Sarah Goldberg on her 'peak embarrassment day' auditioning for Barry
The Canadian actor recalls doing improv with Bill Hader, meeting Henry Winkler and almost missing her callback
Canadian actor Sarah Goldberg stars as Sally Reed, an aspiring actress, in HBO's dark comedy Barry. As the critically acclaimed show comes to an end after four seasons, Goldberg joins Q host Tom Power to talk about the bumpy road to booking Barry and how her character Sally came to life.
When Sarah met Sally
For Goldberg, the role of Sally on Barry couldn't have come at a better time.
"I'd actually just finished a series that ended very abruptly, called Hindsight," she told Power. "We were cancelled after having a second season pickup. It was my first sort of brush with how brutal this business can be.
"I was very much unemployed, and I was in my bathrobe in the afternoon eating peanut butter and banana on toast when my incredible manager … called me and said, 'Bill Hader has this new pilot for HBO and I think it's your part.' And I was like, 'Sure, yeah.… I'll do it. I mean, I'm available.'"
Goldberg had a good feeling about the part from her very first script read.
"[Auditioning for Barry] felt like such a leap and such a stretch, but I read the script and I really connected with the character. I just felt like I knew her. So, yeah, I worked really hard and went through quite a lengthy audition process and got the role — which was pretty wild."
WATCH | Sarah Goldberg as Sally on HBO's Barry:
Goldberg's acting career, which began in the U.K. on London stages, has had a markedly different trajectory than that of her L.A.-based character. Nonetheless, she had such a clear picture of who Sally might be that it almost felt like she'd encountered her before in her own life.
"I just felt like I'd met this type of person who had this … slightly broken dream already, even at the top of the show — having moved to Los Angeles and left a difficult past, and she had this kind of myopic view of the world…. [She was] somebody who just wanted something so badly. I just felt like I'd met her in a bar in L.A., you know?"
'I've never laughed so hard in my life'
The process of landing the role, however, proved to be an unforgettable experience in itself.
The first round of auditions, Goldberg said, consisted of the typical camera test in front of a casting director. For the next phase, however, she was asked to do something far out of her comfort zone: improvise with veteran comedian Bill Hader.
"Bill called me and he said, 'How would you feel about coming in and improvising with me for a session?' And I just said, 'Not great!' He's like the prince of comedy. I had zero improv experience. It was completely not my background. Anyway, he just said, 'You don't have to be funny. I'm going to give you three scenarios, and all I want you to do is think of a point of view for each scenario, and then come in and try it.'"
When she arrived for the improv portion, she decided to wait alone in a stairwell to help stave off her nerves. There, she unexpectedly met her future colleague, the legendary actor Henry Winkler.
"I sat there down this stairwell with my script, and I felt this presence rush by me. Then they sort of pivoted, did a 180 and stuck their hand out — and it was Henry Winkler. He went, 'Hi, I'm Henry.' And I thought, 'Hi, I'm hallucinating.' I introduced myself, and then he said, 'Are you going in to read?' And I said, 'Yeah, I am, Henry.' And he said, 'Well, break a leg.' And I said, 'Thanks Henry, how did yours go?' And he said, 'You know what? If I had an answer to that question, I'll tell you this much, I had fun.'
"He sort of waltzed out in this regal way. And then … there was this huge window down the end of the stairwell, and for the next 20 minutes, I watched him go back and forth in the parking lot, looking for his car. I just thought, 'Okay, I've had the full Los Angeles experience.'... Meeting him I feel like infused me with the magic that that man possesses. He was probably the lucky ingredient."
As for the improv portion, Goldberg said it exceeded her expectations.
"We started the improv and honestly, I've never laughed so hard in my life…. Bill didn't hide behind the camera the way a director or reader would usually in these auditions. He got up on camera with me, so it felt like we were really building something together."
A funny thing happened on the way to the callback
As well as things were going throughout the audition process, Goldberg wasn't certain she would land the part. Following the improv callback, she remembers thinking it would make for a great story to return home with, if nothing else.
When she was asked back for another screen test within the next few days, the actor encountered a situation she'd never been in before: to her horror, she was almost an hour late to her callback.
"I didn't know Los Angeles at the time, and I've never been late in my life — and I was 48 minutes late…. I was unforgivably late."
After initially driving to the wrong address, Goldberg said, she remembers thinking it was all over — but as it turns out, the blunder proved to be just the motivation she needed going into the audition.
WATCH | Sarah Goldberg's interview with Tom Power:
"By the time I got on camera, it was actually a scene from Terms of Endearment, the famous scene in the hospital with Shirley MacLaine where she's screaming about her daughter. So they called action and I just burst into tears. I really got it for free. So in a roundabout way, it got me the job, and I was never late again."
While the situation felt embarrassing at the time, Goldberg said it's sometimes a necessary part of the process.
"I've always said acting is very easy, it's just very embarrassing — and that was a peak embarrassment day for me. But all's well that ends well."
The full interview with Sarah Goldberg is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Interview with Sarah Goldberg produced by Vanessa Nigro.