Sarah Baker has spent the past few roles amassing a resume of memorable roles as memorable characters alongside some of the most notable names in comedy. She first hit our radar with intimate confessions about Drew Carey in “The Campaign” and as a a hilariously straight-talking waitress who’s not afraid to stand her ground opposite Louis C.K. on FX’s ‘Louie.” Her latest role is no less impressive and teams her with legendary director Christopher Guest, director of “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show.”
“Mascots” takes place in the ultra-competitive world of sports mascots where they compete for the most prestigious award in their field, the Gold Fluffy. The Netflix original film stars many of Guest’s regular troupe of multi-faceted actors, such as Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Christopher Moynihan, Don Lake, Brad Williams, Zach Woods, Chris O’Dowd, Tom Bennett, Kerry Godliman, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Hitchcock, Maria Blasucci, John Michael Higgins and Jim Piddock. Written by Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock, the film will launch globally on Netflix on October 13, 2016.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Sarah Baker to discuss her journey as an actress, the creative evolution she has experienced along the way and her latest role in Christopher Guest’s latest ensemble comedy, “Mascots.”
How did you get started on your journey in the entertainment business?
Ya know, it’s funny. I grew up in Virginia, outside of Washington, DC. I was never really ambitious about pursuing a career in entertainment because it never seemed like a realistic possibility when you are living so far away from the action. However, it was always what I was interested in. I studied and majored in theater in college. I started doing improv after school. I had a few friends who had moved out to LA. When I saw they were kind of making a career for themselves, that was the first time I got the idea that maybe I could actually pursue it and move to Los Angeles.
Let’s talk influences. Who has had the biggest impact on you?
In terms of people that I loved watching, I loved all of the women on “Saturday Night Live.” I loved Gilda Radner, Molly Shannon, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler. I have always been inspired by those women because they are just so funny and so real at the same time. I have been able to meet so many incredible women who have helped me so much along the way — Megan Mullally, Melissa McCarthy and even Molly Shannon, who I used to look up to and now can call a friend. One of the people who I met early on who set my career on its path was Paul Feig. I auditioned for this pilot and ended up testing for it. He was directing the pilot at the time. While neither of us ended up doing the pilot, he introduced me to Allison Jones, who is an incredible casting director here. That’s sort of what got me going! She cast me in “The Office” and ultimately ended up casting me in “The Campaign,” which was the first big thing I was in.
Where do you look for inspiration these days to keep the creative fire burning?
I think it is all internal. All of the other stuff that happens is external and you don’t have a lot of control over it. I have always loved to perform and loved to write. I think when you are feeling unsatisfied in your career, you just have to watch a movie you love or read a book that inspires you. I think those are the things that remind you what you are working towards and why you are doing this!
You have a brand new project that we are very excited about! How did you get involved with Netflix’s “Mascots” and what excited you the most about it?
That’s easy! What excited me the most was Christopher Guest! I’ve been such a huge fan of his movies for so long and never even dreamed that I would actually get to be in one! It’s been incredible! I met Christopher Guest through this great casting director. They called me and said, “Look, I know you don’t really do commercials but we have one that Christopher Guest is directing. Are you interested?” I said, “Yay! Absolutely!” I went and met with him and ended up doing a commercial with him. Even that was enough for me! I was so happy to have gotten to work with him. A few months later, he called and said he was writing a part for me in a movie he was working on. I didn’t even want to believe it! I thought it could be a tiny thing and I didn’t even want to think about too much or get too excited. Then, sure enough, it came to fruition and I got a chance to work with him in a more extended capacity. It was just a thrill! It’s one of those things you don’t even dream about because it seems so far out of the realm of possibilities.
What can you tell us about the role that was created for you on the film?
This movie is about the world of mascots and the people behind the big costumes and masks. You don’t really know who these people are because there is such an anonymity, obviously, in wearing a mascot costume. It is all about these people. My character, Mindy, is married but maybe not quite so happily. She teams up with her husband, who is played by Zach Woods, as a mascoting team and that is sort of the only time they really get along. Even that starts to unravel as the movie goes on.
I’m sure you bring a little of your personality to every character. What did you bring to the character that wasn’t on the written page and what went into bringing it to life?
It’s great because with Christopher Guest you are working with an outline. He sets up a lot of the big arcs and the basic personalities but the rest you get to improvise. I don’t know what exactly of myself ended up in there. I hope I’m not as an unhappy and angry person as Mindy! I certainly did have a lot of fun improvising with Zach Woods, who is an incredible improviser. The things he comes up with off the top of his head are things I probably wouldn’t be able to do even if I had a chance to sit down and think about and write. He is that smart and that quick. Zach and I got together several times to talk about who we thought these people were, what their relationship was, their backstory and how they got into mascoting.
In terms of crafting the feeling of the characters, part of it was trying on different clothes to see what fits right or what hairstyle seemed to work the best. It all comes together and whatever comes out of your mouth in the moment is based on all of these carefully crafted steps that have led up to that. It was also great to get to see Parker Posey work, along with Mike Hitchcock, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Lynch; all of these people I am so used to seeing on the screen. We had one scene a lot of us were in together, where I got to watch Mike Hitchcock, for instance, do this long welcome monologue. I had to remind myself that normally I would be sitting in a movie theater watching this but instead I’m right here experiencing it! It was really cool!
Having worked with Christopher Guest a few times now, what did he bring out in you as a performer?
A lot of it came from before he ever met me. Like I said, I watched his movies and my comedy goal was to bring the sort of authenticity that people like Parker Posey bring to their roles in his films. If I have even come close to that, I’ll be happy.
Every role has its own set of challenges. What did you encounter with this one?
Well, we had to wear giant mascot costumes, so that was a bit of a challenge! [laughs] We did have amazing dancers/stunt doubles that did some of the work for us but getting the feel of navigating the world in giant turtle feet and a big furry costume was a unique experience. I didn’t have to wear the head that much but even just holding the head was very cumbersome but it definitely shows you what these people have to contend with. I would say it was a plus, not a minus.
How have you most evolved as an actor since you first started?
I think you learn a little bit, hopefully, on every job you have. Every job is so wildly different. I think one of the biggest things I have learned is that you never really can tell what something is going to be until you are there doing it, so it is best to go into things without too many preconceived notions. In terms of acting, I think the more I do, the more different kinds of things I get to do. I think that really helps you evolve as an actor and move beyond doing just straight comedy. I’ve done some more borderline serious dramatic roles recently. I think you learn a little bit on every job if you keep your eyes open and pay attention to what is going on around you.
You are such an inspiration with the great work you are doing. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
I think the number one thing is that you never know where life is going to lead you so you have to not put too many impediments in your own way. I certainly would have never pictured even living in LA, must less being an actor, much less getting to make my living doing that. I think you have to not limit yourself too much and if you keep pursuing what you love and keep working hard at it, I think the possibilities are endless, which is pretty exciting!
Catch Sarah Baker in Christopher Guest’s ‘Mascots’ when it premieres on Netflix on October 13th. Follow Sarah Baker’s continuing adventures on Twitter!