Cover Story: Up Close & Personal
It’s cold outside, which means Sarah Wynter is dealing with one of her toughest jobs: finding activities to keep her children busy during bad weather days.
“There’s such fear in me when it’s Friday and they’re calling for snow,” Wynter admits. “The thought of being stuck inside with three young kids who are boys and need to run around is hell on earth.” Luckily, there’s enough card games and Candyland to go around— and when that fails, there’s always Food Wars.
“You can use anything you want in the kitchen and you have ten minutes, and the rest of us have to hide upstairs,” Wynter explains the game that her kids love. “We can’t see what you’re making and you have to make something really cool out of food. We get a kick out of it.”
If you know Sarah Wynter’s face, you definitely know her name. The Australian-born actress has graced the small screen in pivotal roles on hit television shows such as 24, American Odyssey, The Good Wife and Person of Interest. Currently, she’s starring as Gina Larson in the Amazon series, Goliath, alongside such greats as Billy Bob Thornton, Maria Bello and William Hurt.
“I just felt like it was an incredible opportunity to have my name included,” Wynter says about her recent role. “And to get to know them professionally and personally was just a treat. I felt so incredibly lucky to be invited to this amazing festival of fun.”
“Festival of fun” is an interesting choice of words to describe Goliath, considering the series from David E. Kelley is a serious legal drama that combines complex stories with conspiracy theories and frequent talk of life and death. But that’s Wynter: optimistic, energetic and grateful for the type of work she gets to do, especially as a woman in Hollywood.
When I talk to Wynter, she’s just come from celebrating Goliath at the Golden Globes with her star-studded cast. “That’s not my normal life, getting dressed up in a gown and borrowing jewelry and drinking champagne and ogling movie stars,” she says of the experience, though she does make sure to tell me that she managed to get a hold of Billy Bob Thornton’s Golden Globe later in the night. (Don’t worry, she gave it back.)
Born in Newcastle, Australia, Wynter’s interest in acting prompted her to move to the United States when she was 17. She studied drama in New York, and earned her SAG card thanks to landing a role in the pilot of Sex and the City. She credits her early beginnings as an actor and her love of the craft for keeping her grounded throughout the years, and especially now.
“We don’t check our citizenship at the door just because we’re members of Screen Actors Guild,” she says. “I grew up in a working class town, in a working class family, and starved to become an actor. I worked my ass off. I ate ramen noodles for a year. Just because you become successful and you’ve earned it, doesn’t make us elite.”
Although she appeared in films alongside high-profile actors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Winona Ryder, Wynter found much of her success in television, appearing as a guest star on Blue Bloods and Californication, in a recurring role on Damages, and on 24 as Kate Warner in what is perhaps her best-known role to date.
“You’re a film actor, or you did television, or you did stage. But there was not a whole lot of crossover,” Wynter says when reflecting on how she’s seen the industry change over the years.
“TV was kind of the third tier for actors.”
Maybe it was once, but it’s certainly not anymore. One doesn’t have to look further than shows like Westworld or Fargo to find film actors that have made the journey to the small screen, and for good reason.
“I think the writing in television is just so superb and so incredibly varied,” Wynter says. “And frankly, I think there are so many more roles for women. I’ve been doing this for a long time now, and I judged myself when I started doing TV. And now I feel, ‘Wow ... I’m so happy to be in this medium.’ These characters are strong, professional, nuanced, layered and fascinating ... it’s really just such an incredible world to be in.”
An incredible world, but also, a different one. “I think creativity is creativity and good writing is good writing, and that’s what it comes down to. And if it’s a good story and a great character, it really doesn’t matter,” says Wynter, who is the first to acknowledge there’s a distinct difference between working on a network show and working on a streaming show.
“It’s a little scary, in that it all gets released at once,” she tells me. “You don’t have to wait week to week to see if people like it or don’t like it, which, as it turns out, was quite nice because you just put it all out there at once. And I think to do it like that, at least from a creative perspective, you’re not writing for the critics. You’re not writing for the blogs. You write in a way that the story deserves.”
It was this aspect of the series, combined with the fact that it was being written by mastermind David E. Kelley, which attracted Wynter to her most recent role. “He does amazing roles for women, and there are so many incredible female roles in Goliath. I was very curious to see how he’d do something without the limitations of the network,” she says. “He was able to be freer with content, so that was really interesting and fun for someone known for that network format.”
Wynter’s character in Goliath is a widowed mother who seeks revenge for her husband after his wrongful death. “She’s a very tough survivor. She’s a mother, and I’m a mom, so I could certainly relate to that,” Wynter explains. Asked if she’s learned anything from playing a character who is a mom, despite the differences in background, Wynter becomes thoughtful.
“It really illuminates or highlighted what I already know, and that is you’ll really do anything to protect your children,” she says. “I’m a single mother, and I think it just sort of reiterated that you do your best, but sometimes you don’t make the best decisions. But it’s only because you’re trying to protect your children and do the right things by your children.”
Wynter adds that she likes her character because, while she may not always be right, she’s strong in other ways, and the wrong decisions she does make are coming from a good place. “This character evolves the more she learns, and I think it was nice to see her kind of reluctantly go towards the light. The more McBride [Billy Bob’s character] pleads with her, the more he learns, and the more she gives in. And sometimes that’s hard,” she says.
It’s that sense of reluctance that Wynter identifies with in real life. “As a lioness, as a mother, you can kind of dig in. And if you’re stubborn and think you’re right all the time, a little bit like me, it’s nice to be reminded that taking advice from other people is important,” she explains.
When she’s not acting, Wynter is busy championing personal agendas, such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an organization that she’s deeply involved with. “I feel like I have a sense of responsibility as a citizen and a human,” she says, while being quick to point out that despite the name, the group isn’t just for those who are maternal.
“There’s something very powerful about moms, there’s something very powerful about the maternal experience and wanting to protect children and the children of this country. Moms don’t give up, they don’t shut up, and once we get together, we’re an army.”
Working on an Amazon show, Wynter is a big fan of practicing what she preaches, which means she binges just as much as everyone else does. “I’m trying to watch The Crown; with three kids, working and trying to manage everything, I don’t get a lot of time that’s not Pippa Pig or Nickelodeon shows,” she admits. “But The Crown, I think that’s an incredibly beautiful jewel of a show. I just find that era fascinating.”
Anything else on the docket? “I’ve gotta catch up on The Walking Dead ... I still haven’t seen the last few episodes. And I’ve gotta start getting back into Man in the High Castle, and I just binged American Crime,” she tells me.
Don’t expect the star (who calls herself a “big fan of binge”) to marathon watch television shows for relaxation, though; the Aussie is often dreaming of a seaside escape. “Lying on the beach ... that’s my ultimate dream relaxation, but I don’t get to do it very often,” she admits. “In reality, the way to relax is just taking a shower and not being interrupted by one to three children who all of a sudden need my attention.” There’s a pause, and then Wynter laughs, sliding right back into that positive, good nature that’s become a staple of our conversation. “Good thing I love them to death.”
Features Editor Andrea Towers
Photographer Jordan Tiberio
Hair Lia Hakim
Makeup Antonio Estrada for Giorgio Armani Beauty