Ahead of the release of 'The Little Things', the actress talks working with Julie Andrews and growing up on screen.
After making a splash for her early work as Eloise in 2003’s Eloise at the Plaza alongside Julie Andrews, Sofia Vassilieva became universally acknowledged for her role in 2009’s My Sister’s Keeper opposite Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin. Now, years later and following a stint as a Colombia University undregrad, Sofia has returned and revitalized her career as an adult actress.
In 2019 Sofia made her streaming debut in Hulu series Looking for Alaska and her next role will see her appear as part of a star-studded cast including Denzel Washington, Jared Leto and Rami Malek in neo-noir crime The Little Things.
Below, we caught up with the multifaceted actress to discuss her new role, her life off-screen and working with the likes of Rami Malek and Julie Andrews.
With a career beginning in your early childhood, what has it been like growing up on screen?
My mom certainly loves it! For her, it’s like home videos that document my whole life. I seldom watch my own my performances but what I do love is remembering the day something was shot, the moments in between takes, the location, and the people who made it possible. The flipside is there are moments I might want to forget, like how self-conscious or uncomfortable I may have felt or maybe the day I got my heart broken. I have memories for each moment in my own life through my moments on screen.
You’ve worked with some of the best actresses in the business such as Julie Andrews and Cameron Diaz. What have you learned from your co-stars over the years?
Julie Andrews, Cameron Diaz and Patricia Arquette must also be mentioned as should Mariska Hargitay. They all have taught me how to be on a set. They have such dedicated work ethics, respect for every element of production, care very much for the entire crew, and go above and beyond to make each person feel valued as an integral part of something special. They elevate everybody. They are also phenomenal examples of women in this industry with long thriving careers that have stepped beyond simply being an actor. They have taught me that times changes and we must evolve with them. Beyond that, they cherish their lives outside of work.
What’s been your most difficult role to date and why?
My Sister’s Keeper. Our director, Nick Cassavetes, was very adamant about not shying away from the harsh realities of cancer. Playing Kate and doing it with the utmost regard and respect for the subject matter was a really impactful experience. I shaved my head and eyebrows for the role, so in a way, I gave up my sense of self for the duration of production. It was the first time I was not able to take back my own identity at the end of a shoot day. A shaved head can be a choice, it’s very liberating, but people don’t really shave their eyebrows — they’re important, they really do protect your eyes! People had a hard time looking at me, they would assume I was sick and I guess they didn’t want to stare. I felt really unseen. Which is hard anyway, but it made me aware of how much harder it may be if you’re truly in the battle. It was also my first time working on two projects simultaneously and having Glenn Gordon Caron’s Medium to go back throughout shooting My Sister’s Keeper was really special. It felt like coming home and that support was very helpful. Glenn actually made it possible for me to shoot both. Fun fact, a wig was made of my own shaved hair to wear on the show.
Who’s one director you would most like to work with and why?
David Fincher. I’ve always admired directors like Fincher or Kubrick that do hundreds of takes and I would just love to let my inner untamed perfectionist roar. I imagine there is such surrender in doing so many takes, almost a meditation of sorts. It seems the performance would be so absent of manipulated ideas and that nothing but the absolute essentials of a performance would remain. It’s athletic, in a way, and I want to know what the high from the exhaustion of doing a hundred plus takes feels like, so dangerously enticing. Watch, I’ll experience it and I’m sure I will be saying something different.
In addition to your acting career, you gained a degree from Columbia University. Why was it important to you to complete further study?
I wanted to know what the world was like outside of film and television. I got degrees in Linguistics and Business. However, I quickly realised there is nothing else I would rather do than spend my life on set. Everything I did academically found its way back to my love of film, even my thesis, “The Linguistic Trends of Women in the late 20th and 21st Century through the American Cinematic Lens.”
Now you’ve graduated, how do you think college has impacted your life?
I met some of my best friends in college, and because I went away from what I knew, none of them are in the film industry. They keep me engaged and curious about the world because what they do is so different. Most amazingly they continue to love me even when I have to cancel almost every planned trip or have to sit through dinner with me when I keep leaving them alone at the table to take calls and offer no explanation because everything is shrouded in secrecy these days. And they celebrate with me a month later, after being sworn to secrecy of course, when I tell them I got the mysterious job and it’s with Rami Malek, who to my friend and her family is a cinema hero.
If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?
I would be a ballerina. I was classically trained from the age of 3 and continued dancing into college. If it hadn’t been for my success in the film industry, I would have likely pursued it as a career. Dance is still a major part of my life, though I’m more into the lawlessness of modern dance at the moment. If I went entirely outside myself, I would love to have been a pro singles tennis player.
What’s one thing people probably don’t know about you?
Social Media. Drives. Me. Bonkers! I value intimate conversations and sometimes social media just feels so big. It is, however, incredibly meaningful to me when people reach out, get excited about my projects, and share stories of how my work has become part of family tradition. Eloise at Christmastime is a staple for so many during the holiday season and it’s really special to see something I cherish so much cherished by others. It’s when I start thinking about who my audience is, how to navigate content, what to put out, self-promotion, that I end up overthinking. I love when my friends want to curate my Instagram because it takes off all the pressure. I’m so happy to see the photos they pick with the smart and witty captions they write. I guess it’s about making something so big feel personal.
In 2019, you appeared in the Hulu adaptation of the John Green novel Looking for Alaska. What was it like tackling a role in a story which is iconic to so many young people?
It’s always a delicate dance taking on a beloved and iconic story. John Green was involved, so we knew we had his support. He really is a remarkable man and I particularly loved it when he was able to be on set with us. Playing Lara meant a lot to me because she comes from an immigrant family, as do I, and there are similarities in our family story. With these changing cultural tides telling immigrant stories has become more commonplace and being a part of that, even in a fragment of a much larger piece, felt important. Also, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, they are amazing creators. They hold such a high standard and the work they do continues to stay with the time and be a part of the cultural growth.
Let’s talk about your forthcoming role in The Little Things: what was it like working with director John Lee Hancock, known to many as the man behind 2009’s The Blindside?
John Lee is of another world. He is so kind and has the gift of ease. The confidence he gives his actors and his ability to gently bring out a performance is so appreciated and it’s so rewarding to work with him. I was on cloud nine going home every day. I remember one of my first days I was talking with Rami and we spoke of when you are able to choose your projects, you choose them by the kind of people with whom you want to spend your time and energy. John Lee is very much that, you just want to be on his set.
How would you describe the film in five words?
Meticulous, Mysterious, Suspenseful, Dark and 90s.
What do you want people to take away from watching The Little Things?
I want people to enjoy it. It’s a unique time, while it has presented so many challenges that we as individuals and a global community are living through, it has also reminded us how art in all its varieties is something we turn to in order to heal. Though the subject matter of The Little Things is not light, I think it’s so important to allow yourself to get lost in a film. It’s how I’m surviving the pandemic.
The Little Things is released on HBO Max and in cinemas in the US on 29 January and in the UK on 12 February.
28 January 2021