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“It taps into so many elements of what it is to be a woman” Sophie Von Haselberg on Give Me Pity

10 min read

is smart and . This showcases itself in our discussion about her latest Give Me Pity, out in theaters on 10 November. Sophie, a Yale Drama graduate, stars as lead Sissy St. Clair in what is a very avant-garde, unique film. Directed brilliantly by , the premise is that it is a one-woman Saturday night special. With , and some stand up, it is almost in its approach. As one watches the film, it takes the viewer down unexpected twists and turns. Things are not quite what they seem and you as the viewer are left wondering what exactly is going on. It is a great movie, and certainly one that is not your run of the mill . Here  sits down with Sophie to discuss her role.

What drew you to the role of Sissy St. Clair?

Amanda Kramer is what initially drew me to the role. She sent me an email asking me if I was interested in doing something that was sort of like a one woman kind of disco variety live television special. And of course, the idea was very, very intriguing to me. The idea of getting to do anything that's that much of a huge task is intriguing to me. But really the fact that it's Amanda Kramer, I just love her work so much, and I think she is a real visionary, for lack of a better word. The idea of getting to work with her, and also of course, to tackle this role that I think kind of for any female actor would be exciting. It taps into so many elements of what it is to be a woman, what it is to be a performer, what it is to be, you know, a person with a female body who's in the performing arts. Everything about the film was attractive to me, and particularly getting to work with Amanda.

It's an amazing role. You sing and you dance and you do these monologues, and it's incredible. I wasn't expecting it to really truly be like a one woman show. That must've been quite a process to prepare for that role. Can you talk about that, you know, prepping for that process? Because you do it all in in an hour and a half.

The preparation was of course, daunting at first. Also because like, I love to sing. I love to dance, but that has never been my bread and butter. I grew up dancing, of course I grew up singing, but when I watch people on Broadway belting their hearts out, I'm like, wow, that's very, that feels very intimidating for me. So I certainly approached the singing very seriously. I was working with a singing teacher, this amazing woman, Melody Racine, for like a year before we started.

And not just working on the music. Of course, we didn't get the music till like a couple months before, but just working on my voice so that when it came time to record, I wasn't like, totally freaked out. Then the dance, we, this wonderful choreographer, Genevieve Carson, we basically started working two weeks before the shoot, and she just choreographed all the dances, and I learned them.

Luckily I've learned choreography before, so it wasn't totally like, oh my God, what am I doing? But yeah, so that was the, the dancing and singing portion was sort of its own version of preparation. And then of course, the rest of it was thinking about who this character was. I'm like, really just trying to build her so that she felt like a real person who could exist in that time in that television special. I read a lot of women's memoirs of sort of that time, or performers, memoirs.

I've watched a lot of these specials. And then at a certain point I was like, okay, I kind of have to throw all of that out now and really work from the ground up of just like, who is this person? Where is she coming from? What does she want? What is her life? Filling in all those details.

When you did that process, I mean, there are some parallels to your mom () and her . Did you watch some of her shows to prep for the role at all? Whose memoirs did you read?

Actually, one that I spent a lot of time with was .  I think she was a very, very different character, of course, from Sissy St. Clair. But I think really embodied a lot of that, that tragedy of wanting something so badly that in some way it breaks you. And of course, Judy Garland's talent is so mammoth and like, it's a whole other thing. But I think her fragility was very useful. Thinking about her fragility was very useful for thinking about Sissy. Because I think there's a similar sort of transparency to both characters of being there in the moment as the audience is watching you actually maybe lose your grip on reality or sort of experiencing reality in a whole different way from what the audience is experiencing.

As far as my mom, it was really important to me when I got the script and when I knew that it was singing and dancing that Sissy feel like a very different person from my mom. But my mom and I look very alike, so I really didn't want this to become that. Like, I was doing something that was like an imitation or a send up or anything like that. So I, that was kind of why I worked with that fragility with the real lack of confidence I think of Sissy. Whereas I think my mom shows it's a lot of, it's a lot more bravado. And I thought Sissy was really not like that.

When I was watching the movie, I don't know if you've ever seen the Scorsese film, The King of Comedy

I watched it like six months ago or something. I had to like, turn it off. I was so upset. It was like so disturbing. I mean, it's very good.

I don't know if you made it to the end, but there's this scene in the end where is, it's like he's doing his own show at the end. But you don't know if it's in his head or if it's real. And I felt like that was very similar because in a way it seems like it could be a real show, but then you see Sissy kind of slowly lose her grasp on reality. Do you think that it was real, or do you think it was in her head? Or do you think of a combo of both?

It's funny you bring up The King of Comedy because how I felt watching that film was actually really how I was hoping people would feel watching Give Me Pity in that very, like, you feel sort of really off kilter. You think you're watching one thing when it starts, and then it evolves or devolves into this whole other thing, and you're left sort of going, what the fuck was that? I don't know.

But I think for me as an actor, I felt like it wouldn't be useful for me to think that it was not really happening. I think I had to really feel that this was actually happening to my character. But I love that it's open for the audience, that it's left open-ended because I think it's so open to interpretation. So for me, so Sophie, I'm like, yes, it happened. But if I were watching it as an audience member, I would probably be like, no, the end is totally a fever dream. You know? Or that maybe the whole thing is a fever dream. I mean, I've heard so many different interpretations of what happened, which is it's very fun to, you know, to hear how the audience has actually sort interpreted the whole thing.

What do you think the takeaway for audiences is after watching this movie?

Too much desire for fame is destructive. That love from an audience is not the same as real love from real human beings in your life. And I think that's such an interesting thing of like, the way that performers can absolutely affect an audience. And that can be a very, very real connection and dynamic, but that, that connection and dynamic is never going to fill that real gaping hole of need that we all have, which is the need to be loved in a way that is unconditional.

I think for Sissy, it's very clear that the love is so conditional that she like really needs this love from the audience, but that if she's not performing correctly or she's not performing the role that she's supposed to be playing that they won't love her. So that's like a very big part of the tension for her is this, Am I doing it right? Am I doing it right? Am I perfect enough?

I think the fame thing to me is very interesting also, because of course, with social media, everybody is having their 15 minutes of fame. It's so much more accessible to people. I think it's also much more sought after by kind of everyone. You know, it used to be X number of people moved to Hollywood and they've become actors. But now it's, everybody has a platform. And so I just think, not just the fickleness of fame, but really how insidious it can be and the striving for it can be.

Who do you think Sissy St. Clair was before the filming of this special?

I do a ton of like filling in the details of her life and then want the audience to absolutely interpret whatever they want. But I think there's a strand of like, maybe she was a child actor. She's been in this business for a really long time. She's kind of been a little B listy. Like I don't think she is really A-list. I had an idea that maybe somebody actually dropped out of this slot, like very recently, and that she got asked to fill in. And so the excitement of like being seen as the A lister that she feels that she is, has really taken over her. But then the pressure also to, to put together a show that is worthy of millions of eyeballs on a Saturday night. And I think there's a lot of stuff about pregnancy and and all kinds of things swirling around there, but I definitely think she's like kind of b-list, LA actor who's wanting to make it to the top.

How did filming come about? I read somewhere that you filmed it in five days. Did I read that correctly?

You read it correctly.

Oh my goodness. You filmed it in LA or New York?

Filmed in LA. Oh God, it was so special. I mean, in reality, thank God it was only five days because it was very, very taxing, as you can imagine. But it was like shooting a live show, which was so much fun. Amanda set up three cameras, so she was capturing all of the angles that she was gonna need for the edit. So I didn't end up actually having to do every scene basically more than once or twice.

I think one number, maybe we did three times, but other than that, we were only doing everything one time or two times. So it was really special in that way. It was kind of like, I prepped for this, we're here, we do it. Okay. Done with that one. Okay. Like onto the, you know, hair and makeup for the next version and for the next number and costume and all of that.

It wasn't frenetic because it felt correctly paced. But yeah, our days were full, not overly full, but it was really exciting to shoot it in that kind of one and done style. 'cause it, it added extra element of like, excitement in the air of, oh my God, like, let's hope we get it all right. Because we're not gonna do this five times.

What are your next upcoming roles? What would you hope to do next?

Well, the strike just ended. Midnight, finally. I'm allowed to like, dream again of what the future could hold. I really, I'm desperate to work with Amanda again. I'm really hopeful that we'll get to do that at some point. But I think, you know, the thing that I loved about this so much was the chance to create a very full character who felt very separate from me. So anything that's charactery, anything that like, requires a big transformation is like what I'm definitely hoping for. And just getting to spend more time working. I just, I love acting so much. So really, whatever it is, I'm hoping I'll be happy and will work my ass off.

I just shot two indies, so we will see what happens with those. Knock on wood, they go somewhere. I'm in this season of . I play Bloody Mary, Mary Tudor. So that was very fun. I think I'm in episode four. It was a very joyful thing to get to do 'cause it's like so epic over the top. I have a movie called Love Reconsidered that's coming out in February, which is so different from Give Me Pity, I can't even tell you. It's a rom-com set in the Hamptons, but it's like a rom-com, where it's not about romance, it's about finding yourself. And I think that's it for now!

Give Me Pity! is in and on demand now