An Interview With Edward Sylvan
Take the compliment! Casting directors are (almost) always on your side. Word gets around. You’re allowed to be disappointed. Don’t believe them when they say you can hold the paper in the audition — arrive off-book! Just memorize it. Trust me.
Asa part of our series about creating a successful career in TV and Film, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Verona Blue.
Verona Blue is a classically trained actor from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Fully immersed in Goth culture as a teen, Verona spent countless nights running downtown alleys with a group of like-minded misfits and has been channeling the spirits of innumerable interesting characters ever since. Her commitment to her counter-culture roots and authentic ownership of her unique look makes her a standout on screen.
After receiving her MFA from the renowned Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Verona performed several new works in London, and Edinburgh before relocating to sunny Los Angeles. Her on-camera work includes three seasons on Amazon’s gritty, hit show BOSCH as coy bartender Shaz, as well as roles on Shameless, Mom, Married, and Wisdom of the Crowd.
Verona’s theatre pedigree has lent itself well to voiceover and performance capture for film and video games. Star Wars fans know her as the first female Stormtrooper in the series, as well as guest appearances as a variety of creatures, imperial offices, and PA systems. Even the voice of the antenna in Rogue One that beamed the Death Star plans to the Rebellion (and safely away from Darth Vader’s hands). Her extensive VO and motion capture resume also includes work for Borderlands, Marvel, and Disney.
Verona is Vice President of Dogs Without Borders, a non-profit dog rescue, and enjoys the full-time company of several chihuahuas.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Hi, thank you for speaking with me today! I was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I attended fairly rigorous academic schools, where I did “ok” and learned to speak French, but I probably would have been better suited at a performing arts school.
When I was a teenager, I discovered the “goth” subculture, and it turns out it was not a phase. I made many lifelong friends by staying out late, in dark basements, dancing to spooky music, and wearing unconventional outfits. This continues to be a great way for me to make new friends.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Just outside of Toronto, there is an area called Stratford, named after the town in England where William Shakespeare was born. Stratford, Ontario, stages modern and Shakespearean plays every year during its summer festival. When I was a child, we visited regularly, and one year I saw a staging of Amadeus with an actor called Brian Bedford as Salieri. I had never seen an actor so completely transformed. His performance was life-altering. I had always been interested in acting, and truly obsessed with watching TV, but Brian’s performance really solidified for me what was possible with the right combination of talent and training.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting? I guess the first time I had a stunt double was pretty wild! I had a unique hairstyle that was hard to replicate and made me stand out in any crowd… and yet there I was, looking at myself walking on the other side of the street. It was very surreal to see what I look like to other people. It is not like seeing a photo or even seeing yourself on TV. It’s a totally different experience. It feels a bit like you’re hallucinating.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is such a great question. I have learned the hard way that if you put together a very striking outfit for an audition, particularly a commercial audition, you will likely be asked to bring and wear that outfit for the shoot. This means — do not wear outfits that look great and feel terrible! If you are uncomfortable wearing that “costume” for 13 hours, do not let them see it! They will definitely ask you to wear it! This is how I ended up in a tight-laced corset on set for way too long! Choose comfort over style!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am so thrilled to have been cast in V/H/S/99 “Shredding”. It was a scream to work on, and I am really enjoying talking to people who have seen it so far at festivals or through screeners. It’s my first time working on a horror project, and the community is so cool. I have been trying to slow down a bit and take more pleasure in the release of work instead of pushing too fast onto the next thing… Also, the next big thing is under a very scary NDA, so I can’t even talk about it.
V/H/S/99 is available on Shudder on October 20th.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
My number one piece of advice for any actor is “take a class!”. Actor training is vital. Being attractive, young, and outgoing can open doors but will only take you so far if you can’t create an engaging performance on the day. Practice your craft, and model your choices after successful actors you admire. Learning how they got where they are can help you follow a joyful and fulfilling path while also helping you set realistic expectations of how long it can take before getting a breakthrough. Success is always possible, but it looks different to everyone, so if you love to act, invest in that love with your time and hard work.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Everyone deserves an escape. Everyone deserves entertainment that speaks to them and meets them where they are. It’s why we have different genres of entertainment in the first place! We all have our favorites. Those things are often our favorites because we can relate to the characters or the situation. Without accurate representation, so many people are left out of the joy of storytelling and imagination — and for what? What does any individual gain by excluding their neighbors from our popular myths?
We live in a colorful and exciting world. The cultures, people, food, ceremonies, jokes, and fears of everyone make it what it is. Allowing different types of people to be on screen ensures that they are commonplace amongst the masses, even if they are in the minority in a specific area. It helps remove the idea of “otherness” and allows children to see themselves as welcome. It connects the viewer to the experience of someone unlike them, hopefully sparking their curiosity about different perspectives and opening their minds to how big our world is.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
This is such a tough question. You sometimes cannot be told, and you just have to learn it the hard way! Wisdom is earned — sadly for me, but there are definitely a few lessons that I learned that seem so obvious now.
- Take the compliment! Just say “thank you” and don’t deflect. It’s not cute to act totally self-deprecating when someone has gone out of their way to congratulate you on your work. Accept the little praise we all get with an open heart.
- Casting directors are (almost) always on your side, and by knocking it out of the park for them, they also have job security and gain confidence. It can feel scary to walk into an audition with a new casting director. It feels like everyone is judging you rather than excited to see you perform. I have had the privilege of taking my time to chat and work with some really caring casting directors, including Laura Schiff, who cast me as bartender Shaz in the Amazon series Bosch. She really took an interest in me as a person and helped me succeed in getting that role. She knew I was right for it and fought for me.
- Word gets around. I was on set once and the makeup artist said, “so I hear you love a lot of contour.” I laughed and said yes. She told me she had just finished working on another project and was working with an actor with a unique look and pulled up my photo. The other makeup artist, who had worked with me before, gave her the inside scoop on how to best do my makeup! If makeup artists are talking about me, who else is? I’m always on my best behavior at all times, everywhere.
- You’re allowed to be disappointed. I found that agents, managers, and even friends always tried to brush off any bad news about a booking or audition with “onto the next” or “we’ll get ’em next time.” Which is all well and good, but it feels so transactional for someone who puts so much thought, heart and energy into pursuing a role. I would have benefitted from someone telling me that I’m allowed to take a day to be sad about it before moving “onto the next.”
- Don’t believe them when they say you can hold the paper in the audition — arrive off-book! Just memorize it. Trust me.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Oh yeah, being a professional actor can be both stressful and exhilarating, but like all art forms, making something you love into your job inevitably leads to a certain level of burnout, whether it’s from too much work or too much rejection. I personally find engaging in regular volunteer work to be a solid way to stop focusing on myself and my career and participate in something bigger.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
What a flattering thing to say — I have been an activist my whole life, but my two particular areas of interest at the moment are animal welfare and the education of women and girls. I encourage people to sponsor a girl in underprivileged communities to go to school. I personally sponsor two girls in Cambodia, which not only ensures they get an education and will be able to support themselves as they grow and prevent them from being sold into trafficking. I sponsor them through CambodiaSchools.org “Girls be Ambitious” program.
I am also the vice president of a dog rescue here in Los Angeles called Dogs Without Borders. We see many dogs surrendered because owners do not do enough research into breed traits and become frustrated or overwhelmed by behaviors they do not know how to manage. I would love to see more people treat their companion animals as friends and build a strong relationship with them by learning about canine enrichment through training and games. Check out DoMoreWithYourDog.com
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am wildly grateful to Matthew Wood, head of Skywalker Sound, for inviting me to join the Lucasfilm loop group that allowed me to work on so many Star Wars films and video games. Without his friendship and dedication, I would not have been the first female Stormtrooper in the series, nor would I have been able to play amongst so many incredible voice actors that I am now thrilled to be able to call friends.
Matt and I met at a comic convention in Toronto when he was signing autographs for his role as General Grievous in Star Wars, Episode 3 — Revenge of the Sith. We kept in touch over the years, including getting together when I was in theatre school in England, which, I guess, let him know I was not only serious about Star Wars but also about acting.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite sayings is, “there’s nothing more pragmatic than idealism.” Although the two ideas seem diametrically opposed, I believe that focusing on doing what’s right using the tools available is the most effective way to create positive change for yourself and the world! Having this positive outlook has helped me find creative ways to address challenging auditions and pursue projects I am proud to be part of.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Oh boy, what an offer! I would love to have tea and cookies with Bob Barker to talk to him about his animal rights activism, his spay, and neuter message, what impact he feels he made over all these years, and how we can continue his legacy going forward.
How can our readers follow you online?
I can be found on Twitter and Instagram @bathori, on TikTok @VeronaBlue, and on my website VeronaBlue.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
About The Interviewer: Growing up in Canada, Edward Sylvan was an unlikely candidate to make a mark on the high-powered film industry based in Hollywood. But as CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc, (SEGI) Sylvan is among a select group of less than ten Black executives who have founded, own and control a publicly traded company. Now, deeply involved in the movie business, he is providing opportunities for people of color. In 2020, he was appointed president of the Monaco International Film Festival, and was encouraged to take the festival in a new digital direction. Raised in Toronto, he attended York University where he studied Economics and Political Science, then went to work in finance on Bay Street, (the city’s equivalent of Wall Street). After years of handling equities trading, film tax credits, options trading and mergers and acquisitions for the film, mining and technology industries, in 2008 he decided to reorient his career fully towards the entertainment business. With the aim of helping Los Angeles filmmakers of color who were struggling to understand how to raise capital, Sylvan wanted to provide them with ways to finance their creative endeavors.