The Creative World of Sara Thompson
The future is here and it comes in the form of the adventurous Sara Thompson. I met her as she was finishing a photoshoot in a downtown Vancouver studio. Lounging on a stool against a plain white wall, a team of people gathered around, staring at the monitor intensely. Thompson remained completely unperturbed by the fuss, balanced like a cat on the edge of the stool.
When she was eighteen, Sara announced to her parents – in the form of a powerpoint presentation – that she was moving to New York to study acting. “Coming from a family with no background in acting, I had to explain that I knew there was a chance of failure. But I wanted to take that leap.” Fortunately, her parents trusted her decision and let her go to the Big Apple to hone her craft.
After film school she moved to Los Angeles, quickly realizing that the place where dreams are made is a battleground for so many others. “I felt like a minnow amongst a bunch of sharks,” recalls Thompson. With her visa fast running out, she moved back to her hometown of Winnipeg, feeling slightly discouraged from the experience.
Though she quickly found an agent in Vancouver, Sara busied herself with other creative outlets. She started her own nail business, lovingly called “Bearclaws” where she would give manicures from her house. Not satisfied with just the one venture, she threw herself into organizing photoshoots. She was the complete package; model, stylist, makeup artist and art director.
It was the little wins that led her back into the acting fray. Her background in competitive dancing taught her valuable life lessons she’s carried forward in her career. Thompson learned to accept small accomplishments as stepping stones to bigger goals. “You can try to do a triple pirouette perfectly so many times and fail. Then you get it that one time and you feel like I can do this now, so I can keep going.” This determination was carried over to acting, where nailing a scene or landing a role was appreciated for what it was.
Throughout her school years, Sara was a professional dancer, performing everything from ballet to hip-hop, musical theatre, contemporary and jazz. Crowned “Most likely to be famous” in her grad yearbook, it seems that those around her were able to see the spark before she had even realized it.
In CBC's intriguing new TV series 'Burden of Truth” Sara plays a young girl, Molly, who like many of the other girls in town suffers from a baffling illness causing involuntary tremors.
“When I first read it I was like, this is weird. I also thought this isn't me at all because of the way the character was described. I was like, I don't think this is right for me. Then I started reading more into it, and I realized I've been through the exact same thing.”
Growing up, Sara experienced small twitches that her doctors believed stemmed from issues with eyesight. She pushed through it, only comprehending the full seriousness when she suffered a Grand Mal seizure. “When I was sixteen I had my first Grand Mal seizure, and then they figured out that's what all the little seizures were related to. I remember one time I was in a solo rehearsal and I had to stop dancing because I was twitching. That's when it hit home, I was like oh my god this is going to take over my life.”
It was this discovery that would end her dance career, but help her land a role that was so relatable to her own life experiences. “It takes a toll on your mental health, you keep thinking I'm not even exercising anymore, let alone I felt I had to give up what I thought my career was going to be. This is a similar journey as my character Molly. She thought she wanted to be a professional athlete and then the tremors caused her to change course, so it was very relatable.”
While her character struggled with the new discovery, Thompson found it to be a different personal journey. “The show helped me a lot with closure for what I went through. I had blocked it out and just dove into acting. I was like, this is my new life. That happened, but I'm passed it now. I was medicated and I think the show really made me go back to that place, it was really hard and also therapeutic.”
When we talk about her roles in two upcoming feature films - “Nomis” and “I Still See You”, Thompson really lights up. It's a change from what she's been doing, and they're in contrast from each other. In the upcoming feature film Nomis, starring Henry Cavill and Sir Ben Kingsley, Sara plays Julie who is a victim of abduction who’s been held captive in a basement for three years.
The other project is a film called “I Still See You”. Alongside Bella Thorne and Richard Harmon, Sara plays Janine who is the best friend of Thorne's character, Veronica. “It was really cool because we got to hang out all the time and became friends.” Acting alongside some of Hollywood's top names is no easy accomplishment, but Sara's dedication to each role shines through. That doesn’t necessarily mean long days on set had to be tiring. “It was laid back, it was a very nice switch up from the past characters I was playing.”
Sara’s favourite childhood films are classics – Disney. When asked who she would portray given the chance to pick any role she said without hesitation, “a Disney princess. My favourite movie as a kid was Princess Diaries. I was obsessed with the whole story.” Princesses aside, she'd love to explore a character less human. “Artificial intelligence is super cool, I think I'd like to play a robot something like Dolores from West Worlds.”
Getting through the ups and downs of acting takes more than just strong character. In Sara's case, it was also the support network of family and friends she's surrounded herself with. The actress who played her mom on Burden of Truth, Rebecca Gibson, provided words of encouragement and was supportive of Sara while they were filming on set. Not only did Rebecca and Sara play mother and daughter on the silver screen, but they are both involved with the same not-for-profit charity – The Orange Daisy Project – along with Sara's real mother. The Orange Daisy Project supports the mental health of young women by providing an outlet for struggling teens. Mental health is an issue close to Sara's heart.
Like so many other young girls, Sara struggled with bullying while growing up. “I don't know what young girl doesn't encounter bullying. School is like a battlefield. One of my biggest inspirations was my dance coach, Lindsay Nelko, who is part of the reason why I am where I am today. She had this vision of me doing a spoken word dance piece, no music, just my voice. She was like I'm giving you free reign to write whatever you want. I was sixteen, I was so gung-ho, I wasn't scared at all. I was like, yes, ok. I wrote this piece called dear diary, it was about a girl who wrote about being bullied.” Selected for Team Canada in the world championships for dancing, she performed the piece in Poland and went on to show the dance at fundraisers for the Orange Daisy Project.
Sara shared a video of the performance with me. It's an absolutely haunting piece that invokes a visceral reaction to the feelings being portrayed by her movements. Set to the words of different young women, each one voices something awful that's been said to them. When watching the painfully beautiful dance representing the struggle between taking the words as truth and blocking them out, it's glaringly obvious just how talented this young actress is.
Sara’s philanthropic side goes beyond the Orange Daisy Project. While social media has provided a platform for her to connect directly with fans, she describes having a love/hate relationship with the technology. Knowing how much social media can affect those most vulnerable, she dislikes the false advertising that comes with the territory. “People are showing an unattainable lifestyle, without showing the real side of things.” However, she takes great delight in being able to answer fans directly and show them another side of her personality. She tells me that she's just learned the word “'ship” which is thrown around amongst her younger fans. It’s a respectful way they show their appreciation and approval of her on-screen relationship that’s growing between Luna and Molly in Burden of Truth.
While Twitter is her main social media platform, she also loves the creative side of Instagram. A fan once reached out to her on the platform to tell her they had just been diagnosed with epilepsy. In a moment that Sara will never forget, the fan wrote that both Thompson's real life and on screen struggle had helped them through the challenge of being newly diagnosed, by showing that a disease doesn't define a person.
It's that kind of relatability both on and off screen that makes Thompson well suited to being included in the ilk of Hollywood's next generation.
With many more projects on the horizon and a glaringly bright future ahead, I ask what she does to relax. “Rollercoasters,” she says.
It seems that this young talent is already well prepared, if not ready to dive head first into what is a notoriously tumultuous career choice. Sara Thompson is one to watch, that is, if you're not already watching.