favorite television shows ever is Freaks and Geeks- I'm sure you've been asked every question there is about the show already, but what are just your fondest memories of being involved with the series and working with the cast and creators? Are there specific moments or stories that come to mind which are defining for
you during that time?
SH: Being a part of Freaks and Geeks was amazing, it was my first experience of being a part of a television show. Everyone was so fresh and equally excited about the show and being a part of it. We would have table reads before most episodes, so the writers could hear the actors say the lines... they gave the actors a lot of opportunity to give their input on their characters and what they would say or do. I remember when we did the table read for the episode "Kim Kelly Is My Friend", Millie was talking to Lindsay about what she has heard about Kim Kelly. Millie says the line, "She fornicates." I remember reading it and thinking, "What? She fornicates what? The sentence doesn't make any sense." So, during the table read when it was time for me to say that line, I said, "She fornicates it." And they ended up keeping it that way. Needless to say, we were given a lot of freedom.
For the improv group during the assembly of the "Beers and Weirs" episode, we were given lines, but Jake Kasdan, who was the director for that episode, let us actors do a lot of our own improv as well for the scene. I was fifteen at the time, so I was required to do three hours of school on set every day I worked. John Daley and Martin Starr were also in the school trailer with me, and every once in a while I would see Seth Rogen sitting on the couch in the trailer doing some kind of school work... or at least acting like it. I remember there were two studio teachers and eventually one of them was assigned specifically to Martin because he was constantly disappearing. He needed special attention. He hated having to be in that school trailer, it was entertaining for me! John Daley and I used to ride around the backlot on our razor scooters. They had just come out at the time, and were really popular.
In fact, that was my first purchase with my Freaks and Geeks money. It cost 100 bucks, I think you can get them for like 20 bucks now. We would play follow the leader on them! Fun times! For Christmas, we did secret santa's. Every one picked a name and exchanged gifts on a certain day. I got Linda Cardellini's name and made a whole gift basket for her that included a pack of Uno cards! And crazy enough, she got my name! She gave me a shirt that said, "I love Tommy". It was a Tommy Hilfiger shirt... and, embarrassingly, I realized what it meant just a couple of years ago... it was a reference to Millie's boyfriend, Tommy. I have a lot of other great memories from that show. Everyone was so wonderful to work with and so talented!
JA: Which is your favorite episode of Freaks and Geeks?
SH: There are a lot of great episodes of Freaks and Geeks. I really like the pilot episode. The dodgeball scene is awesome! The slow-mo shot of Bill getting hit with the ball is priceless! I remember playing dodgeball in school and being scared to get hit by the ball and not wanting to get out because it would be embarrassing. I also really like the scene where Bill, Neil, and Colin fight Alan. The music is perfect when they are walking up the street. I love the homecoming dance. It is just a very heartwarming and an uncomfortably wonderful episode!
JA: Speaking of cult television shows, you were in the seventh and final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for ten episodes- I'd like to ask the same question as before about working on this series, what are your fondest memories of being involved and working alongside the other cast members?
SH: Buffy was different than what I had previously worked on. There was a lot of action going on, which was fun! We had to work with a stunt coordinator before fighting scenes to make sure we had our choreography down because if you didn't duck low enough, or if you threw the wrong punch, then you could get hurt. Whenever there were stunt scenes going on I would see a girl walking around dressed like my character and wearing a wig to match my hair... it was weird. It freaked me out the first time I saw my stunt double.
The sets were amazing on Buffy. They built this huge underground tunnel on the stage. And a big underground cliff that looked down to a whole other world that they had to CGI in. So, there was this huge blue screen that they would use to comp in hundreds of ubervamps that the slayers were going into battle with. Before we shot the scene, we got to watch a sample of what the blue screen was actually going to be, that was really cool. Buffy was just much more elaborate and epic than anything I had ever worked on before, it was an awesome experience! I learned how to knit on the set. Alyson Hannigan and Sarah Michelle would knit in between set-ups and scenes. Eventually most of the potential slayers learned how to knit, and the make-up/hair crew too. It was a huge knit-fest on set! It was great because I was a newbie- so at any time I needed help, it was there!
JA: What are your favorite movies of all time?
SH: I absolutely love One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. All the characters are so dynamic and interesting. I like the scenes where the patients are in group therapy or all hanging out together...it's hilarious. My Girl is a really fun movie to watch and sad. I think it was the first time I cried during a movie, it was just so sad when Macaulay Culkin's character died. A more recent movie that is a favorite of mine is There Will Be Blood. The imagery, writing, and acting is just awesome. I can watch it over and over again and still find new things that I didn't notice before. Daniel Day Lewis is remarkable in that role. Him and Paul Dano are so interesting to watch together.
JA: If you had to pick three adjectives that best describe you, which words would you select?
SH: Creative, Loving, and Passionate.
JA: What is the best piece of advice you have either received or given involving a career in the entertainment industry?
SH: Well, when I was younger, my parents would always tell me to not give up if I really loved it. They said that I wouldn't get every role that I would audition for, but that there would always be new opportunities. Just keep your head up and keep going. So that's what I've done! If I were to give advice, it would be to only have a career in the entertainment industry if you really love it, if you can't see yourself doing anything else. Because this industry is harsh and unpredictable. I think I've heard this and given this advice, but patience is key. You have to be extremely patient in this industry because sometimes you will work all the time and sometimes it will be a year or so before your next job. So stay patient and strong-willed!
JA: What is your favorite thing to do when you're not working?
SH: I enjoy painting and drawing! I haven't done it a whole lot, but I've been doing it a lot more lately because I went back to school last fall to study studio arts. I've been taking sculpture classes and ceramics, as well as painting and drawing. I'm having a blast with it! I also enjoy hiking. My boyfriend, Clay, and I like to find new trails to explore. We take my 8 lb. chihuahua, Chloe, and she just loves it. Every lizard she sees, she goes darting after it. One time, we took her on what turned into being a nine mile hike, and we could definitely see her slowing down towards the last mile, but she didn't give up. The next couple of days after that she was feeling it. We would ask her to go for a walk, and usually she would jump around in circles and get really excited, but instead she would slowly get up and walk to the door. She was a little sore.
JA: If you had to sum up your life so far with just one word, which would it be?