Dark Waters And A Bright Future: Interview With Actress Sydney Miles

Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge speaks to actress Sydney Miles about her role in Dark Waters, the creative scene in Cinninatiti, being vulnerable, and much more.

Dark Waters releases in UK on 28 February

Q: ‘Dark Waters’ opens in UK cinemas on 28 February. I can’t imagine how exciting it must be to work on a Todd Haynes film. How did this opportunity come about for you and what were your feelings heading into it? 

I’m a Junior at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music as a BFA Acting major. Initially I chose CCM because of their amazing program and department, but I had no idea how big of a film scene they have here in Cincinnati! I now know they filmed Shawshank Redemption, Carol, and lots of other films here in Cincy so when my Heyman Talent agent put me up for an audition with D. Lynn Meyers, the local casting director, I knew it had the possibility of being a big production like those films.

Heading into it, I was ecstatic. I was, and am, so grateful to be given this opportunity and even though I have a small part in the film, I knew it would be extremely gratifying to help tell this story. 

Q: ‘Dark Waters’ gave you an opportunity to be part of telling a powerful true story. What can UK audiences expect from this film?

A: Well, just that: a powerful and true story. It puts a spotlight on companies, or in this case on DuPont, that have gone to extreme lengths to profit off of consumers with zero regard for their well-being. 

Audiences can expect to be riveted to the story as it unfolds. I mean, these were real people and real events and not too long ago either, it’s horrific to me. Todd Haynes and Mark Ruffalo and everyone over at Killer Films have given Rob Billot, the Cincinnati based attorney, a platform to have this story. All the years and years of dedicated hard work he has invested into exposing DuPont will be front and centre. You will see in the film why Rob Billot, deservingly, is being called a true hero. 

Q: The film also allowed you to work on the same project as some of Hollywood’s most renowned performers. How did you find the experience and what will be your biggest takeaways from it? 

A: This was actually my first major film production so you can imagine my excitement when I got that call and realized that I would be on the same screen with Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins and everyone. Being directed by Todd Haynes was truly a wonderful experience that I will treasure forever, it’s honestly still very surreal for me. I look up to him and admire the work he has done so much.

Also, Todd and his team on set with me, Timothy Bird, Blair Howley and Alison Rosa, set the bar very high, professionally speaking. They made me feel very comfortable and valued, meanwhile the entire crew was also working very hard to deliver what you see on the screen. Lynn Meyers and everyone on set from Todd to my hair dresser, Anna Maria Reyer, made sure I was happy and taken care of from start to finish. I’m so grateful for this to have been my first experience so I know what level of professionalism is expected in the future.

I think those are the two biggest takeaways from my experience: understanding what’s being asked of you and what you need to do to prepare so when they call action, you’re ready to go… and you’re never too important to be kind. 

Q: ‘Dark Waters’ was shot in Cincinnati, where you are currently studying. What has been your experience of the Cincinnati art scene so far? 

A: Cincinnati was kind of this hidden gem to me. I was familiar with CCM’s program from its reputation and accreditation, but I wasn’t aware that it sat in this hub of an artistic city.

As I said before, the film scene is really making its way up here, and that’s just on top of the theatre scene, the ballet/dance scene, and the art galleries and pieces popping up every week. Thankfully the faculty at our department really encourage us to audition for outside projects and make our own work so we get to be part of the art being made in Cincinnati.

Being surrounded by so many artistic voices and talent and a community like Cincinnati to experience it with has been invigorating for my education, and also me personally. 

Q: You were born and raised in Texas. When did your interest in acting and performing begin to take hold?

A: I was actually a dancer for a very long time, starting at the age of five, and the studio I danced at would put on a musical in the spring so that’s how I was introduced to acting specifically. I remember being in shows like Annie and Willy Wonka and being hooked to performing early on.

I continued with acting and dancing in high school and by then I just fell in love with it and knew it was something I wanted to pursue professionally. I just crave the authenticity, the honesty, chaos, and the magic that acting holds through all forms; film or theatre. 

Q: Who – or what – have been some of the biggest influences on your acting journey so far? 

A: There are definitely a lot of people who have influenced my acting journey, but I really look up to Emma Stone’s acting and have for a long time. I do both comedic and dramatic acting, but I have always felt more confident and skilled at my comedic abilities. I think I began to really look up to her when I saw her in things like Easy A and saw the goofy, fun-loving parts in me, in her and was like “oh! I can do this?!”

And now, she’s doing all this beautiful dramatic work and I see so much depth and nuance in all her performances. That influences me even more and opens my eyes to all the work out there and never to put myself in a corner of what I should or shouldn’t be doing. 

Q: Another project you were recently part of was Hanna Hurd’s short film, ‘Sonnet 53‘. You give a powerful performance as an actress struggling to perform Shakespeare’s 53rd Sonnet. Can you tell us about working on this project and what the two of you wanted to explore? 

A: Hanna told me about how her teacher one time had this student perform a sonnet while ballroom dancing. She found something so beautiful and poised about Shakespeare’s language being juxtaposed with something so graceful as the dancing was and from there, had the inspiration to write Sonnet 53. She approached me with the script, and I loved it and was really excited to show these elegant and thought-provoking images right alongside a part of acting that’s never really shown and not so elegant.

We also both have this taste for heightened language and more abstract images and so we work very well together and knew what we wanted to achieve with it. 

Q: You can tell from the short that Hanna Hurd has wonderful artistic vision. How exciting is it to collaborate with people like Hanna and feed off each other’s creative energy? 

A: Hanna and I actually went to the same high school and were in the theatre department together, so we have been very close friends for a long time. That makes the projects we do together that much more exciting. She is hard working, creative, talented and faithful in her actors and I always feel so honored when she asks me to act in one of her projects.

When you get to work with people like Todd Haynes or Hanna or anyone who is driven and shares in their creative energy with you, it’s like winning the lottery. You get an opportunity to work with these amazing people and help their vision come to life and maybe see something or someone or the world through different lenses.  

Q: The stress of self tapes and auditions must be hard on any young performer. When do you feel at your most vulnerable as a performer? 

A: I probably feel my most vulnerable early on in the rehearsal process of a show. When my character isn’t fully developed yet, there can definitely be anxiety and pressure there to find the “best” version of the character and to figure it out quickly. That’s why self-tapes and auditions can be so stressful for me because you sometimes only have twenty-four hours from when you receive an audition, to work on it and send it in. In your mind the character is still kind of in the embryonic phase and yet you are auditioning to move forward in the process.   

Q: And when do you feel most empowered? 

A: I feel most empowered when I connect with an audience. Whether it’s them laughing at me or just being attentive audience members and breathing with me and following along my character’s journey – that is always really empowering. It means the weeks of hard work in the rehearsal room paid off and we moved an audience that night. Even if it was only one person, it’s very rewarding to me. 

Q: Who would be on your movie Mount Rushmore? 

A: Katherine Hepburn, Meryl Streep, Greta Gerwig, and Lucille Ball.

Q: I understand you love to travel. Where would be your dream location to film a project? 

A: Yes, I love to travel! I used to say Scotland but I fortunately was able to go perform in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018 – so I checked that one off my list.

There are definitely one-hundred places I could dream of filming but for now, my top dream location would be Australia. I’ve been obsessed with Australia since I was kid and I’m not sure how the obsession started honestly, but I love the accent and the amazing wildlife and nature they have there and think it would be an absolute adventure to film there.

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