Complete and utter relaxation is hard to achieve. most human beings live such fast-paced lives, that even when we’re attempting to clear our minds and ease our spirits, we’re often plagued with the storms of tomorrow’s worries. Some turn to yoga, meditation, or tai chi to keep calm. Actor Sadie Sink turns to Netflix’s Love is Blind.
“Rotting my brain with reality TV and TikTok?” the 20-year-old asks with a chuckle. “That’s a proper ‘I am being unproductive and lazy and doing absolutely nothing.’” Flaunt caught up with Sink just a few weeks before her newest project, Darren Aronofsky’s psychological drama The Whale, hits US theaters. Oscar buzz has already swarmed the film. Before departing on her press tour, Sink is soaking up any free time she gets. “It’s times like this where it’s like there’s something every day,” she says of the rare downtime. “On off days, they have to be legit off days for you. Stay horizontal all day and just do nothing.”
The red-headed Texas native has definitely earned the right to be “lazy,” if you can even call it that. She began acting when she was just seven-years-old, and by the time she was 11, she was playing the title role of Annie on Broadway. When she was 14, she landed the role of Max Mayfield in Netflix’s Stranger Things, and the rest is history. Over the past couple of years, Sink has been everywhere. A new audience became obsessed with the actor after she portrayed a younger version of Taylor Swift in the musician’s short film/music video All Too Well: The Short Film. Then horror fanatics got to enjoy Sink in Netflix’s The Fear Street Trilogy. And, of course, this summer the highly-anticipated fourth season of Stranger Things had a hold on everyone.
Just a few hours before we start our chat, Sink arrives at the house she is staying at while she visits Prague. This is the first time she’s visiting the capital city of the Czech Republic. And for once, she’s traveling for fun and not for work. Even after a long flight and all the in-betweens, Sink beams like a ray of sunshine. She shares how excited she is to attend a medieval-themed dinner later that evening and explore the enchanting city. It’s hard to believe that the cheery person’s most recent roles are of angsty teenagers.
But Sink’s character in The Whale, Ellie, is a far cry from Max in Stranger Things. Different things trouble the soul of Ellie, the estranged daughter of Charlie, played by Brendan Fraser—reclusive English teacher who has binge eaten to a point of weighing 600 pounds. Charlie, who some years earlier left his family for a man that later died, is attempting to reconnect with Ellie despite the pain and anguish they’ve both been through. “They’re so different,” Sink says of her two most recent embodiments. “I think Max is still ultimately very good and cares about her friends and wants friends in her life, wants to do good with her life. I think she’s sarcastic and a little dry, but that’s about it. She’s not a mean person. Ellie is a mean person.” Playing someone who, upon first, second, and maybe even third impressions seems to be pure evil, was a new challenge for Sink. “Ellie, just on paper, is so confusing and so… just… angry,” Sink says. “She’s hard to crack, I guess. But to me, that was a really fun, exciting challenge, to kind of really pick out her brain a little bit.”
In February 2020, just about a month before COVID-19 shut down the US, Sink had the chance to do a reading for what was then called an untitled Darren Aronofsky project. She immediately felt the need for the role in her bones. “I was just like, ‘Oh my God. Who is this character? What is this project? I have to do this. I want to do this more than anything ever.’” The reading was a test to see if Aronofsky wanted to make the movie, but the pandemic halted everything, including the film. Simultaneously, the pandemic postponed the production of the fourth season of Stranger Things. By the time Aronofsky could resume progress on The Whale, Sink was already knee-deep in the Netflix hit.
For a moment, Sink thought she was going to have to drop The Whale to focus on Stranger Things. She describes the series’ latest season as “her turn.” With such a large cast, it’s hard to give each character a pivotal story each season, but Sink was front and center this time around, giving a vulnerable, emotionally and physically demanding performance that made the show’s millions of viewers gasp, gawk, and completely bawl their eyes out. As an essential part of the story, it didn’t look like Sink was going to be able to slip away for three months to work on the film. But the Duffer Brothers, the show’s creators, have witnessed the show’s young actors become adults. They know their hit series serves as a springboard for other important projects, so they gave Sink the needed opportunity to step away. “I feel like that’s something that they also do a really good job on Stranger Things,” Sink considers, “of having our characters grow with us. And I think they especially did that in season four for me, which I was really grateful for. I feel like the Duffers, if they see you kind of growing as a person, and growing as an actor, they kind of want to tap into that a little bit more and push you and allow you the chance to challenge yourself.”
Letting Sink pursue The Whale turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because the skills she learned from its shooting helped propel her fantastic performance in Stranger Things. “Most of the stuff in season four of Max’s was filmed post-The Whale, which I think really came in handy, just in terms of the emotional stamina that I had kind of built up. And just my overall comfort level in front of the camera that I don’t think I’d really fully felt until The Whale.”
Sink continues, “The Whale kind of marked a real turning point in my overall confidence in myself as an actor. In kind of stepping into a new environment, and working with Darren especially, I think I shed a few of my child actor habits that I had developed. Not necessarily bad habits, but just for me, at least, I’ve always struggled with speaking up, or feeling like treating the process as more of a collaborative effort. Because when you start acting when you’re young, I think it’s a very intimidating environment, and you feel like you’re just there to take direction and be on your mark and know your lines.”
Sink’s confidence on set followed her into her character, and her performance in The Whale is raw and beautifully complements what many are calling a major comeback for Fraser. Their relationship feels real, it feels heart-wrenching. Her character reads much deeper, much more complex than just a hardcore teenager who is rebelling against her absent father. The film is just two hours long, but you can feel the years of built-up resentment pouring from Sink’s character.
Currently, this film is taking Sink across the globe for premieres, and each time she sits in an audience full of eager film lovers, she holds her breath for the moment her character enters the story. The Venice Film Festival was only the second time she had the chance to watch the completed film from start to finish. Surrounded by hundreds, she watched herself on the big screen. “I was so nervous,” she recalls, “even though I’m glad I had watched it before, so I wouldn’t be closing my eyes and judging myself and getting distracted. I knew what was coming. But still, before that first scene, I’m like, ‘Oh, God, here I come, all right, it’s happening.’”
It’s safe to say the audience wasn’t as critical of her performance as she was. As the end credits started to roll, audience members rose from their seats and gave the film a six-minute standing ovation. “I felt so awkward,” Sink remembers, “because I didn’t really know—I’ve never done the whole film festival thing. So the idea of standing ovations, that was new to me, no one really prepped me for that. So at the end, I didn’t really know what was happening. And then we were there for so long. And Brendan was so emotional. And it was very overwhelming.”
From the first reading for the role with just Fraser and Aronofsky, to watching The Whale be adored by a theater full of people, this performance has pushed Sink out of her comfort zone. It marks the start of a new chapter of her career and new horizons. Yet it’s hard to leave such a pivotal role in the past. “I remember the last day of shooting, realizing like, ‘Oh, I’m never going to play this role again,’” Sink reflects, “Saying goodbye was weirdly emotional for me. And I don’t know why, but especially after filming those final scenes, I feel like I felt a really deep connection to Ellie, which I don’t think I’d ever really felt on any project that I’d ever done.”
Sadly enough, this is not the only emotional goodbye she’ll have with a hugely impactful character over the next few years. Season five of Stranger Things is the show’s final season. Max ended season four in questionable condition, but her story most certainly isn’t over. Recently, the official Instagram account for Stranger Things shared a photo of the title page for episode one of season five—all we know so far. And as far as Sink knows, no members of the cast have gotten to read what is in store for the motley crew either. No matter what the pages behold for the actors, saying goodbye to the roles that launched many of them into stardom will be challenging. Saying goodbye to castmates will be even more difficult, but at this point, they’re more than just actors working on the same show. “That’s family,” Sink says resolutely. “That’s always going to be there.”
2022 was a year of growth for Sadie Sink and we were fortunate enough to witness its fruits and its bursts. New challenging and enticing roles continue to knock on her door, keeping her passion for performing alive. “The scripts that I’m starting to read are just so much more exciting,” she says, beaming, “and they’re just kind of lighting this new fire.” But every now and then, it’s okay to step away from the flames beneath you, get horizontal, and binge whatever season of reality television you’re currently enjoying—even if you’re Sadie Sink, the intrepid sailor of stage and silver screen.
Photographed by Kat Irlin
Styled by Molly Dickson at With Falcon
Written by Audra McClain
Hair: Tommy Buckett at Tracey Mattingly
Makeup: Tyron Machhausen at The Wall Group using Chanel Beauty
Flaunt Film: Miranda Prise
Location: The Ned, NYC