Sarah Wright Olsen
From the silver screen to online streaming services, the more compelling offerings have taken a shift from featuring overly sexual or fantasized women to moms. These are not June Cleaver archetypes with the ever so endearing, ever so wise, stay-at-home mom personas. And if they are, they’re probably having an affair, acting as the mastermind behind schoolyard scandals or completely unraveling to the point of murder (i.e. Big Little Lies). Mom characters across the spectrum are presenting a fascinating range of complexities we’ve never seen before. Sarah Wright Olsen is also a mom. A real life one in fact, although not unraveling to the point of murder.
Before the days of diapers and daycare, Sarah spent her own childhood on a small farming community in Kentucky, absorbed in activities like the school marching band and performing in local theater productions. By the time she turned eighteen, she moved to Chicago to pursue modeling and commercial work. In a year’s short time, Sarah was catapulted to Los Angeles to star in her first television role. She has seamlessly captured an outstanding career that includes playing a villain on the film House Bunny, Jerry’s exceptionally attractive daughter Millicent on Parks and Rec, as well as roles on 7th Heaven, How I Met Your Mother, and Mad Men. Her presence on-screen is as sunny as her disposition, bringing a unique intricacy to unique characters. In her latest project, Sarah stars alongside Tom Cruise in the film American Made. She is dynamic in this role—exciting to watch and commands her character with finesse. She wields exceptional decorum and a cavalier bearing; never holding back and goes head-to-head with the best of them, namely Tom Cruise. It’s clear that Sarah Wright Olsen is no June Cleaver, she’s Erin Brockovich.
Despite all of her success, Sarah still believes being a wife and mother has been her greatest and most rewarding life experience. Married to actor Eric Christian Olsen, the couple is living in a Hollywood moment, but they keep their everyday life simple with farmers markets, backyard adventures and finding beauty in all the small things (even the schoolyard scandals).
Who runs this mother? Sarah Wright Olsen.
Some people may not know this, but you began your career singing in The Kentucky Ambassadors of Music. What was that experience like for you?
Actually, my first job was at the age of nine. I had a principal role in “The Christmas Carol” musical at my local theatre in Horse Cave Kentucky. That is where I fell in love with performing. I toured with the Kentucky ambassadors of music through nine countries in Europe when I was fifteen. It was a watershed moment for me, making travel a necessity in my life.
Is there a chance we might hear you on the radio in the future?
Haha, maybe! I would love that, and my husband sure hopes so, he has been encouraging me in that direction for years.
Growing up in Kentucky, did you always have dreams of being in Hollywood?
I knew that I wanted to sing, or act or do something creative. I didn’t know anyone who had moved out of state and most of the people I grew up around only vacationed as far as their cars could drive them. The thought of actually living somewhere else never felt real to me. It was almost like our dreams were limited by proximity. I had no idea how to make them happen, nor did I ever expect that things would turn out this way, but I’m grateful every day that they did.
You have such a great range as an actor working in a variety of genres. Is there a role that you are dying to try out?
Animation! I would love to do that because I have two kids. My son and I sing songs from Moana together every night before bed. I have always wanted to do an action movie, more comedies, a great doc series, maybe a puppet show. The common theme that transcends all the genres is great characters. I really just want to bring great characters to life in interesting stories.
If you weren’t acting, what would you want to pursue?
Singing, or teaching and working with children.
We absolutely loved you as Millie in Parks & Recreation. Working with this amazing cast and crew must have been a riot. Share one of your favorite moments with us.
Thank you! The Halloween episode was insane. It’s one of the few episodes I was in where I got to work with a bunch of the cast members. I was such a huge fan of the show before I came on, so I loved seeing them all work together. Chris Pratt could read the back of a water bottle and it would make me laugh. And Rob was so much fun to work with. We spent the entire episode doing everything we could to make ‘Jerry’ uncomfortable; it was a lot of fun.
In your latest project, you star alongside Tom Cruise in the film American Made. Tell us all about it.
American Made is based on the true story set in the late 70’s early 80’s of TWA pilot Barry Seal, who was recruited by the CIA to run one of the biggest covert operations in US history. While working as a CIA informant he was also running drugs for the Medellin cartel.
Your character Lucy Seal is based off of Barry’s real life partner, Debbie Seal. How did you find the balance between personifying Debbie while making it your own?
The character of Lucy was loosely based on his wife. All of the stories we had heard about them was how deeply in love they were, so that dynamic was the foundation of it, but I had the liberty to create and play with this character. I am from Kentucky originally so when I read this script I really understood this woman, her POV, and the choices she made. I grew up around a lot of strong southern women who were the stabilizing force of the home, I wanted to bring that strength and mama bear quality to this character.
We love the amazing fashion choices in American Made. Tell us how you used Lucy’s wardrobe as a device to share her story and evolution in the film.
When we discussed the wardrobe for the film I made a mood board of iconic women from that time period. From Farah Fawcett in the '70s to Cindy Crawford in the '80s. We wanted you to see the subtle changes in Lucy's wardrobe, hair, and makeup over the course of the film, but we never wanted to take away from her grounded quality. More money meant more diamonds, fancier clothes, and shoes but still wearable and practical for a mom of three kids.
Tell us what it was like working with Tom Cruise on American Made.
He really is the most inclusive, passionate, and charismatic person. Working with him was a life and career highlight. He has this superhuman excitement about making movies that is infectious. He is the first person to work in the morning and the last to leave. His energy and drive motivates people and sets the tone for a positive, open workspace. He and Doug Liman told me from the beginning when we would rehearse a scene that I could do no wrong, that we would try things many different ways and find something great. What a gift to have that support and freedom.
Not only are you good on-screen, you work to do good things off-screen. Tell us all about 'Your Zen Mama'.
My girlfriend and partner Teresa Palmer and I created 'Your Zen Mama' to grow a community of mamas, papas, caregivers, doctors, doulas, and anyone in the birth or parenting world. We wanted a safe and positive space to share our stories and to learn from others. What is unique is that everyone here has a voice. When we were both pregnant with our firsts we fell in love with books filled with birth stories. We thought, why not expand beyond that and provide a place for stories from pregnancy, birth, and throughout raising children. We both live away from our family, but we believe in the “village” mentality, and appreciate the knowledge we can acquire from everyone.
What is one thing you wish someone had told you about motherhood?
That the 6 week postpartum checkup where you go and see the doctor to get an “all clear” is not necessarily this magical moment where you will start to feel like yourself again, especially if you are breastfeeding. For example, with both of my children it took from 10 months to a year for me to feel physically and emotionally more balanced. This varies with every single person, and no one should feel any pressure to fit into a timeline.
You and your mega talented actor-producer-husband Eric Christian Olsen are raising your kids in the midst of Hollywood. If one of them should want to be in the industry, what advice would you share?
Oh boy! I think about this all the time watching my son and daughter sing and dance around the house. We will encourage them to get an education, to find perspective in that education, in literature, travel, friendships, love, politics, art and hopefully they will find their passion and love in something, after all that, if that ends up being in the industry we will fully support that.
While we are on the topic, your sister-in-law Daniela Ruah stars alongside your husband on NCIS: Los Angeles as lovers. That must give you all a good laugh at family functions.
HAHA Yep. That is actually how Dani met Eric’s brother. Eric introduced them. Dave works as Eric’s stunt double on the show, and Eric orchestrated the whole thing like only he can. Maybe the funnier part of having your co-star be your sister-in-law is that we were both pregnant with our kids at the same time. Our firsts are four months apart and our seconds are 4 weeks apart. Unfortunately for Eric, he had to deal with a moody pregnant partner both at work and at home. Dani and I enjoyed that maybe a little too much.
Since we may or may not get to ever hear you on the radio, what do you sing along to get through LA traffic?
Depends on the day. My son LOVES music and loves to sing pop songs. I have a love for folk / singer songwriter style music, but I can jam out to Tay Tay and Rihanna any day of the week. Current favorite song to sing at the top of our lungs in the car on the way to school drop off, River by Leon Bridges.