On this episode of Unlocking Us
In this episode, I am talking with Sarah Niles, who plays Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, the respected sports psychologist on Ted Lasso—and I just want to let you know that we have worked very hard for no show spoilers at all. It’s just a great conversation about where she came from, what she believes in, and the story of how she ended up as this central and pivotal character on one of our favorite shows. This is one of those podcasts where if you’re walking, just take a deep breath. If you’re driving, maybe crack the window. If you’re at home, grab some hot tea or a cup of coffee. To know Sarah is to love her and appreciate her talent, her gifts, and her commitment to truth, love, and kindness.
Ted Lasso is an Apple TV+ series about a small-time college football coach from Kansas hired to coach a professional soccer team in England, despite having no experience coaching soccer. In addition to starring in the series, Jason Sudeikis serves as executive producer, alongside Bill Lawrence (“Scrubs”) via his Doozer Productions, in association with Warner Bros. Television and Universal Television, a division of NBCUniversal Content. Doozer’s Jeff Ingold also serves as an executive producer with Liza Katzer as co-executive producer. The series was developed by Sudeikis, Lawrence, Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt, and is based on the pre-existing format and characters from NBC Sports.
Brené Brown: Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown and this is Unlocking Us.
BB: I’m so excited for this conversation, I’m so excited to share it with you. We are talking to Sarah Niles, who plays Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, the therapist on Ted Lasso, and I just want to let you know that we have worked very hard for no spoilers at all. To know Sarah is really just to love her and appreciate her talent and her gifts and her commitment to truth and love and kindness. It is just a great conversation about where she came from, what she believes in and the story of how she ended up as this really central character on Ted Lasso, so I’m so glad you’re here.
BB: This is one of those podcasts where if you’re walking, just take a deep breath, and thank you for inviting us to walk with you; if you’re driving, maybe crack the window if the weather’s nice; if you’re at home, grab some hot tea or a cup of coffee and just let it wash over you. She’s just incredible.
BB: All right, before we jump in and start talking to Sarah, let me tell you a little bit about her. Sarah Niles is a British film, TV and theater actress. She has worked with the Globe, with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, Royal Court, the Old Vic, the Bush Theatre and New York’s Public Theater, to name a few. You may have seen her on different TV shows, including Beautiful People, Catastrophe, I May Destroy You, and most recently Ted Lasso. Her films include Rocks and Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky. Let’s jump in and meet Sarah Niles.
BB: Be cool, be cool. Okay, ready?
Sarah Niles: I know, right? [laughter] I’m not cool. I’m so goofy, it’s crazy.
BB: I just can’t get my shit together here. I’m too excited to see you.
SN: Oh, my God, it’s a gift, it’s a gift.
BB: I just cannot tell you how excited I am to talk to you.
SN: Likewise, I can’t tell you, likewise. It’s justm I laughed when I saw your messages, I just laughed out loud.
BB: I broke all the rules and messaged her on Instagram. I was like, “I love you. Will you come on the podcast?”
SN: I was like, “Somebody is joking here.”
BB: No. I was… Okay, so I have so many questions for you, but I want to start with will you share your story with us, starting baby Sarah, like where were you born? Where did you go to school? Like tell us everything.
SN: So I’m from London, I’m from Souf, see, the F, it’s not TH, South London, which is a big indicator. My parents came over from Barbados and they lived in Brixton for a long time and then they managed to move to a house. So that’s when I was a baby that grew up in a house and I’m the youngest, and there’s my brother and my sister, and there’s three of us just living in this house. My parents used to have parties all weekends, like weekends, just like it was more of bringing the community together, which was great.
SN: I was always quite shy. I don’t think people always know that, but I was quite shy and kind of quiet, but I used to listen to a lot of their stories that they used to tell me, or tell all of us. They used to share stories with their friends about back home and I think it was that that made me feel that… Just took me down the road of acting, because it was a storytelling and just hearing these stories and the transformation, being able to transport and transform, and I always felt much more comfortable being someone else rather than being myself. I don’t know if I fully answered that question for that.
BB: Yeah, no, so a love affair with story from early on.
SN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BB: And then when did you… When was your first acting… Well, first, let me even go back. I’m going to Sharon Fieldstone you. What were you like? You were kind of shy, the youngest.
SN: I was awkward, I was just… I just remember feeling, you’re so odd, you’re so not in your… My daughter is completely the opposite. I was so not in my own skin, I was so awkward and yeah, that’s how I felt. So it was a perfect opportunity to play other people. [chuckle]
BB: What was your first acting experience?
SN: My first acting experience was probably, I remember at Infant School, they were going to do the nativity play and funny enough, I thought I was going to go up for Mary. [chuckle] So maybe I thought I was quite shy but I also had this imagination to think that I would get cast as Mary but that didn’t… So I ended up being in the choir and being one of the donkeys. [laughter] So that was my first experience.
BB: And how old were you?
SN: I must have been about… How old was I? Like six, five or six.
BB: But you went for the Mary role?
SN: Yeah, I don’t even know what I was thinking, because it just seems so…
BB: You would have been an incredible Mary.
SN: Yeah. They were not ready for that Mary.
BB: Yeah. They weren’t ready for that Mary.
SN: No, and I had lots of strange experiences. I remember doing a school play, I got offered the part, Angel Gabriel, and I just couldn’t learn my lines, I’d just get so nervous, and I remember this teacher saying to me while I was doing the scene, “If you don’t learn those lines, you’re going to lose this part.” And then there was this… Just this feeling of shame, you know, feeling of shame that I couldn’t do it correct. The shame has been with me from a very young age. I think that’s part of the awkwardness and kind of my experiences of growing up was always like you just keep your head down, stay in line, don’t ruffle any feathers. My parents are from the Caribbean, and the teacher was always right. And they just wanted to continue down that line of survival, doing their job, and you do well at school, you become a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant. There was no one doing drama or art or anything like that.
BB: Isn’t that incredible, that… You know, stay in line, head down, you know, but yet you were going for these roles.
BB: You were…
BB: Yeah. Like you had this creative thing that was not going to be denied, right? Just…
SN: Yeah. I think it’s this thing… I mean, I was talking a while ago with a therapist about this kind of thing of keeping in line and how suffocating it is. And I don’t think I could really articulate it. I just felt very kind of like boxed in.
SN: You know, you see some people who are just able to, from the get-go, know who they are. And they’re just pushing boundaries. I didn’t feel like I was. I feel like I was secretly doing little rebellions, just secretly and quietly. Very small little rebellions. We talked about going back to the time of like slavery, colonial, and that kind of thing of putting your head above the parapet would cost you your life. You know?
BB: Yes! Yes.
SN: So it was… We would talk about that. And I just, you know, it was really like, “Wow. That’s shaped so much of me growing up, in a way.” But then there was another part of it where my parents came over and had no experience of this country. And to me that’s brave. And the little brave choices that they made, you know? It’s like everybody in their own way was trying to be brave, you know?
BB: Tell me about high school. Tell me about being a teenager. Are you acting in plays at this point?
SN: Yeah. I was doing drama. I mean, I did everything… I kind of went down, more or less, the straight line, you know. I thought like, “How do I survive?” I survive… I don’t get in any fights with girls because I’m the clown in class. I can be funny. And I was good at drama. That was the way I kind of found ways to survive. And just ways to navigate and hide, in a way. Like I kept thinking, “I’m hiding myself. I’m hiding myself by playing these characters.” And all my friends who thought, “She’s really funny, funny. Oh, my God, she’s really serious when she’s doing a drama. She’s really good,” and couldn’t quite put the two together, in a way. I just did it like that. Just went down the road doing drama. I joined a youth theater. I did it that way. But all the time it was kind of like my aunts and uncles and my dad just kept thinking, “She’s really smart. She’s going to go down the line of like doctor.” You know, or…
BB: She’s going to shift course.
SN: Yeah! And it was always like, “This is just a hobby. This is just a hobby.”
BB: No, not a hobby.
SN: Yeah. It’s funny. It wasn’t until… I think it was around like college when they kind of realized, “Oh, my gosh.” They came to see some productions I did, and they were kind of like, “Ah, she’s really good.” And uh…
BB: What were the productions? Like what kind of theater were you doing? Were you doing contemporary theater? Were you doing Shakespeare? What were you doing? Or everything?
SN: A bit of everything. When I did the National Youth Theatre, which was at Battersea Arts Youth Theatre, I did Measure for Measure and I played Isabella. And I did Oedipus Rex, which is a Greek tragedy. I did that at college. I’ve always liked the classicals because the classicals gave you a chance to be epic. To be big.
BB: Oh. Expansive.
SN: And you could really spread your wings in parts like that, and re-imagine yourself. And I was always looking to re-imagine myself.
BB: Help me figure this out. This is so interesting, because I’m often asked, “What is the epitome of vulnerability to you?” And I said, “You know, it’s different for everybody.” But for me, I don’t understand how people act. I don’t understand theater and film and television. I just cannot imagine anything more vulnerable than someone saying, “Action!” and then you have to do something, and people are watching. And then they’ll say, “Cut! Can you do it more this way or that way?” I feel like I would die if I had to do that.
BB: Yet you’re doing this.
SN: Well, I’d feel like I would die if I had to stand in front of [chuckle] thousands of people and talk like what you do. I could not do that. I could not do that.
BB: No! Really?
SN: I really couldn’t. I really couldn’t. I find it really hard. I’ve had to do loads of interviews for Ted Lasso, and I kept thinking, “Oh, my gosh. What’s Apple going to be saying about… ”
SN: Because I was just like… I was getting hot. Like you know you just get a little sweat around the neck, back of the neck, around… Kind of, “Oh. Oh. I’ve got to be myself.” I still get that. But being able to act in front of people, it’s spiritual. I’ve always been able to transport, if that makes any sense. I go somewhere else. But then I’m super aware of things, like I can hear a pin drop. Like when I used to do theater I could hear the person in row three cough. I was super aware. And I felt so much in my power. I really felt free in the way that you can move with the audience, so every performance… Nearly every night was different. Just felt different. Based on… It’s an offering and sharing of a story.
SN: Without an ego or anything. But yeah, it’s really…
SN: Just… It’s a relationship.
BB: It’s spiritual. I mean that’s how, when I’m doing my work on stage, I can hear a pin drop. I can hear the person on the third row coughing. But I feel so just in this kind of connective, kind of transformative space that, you know, even if I give the same talk two nights in a row, it’s completely different because the audience is different. Okay, let me go back. So you’re in high school. You’re doing performances. You’re in college. Are you falling in and out of love? Are you wild? Are you an introvert or extrovert? What are you like off stage?
SN: I feel like… Can I say introvert-extrovert? [chuckle]
BB: Yes. For sure.
SN: I had this wonderful way of being loud, and being really kind of goofy. Loud. I still have a part of that with me now, but I was really able to just really do that. Keep everything at a distance [chuckle] more or less.
SN: And then there was a part of me that was like… I always felt, “Oh, the real me is on stage.” I feel like, “Yes, I can be really both those things.” And there’s a fluidity with that, and to be able to survive like that. But in the real, like outside world I couldn’t necessarily be that way. I felt like there was expectations. Like I’d created this kind of monster where I was like, “Yeah!” Clowny and silly. And then all my friends… That’s what they expected of me, and then it was a part of me. I always remember from secondary school, high school… I always wanted to hang around what we used to call the boffins, the super nerdy people who were really smart. I always wanted to hang around with them. But I was quite popular, and I always used to talk to them and they would always be like, “She’s talking… Why is she talking to us?”
SN: And I was like, “I think those are my people.” [laughter] Yeah.
BB: Isn’t that weird? I mean, I think it’s so weird how the inner Sarah’s like, “Those are my people over there.”
BB: And then the outer Sarah is… So you were funny and gregarious and…
SN: Yeah. Yeah.
BB: But also inside, you were shy and… Nerdy.
SN: Yeah, I was awkward with boys, I’m different now, but I was really like, oh… [laughter] And people thought, I should be super confident, but not at all… So my little hideaway was really acting. [laughter]
BB: I know, I love that, and it’s just… We talk a lot about the power of paradox on the podcast, and how two seemingly opposing things can be true, and how so many of us straddle the tensions of both, because I was gregarious and loud and wild, but inside, very introverted, very fearful, very unsure of the world and myself in the world at the same time. So I think both things can be true about us, don’t you think?
SN: Yeah, definitely, and then there’s that part of you when you’re a teen… I always think it’s like a kind of breakthrough when you’re beginning to become somehow aware of your sexual power and…
SN: That was something… I didn’t grow up in a militant home, but it felt like that’s not something you express as such. It was complex, because my parents used to play like Calypso and Reggae and Soca, and there was people dancing together and dancing in a group. And I’d been dancing since I was two, so I could do… I could really do all the dances and stuff, I’m always confident dancing, but never wanted to dance with anyone in that sense, so it’s really just weird. If you’d see me dance, you’d think, Oh, she’s very much in her own power, but I was always awkward for a very long time.
BB: God, it’s kind of like that third space of who I am in the world, and how do I navigate who I am with the world…
BB: When did you move to London?
SN: Always been in London. What I did do is when I was like 19, you know, you’d apply for drama school, I took a year out because… [chuckle] It was funny, I’d auditioned for drama schools and they were going… First of all, it was like, “My name is Sarah Louise.” They would look at the name and then they’d look at me and think, “Those… The name, and you don’t match.” [laughter] And I was like, “Oh, yeah, the name and me don’t match, okay,” and then there was that part, and then there was also I knew… They kept saying, “You’re very young. You seem very young. You’re very good, but you’re very young, maybe you should take some time.” And so I took a year out and then I thought, “Okay, I’m just going to move out of London and go and study elsewhere.” So I studied in northern England, which is Manchester, and I went to study there for three years, and because I thought if I don’t get out of London, I probably won’t.
SN: So then I studied there for three years, I stayed up north, I moved further up north to Leeds and I worked in Liverpool. And actually, they were really great experiences for me because I then was in a space where I could be expansive and I was with different people, and also I was taking roles that weren’t necessarily the roles that I would have… Like my other colleagues who were studying in London weren’t getting those roles, and I was getting that because there was a kind of imagination, I feel, in a way. I think like London, you kind of… Sometimes it was about race.
BB: Oh, yeah.
SN: And up there, it was like, you could just be really creative. That was my experience. But the third space, that’s really interesting, I would never have termed it that way, but I think about the third space, which I find really interesting.
BB: So let me ask you this, first of all, what’s it like being in an immigrant family in London growing up?
SN: It’s kind of like… I feel like my feet don’t always… I’m in one land and then in another. There’s a home that I feel really connected to, but I’ve never lived there, and there’s experience here, and that’s probably part of my attraction to acting and storytelling is trying to find home in a way, if that makes sense.
BB: Oh, man, it makes perfect sense, and trying to find home outside of us and inside of us.
BB: So you come back from the north of England, and Sarah’s like, “Jesus Christ, she’s not going to let me out of this biography any time soon.” No, I’m not. I’m going to walk you through this. Tell me about your favorite parts, your most challenging parts as you’re acting. Like, was there a moment that you had a part where you’re like, “Oh, my God, this is what I want to do.” Like what was the experience like for you? What was going inside your heart and in your head?
SN: I got back to London and I was like temping, like doing office work and just auditions, and I’d join in a few bands because I used to sing like jazz, and I remember getting asked to go back up, what we call the middle, like the Midlands, it was a place called Leicester, that was like to do this repertory, because the repertory theater was now starting… Kind of in a way, dying out. There wasn’t many places that did a series of plays for a number of time, unless it was Shakespeare more or less.
SN: And so I’d been asked to do this one-woman show, and I had no idea what the play was about. I read this part and I was like, “I don’t get it, but I’m going to just blag it and see if I can get this job.” And it was like 30, 40 characters, and I would do that and I would do To Kill A Mockingbird, and then I’d maybe do a Christmas show. And I feel like doing that one-woman show, I got the job, and it was like 50 or 60 characters, and it was just me, a bench and a bag.
SN: Yeah. It was such a beautiful piece of writing by a writer called Kay Adshead, and she was an actress as well, and she kind of wrote this kind of like a Medea piece, and it was basically… She got commissioned with a number of other writers to comment on Labour Party coming into power, and it was about this woman who was an asylum-seeker, and it was about how the breakdown of the system in effect breaks her down, so she plays all the characters that she interacts with, from her… The lawyer, the neighbor, that was like… And that to me, was one of the most challenging and one of the most exciting roles that I had, like at that point, to be able to trust and understand, you can do this, the capacity of what you can create on stage, the world, you can create.
BB: I mean, I would imagine when you are in your power and you’re acting, that you have to have every sensor open.
BB: You know, like everything is open, so things flow in and out between you and the audience, and the only thing that could get in the way is bullshit or the not truth, and when everything’s open like that, I think we are open to sensing and hearing, especially reminders that talk to us about the importance of the truth.
SN: Yeah, definitely.
BB: You tell the truth, right?
SN: Yeah, I’m always attracted to truth-telling and I’m… More and more as I’m getting older, I’m beginning to trust much more in my own truth, you know, and being more myself. Also part of it, being a daughter that’s first generation, you spend a lot of time trying to fit in. Now, what’s the right way to behave, what’s the right way to be, what’s the right way to be accepted? And you spend a lot of that time doing that. More and more I’m just trusting in who I am.
BB: Yeah, there’s a lot of pressure, I would imagine, to assimilate and be a certain way. And it sounds like your daughter does not have.
SN: No. [laughter]
BB: It sounds like you raised her with a lot of freedom to figure out who she is. How old is your daughter?
SN: She’s nine, yeah.
BB: Oh, what a fun age.
SN: I know, I know. It’s just… She teaches me so much.
BB: Well, let’s talk about the Ted Lasso call.
BB: So your agent calls, I’m assuming?
SN: No. I got an email just to say, “Oh, um, there’s a casting for this show.” And [chuckle] I didn’t know anything about this show but I knew the casting director, because the casting director used to be my agent.
SN: And this is what was hilarious because part of me was going, “Okay, I want to do a good take for this, [chuckle] so she somehow will think, yes, I made the right choice in choosing her as a client.”
SN: Like how many, many years and years and years ago. It was like part of my kind of…
BB: Yeah, no, I get it.
BB: I track, I want to blow this out of the water so she can look back and think, “Yeah.”
SN: Yeah, I’ve got to do a good one, yeah.
SN: And we were in lockdown, and I hated self-tapes. And I was like, “Oh, I just want to meet people and get a vibe and… ”
SN: So I got a friend over to self-tape with me, and he’s like, “Have you not watched this show?” I was like, “What show, this? No, I haven’t.” And he goes, “You need to watch this show.” I was like, “Okay, let’s just do the self-tape and I’ll watch it afterwards.” [laughter] So I do the self-tape, send it off, and then I started watching bits of the show, just the first few episodes and I was like, “Man, this is really good. There’s something honest about this and there’s a lot of heart in this.” And I was just thinking, “This is really good.” [chuckle] And I was like, “Oh, my God, I need to get this job.”
SN: It’s too late, I’ve already sent the tape, I don’t know if I’ll get it. So I was like, “I’m going to put it all out there, I’m going to manifest, affirmations, I’m going to be sending some vibes to Jason, like pick me, pick me.”
BB: Heck, yeah.
SN: And then got the call to say, “Yeah,” which was great. Actually, I kept getting these messages, “You’re in the mix,” or, “I think Jason’s going to look at some of your tape, your showreel,” or whatever. And I was like, “Oh, come on, come on, just say yes.” And then yeah, I got the job.
BB: And you were excited?
SN: Yeah, I was really excited, really, really excited, because I watched SNL, I watched Jason in Horrible Bosses. It’s funny, I remember looking at him, I was thinking, “Oh, what’s going on behind the eyes? What’s going on beyond the eyes?” And I remember thinking… Whenever I used to tell my friend who I used to self-tape a lot with, I always just say, “It’s about the eyes, it’s really about the eyes.” And then when I first met Jason, he said, “It’s all in the eyes, it’s all in the eyes.” And I was like, “Okay.” And he was like, “Yeah, what I do is I just watch and I see how the actor is, I put the volume down and I just watch.” And I didn’t put two and two together until later on, I was like, “Oh my gosh, yeah, he said that, it’s all in the eyes.” [chuckle]
BB: Let me tell you something, you cannot look away from your eyes when you’re on the screen in Ted Lasso. I feel like I risk falling into them and never coming back out. How do you do that?
SN: I don’t know. [chuckle]
SN: I don’t know. I just really had to, I don’t know, exhale, go into a place. I really didn’t know what I was doing with this character. I really didn’t know what the hell. Jason was very kind in offering up lots of information when I first started. Before, actually, he would just… We had a little chat and he was just saying this, about this character and that, and I remember on the page it said she’s very kind, and I was like, “But some of the things she’s saying aren’t so kind.” But I just was like, “Trust, trust, trust, and just be open and be… Vulnerability’s okay.” I feel like in my acting, it’s what I do best.
BB: God, you’re so vulnerable in this role.
SN: It’s my superpower.
BB: Yeah, oh, oh, oh!
SN: Vulnerability is my superpower, I think. And I never properly give it enough kudos. And it puts me in a funny place, it puts my stomach sometimes in a funny place, we just got to root and trust in it all.
BB: Had you ever played a therapist before?
SN: No, no, no, no. Social workers, detectives. [chuckle] No, I had no clue. And I was thinking, “She says she’s really good at her job, blah, blah, blah, I never say I’m really good at my job. It’s like she’s the complete opposite of me. She’s really confident in what she’s doing, I’m not like that. [chuckle] I can’t keep still.”
BB: This is a woman who is so in her skin.
BB: So you had never played a therapist before. This is probably personal, did you have any experience to draw on at all in terms of what therapy was like?
SN: Yeah, I’ve had therapists before.
BB: So you knew the therapeutic relationship, you knew kind of…
SN: Yeah. And you know what? Jason was like, I’m going to put you in touch with someone that he knew, who works in sports, and so for whatever reason it never happened, and I’m kind of grateful for that because…
SN: I could only source from myself.
SN: I talk about the connection with the audience, it’s also the connection with the person you’re working with. And I felt like if we both trust in that space and we both look into each other’s eyes, and we offer up that generosity and that openness, then we both can do kind of our best work within those scenes, if that makes sense.
BB: Wow! Yeah. So, I have to say that, as you can only imagine, I’m friends with a lot of therapists.
SN: Yeah, I can imagine.
BB: Yeah, [laughter] I’m glad. A shit ton is the proper measurement for that. They think you’re amazing.
SN: I can’t believe it. [chuckle] Oh, it’s mad.
BB: They do, and I think it’s your… I mean, we’re going back to this, I need to rename the podcast like The Paradox Podcast, but your character is a living example of… you are an expert, but you are deeply human and vulnerable. You are kind, but you are boundaried. You are sure about yourself, but curious about the world. Like how do you hold the tension? Does that resonate with you, those paradoxes?
SN: Yeah they do. I don’t think I sit down and articulate it or think about processing it that way, but I’m always interested in that holding that middle space, between one and the other. You know, I felt extremely frightened and vulnerable, like, and I often battle with my talent or how good I am, and there’d been a lock down, and I was then trying to juggle two jobs at the same, trying to film two things at the same time, and also thinking, are they happy with what I’m doing? Because I don’t know what I’m doing. All I can do is, I have to just be in that space with this character, Ted and just like let’s just go to a place where we can just bring it to a rooted and real, and I was always looking for her humanity, always looking for her kindness, her love, her care, and I feel like what she’s good at, is that she cares, but there has to be boundaries. There has to be.
BB: Yeah, no, and I think you do that. I’m sure you remember, he’s like, “Hey doc”. And you’re like, “It’s doctor.” [chuckle] You can just hear therapists all over the world going, “Yes” because there is a tension between your character and Ted Lasso or Jason’s character, between kind and nice, between real whole-hearted kindness and sometimes performative niceness. And you’re very… I don’t know if you’re getting the whispers of just tell the truth and you’ll be okay, but you’re so truthful, and we get to see you as a person in your humanity, which I think is so important, because a lot of times the characters of therapists don’t have a humanity. And if you add to that, a Black woman playing a therapist, there’s no humanity, there’s just in service of the people you’re with.
SN: God, I feel I might cry. [chuckle] You know, when I got this job, I don’t know, I always have… I just always kind of ask for kind of just any offerings that are going to teach me and help me to learn and be better, and I started finding myself going down a road of where, one, there was a conversation that was taking place on Twitter. I somehow accidentally came across about therapists and it started off with, I May Destroy You and I thought, okay…
BB: Oh yeah.
SN: So I was like, okay, so they were discussing about the Black therapist in that show. And then they started talking about how some things within it didn’t ring true, about turning up at her house at night and just things, and her opening the door. I said, “Okay, fine.” But then there was that conversation again that I’ve always, with parts, wrestling with I always play in these characters where you’re facilitating the story. You’re in servitude.
SN: We no longer play the roles of the maid, the mammy. You know, you then start to play the parts of the best friend, the friend at work, the social worker, the nurse, the doctor, and then it’s all dressed up in an idea that you’re in a position of power, because maybe you’re a detective, head detect… Chief inspector. You’re in all these roles. But you’re always serving the story. You don’t have an arc and you serve the story, and I was really frightened about that, and I kept thinking, so who am I? I’m this Black woman and she’s in sports and she’s over 40, and I was thinking, how can I just keep… If I try to be more of who that is and more myself. That’s the best I can do because I don’t necessarily have control of what’s on the paper. But it’s funny, my husband said to me, “What you did with that character, Sharon, is that you did this, you just pulled the doors open and you pushed all the way in.”
BB: Oh. I’ve got goosebumps. That’s true.
SN: And when he said that, I was like… I had the same thing that when you said to me, in your eyes, there’s not just story… There’s books and books of what it means to be human, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, if I just made her human then that’s a good job.” I didn’t know what it was going to be like when people saw it, when it comes out, and I was just like, I wrestled with it myself so much and I felt like, “Oh no, I don’t know if I’ve done it, I don’t know.” [laughter]
BB: And I think it’s interesting, I think this whole idea of servitude dressed up in professionalism.
BB: Is still servitude.
SN: It is. And worse so, tell it like it is. Don’t pretend.
BB: Like, yeah, right, yeah. It’s got a layer of deception and manipulation when you use professionalism to hide what it is. I agree.
BB: Sharon Fieldstone, something happens where… I was talking with Laura Mayes who produces the podcast on our team, and we were like, we want a whole spin-off show on Sharon.
BB: We want to know where she’s from. We want to meet her therapist. We want to know who her love interest is. We want to know… And so I think that speaks to what you’ve done, and I forgot that I wrote that to you on my… Really sliding into your DMs, as they say… [laughter] On Instagram where I said there are books and books and books in story. Not just a story in your eyes, but books and books in your eyes, when you’re that character and I just so… What I keep thinking, you and I were talking about You Are Your Best Thing, the book that I edited with Tarana, and I remember Tarana’s quote, “I’m not interested in any anti-racist work that doesn’t take time to honor and cherish and celebrate Black humanity”.
SN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BB: And there’s so much humanity in this character.
SN: Thank you.
BB: I find myself, since I’ve seen you, I know it’s crazy, but trying to listen like you, sometimes, your character.
SN: Yeah. I try that also.
BB: You’re not reactive.
BB: It’s working for you.
SN: In my life, yeah. Trying to listen like Sharon, more, yeah, she’s just like…
SN: But also, I had forgotten… When I got the job, when I first met Jason, we had a quick chat. I was going in for a fitting. He said, “Do you know Brené Brown?” And I was like, “No, I don’t think so, I don’t think so.” And then he said, “Oh, I’m going to send you some links to some of her work.” And then when I looked at it, I was like, “I know who she is.” [chuckle] But your TED Talk about shame, vulnerability, and the conversations you said like, one of the things that always rang true to me is you can’t talk about race without talking about shame. I might not be quoting it right, but…
BB: That’s right, no.
SN: And I kept tapping into that because I was like as soon as I enter into that space and it’s me and Jason, we cannot separate the fact that I’m a Black woman, I’m British, and she’s a head of a sport… And I just thought, you don’t have any problem with discussing that and bringing that to the table, I can’t have any problem with bringing that to the table, even on a subtle level, without even speaking out, I know what that is, and I have to be, stand rooted and strong in who I am, if that makes sense.
BB: Yes, no, it makes total sense, and this is like the second or third time since we’ve started our conversation that you’ve used the word rooted.
BB: And there is something so firmly planted about the character and about you in the character. Can you tell me and everyone that’s listening, is there anything you do that would be helpful for those of us who, when the winds pick up and we feel just blown to hell, is there anything that you do to get rooted and be grounded in moments?
SN: All I try to do is just like root my feet and just feel like I have a right to be here, that I deserve to be loved. I deserve to be seen and loved, I am seen and I am loved, and that’s what I try to do. When I got a bit of a wobble, sometimes I’d be like, “Oh, man, I’m just sitting here, I’m not saying anything.” You know you get the voices that you have, the negative voices that tell you you’re not good enough, and I just kept saying “No, I deserve to be seen and be loved,” and that’s what I try to put into Sharon and I try to put in my life when I can, just completely… To take space, to believe that I have a right to be here and a right to take this space, because so much of it has been not taking up space. So much of my life and so much of my experience as a Black woman is about not taking up space.
BB: I mean it’s so beautiful and I can see the… And maybe I’m drawing a line that shouldn’t be drawn, but I’m also seeing the line between taking up space and feeling expansive on the stage.
SN: Yeah, definitely.
BB: Is there a line there?
BB: A through line?
SN: Yeah, definitely, there is about that. I’m still waiting, sometimes I feel like I have these great big wings and I still am doing a bit of this. [chuckle] Still waiting for things to completely, fully… Yeah, it is about that, it is about love, loving and honoring yourself and knowing that you have a right to be here and honoring and taking up that space. So much of my upbringing was not to do that, it’s dangerous, you know.
SN: I thought I’d get in trouble for it and then one of the things that just kind of kept me going, I did this beautiful play called Leave Taking by this brilliant writer called Winsome Pinnock, and she’s quite a gentle and shy woman, but when she puts the pen on paper, I feel like she’s wow!
BB: Her wings come way out, huh?
SN: Yeah, and she wrote this play back in the ’80s when she was in her 20s, and she wrote this play, and it’s kind of like a love letter to an older Caribbean woman who comes to this country with these dreams and stuff and no longer with her partner and she’s trying to raise these children, and the children are becoming older and having a different experience and understanding of England that she doesn’t. And she’s got her mother in Jamaica and her mother passed away, she can’t get to see her, it’s a number of things and it’s… That play, a lot of it was about being seen and a lot of it is kind of honoring those aunties and grandmothers and those women that set the path for us to be here. And it’s just like, that set me down a road of love and honor.
SN: And then I’m in a way, jumping on to I May Destroy You. What Michaela did with the character that I played, was that she offered up, again love. I think about being beloved and I thought that character is beloved. Even at a short space of time, she’s taken up space, she’s loved, and that’s really important, and we don’t often see that. We don’t see it enough, especially with Black women.
BB: No, we don’t.
SN: There’s quite often times I’m on my own. [chuckle]
SN: I don’t have any love interests. [chuckle]
BB: Yeah. [laughter]
SN: I don’t have anyone who loves me or I’m loved, and that happens. Sometimes it’s the nature of the story, but quite often it’s just taken as a norm.
BB: Sometimes it’s the case of whiteness.
BB: Yeah, I mean really.
SN: Yeah, and just not considering it, just not even considering that person. And what does that do to the psyche of people who watch that, when their world is the TV or what they see. Quite often, a lot of young people look to America and you see these great big stories like How to Get Away with Murder, she had… Oh my gosh, she had life and breath and she… Viola would just could go for all kinds of transitions and transfer to… And other characters who came in, it’s just like…
BB: No, it’s again, you’re talking about what does it do for people watching that. I think for white people, it’s confirmation of entitlement and space and for Black people and other people of color, it’s possibly confirmation of danger around taking up too much space. There are no words about when you’re on the screen in that show, you fill up every space and you fill it up with really just love and truth.
SN: Thank you.
BB: Yeah, it’s… You’re amazing. Thank you.
SN: Thank you. Yeah, I truly believe in the love and just also the expansion of things and yeah, that space and [chuckle] I was just like… So many people have said, “Oh, we love what you did in I May Destroy You.” And I was like, “What did I… [chuckle] What did I do?” I was in a few scenes but what I did is I think, it was the truth and offering up love to Michaela’s character in that short space, you know, care, compassion.
BB: Affection, affection, just… Yeah. All right, you ready for some rapid fire questions?
SN: Okay. [chuckle]
BB: I’m so excited to hear your answers, I have to say. [laughter] All right.
BB: Fill in the blank for me, which you’ve already kind of answered, but we’ll do it again. Fill in the blank for me. Vulnerability is…
SN: Strength of heart and truth.
BB: Okay. You, Sarah, called to be very brave, but your fear is real. You can feel it and taste it in your throat. What is the very first thing you do?
SN: Breathe in, breath out, and sit with it. [chuckle]
BB: Breathe in, breathe out.
SN: Sit next to it. Yes.
BB: Aww. Okay. What is something that people often get wrong about you?
SN: They think I’m really confident and loud. [laughter] I’m really shy. [laughter]
BB: What is the last TV show that you binged and loved?
SN: I think I started watching The Morning Show. [laughter]
BB: Oh, that’s good.
SN: Yeah. Yeah, I think I was watching that. That’s the one I watched. Yeah.
BB: Favorite movie or one of your favorite movies?
SN: Blazing Saddles.
SN: I like Blazing Saddles, The Producers, anything that Mel Brooks has touched. [laughter]
BB: God, I was not expecting that. [laughter]
SN: Actually, I went through a period where I was really depressed and every time I’d play the opening of when Gene Wilder came in in The Producers.
BB: Yes. [laughter]
SN: It was like… [chuckle] And Zero Mostel, and that just used to get me going. Was like, yeah, can get outside now, go on with the day. [laughter]
BB: Oh my God, I was not expecting that. That is so great. A concert that you’ll never forget?
SN: Oh gosh, there’s so many. One of them is, I saw this quiet little concert with Alicia Keys in Elephant & Castle, in this little tiny space, Coronet, it was beautiful. She had a cold, her voice broke, and it was just… And it was her and the piano.
BB: Yeah, she’s incredible.
SN: She… Yeah.
BB: Okay. Oh, this is a good one. Favorite meal?
SN: My favorite meal. Yeah, at the moment… Nostalgia, there’s a thing in Barbados called Cou-cou, which is made with corn meal. It’s lovely and it’s dense, and you put a really rich gravy in there. So it’s Cou-cou and flying fish.
BB: Oh, yum, it sounds like really… Like comfort food.
SN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BB: Okay, what’s on your nightstand?
SN: Books. [laughter]
BB: What kind of books?
SN: That I never complete… Yeah, books. Michaela Coel’s Misfits.
BB: Oh, yeah.
SN: All about love. [laughter]
BB: Oh bell hooks, yeah.
SN: Yeah, yeah.
BB: Okay. A snapshot of an ordinary moment in your life that gives you real joy?
SN: Cooking. [laughter] Cooking.
BB: You like to cook?
SN: I love… I do, I like to put love in it and cook. I never know, sometimes, what the outcome is going to be. They’re always good, but sometimes, I like to go off-piste. [laughter]
BB: What’s your favorite thing to cook?
SN: I cook a lot of rice and peas and Caribbean food, and I mess around with it a bit, not the traditional way.
SN: Yeah, I love making soups, though. [laughter]
BB: Soups are my jam. Yeah, soups are good.
SN: Yeah, yeah.
BB: Tell me one thing you’re deeply grateful for right now?
SN: My daughter. Yeah, I’m really grateful for that. [laughter] No matter what, she loves me.
BB: Yes, no matter what.
BB: All right. We asked you to make a mini mixtape, five songs that you could not live without. Here’s what you gave us: “Dreamland” by Marcia Griffiths. “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone. “Me, Myself and I” by De La Soul. “Misty” by Donny Hathaway, and “Boots” by Gabby re-released on the Til Now album.
BB: In one sentence, what does this mini mixtape say about you?
SN: Roots and culture. [laughter]
BB: Roots and culture?
SN: Roots and culture. Yeah.
BB: That’s everything, isn’t it? Roots and culture.
BB: Do you love listening to music? Do you like it?
SN: I love it. That was so hard for me. I love Prince, Kate Bush, I had a whole… Hall & Oates, I was like, “Oh my God, there’s so many people,” I just… Yeah, it’s hard, right?
BB: Well, I have to say a huge thank you for being on the podcast. You are…
SN: Thank you.
BB: You were just one of my favorite characters, but you’re one of my favorite people too.
SN: Oh, bless you.
BB: Yeah, I know. You bring so much of what we need to the world, so thank you for that.
SN: Oh, thank you so much. Likewise, you do. Absolutely, 100%. You keep us coping on, you keep us keeping on. Thank you.
BB: Thank you.
BB: What a wonderful conversation and what a just beautiful human being. I took so much away of it, especially, I don’t know, maybe the juxtaposition of being rooted and expansive at the same time. The eyes, if you’ve seen her on Ted Lasso, you’ll know that she holds so much love and kindness and truth-telling in those eyes. You really can’t stop looking. We’ll put all the links to where you can find Sarah and learn more about her on the episode page on brenebrown.com. Thank you for joining us here on Spotify, we really appreciate it, and we will be back soon. Stay awkward, brave and kind, rooted and expansive. See y’all next time, bye.
BB: Unlocking Us is a Spotify Original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil, and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.
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