Sexy, funny, intelligent and badass. Sarah Shahi has played them all, usually at the same time. Perhaps you've checked her out as she strut her stuff on "The L Word" as a sensual DJ, or playing Sly Stallone's take-no-shit daughter in BULLET TO THE HEAD. Recently, she's making her presence known on "Person of Interest", one of television's highest-rated shows, and this July you'll be able to see her in ROAD TO PALOMA, an independent feature written/directed by and starring Jason Momoa ("Game of Thrones").
I recently spoke to Sarah about working on ROAD TO PALOMA, which she also produced, her days as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader (no kidding), her ability to play soft and tough, and the mistakes of googling one's self.
You were in Bullet to the Head with Jason Momoa, is that how you ended up working with him on this?
Yes, we were shooting the movie and he had the script and asked me to read it and tell him my thoughts; he wanted me to consider playing his sister. I read it and said, "I can't stand the role of the sister, I'd like to be Robert Wolf." [Laughs] He was like, "Uh, no, that's my part." And I said, "I think I'd play a better 'you' than you. Let me do that and we'll be happy." But then we just worked on the role of the sister a little bit and tried to make her more impactful, give her a little more substance for the short amount of time that we're on screen together.
Then I asked them if they wanted me to help them make this, to help produce it. They said f*ck yeah. So I reached out to some of my contacts. They had a trailer already shot, which made it so much easier to help find the money. When they started filming, I was in Canada working on my show "Fairly Legal," so it was a lot of phone calls and emails for a while, until I was done with the show and able to come down and be on set and hands-on.
Is producing something you're looking to get into?
You know, I liked it more than I thought I would. I was always the person in school who was captain of the team, I'd end up with all the responsibility. So yeah, I didn't think I'd enjoy it but I did. My husband and I talked the other day - he's trying to produce something - and he's like, "This is not my bag. I hate making phone calls, I don't like bringing people together." For me, I liked it for some reason. I'd like to do some more producing.
Right now I'm on a network show, an hour-long show, and I think that being on an hour-long show is one of the hardest jobs out here. "Person of Interest" is keeping me busy these days, but I'd love to add to the list.
Weren't you pulling double duty at one point, with "Chicago Fire" and "Person of Interest" at the same time?
I was! "Chicago Fire" was a pretty easy role, it was make out with Taylor Kinney all day. It was like a vacation really, it was fantastic. Then I also did a movie called DIVINE ACCESS in Austin with Patrick Warburton.
Do you enjoy staying busy, are would you prefer some long breaks?
I like a bit of both. The hardest thing about shooting a network show is that it's nine months nonstop. Nine months every day, 16-hours a day. I talked to Tony Shaloub once about it and he said it's like being in a factory, just churning out this product. He said you've got to keep your head down and keep running, and every once in a while you can bring your head up for air, but not too long, because then you've got to right back down again. It really does feel like this sprint. But then it's like, if I don't have work, I kind of get a little itchy and I go crazy. I get a little self-destructive and a little bitchy. [Laughs] A good way to have a good sense of ethics and morals is to stay busy, so it's good for me to work.
Was it a very tight-knit set on ROAD TO PALOMA, did you all hang out a lot and go crazy?
All these guys are my buddies, and it was great. I understand why people hire their friends over and over again, it's so much fun. Why hire somebody you don't know when you can hire your friends and have a great time on set and drink and be happy. We had all known and trusted each other before the movie; it was a free free work environment where you could try things. You might get made fun a bit, but it's okay because they still love you. We worked hard and played harder.
What's cool is that you can play very feminine characters but then turn around and play ass-kickers. Any preference?
I enjoy doing both. It's nice to be able to bounce back and forth between those two things, if I just played the one thing all the time it would get boring. For the most part, I like playing people who are a little f*cked up and flawed. All those actresses who are always in romantic comedies, they're so perfect and they're so boring. It's not interesting, so if anything I'm attracted to the flaws. One of my favorite movies of all time is A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, and if you look at Gena Rowlands' performance, it's so inspiring. She is so big and yet so subtle at the same time. I'm inspired by a woman like that - what a dream role that would be!
You were a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys - do you look back on that fondly? Did it help get you ready for Hollywood?
I feel like being a cheerleader was more… manipulative than being an actress in Hollywood. They have the ability to make Hollywood look like foreplay, especially when you're in Texas. I feel like a lot of those women grow up dreaming about becoming a cheerleader. It can get very mean, and very cliquey. When I first moved to L.A. - I was very naive, of course - but on the second day there I was like, "I'm here! Why am I not getting parts?" And I learned very quickly that it's not a competition against the other person, I just have to stay grounded. So many people burn themselves out, and I just have to do it at my own pace. That's the different between people who take things on a whim and people who have these long careers, you know, sometimes careers are made out of the things that you turned down.
Do you ever google yourself?
I've made the mistake, I did it.
Just the one time?
Mmm. I've done it a few times. [Laughs] I'm guilty. My mom's really bad at it. My mom has these google alerts for me, so anytime something happens, she sends it right over to me and is like, "You and your husband are broken up? You're leaving your family and moving to Canada?!" And I go, "No, mother, no! Stop!" But anyway, I've googled myself, but it doesn't mean anything. The good stuff, the bad stuff, it's all meaningless to me.
On the positive side, you have tons of fan sites and YouTube pages devoted to you; is that strange or does it flatter you?
I guess it's a little strange. There are people I would freak out over too, but I don't make YouTube videos about them or fan sites. At the end of the day, if this is all still going on when I'm 55, that would be f*cking awesome. It's flattering, but it is what it is, I don't put much importance on it. I know what I want to accomplish, that's what means the most to me.
If you were to create a fan site for someone, who would it be?
[Long pause] That's a good question. I wish I had thought of this before I said that. I think Cher is spectacular, she really did it all. She would be one. Jeff Bridges. Jeff f*cking Bridges. I'm obsessed, just obsessed. Robert Duvall is another one that comes to mind.
I'm not sure if Robert Duvall even has any fan pages, so maybe you can get on that.
Yeah, for sure, I have so much free time on my hands.
If the acting thing doesn't work out, you can focus on that.
Thank you for the chat, it was great talking to you.
Yeah, it was really fun. Thanks!