Actress Sarah Desjardins on Firsts in the Industry and Staying Motivated
Lovely, kind, determined, and lucky. Those are a few words that you might use to describe Sarah Desjardins, and that last word is something she uses to describe herself often. Although this Canadian actress pursues her dreams with vigor, she still understands that a big percentage of the acting industry can be left up to chance and she counts herself lucky for the opportunities she has been afforded.
Starting her career in 2011, Sarah has spent the last seven years working in film and staying proactive in keeping her skills sharp and ready for any role. Although her career took off when she was 17, her passion for the arts came at a very young age.
During our interview, Sarah shared with me her journey into acting, what keeps her calm before auditions, and what that very special first experience on set was like for her.
Her entrance into the world of acting
At 24 years old, Sarah has appeared in an array of TV movies and TV series, such as Clue, Supernatural, Van Helsing, Project Mc², and more. So, where did it all start for the young woman with the extensive list of IMDB credits?
“I was interested in acting from a young age. The story I tell is that, when I was about six, I was watching Barney and then it just dawned on me...I don’t know, something in my little six-year-old brain clicked and I remember asking my mom, “How do you do this?!” I thought, How do I get on that TV? I want to do that. Then my mom explained to me that it was a job and that I could do it if I wanted to. Growing up my mom had a lot of friends in the industry and they all told her that my brother and I should do modelling, even as babies, because we have really big blue eyes, so it was funny to her when I became interested in it on my own.”
As those who have tried will understand, stepping into the world of acting takes a lot of time and effort. It isn’t always as flexible, as easy, or as cheap as one might initially think. “What followed was that I got an agent when I was six and it was very eye opening for my parents because they came to realize how much work they would have to put in for me. They would have to pay for all of these things, make sure I had my lines memorized, drive me around, that kind of thing. I only got a month in and had a few auditions before they decided they didn’t want to do that. It even took me years to understand the effort involved because I was so young and didn’t fully grasp the experience at the time. Once I started to realize what it would entail my parents said, “Well, if you’re still interested in this when you’re older, and if you take the initiative to pursue it, then we’ll support you.” I really took that to heart.”
Despite any obstacles that prevented her from entering the industry at a younger age, Sarah still found herself investing in the arts as she grew up. She seemed to have a natural ability in taking everything one step at a time, without rushing the process. “I was a really shy kid when I was younger, I mean, I still am shy, but that caused me to put acting on the backburner. Nevertheless, it always seemed to stay in the back of my mind. When I got to highschool I really got into doing all of the plays and musicals and I came out of my shell a little bit more. By that point I was just waiting for my braces to come off so I could really start doing acting. The braces came off when I was 16 and I immediately researched and chose a photographer to do my headshots.”
Sometimes it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. When we meet those people who aid us in reaching our goals and ultimately change our lives for the better. “When I was getting my headshots done I told the photographer that I was just starting out and that I didn’t have representation yet. She went ahead and sent my headshots to one of her friends who works at Play Management in Vancouver, and I’m still with them today! It’s been eight years! I was really lucky that they’re one of the top agencies in the city. I didn’t even know that at the time. I met with them and they wanted to sign me right away. I mean, I know the smart thing to do would have been to submit to other agencies and shop around a bit, but again, I really didn’t know how it all worked and I was eager to get going. I count myself as really lucky that I ended up with such a great agency.”
Discovering the process of auditioning
Walking into an auditioning room can be daunting. Will you remember your lines? Will they like the way you deliver them? It’s in times like these that you try to keep your nerves at bay so you can give your best performance. Sarah’s view is that it’s all a part of the process and that we should learn to embrace it. “When I started acting I was auditioning, but I wasn’t really getting call backs right away. This was cool for me because I was just discovering the process of auditioning. I found it really exciting to be able to get familiar with that process.”
Her go-with-the-flow attitude helps her to keep a level head and have a better understanding of what it takes to nail your audition. From someone who handles auditioning so well, I wanted Sarah to share some insider tips for our readers. “One thing to remember is that you’re always going to be nervous. At least, I always am. I can’t speak for everybody because everybody is different, but it’s not about getting over nervousness, it’s more that you grow accustomed to it. Remember to be grounded in your character before your audition, then the biggest thing you can do after that is just take a few deep breaths. Your heart is probably pounding, you’re so nervous, and you just need to slow everything down and take a deep breath. It actually makes such a big difference.”
Nailing those auditions goes beyond the actual moment you’re in the room with the casting directors. According to Sarah, the more prepared and trained you are, the better. “At one point, I found myself in a bit of a dry spell. I didn’t work for a while. I could feel that my auditions weren’t going as well as I wanted them to, and it dawned on me that while I had taken a few on-camera classes, I hadn’t focused on development and technique. I decided to start taking those types of classes and I’ve been in them now for the last four years. My coach, Deb Podowski, always says that professional athletes are constantly training, even when they’ve made the team, because they always need to stay in shape. This is still so true for acting! You need to keep the juices flowing, even when you’re not on set.”
Booking her first role
Sarah’s early auditioning days finally led her to book her first role in the Lifetime movie, Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story. “I played the younger version of J.K. Rowling’s younger sister, so that was really cool. I remember when I got that, it was probably about six months into auditioning for real, and I just couldn’t believe it. I had never worked on a movie before! I kept thinking to myself, I’m gonna be in a movie!” Sarah recalls, giddily. “I remember calling my parents between the two I expected my dad to kind of say, “Oh, that’s cool,” and for my mom to freak out, but it was the other way around! My dad freaked out, it was so sweet.”
With no previous experience on set, Sarah didn’t know what to expect. Her first day was filled with little moments that excited her. “To even go to a fitting and think to yourself, wait...I get to try on these clothes and they’re going to pick what’s best for me, and then I get to wear that on the day! Those little moments that I didn’t even think about before made the experience feel so cool.”
While there are many exciting moments on set, there can also be many aspects that take some getting used to. Sarah shared with me what felt strange and difficult for her on her first day filming. “I remember we were shooting our first scene, it was sitting in the hospital waiting room because our ‘mom’ was sick, and there were three cameras around us. I hadn’t taken an on-camera class at this point and I just remember thinking, Okay...there’s three cameras...and they’re everywhere….and I know I can’t look into any of them...How am I going to do this?! I was just trying to ignore everything and focus on my scene partner. I look back on it now and think it’s hilarious, but I was so nervous then. Thinking about this moment, one piece of advice I would give to a new actor is to get training. I see that especially now as I’m getting older, whether it be an on-camera class or a scene study class, whatever it is, being as prepared as you possibly can before you get to set will make you that much more professional when you’re there.”
Taking the steps to being as prepared as possible is crucial, but even if you’re as prepared as you can be, there can still be surprises waiting for you on your first day of set. For Sarah, it was the people who surprised her, but in the best way possible. “When you’re auditioning for something and you haven’t booked a job before, this director and these producers are taking a chance on you. They know that you haven’t worked before. That was something I was really grateful for. I was surprised by what an amazing experience my first time on set was. Paul A. Kaufman was the director of Magic Beyond Words, and he was so welcoming. My part was very small, but when they had a table reading for the movie, he made sure that I was invited. Often times when your part is small you aren’t required to go to a table reading. He knew it was my first experience and he really wanted me to be a part of that, and that was so amazing. Even on set, Paul would come right up to me and ask me if I was excited. The environment was so much more welcoming than I could have ever imagined. He really wanted to make sure that I was all good. I’m very thankful for that.”
What keeps her motivated
Whether you’re a new or consistently working actor, the busy and quiet times of the industry are like a roller coaster. Sometimes you’re extremely busy, and other times you might find yourself amidst a dry spell. It happens to everyone, but if you’re an actor who desires a lifelong career in film and television, it’s important to find ways to keep yourself motivated to move forward, no matter what. “What keeps me going is my acting class and knowing that I’m doing all I can, on or off screen to improve. Knowing that I’m putting the work in to constantly be moving towards my goals is so motivating for me.”
Sarah takes an intriguing perspective on what should fuel and fulfill you. She believes that it is not only industry-related things that should create motivation and fulfillment in your life, but many passions and hobbies. “Once you have the things in the acting world that fulfill you, you should also have other hobbies in your life that you attribute value to. Don’t put everything all on acting. I often find that if you’re putting that much pressure on one thing, it’s not going to come as naturally to you because you’re so worried about it.”
Sarah tends to fill her time with varied hobbies in the arts when she’s not sharpening her acting skills or spending days on the set of her latest projects. “I’m kind of all over the place with hobbies, but most recently I’ve been taking up learning new instruments. I’ve had these instruments that that I’ve wanted to learn all of my life and just recently I thought, Well, why am I not doing them?! Most recently, it’s the ukulele. I was in Toronto shooting for my latest television show, Impulse, and I didn’t want to pack a whole guitar to come home to Vancouver, so I got a ukulele! It’s been so fun! Before that I got into drop in dance classes. And I’m not good at it. Like, at all,” she laughs. “I love watching dance and I always think that I can’t do it, but then I thought, Well, maybe if I try! I’m so awkward with my physicality, but I think it’s helpful to take dance as an actor because being more in tune with your body is so important. That’s ironic coming from me, because it’s something I need to work on, but it’s still true. Another thing I’ve picked up is running. Admittedly, I would NEVER exercise before, like never at all, but in the past year I’ve been working on that. I’ve been running a lot now and it's amazing what it does for your mental stability. I’m even finding that have so much more energy!”
“Having these hobbies is a great way to not put all my eggs in one basket. When I was younger, I definitely just put all my eggs in the acting basket and obsessed over it all. You’ve got to have other things in your life that inspire you.”
Where you can find her now
Her most recent role, and the one she now counts as her favorite, is Jenna Hope on Youtube Premium’s series, Impulse. The show follows sixteen-year-old Henrietta “Henry” Coles who moves to Rustin, NY, with her mom Cleo to live with her mother’s boyfriend and his daughter, Jenna. Following a traumatic event, Henry discovers that she can teleport.
“What I love about the show is that it’s very genre-bending. It’s very much like a grounded drama, but with sci-fi thriller notes in there. I love playing Jenna because she and Henry are very different people. They’re almost opposites and they don’t necessarily want to connect with each other, but when this traumatic event happens Jenna is the first person Henry confides in. Immediately we get to see Jenna’s true colours. We see that she’s going to be there for Henry and be her rock, and their bond grows from there. I love that they’re two teens girls that are a lead in a show...and they don’t hate each other. Instead of having drama with their differences, they draw towards each other.” It’s always refreshing to see new television series take the road less traveled by with strong girl alliances. Impulse could have found themselves in a typical plot line of teenage girl-drama, but they chose to take a different route, which has made all the difference in the eyes of Sarah.
You can carry Sarah’s advice with you throughout all of the stages of your career. Whether you are a seasoned actor or entirely new to the industry, everyone can benefit from remembering to embrace the nerves, be prepared, and to just take a deep breath.
You can catch Sarah as Jenna Hope now, on season one of Youtube Premium’s series, Impulse.
To see more about Sarah’s life and her career, follow her on instagram @sarahdesjardins