Sydney Agudong joins us on Close-Up Culture to talk about her debut feature role in West Michigan.
The film follows Hannah (Chloe Ray Warmoth), a seventeen-year-old girl who struggles to find her place in the world. Around the time that she gives up all hope of fitting in, her grandfather falls ill. She and her brother, Charlie (Riley Warmoth), drive up the coast of West Michigan in order to visit him on his deathbed. However, their journey north takes a turn after their car breaks down in rural Michigan, and Hannah’s search for meaning grows more crucial than ever.
‘West Michigan’ is your first feature film. What excited you about being part of this project?
I think the most exciting part of the project was being able to work with friends. It literally felt like I was on summer vacation and traveled to Chloe’s hometown for fun. It was so beautiful in Michigan and the whole experience was filled with so much joy and fun.
I imagine there’s more pressure, or at least a different kind of pressure, working on a feature compared to shorts or theatre work. How did you find the challenge of acting in ‘West Michigan’ and playing Jasmine?
I think the most pivotal learning part of this project was realising and allowing myself to let go of the lines and the preconceived pressure of filming. I was always stuck in the idea of don’t do too much, don’t do too less when filming a scene because I was terrified to mess up the director, producer, or writer’s vision. I loved working on West Michigan because Riley, the mastermind behind everything, was so big and supportive about giving us the freedom to explore our characters outside of our lines and moments. He really allowed us to dive deep into what we thought was best for our character in every way, and being that it is a coming-of-age independent feature, it was the perfect project to do that in.
The film addresses some very serious themes. How did you relate, or respond, to this story?
Mental health is such an incredibly important issue but it is a really hard concept to grasp and understand unless you have gone through the struggles yourself. Society has created this stigma saying that “I’ll believe it when I see it” but the thing about mental health is that it isn’t something that you can necessarily see all the time. Along the lines of mental health, I think West Michigan brings a blunt but real awareness of the realities and struggles of someone in pain. Hannah struggles with major depression and not even her brother is able to notice the signs and calls for help until he physically sees her try to end her life. It will always be a touchy and hard subject to tackle and spread awareness for but I think that this movie does a good job at waking the audience up to these subtle signs and harsh realities.
What was the most enjoyable part of working on West Michigan? Any fun stories to share?
As I mentioned previously, the location and the friends were probably the highlight of the experience. We got so close to the cast and crew, at a certain point, we all lived together in one cabin and shared bunks and bathrooms, waking each other up early and keeping each other awake at night, making meals together and playing games…we all slowly turned into one big family and I loved it so much.
Over here in the UK, we have preconceptions of Los Angeles and what it must be like to live in the such a glamorous place. What is it like growing up in LA and being a young creative there?
I was born and raised on Kauai in Hawaii before I moved to LA in 2018 and it was definitely a culture shock. I really didn’t see nor understand how much of a change it would be to have made that move from such a small town rock, separated from what we call the mainland haha, until I was about two months into living in a big industrial city and things settled more into the idea that I was here to stay for a while.
It is very competitive in LA and sometimes can make you feel like small fish in this massive ocean that is the entertainment industry. It can be super intimidating and disheartening at times, that thought that there are just too many talented people, how is some small-town island girl like me any different from the masses? Wouldn’t my voice just be drowned out in the crowd?
But the truth is, there are those special people and moments that will occur and will see you and change everything. I have been blessed to have such an incredible support system in and out of the industry and the cool thing I have been learning and accepting is that your mindset is the difference between success and failure. Every loss is in someway a win and vice versa. You can have a million people telling you that you have what it takes or no one at all and still it comes down to what you believe.
Being in LA has taught me to believe the universe has a way of hearing us and feeling our energy, so I swallow my pride, practice my gratitude, and know that whatever happens, will happen as it should.
As well as acting, you are a singer-songwriter. What are your first memories of falling in love
with music and performing?
My favourite memory of music and performing was when I first figured out I wanted to start writing songs. In middle school, I started playing around with spoken word and poems and I always loved being able to personify things that were inanimate and discover and understand new things about the world through words.
On the way to school one morning, I got into a fight with my mom while she was driving. I think that was the first time I think I may have said or done something she specifically told me not to and lied to her about it. Though, my family knows, I don’t last very long with a lie because my guilt conscious is way too strong to ignore and I ended up admitting that I lied to her on the way to school that morning. She was so upset at me and my 11 year old self was too defensive to say sorry at first and I got out of the car and went to school still in a fight with my mom and I hated it.
Long story short, I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day and I ended up spending my entire pre-algebra class writing my first ever song, an apology song to my mom. We ended up getting it produced and I think it’s out on Soundcloud, even though it is so bad and I honestly don’t know why I still allow it to be out there in the world but it is and to this day, we will play I’m So Sorry whenever we need a laugh or a comedic relief in a room full of tension and it always lightens the mood.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Thanks to my dad, I feel like I was given a pretty open ear for earlier music, my favorites being Queen, Elton John, John Fogherty, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Billy Joel, etc. Some of the more modern artists I’ve loved recently have been Adam Melchor, Frank Ocean, Young the Giant, WILLOW, Labrinth, and Emily King. All of these artists have such beautiful and creative identities that break the rules in music and, I think, completely allow the audience to hear their soul.
And your biggest acting influences?
I have always loved and respected Tom Hanks for his vulnerability and ability to immerse himself completely into a role while carrying himself with such humility and focus. I also adore Ryan Reynolds, Sandra Bullock, and Shailene Woodley.
Now that you have your first feature role in the books. What type of projects do you hope to
work on in the future?
I can’t even say “that I hope to work on” because I have to believe it will happen haha. In the near future, I will be working on big blockbuster action, sci-fi, drama motion pictures. My goal is to be the protagonist in a project like Shailene Woodley’s, Divergent series or Angelina Jolie’s movie, Salt. Not only do I get to mentally dive into a character, but also physically train and transform both your mind and body to become and play this person to its fullest potential.
I love learning and understanding the world in new ways and one of the coolest parts about being an actor is all of the new skills and events you get to experience through the safety of the job.