In this business, is there really such a thing as too much of a good thing?
Toronto-based actor Sarah Allen may have been asking herself that at one point in 2013, when she was bouncing between the sets of Bravo drama 19-2, the CBC miniseries Best Laid Plans and Global’s Remedy medical drama.
And on top of that, her star-turn in Bruce MacDonald’s 2014 feature The Husband, about a man coming to grips with his wife’s startling infidelity, came under the spotlight as the film was given a debut berth at TIFF ahead of its wide release.
But when the work hasn’t always come easily, even the busiest times are good times, says Allen.
“It was the best,” says the Nelson, B.C.-raised actor of juggling mulitple shoots. “There was no doubt that I could do it, the hardest part about that was being in the right place at the right time. But there were other people worrying about that,” she adds slyly.
Allen’s extraordinary year is the definition of a career igniting and catching fire. Having landed prominent roles in two conventional network dramas – both of which have been renewed – a miniseries and seeing the fruits of a feature film endeavour come to life within months of one another would be the envy of any actor.
Although Allen has been on the industry’s radar since 2011 when she was named one of TIFF’s Rising Stars – she also gained attention for an early-career role on CBC medical drama Jozi-H and was a popular recurring character in Syfy’s Being Human – 2013 was the year her career “tipped,” to use Malcolm Gladwell-speak.
In a period where roles had seemed far between, Allen headed to L.A. for pilot season in 2011. Being immersed in Hollywood’s ultra-ambitious acting scene inspired her to start taking classes again, building on her early training at the National Theatre School of Canada and the CFC.
It was in those L.A. classes that she got her mojo back.
“I think maybe there was a switch in my headspace,” she says. “I really started to enjoy my work again. I started taking the classes and then I got the Bruce MacDonald job, The Husband. There was a lot of work that I’d done with the film’s producer Dan Beckerman, which might have led to that job. But I was ready to do the job – I had been working on my craft.”
Her long-time agent, Paul Hemrend, sees Allen’s recent success as the product of her growth and maturity as an actor, which got a boost from her participation in the CFC Actors Conservatory in 2009. Gaining an understanding of why decisions are made from a business standpoint, as well as a creative one, gives an actor an edge, he says.
“Although her acting skills were always at a very high level, the main change I see is that her understanding of and comfort with the business side of the industry has really expanded. That brings with it more ease and confidence as an actor and the roles just seem to flow.”
The spate of high-profile roles has propelled Allen into the spotlight. This spring, she had her first fashion photo shoot as the cover model for the Globe and Mail’s Style Advisor magazine and was tickled to see her face splashed all over Toronto for The Husband‘s excellent spring billboard marketing campaign.
And she’s continuing to build her record of working with famous Canadian directors after landing a lead role in Deepa Mehta’s next film, Inland. As Hemrend describes, her toolbox is now overflowing with director-friendly traits.
“She’s got a beast of an emotional engine and has great control over it. And her range is spectacular,” he says. “She’s equally good at drama and comedy and that’s rare. Behind the scenes, she’s an authentic person who really loves what she does. And she looks great on camera.
“What’s not for a director to love?”