Interview: Sophina Brown

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Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Sophina Brown wanted to be an actress for as long as she can remember. She burst onto the stage in the second grade with a memorable performance in Wheels a musical about the evolution of, what else, the wheel. She distinctly remembers telling her mother that one day she was going to appear on a billboard in Times Square.

Upon receiving her B.F.A in Theatre Performance from the University of Michigan, she immediately moved to New York City. Sophina wanted to star on Broadway but soon realized that choice roles in plays were generally given to veteran thespians with film and television credits. The same, however, was not true for Broadway musicals. So, although she had no formal training in this arena, she switched her game plan.

Eventually, she auditioned for the The Lion King, and landed the lead of Nala. And just two years after Sophina’s arrival in New York, her childhood prophesy came true when a billboard went up on 41st Street & Broadway advertising the show. Seeing her face on that billboard every day reminded her that dreams can come true, if you want them bad enough.

She can currently be seen on TV as part of the ensemble cast comprising the legal team on CBS' new hit drama Shark. Sophina plays Raina Troy, a very tough, strong and compassionate woman who, through her constant challenging of Sebastian Stark (James Woods) to do the right thing, is the source of moral consciousness on the team. The show airs Thursday nights at 10:00pm (ET/PT) on CBS.

Sophina can also be seen on the big screen in Because I Said So, opposite Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore. An avid theatre fan, she catches as many plays, musicals and live performances as she can fit into her demanding schedule. She is also actively involved with a group of actors doing live readings of plays. In her free time, Sophina also loves searching out new restaurants featuring innovative cuisines, especially desserts.

BSN: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be an actress?
SB: I'd say around the age of four. I can't remember existing apart from that dream.

BSN: How did you know?
SB: I just knew. I was always performing in my room, while my friends were out riding bikes. My favorite times as a child were when I was old enough to stay home by myself. I would have the whole house to sing and dance. No one would tell me to be quiet!

BSN: Do you remember how you felt the first time you were on stage?
SB: It felt really good. The instant gratification of having an audience is thrilling. There's nothing like performing live. You don't feel that energy in film or television. That's one of the reasons my heart will always be rooted in theatre.

Did you perform in high school?

SB: I did. I actually went to a performing arts school for half a day from seventh to twelfth grade. Half of my day was spent studying theatre, the other half was spent at a regular school for academics. We produced two plays a year. It was such a big deal at the time. At that age, getting cast in a school production seemed like a life or death situation.

BSN: Did you have any second thoughts about majoring in theater in college?  Did you have a double-major or a fall-back position?
SB: None at all. "Fall-back" was never in my vocabulary. That was a little hard for my parents to understand at first, but they saw my determination and always supported me.

BSN: Where did a little girl from Saginaw, Michigan get the confidence to move to Manhattan right after graduating from college?
SB: Confidence wasn't the problem. It's more like where did I get the money. That was always the plan. Broadway, Broadway, Broadway. I didn't even know enough to be afraid of anything. I just knew I was broke. I busted my butt waiting tables my senior year of college just to get out there. I slept on a lot of couches. Thank God for my friends.

BSN: Was auditioning harder than you had envisioned?
SB: The auditions weren't the hard part. It was the disappointment that often followed. This business can bring high highs and low lows. If you don't have a solid faith and support system, it can do serious damage.

BSN: When did you know you could make it in show business?
SB: I may have a different definition of "making it" than most people.
I don't care if I'm making three hundred dollars a week or three million. If I'm being paid to do what I love most, it's a blessing. How many people can say they jump out of bed every morning excited to go to work? It's so rare that passion and profession intersect. When that happens, that’s making it. I would not settle for anything less.

BSN: How did you enjoy having the lead role in The Lion King?
SB: It was amazing. It's such a powerful story. I remember watching the show from the back of the theatre after being cast. I was weeping because I couldn't believe that I was given the opportunity to be a part of something so beautiful.

BSN: Why did you decide to relocate to Los Angeles?
SB: If you notice, unlike the musicals, most Broadway plays have actors and actresses with huge TV and film credits. For example, Julianne Moore, Julia Roberts, Ashley Judd, Cynthia Nixon, etcetera. I wanted to build up my resume so that I could move back to New York and do theatre.

BSN: Jimmy Bayan insisted I asked you where in L.A. you live?
SB: I live in Hollywood.

BSN: How do you like having a hit TV series?
SB: I love having a J-O-B! I'm so excited to play this role everyday. They're really writing wonderful stuff for me. It's truly a joy. I hope that we keep building on our audience.

BSN: What's the show about?
SB: It's an LA based law drama. James Woods' character, Sebastian Stark, used to be a high-profile defense attorney. Now, he's switched sides. He has a team of younger lawyers that he schools in the process. But to his surprise, we sometimes school him.

BSN: Tell me a little about Stark and your character, Raina?
SB: They are both strong, opinionated, and passionate, which means, they bump heads...a lot. Raina always calls Stark on his dirty tactics, but there is mutual respect and admiration.

BSN: How does the long days involved with shooting a TV series compare to the daily grind of appearing on Broadway?
SB: This schedule is a bit more taxing than Broadway for me. The days are longer and we're constantly learning new dialogue, but it keeps everything fresh. The trick with Broadway is making a show seem fresh even though it’s been running for ten years.

BSN: Which do you prefer, movies, TV or the stage?
SB: The stage. As an actor, you’re in charge of the storytelling once you step out on that stage. You take the audience on a journey. It's truly an actor's medium. With film and TV, there's so much that's out of your control. You have to give it over to editing and post-production. It goes through many different hands before it is enjoyed by an audience. It was hard for me at first. It's kind of like letting someone hold your baby, and hoping you recognize it when you get it back.

BSN: Are you being recognized now everywhere you go?
SB: Nah. I don't go anywhere. I'm such a homebody. I really should work on that.

BSN: Can you still go shopping in the supermarket and the mall?
SB: Oh, yes. I don't know what I would do without my weekly trips to Target. It's my safe haven in a cold, cold world. I'm kidding...sort of.

BSN: How can your fans find you? Are you on MySpace?
SB: No, I seem to be the only person who doesn't have a MySpace page.

BSN: What advice do you have for any aspiring actress eager to follow in your footsteps?
SB: Don't wait for someone to give you an opportunity. Create an opportunity for yourself. Always be working on your art, even when no one is paying you to do so. Take classes, read everything you can get your hands on, always be prepared, and make the most out of every opportunity to perform. Even a two- minute audition is a performance. Enjoy it! Fear is not an option. Do not compare yourself to others. No one can do what you do. And remember to always be grateful for where you are right now.

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