The Academy Abroad: A Conversation with Sophie Max
Updated: Aug 23, 2022
It was my great pleasure to chat with Sophie Max, a graduate of the Class of 2017. While we dove into her career, she shared pieces of advice for actors: everything from what to do when you’re booking work to how to create your own work and what to do when you find it tough to get things going. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Sophie, you’re quite busy! I’m seeing you’re doing a whole bunch of different projects now. What’s currently up?
I’ve been super busy, yeah! I was just in New York shooting a short film that I wrote and co-produced with a few people I attended The Academy with. One of them came to me with the idea, and we developed it over a year and a half. The film is called New Age, and it’s in the midst of pre-production.
You haven’t gone too far from your Academy roots, then! Is there something specific about your training that you’ve kept with you?
I think if there had to be one thing, it would be the connections and friendships I walked away with—not just the training, or even a single piece of the training, but the connections themselves. The foundation of training I got was huge, too. I guess what I learned in training was how important it is to build your own process. I think that’s part of the ethos that I took with me: you’re really the only person that can define you as an artist. No one has the power to tell you you’re an actor except you.
That’s a great foundation. You took this further and continued training elsewhere, yeah?
That’s right, yeah. I went to the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and got an MA in their screen acting program.
How has the attention to screen acting impacted your work—has it made the process of creating your own work, especially for the screen, any less daunting?
It’s always daunting, and it certainly was at first. But it was also super empowering. It didn’t stray so much off acting for me, but it was actually empowering for my acting work; I get to tell the stories that I’m passionate about and really care about.
The biggest piece of advice I can give is just to do it, just write it. Because there are always excuses not to write it. And everyone’s first draft is bad. It just is, so you have to accept that and make it better. Once you have something, you can make it better. But you can’t work from nothing, so don’t listen to that critical voice; just start writing. I like to write something in one sitting, and then go back to it later and edit it. So get started and focus on those stories that you’re most interested in and are the most compelling to you.
I also continue to learn so much from working with people from The Academy. Getting in touch with people I know is always so important for me. We pool in so much talent and resources. Also, trust that working with great people will make great things happen.
Tell me a bit about Klara Films.
I’ve done a bit of producing in the past, things I’ve written and done, but I’ve always been a bit nervous. Klara Films is my production company, and we’ve made a bunch of things happen, and have some in the works. Some people I work with bring scripts to me, looking to get involved with things, and I love that. Our slate for 2022 is turning out to be really nice. We’re telling a lot of stories that mean a lot to us: female-led stories, themes that are complex and difficult. I love stories about identity and heritage, friendship and trauma, mental health. I’m always interested in a distinctly female lens. I’ve always wanted to provide opportunities for people in the industry that might often be left out. A film I’m particularly excited by ours, The Whole Truth, has an entirely female and non-binary crew. It’s also been very important to feel like we’re telling the stories in an authentic way, and making sure that a set is a safe place. That’s so important, especially when we’re dealing with stories like these.
Back to screen acting for just a second, what’s a piece of advice you’d give to someone who’s theatre trained when they approach screen acting?
There are a lot of myths. You do not have to be small; you don’t have to feel like you’re doing “theatre acting but making it smaller.” It’s a skill to learn, how important it is to be so alive and active in your whole body, having movement in your whole body while shooting a closeup. I think the tendency is to lock up when you’re on one mark, but you don’t need to do that. It starts with letting go of the myth that you need to be small. You have to burn just as brightly, only you don’t need to be playing to the back of the audience: they get to read your thoughts in your eyes.
Technique is important, too. I really try to focus on building a character so that I can deliver night after night after night. I don’t believe in using your “trauma” in your work; I think that we are acting, and it should be acting. When I build a character, I want to be able to do it at the theatre or on film, and then go home. Acting is your job, and then you get to go home and be a regular person—you don’t have to be that character in your everyday life.
And no one would go to the theatre if they were more interested in seeing those things in their everyday life! But, we’re running out of time, so I have to ask the all-important question: what’s next for you, and where can people find you?
I’m associate producing a short that’s going into production soon. Fingers crossed, I’m acting soon in London, but I can’t really say much about that one just yet. And we have a film going into festivals soon, too. People can find me on Instagram at sophiemax_ or on Twitter at sophiemaxs.