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“Sometimes in death, breath is drawn into a new life,” says Sarah Hyland in Arc Entertainment’s See You In Valhalla as Johana Burwood, a troubled young woman who is forced to face her past after the bizarre death of her brother.
It’s a relatively heavy storyline for Hyland, who is more accustomed to lighter character arcs. “I love Haley Dunphy on Modern Family, but sometimes she’s vapid,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “But Jo was special, because we were able to build her from the ground up. … It was so fun playing a complicated character.”
The following is THR’s edited Q&A with Hyland about juggling acting and producing roles, laughing out loud at the antics of Steve Howey and preparing to play one of her most complex characters yet.
This is your first time producing while playing a lead role.
I love a good challenge. It was great to try something new while also working with close friends; I’ve known writer Brent Tarnol and director Jarret Tarnol for years. I had a lot of fun doing it because I like to have my hands in different cookie jars. We shot the movie in 13 days, because that was what our budget would allow, but in those two weeks, I could focus on my character because I had so many people around me I could trust. I would raise my voice in certain areas as a producer, but I really wanted to focus on Johana because she was very complicated.
Johana definitely has a lot of baggage. How did you prepare for the part?
I have a lot of baggage myself — I think everybody does. Because Brent came to me so early, I was involved in the writing process from the beginning, give my opinions and create Jo with him. I knew her well by the time we started filming; she had a lot me in it. It was so fun playing a complicated character. I love Haley Dunphy on Modern Family, but sometimes she’s vapid. But Jo was special, because we were able to build her from the ground up.
You have a few laugh-out-loud scenes with Howey’s character, Makewi.
That was all Steve! We looked up, and he was eating and holding a bundle of bananas that were sitting on the kitchen counter, and all of a sudden, that was his prop for the scene. I’ve worked with very, very funny people on Modern Family for six years now, so I should be used to it, but Steve is always bringing something fresh to the table. He’s so over-the-top. When he does his Hawaiian prayer at the dinner table, it was really hard for us to keep a straight face. He added so much to the character that we didn’t even think of.
What do you hope viewers take away from See You In Valhalla?
I want people to cry and laugh at the same time — to be able to call their parents, an old friend or their ex and just say they love them or apologize for how they’ve acted in the past. This movie is about a family coming together and these individual characters coming into their own to not only forgive others, but themselves. Everyone has gone through something. Everyone has baggage. I want people to leave happy and let the past go.
So after this, would you rather be in front or behind the camera?
I would love to produce more! But it’s not something I’m putting all of my focus on, because I am an actor first and foremost. It was a new thing I could learn and put 100 percent of myself into, but I’m not actively trying to find projects to produce. I’ve always wanted to be a producer. I’m not sure I would direct though — I don’t think that’s in the cards for me!
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