Some actors say their entire lives prepared them for their groundbreaking roles. Well, our viewing habits have aptly prepared us for this interview. Currently, our staff is glued to our TV sets binging CBC’s Workin’ Moms, reason enough to subscribe to CBC’s online streaming service.
Our crushes run deep through the cast of this show. But, resting firmly at the top is the hilarious Sarah McVie, who stars as the wants-to-friend-you-so-hard mom group leader that anchors the female leads’ relationships.
If you’re up-to-date (spoiler alert!), McVie’s Val has a star-turning drug trip on a recent episode that may be one of the best examples of hallucination-driven bonding on television in years. The notoriously warm-hearted Val is also crushing on her new handyman, who won her over by disciplining her unruly teenagers.
Read on for what inspires McVie’s poignant portrayal of the eager-to-please Val, and the shot she took to land the role.
You’ve started your acting career in theatre. Why did you decide to make the jump to TV?
Bigger audience! Love reaching so many people! Right out of theatre school, a group of us put on a play. It was a lot of work – and it was really good – but it ran for two weeks and it was hard to get bums in seats. At one point, the cast outnumbered the audience members by 6. There’s nothing better than having a big audience and I am thankful for everyone who gives me their precious time.
What is it like acting for a TV show versus a theatre show? Did you have to adapt in any way? Any surprises?
There are adjustments we make as actors that have to do with playing for the camera and not a large space. Working in front of a camera allows for real intimacy, and things like projection and large physicality are not necessary. I love how small and specific I can be when I know the camera and microphone will catch every little detail. The nuts and bolts of acting are still in play but it’s less about sending energy out and more about just experiencing the truth of each moment.
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How did you find yourself on Workin’ Moms?
It was a theatre project that put me in the right place at the right time. I had been living in Ottawa and created a play with three women called The Public Servant that got picked up for a Toronto run. I heard from a colleague there was a super exciting new TV show about moms being cast and I immediately got my hands on the audition material, booked a studio, made a self-tape – got that tape seen – and the rest is history.
Honestly, you hear stories about actors getting a break, and this was one hundred percent a big break. Catherine Reitman told me in my final call back that she and Philip Sternberg (her husband and co-producer) had watched my tape while lying in bed one morning in their California home reviewing auditions and I had made them laugh.
You just never know when you’re going to end up in bed with powerful people!
You’ve also been a university instructor. How has that experience inspired the way you play Val?
I felt like such an imposter when I started teaching at the post-secondary level. I am a classically trained actor with solid practical experience, but I’m no academic. I think I used that anxiety I had initially felt in the institutional setting to inspire Val’s feeling of not always having control as a leader or fitting in as a person. I relate to her desire to bring people together to foster friendship, and much like Val, I have been known to put my foot in my mouth on occasion, usually caught up in a wave of well-intentioned over-sharing.
With Workin’ Moms going global, what changes has that brought in your life and career?
I go back to this idea of a wider, more diverse audience. The exposure brings bigger opportunities and I’m very excited about everything that’s happening. Lots of doors opening and connections being made with people in other places. The overwhelmingly positive response to the show from all over the world is so thrilling.
Apparently, we are well loved in Beirut! Didn’t see it coming and couldn’t be more grateful for a diverse audience!
Tell us about your new project, Dog Lady?
I’ll give you our elevator pitch: Frustrated by a string of failed relationships and broke AF, Sarah finds family and connection creating the dog playmate app PlentyOfTail. My co-creator Samantha Madely and I have been writing together for years now and we feel so excited to tell some pretty interesting and hilarious stories about being single women looking for love and work in our modern world. It’s about how our animal and digital lives intersect and contradict each other. It’s about sex, work and finding your pack. Check out the trailer on YouTube for a taste!
What’s your favourite character you’ve ever played, and why?
Val Szalinksy. Hands down. She’s just so near and dear to my heart. I can’t tell you why, but I can assure you it’s the most pleasure I’ve had inhabiting a role.
Your Instagram stories are hilarious. You do a great job of making us feel like we’re part of your life. Is that a strategic choice, or does it happen organically?
Thank you! I want to make people laugh. Love bringing some lightness and fun to a viewer’s day. You are a part of my life! I keep some aspects of my life private, but I want to authentically share part of myself.
I have found so much pleasure in having an audience and I’ve generated a lot of material for Dog Lady from the exploration I’ve done on that platform.
What a fabulous little laboratory to see what resonates and what falls flat and everything in between.
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When we reached out to you, you said that you “live for crushes”? Can you share any of your crushes with us?
Well, in the beginning, it was Michael J. Fox. First on Family Ties, and still I’m still looking for that Alex P. Keaton to complete me, but then Michael in Back to the Future. I used to get teased on the schoolyard with that whole “Hey McFly!” thing because of my name and it was painful on one level but also it connected me to Michael and so it was also really awesome.
A current crush I have is Stephen Colbert. I watch his opening monologue every morning while I make breakfast. I find it’s a more pleasant way to ingest the news of the day while also relishing in his expert timing and mad skills as a performer.
Is there anything you haven’t done yet that’s on your vision board? Do you even have a vision board?
I had to pull it out of the closet to take a look. Yep, so far so good! Been meaning to do a new one because things are changing quickly and I love a good collage session!
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What’s the worst advice you ever received?
A therapist once told me to keep more secrets from my parents. She figured I was likely stressing them out with my truths. I told my parents what she said, of course, and they assured me they can handle it. We continue to build a deep, rich friendship and they are a huge power source for me. They are a great audience too!
Check out Workin’ Moms on CBC Gem or Netflix, and give Sarah a follow on Instagram to keep up to date with everything she’s dipping her creative toes in.