Sarah Wayne Callies Talks ‘The Company You Keep’, ‘Walking Dead’, And More

After starring in hit TV series like The Walking Dead and Prison Break that introduced her to major audiences, Sarah Wayne Callies takes on a new role and a new world in The Company You Keep, Sundays on ABC.

Sarah’s character in the show, “Birdie”, is the sister of “Charlie” played by This is Us star Milo Ventimiglia. The siblings own a bar together as a front that allows them to operate as con artists with a moral purpose.

“A big part of what made me want to jump into (this show) was the fun of the cons, the ability to slip into other characters; I have a whole character that I based on Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, I have a character I based on Jessica Simpson in the 90s,” Callies told me last week over the phone.

“That seemed like so much fun to me and also I got to play the mother of a deaf daughter, which means I get to learn sign language; I get to immerse myself in a whole culture that I don’t know a thing about, and it scares me. I think you should do things that scare you creatively.”

The con artist element to the show separates it from other crime series we’ve seen before, according to Callies.

“A con artist [show] is very different from a crime drama,” she said. “We don’t use guns, we use our brains and we don’t intimidate people or beat them up, we convince them that they want to do what we want them to do. And we get to do it in wigs and cool accents with fake nails and fake tattoos, which is very fun.

“Very much the motto of my character, and arguably my family, is ‘Eat the rich.’ And so I think the fun of our show is watching people who believe they are entitled to their wealth and power lose at least a little bit of that to a family that believes that the people that are so wealthy that they don’t pay taxes deserve to be taxed by a family like us.”

Sarah, who was hired as a bartender the night of her grad school showcase when she went out to celebrate with friends, recalled asking her boss why he hired her knowing she had no experience after a quick go behind the bar came to an end.

“‘The same reason I hired Bruce Willis when he first got to New York, I thought you’d be a s*** bartender, but I thought someday you’d be famous and I wanted to say I gave you your first job in the city,’” he told the actress. “So I’ve been behind a bar before, but thankfully nobody’s actually expecting me to make them drinks,” Callies joked.

When the first Walking Dead script came Sarah’s way, it was nowhere near her wheelhouse of typical projects and that was what drew her in.

“Actually, when I read the first Walking Dead script, I felt physically ill,” remembered Callies. “I don’t watch horror and I don’t really read comic books, so it was a very new world to me.

“And so I took it absolutely seriously and when you take that story seriously it’s sickening and horrifying and I figured that I had such a visceral reaction to it that it must mean that there was something important there for me to explore.”

Former Walking Dead co-star Jon Bernthal became a close friend of Sarah’s. Bernthal possesses an unrivaled ability to channel a level of ferocious unattainable to other actors. Callies remembered an evening when Jon unintentionally brought his work home with him.

“It’s amazing. Jon’s career gives me such joy. He’s worked so hard for it and he has such a generous heart,” Sarah stated. “There have been times… He did a movie called Shot Caller and I was staying with him and his wife as he was wrapping that and he came home from set covered in white nationalist tattoos because he was playing a prison inmate that was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood and I got to say, my inner Jew had a bit of a panic attack.

“I was like, ‘I love you so much, could you go shower that off before we sit down and have a meal together.’ Because I forget how ferocious he can be onscreen because he’s a really good person offscreen.”

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