Every so often a young actor comes along whose body of work truly captivates, and that is certainly the case with Sam Littlefield. A natural born storyteller, he’s been breathing life into an array of colorful and hypnotic characters since his youth. Whether it’s lighting up the screen in high-profile productions on television or turning the heads of critics and fans alike in independent film, Sam’s creative spark is instantly recognizable.
Fans around the globe have been able to witness Littlefield’s incredible range first hand as he stars alongside Ruby Rose, Rachel Skarsten, Meagan Tandy and Nicole Kang as “Mouse” on the CW series “Batwoman.” However, it’s important to remember that he’s much more than overnight success. Throughout his career, Sam has carefully balanced mainstream television projects while cultivating his own unique space inside the industry. He’s had memorable performances in hit series such as HBO’s “The Leftovers,” and “Sharp Objects,” TNT’s “Good Behavior,” and Amazon’s “The After,” where he played a leading role written for him by X Files creator Chris Carter. Alongside these popular shows, he produced and wrote “Plus One,” a film series which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as the critically acclaimed “Extropia,” a multimedia live stage production which was featured on LA Times front page and enjoyed a multiple extension sold out tour. Sam’s film “Moyamoya,” a quasi-musical following one stroke victim’s journey as he recovers the mysteries of his dark past, is currently in development.
A showcase performance is on full display in “Mother’s Little Helpers,” an independent film that Sam co-wrote, produced and starred. In addition to Littlefield himself, the film brings an amazing blend of talent to the screen, the film stars Breeda Wool (GLOW, UnReal, Mr. Mercedes), Milana Vayntrub (Marvel’s Squirrel Girl, This is Us, Silicon Valley), Melanie Hutsell (Bridesmaids, SNL, Transparent), David Giuntoli (NBC’s Grimm, ABC’s A Million Little Things), and cinematography by Meena Singh (Netflix’s The Confession Tapes, Warner Bros’ Daphne and Velma). Produced by Eva Kim (Adult Swim) and Tammy Sanchez and directed by Kestrin Pantera, “Mother’s Little Helpers” premiered at SXSW 2019 and will be available for streaming on May 5th, 2020.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Sam Littlefield to discuss his unique journey as an actor and storyteller. In the interview the two discuss Sam’s passion for creation, bringing dynamic characters from script to screen, and the challenges he’s faced over the course of his career. Most importantly, we get an inside look at what the project and material that captivate this star on the rise!
You’ve had a very unique career path as an actor. Going back to the beginning, how did you get involved with the arts?
When I was 9 years old, I wrote and produced a play called “How Magic Came To Be.” My teacher, Mrs. Dick, referred me to this local theatre company that did a production of “9: The Musical.” However, I guess my real introduction to the arts was through my grandmother, who was kind of my best friend. She had a debilitating stammer, but she was an incredible opera singer. She would introduce me to all sorts of different pieces of art from musicals to poetry to music and so on. I come from a very art-appreciating family. What spoke to me about acting was that I always felt a little bit like an alien and acting gave me the opportunity to play pretend that I was human! [laughs] It allowed me to try on different hats to see which ones felt right.
When did you decide that acting was something you would focus on in a professional sense?
I’ve really been very focused. I got this idea in my head that I was going to go to performing arts boarding school and I was relentless about it with my parents. I wouldn’t take no for an answer! [laughs] It’s something I’ve always been really committed to.
Was there anyone behind the scenes who gave you a push at the moment you needed it?
I have very dear friends that have been on this road with me since I first left home. I have one very dear friend, I was born in the house next to her’s, who has truly been a lifelong friend. She and I have been producing and acting together for our entire lives. You know, this is not an easy profession and there are lots of peaks and valleys and the desert can be very dry! [laughs] It takes your friends who really see you, see what you believe in, and what it is you want to try to accomplish, to remind you in those moments why you are doing it and to keep going!
As you said, this isn’t easy to make a living in. What have been the keys for you when it comes to advancing your career as an artist?
Well, in this day and age, we are in a pandemic, so I don’t really know! [laughs] I have no idea how to be an actor during this! [laughs] But seriously, in this business, there is a whole industry of people who make money off of actors and sort of exploit their dreams. I think it’s important to have really smart people around you to give you advice, consulting you on where to put your money and energy, in addition to looking at the brass tacks of things. It’s also important to stay level and understand your weaknesses while trying to strengthen them. Above all else, I think being patient and accepting things when they come your way, and accept it when they don’t, is also very important.
What went into finding your creative voice as a young artist?
In large part, I think it was discovering who I was and not apologizing for myself. I think that goes hand-in-hand with your spirit. Gaining more confidence in who I was has been reflective in the kind of work that I have put out there throughout the trajectory of my career.
What were some of the lessons you learned early on that continue to resonate with you?
I think the main one is that, in this business, everyone is always telling you how you come across and who you are to them. It’s very easy to slip into this place of trying to conform and fall into some kind of cookie cutter amalgamation of all the different archetypes that are out there from leading man to character actor. Owning your own authentic quirkiness or idiosyncrasies that make you unique and celebrating those to the best of your ability is very important. I think that is the biggest part of all of this! Applying that to who I am as an actor and trying to be my most authentic self has proven to be beneficial to my career.
Just listening to you speak over the past few moments, you seem very grounded and team oriented. Was the collaborative spirit something you’ve always had?
I’ve always been a bit of a collaborative spirit, I guess you could say. Finding people that I trust and people that trust me, who are my friends, and are a part of my tribe, it’s been a bit of a journey acquiring that. It’s happened over time and I feel very fortunate that I do have some really wonderful people on my team and in my life. It didn’t happen overnight! It took some time.
You’ve amassed an interesting body of work at this point in your career. When do you feel you came into your own?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if you ever do! [laughs] I will say that I think that over this past year, I have noticed somewhat of a shift in my ability to trust my own choices as an actor and to also trust when I don’t know what I’m doing! [laughs] It’s okay to ask for help in those moments when I don’t know. I think it’s a lifelong journey and I’m doing better than I was!
What have the milestones of your evolution been thus far?
Well, it’s been a long strand of projects that I’ve made myself. What’s really lovely about doing “Batwoman” and “Mother’s Little Helpers” in the same year is that it used to be so separate. There was the industry and then there were the projects that I wrote, produced and directed on my own. There wasn’t much of a marriage between the two. What’s really wonderful about right now is that I’m experiencing the fruits of both realms and there is some visibility to both realms that I haven’t necessarily experienced in the same way. I feel my biggest milestones are the long strand of projects that I’ve made myself, really cared about, fostered and put out there.
You’ve become a familiar face to many of us through your work on “Batwoman.” We will definitely get to that but where’s the best place for new fans of your work to dive into your body of work?
People can go to SamLittlefield.com to get a little taste of some of the things I’ve done. “Mother’s Little Helpers” is coming out on May 5th on iTunes, Amazon and VOD. It’s a wonderful little film that we made that premiered at SXSW. You can go to www.motherslittlehelpers.co to get more information. The content of the film is strangely relevant to the times right now. It’s about 4 siblings who go home and are stuck in isolation with their mother who is dying, and they are all losing their minds!
Wow, that’s certainly relatable considering the state of the world at the moment.
Yeah, and it’s a comedy! Who knew! [laughs] I also had a film that went to Cannes a few years back and that was very exciting. I also have a film that’s been in development for a while now that is about a stroke victim who’s lost his memory. It focuses on his relationship with this stripper who lies to him about who he is and it’s a musical! [laughs]
You are by no means afraid to blend genres, are you?
[laughs] I don’t know how I came up with this one, but I went through 16 drafts of the script. It was just such a strange modge podge, but I was like, “There’s something here. There’s got to be something!” Finally, it’s found its home and I really can’t wait for it to go into production!
“Mother’s Little Helpers” has generated quite a buzz. What has been the biggest takeaway from that project?
Kestrin Pantera, our director, is such a fascinating and awesome steamroller! She’s just kind of a one-woman machine that has managed to bring in so much talent. Her tenacity to get this done is what really gave it life and allowed it to flourish in the way that it has. For the film, we had a week of pre-production, filmed it for about 8 days and made it for no money. To see it go to SXSW and Outfest was incredible. It was also going to open in Alamo Drafthouse theaters across the nation but then the pandemic happened. It’s pretty incredible that this little film managed to garner so much attention!
How did you originally cross paths with Kestrin Pantera?
I kind of always just knew about Kestrin. She’s got this very funny, awesome, traveling RV karaoke bus!
Wow! I didn’t see that coming! [laughs]
[laughs] IT’S AMAZING! It’s an absolute vortex of joy! You enter and you are in karaoke heaven! So, I always knew about the girl with the RV. We were in a writing group together for a minute and little by little we just came to realize that we really liked each other. I was really honored that she asked me to be a part of this project!
What do you look for in the projects you are taking on at this point in your career?
I’ve always been a really big lover of story. People always ask me what characters I want to play, and I don’t really have any. I just love really good stories and I love being a part of storytelling in whatever capacity it might be. I think good stories are what keeps us going and gives us something to reflect our lives back to us. I think they are very important, and they help us gauge our own choices and mortality. There are so many stories going on right now during this pandemic. I can’t wait to see what kind of art is going to be born out of this moment. People are thinking about their lives in ways that I don’t think they necessarily wanted to, but are now confronted with it in light of all that is going on. Circling back to “Mother’s Little Helpers,” that’s what our film really is — a celebration of existential crisis as if it were a parade. I think that is just so beautiful and important!
“Batwoman” has made a big impact on fans over the past year. How did you get involved with the series and what made it a project you wanted to take on?
David Rapaport is the casting director and he’s such a wonderful guy. I’ve been going into his office for years now. In the beginning, I just got this one-page script that didn’t really make much sense to me. I just kind of went in and winged it. I just performed it once for them, walked out and didn’t think anything of it. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Vancouver and getting hair extensions! [laughs] It was really unreal!
How has your view of the character changed over the course of your run on the series?
It’s been an exploration of the season to the end. It’s interesting, I feel like audiences are getting to know Mouse in the same timeframe that I was. He’s such an interesting and very fun character that is so dynamic. He has such a rich background that is fraught with trauma stemming from his family being held in a basement with Alice, who plays my counterpart. It’s been a real exploration of trauma and seeing the ways trauma can follow through your entire life and dictate the choices that you make. I think he is a lost soul who, along the way, finds his voice. That’s been really exciting, getting to experience that as an actor and a spectator to the character that has been written for me.
Are we seeing elements of your own experience that we see through the role of Mouse? Perhaps things that weren’t on the original written page.
I think so! I hope so! [laughs] I think I bring a little bit of myself to every role. My best resource is myself and I have to live with myself every day! [laughs] I think what I’ve brought are all universal truths. There are elements like longing for a friend and longing for someone who sees you where you feel safe and at home with. Then there is being afraid of the world, not feeling safe in any one place and wanting to lash out and enact revenge on the people who have harmed you. I think I experience all of those things every day! [laughs]
What impact did this project have on your creative process for bringing a new character to life?
This role was very different from anything I had ever done because hair, makeup and wardrobe were such a pivotal part of creating Mouse. You might say my usual process is usually “inside-out,” where this was the reverse. On “Batwoman,” I had this incredible hair and makeup team. I think there were something like 8 hair tests, a bunch of makeup tests and everything else. I was kind of forced to let that dictate the choices that Mouse makes and how he works in the world. It was a marriage of “outside-in” and “inside-out,” if that makes sense.
“Batwoman” has an incredible team of people bringing it to life, both in front of and behind the cameras. Who’s had the biggest impact on you in a creative sense?
Rachel [Skarsten] had done 4 episodes before I came on. She really took me under her wing. My first day of filming was doing pickups in Chicago with this foreign crew. There are all of these skyscrapers, crane shots and Batwoman is getting catapulted out of a car! There are all of these nutty things happening. You can’t help thinking, “Wow! What the fuck is going on!” [laughs] It’s a lot to take in, so Rachel took me under her wing. It’s so funny how we are totally partners in crime in the show and is also true off-screen. There are so many really lovely, fun people on the project. Throughout the whole season it was so funny and strange because I live in Los Angeles and I’m flying back and forth between here and Vancouver. You get up there and you are suddenly in Gotham City! It almost felt like booting up in “Total Recall” or something where all of a sudden, I am on Mars filming this show! [laughs] I’m so fortunate to have had the coolest group of actors to bunker down with when I got there. I was very lucky because, in television, you just never know who you will be working with! [laughs] You never know what to expect and I really lucked out!
Where do you see yourself headed in the future? Has your focus shifted at all in light of the pandemic?
I’m such a perfectionist when I do creative work, but I’ve been stuck in quarantine with my sister and her kids. Together we made, what I think might be really awesome, a little short film about this magician and his relationship with a mime. [laughs] I’ve been cataloguing all the footage as I’ve gotten home. It jumps back to what we were talking about earlier and the art that will be coming out of this moment. We’re all used to the over-the-top productions, like “Batwoman,” where there is all this money and resources invested into creating the finished product. Right now, I’m inspired by the ingenuity of technology and how it has found the moment. To take that technology and make my own stuff in whatever way I can with whatever resources I have available to me is an exciting prospect. I want to explore it as much as I can because it’s all that I can do at this point in time!
I know our time is growing short, so I have one more question for you. I’m sure many people are being inspired by your work, as I am. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
I think it comes down to trusting yourself as much as you possibly can. There is a real congress of opinions that can come along at any juncture that a decision needs to be made. Trusting your own voice and finding a way to amplify that voice in the most articulate and graceful way is what I’m inspired by and trying to do as much as I can. I don’t know if I am succeeding at it but I’m trying! [laughs]
That’s what counts! [laughs] Thank you so much for your time today and I wish you continued success. I have no doubt we will cross paths again in the future!
Thank you, Jason! I really appreciate you taking the time. I look forward to speaking with you again soon!