INTERVIEW ERIN WALSH
PHOTO ERIC HOBBS
MEET Sydney Lemmon, actor speaks with SBJCT about Helstrom and daring to go very far from herself for her process. We discuss ego-less storytelling, and honoring the tradition of telling ourselves stories in order to live. Read on below…
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Erin Walsh Hello Sydney!!! Thank you so much for joining us. I want to talk about your work including your latest project, Helstrom. I understand this is your first starring role? Can we first take it back a bit? Tell us a bit about your background and your initial days as an actor? Where did you grow up and how did you first get into the BIZ?
Sydney Lemmon Hi! Thank you so much for having me, it’s lovely to be speaking with you. I grew up between California and Connecticut in a wonderfully busy, fun household. My mom and dad are both creative, expressive people— my little brothers, as well— so there was always a ton of energy and laughs to go around. I attended a magnet arts high school, which lead to a Bachelor of Fine Arts for college, and finally, a Masters Degree at Yale, so much of my early life has been dedicated to the love and wonder of education. My schooldays brought me amazing places: a high school drama club trip to Ireland. An arts exchange program in Cape Verde, Africa. Study abroad at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and Oxford University. So grateful for those opportunities and the extraordinary institutions (and teachers!) that made them possible.
EW I know that you went to conservatory training, at BU and Yale- can you tell me a bit about the transitional process of leaving the safety zone of acting in school to entering the professional world? I know a lot of actors get quite shellshocked in this process. How did you prepare yourself and how were you prepared?
SL There’s no way to prepare, really. It’s life and it’s happening to you, at you, and hopefully with you, nonstop, all the time. I think the best one can hope for is to be graceful in hard times, when things aren’t going your way. To remember those are the moments when character is built. Easy enough to be happy and generous when you’re at the top, but who are you when you’re down? Finding my way has been bumpy— countless auditions, some good, many bad, embarrassments, moments of glory, about a million no’s.The lessons of humility and perseverance are many in number. They build character. And if by the time you’ve been through the litany of ways to hear Not this time and still you feel a drive, something deep within that says you must continue, you are in touch with something true, real, and necessary for a life in this career: insanity.
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EW Tell us about your process. What are some of the tools that you use to step into a character.
SL My favorite tool is my imagination. I dare myself to go as far as possible. Visualizing and wondering about the character, who they are, what they think about… To dream without any judgement. I think this is an important step because you can only go as far as you’re willing to dream.
EW What tools brought you to Ana in Helstrom? Can you tell us a bit about your role and what we can expect from the show?
SL Ana has been through a lot of heartache so her walls are quite high. She is guarded, she can be icy. But those few she allows in, she loves fiercely and will protect to the ends of the earth. She was a thrill to play because we are so different. Sydney is silly. Ana is not. Sydney is chaotic. Ana is calculated. Sydney wants to embrace and bring people in, Ana wants to analyze and push them away. The differences between us are what make playing her so rewarding and interesting.
this new relationship with Time we’ve all been granted
EW Any favorite stories from filming?
SL Tom Austen, who plays my brother on the show, and I would sometimes catch the giggles at the end of long twelve hour days. We’d be like, getting a small insert scene where “Daimon and Ana” are at a desk, looking at something extremely serious on the computer. But every time “Tom and Sydney” looked at each other we’d start breaking up and struggled to keep a straight face. Whenever we got to that point, one of us would have to keep our eyes down and let the other person act at us when the camera wasn’t getting our coverage.
EW Let’s talk about 2020. Anything you found to be surprisingly wonderful about this crazy year?
SL 2020 has been an unfathomable year. It will take a while to wrap my mind around… everything that’s happened. I think that might be true for all of us. But I will say, life up until this virus took over was rushing forward so quickly, it seemed time was speeding up, faster and faster and faster. Then suddenly — on a global scale — everything halted. And has not been the same since. There seems to be something worth examining about this new relationship with Time we’ve all been granted (or should I say, had forced upon us!)
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EW What did you find to be most challenging personally?
SL Longing for friends and loved ones. Fear for my family. Fear for myself. Fear for people I do not know, who I know to be suffering.
EW Tell me a bit about your own role as an artist. What do you consider your own responsibility to be as an individual with a platform?
SL My goal is to be an ego-less storyteller. It’s an honor to continue the age-old tradition of gathering in a company of people and putting our minds together to tell a story. Hopefully one with deep resonances that can help make sense of the complications of life. To illuminate the beauty and the goodness in the world. To put people in touch with long buried feelings or unexpressed emotions. To help inspire people to come more fully into their own lives and purposes.
EW What are some of your favorite ways to contribute, some of your favorite causes? We would love to direct our readers as to how they can be a part of the change YOU would like to see in the world…
SL I am so lucky to say that my own dad’s life was saved by a double lung transplant. He fought a lung disease called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis for about ten years, basically to the point where the disease was winning. And thanks to science, incredible doctors, and the glory of organ donation, his life was saved. I would love to passionately encourage all people to register as donors at organdonor.gov so that more people can feel the total relief my family was blessed enough to feel when my dad’s life was saved.
Also! This past election cycle, I phone banked religiously with great organization Knock For Democracy. They are still meeting and gathering on zoom to make calls for Ossoff and Warnock! You can get involved!! knockfordemocracy.org
EW Current obsession in terms of film, TV, reading?
SL Can’t get enough of The Crown. I just started, luckily, so I have everything before me. Which feels good because it’s going to take a lot of time and I don’t have to feel antsy about burning through it too quickly, like I did with… John Favreau’s cooking show, for example. Love The Chef Show.
EW Favorite place in the world?
SL Probably Crete in Greece. It’s difficult to get to. You start in Athens. Then there’s a train. Then a small plane. Then a bus. Then another bus, then a third bus, and then, finally, you’ve made it. Salty water, bright sun, tiny hidden beaches, strong wine, good, deep people.
EW Favorite way to unwind?
SL Recently, backgammon. Historically, playing music.
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a mother who honors kindness and humility above all else
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EW What do wish our readers to know about you that perhaps that may not have known?
SL Music is a passion of mine. I’ve played guitar since I was in high school. Usually either a nylon-string guitar or my Stratocaster. My brother and I often play and sing together and we are working on releasing something as soon as we can be in the same room together again.
EW What do you hope your legacy to be?
SL The concept of legacy is so massive, especially when one is just at the start of a journey, as I am. It was my good fortune to be raised by a mother who honors kindness and humility above all else. So naturally I want to continue her legacy in that regard while coming into my own in time. I want to center truth, decency, and honesty in all things, to be impeccable with my word and to mix with people who share those ideals, and maybe even to inspire those who do not. As my career continues to unfold, I want to help pave a way for those who are just getting started, make room for more voices, continue to bring women into greater positions of power and continually diversify any room I am in.
EW Sydney, What’s Your SBJCT? What really drives and moves and motivates you?
SL If my best friend were answering this question on my behalf, I have a feeling she might say: Fun. Capital F Fun. I try to find the game in all things. I’m in pursuit of all the magic this world has to offer, like a heat seeking missile. Perhaps because I know that if I find it, I can put it into the work I am making and share it with everyone else.