If the recent releases of teenage soap “Outer Banks” and glossy sports doc “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” have left you uninspired, there is always Sophie Von Haselberg’s latest. Titled “Give Me Pity!” the film is an indie arthouse one-woman show about a variety host, Sissy St. Claire, slowly unraveling throughout her set of various characters. Directed and written by Amanda Kramer, Von Haselberg says she signed on instantly, eager to face her fears of singing and explore the quirky character in all her glory. “There was no audition, none of that. It was just a totally freak connection,” Von Haselberg says.
Previously known best for roles in “Pose,” “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” and “The Wizard of Lies” — as well as being the daughter of Bette Midler — Von Haselberg shows a different side of her skill set in this project. Below, WWD chats with the actress about the project.
WWD: The film comes out Tuesday; how has the lead-up to the release been for you?
Sophie Von Haselberg: It’s been great. We’ve a little bit of a theatrical run, which was a total wonderful surprise to me, so we were out in L.A. with American Cinematheque, and then we were here [in New York] at the Nighthawk, and then we’ve been at a bunch of Alamo Drafthouses, so it feels like a bunch of people have already gotten a sneak peek, which is really exciting. It’s just nice to have some feedback on the film before it hits the masses.
WWD: How did you hear about this project?
S.V.H.: My friend Nicole Delaney, who’s an incredible filmmaker and screenwriter, had written a short called “YOYO” that she and I made together. It was right after both of us had graduated from grad school, and it did a couple of festivals and we had a great time with it, but I then never thought about it again. Then she sent me an email saying, “Amanda Kramer saw you in ‘YOYO’ and wanted to know if she could email you about this project,” and so I got this random email from Amanda basically laying out her idea for “Give Me Pity!” and asking me if I would be interested. Before even getting to the second sentence, I was like, “Yep, sign me on.”
WWD: What was it about her initial pitch that immediately made you want to do it?
S.V.H.: First of all, it was what I knew would be the challenge of singing and dancing and essentially doing a one-woman monologue film. I sensed every fiber of my being completely terrified, which I knew was a good sign, and I knew meant that I had to dive in and do it.
WWD: How did you begin the process?
S.V.H.: Amanda’s based in Los Angeles, and I was in New York at the time. We were going to shoot in March of 2020, and I think she sent me the script maybe early February of 2020, so I didn’t even have that much time with it before we were going to shoot. I was basically just planning to come out to L.A. and we were going to shoot. Then obviously we all know what happened in March of 2020, and we didn’t shoot, and it was postponed for a year. But during that year, I really put the script in a drawer and did not look at it because I was so scared that it was never going to happen. I was just so saddened by the idea of not getting to work on this incredibly challenging role. When I found out that we were shooting, I picked it back up and just started really dedicating myself to the script.
WWD: What was one of the biggest challenges of the project?
S.V.H.: I would say one of the biggest challenges for me was really just allowing myself to feel free enough to sing. I’ve always had a little bit of a fear of singing in public. I just think it carries so much baggage for so many actors because it’s very naked, it’s incredibly vulnerable, so that was a big challenge for me was just to get to a place where I was like, “I know I can do this and it’s going to be OK.” I worked on my singing harder really than I worked on anything else, just because it was the element that terrified me the most. Then you get there and suddenly you’re like, “Oh, I put in all that work and I really am ready.” It’s so freeing to feel that your preparation has actually paid off.
WWD: What is it that you loved about playing her?
S.V.H.: Everything. Literally everything. I think what I love so much about Sissy is that she is manifesting all of these things that so many of us feel on a two and she’s just at a 10 with all of them. I think so many elements of her are things that I deeply, deeply relate to, but I relate to them on a microscopic level and she’s just experiencing on them on a volcanic level.
WWD: What’s something you learned from her?
S.V.H.: I mean, to me, Sissy is such a warning story so I feel like anything that I’ve learned in playing her would probably be what not to do. All of that desperation that she’s experiencing, I think most artists experience a version of that, but I think it’s the question of how to go through your life not allowing strangers to tell you whether or not you’re worth anything. Certainly that I think thinking about those elements so much while I was playing her had an impact on me and just finding joy and richness in your life in places that are not just whether or not you’re getting work as an actor.