March 17, 2010

A young actress lives the dream in the Big Apple

— Sarah Lord, a young Maine actress and the pride of South Portland High School, is enjoying one of those career moments.

Now living in New York, Lord recently completed filming her part in the high-profile movie ''State of Play,'' a political thriller starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Helen Mirren and others.

She was all over TV in the pre-holiday ad blitz for the ''Rock Band'' video game, and has just been cast in an Off-Broadway production of ''King of Shadows,'' written by hot playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.

People who attended the Maine Jewish Film Festival had the chance to see her in ''Arranged,'' and she also appeared in the indie film ''Backseat,'' which opened in New York in March.

Lord has been in New York for six years, and things are beginning to happen that suggest she is setting herself up for a long and fruitful career, said her agent, Ellen Gilbert.

''She is doing very well,'' Gilbert said. ''She is a young actress doing all the things she should be doing to build her resume, which is important. She is doing theater, TV and film, and getting great feedback. There are no limitations for her.''

A 2002 graduate of South Portland High, Lord got her start in the Portland theater community.

She started working with Lisa DiFranza at the Children's Theatre of Maine at age 9, then moved over to Mad Horse Theatre Company when it operated a children's program.

Soon enough, she was working at Portland Stage Company, and got her break when, at age 13, she landed the lead in the Donald Margulies play ''The Loman Family Picnic.''

After that, she secured roles in regional theaters in Dallas, Cleveland and California. From that point forward, she knew she wanted to make her living on stage.

''I am a theater girl at heart,'' Lord said by phone last week from New York. ''Theater means more to me than anything. It is what I have always done, and what I love.''

That said, she had a blast filming ''State of Play,'' her first appearance in a major movie with mega-stars.

Scheduled for release in early 2009, ''State of Play'' is the film adaptation of a British TV miniseries about a newspaper's probe into the death of a congressman's mistress. Affleck plays the congressman, and Crowe is the journalist leading the probe.

Kevin Macdonald, best known for directing ''The Last King of Scotland,'' directs ''State of Play.''

Lord has a minor but key role. She plays a street waif who comes across a piece of evidence that sets the investigation rolling.

''It was the most amazing thing I have ever done,'' Lord said. ''It was totally different. I have never been involved in a big-budget project before like this. It was definitely eye-opening and amazing, and nerve-wracking.''

She thinks she did OK, but will reserve judgment until she sees the finished film.

''I felt good about it, but you can't tell anything until you watch, which will be a terrifying and thrilling experience,'' she said.

Landing the band-chick role in the ''Rock Band'' TV commercials was pure luck, she said.

She went to an audition attended by hundreds. There were, as Lord puts it, ''blonde and booby girls, and then there was little old me.''

After a series of call-backs, she got the part. She filmed in a private jet, in the back of a limo, at Giants Stadium -- all new experiences for her. The ad campaign achieved cult status, both on TV and on the Web.

Lord -- whose mother, Jane, worked as features editor at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram several years ago -- has no regrets about leaving Maine and staking out her future in New York. Within a few months of arriving in the city after she graduated from high school, she was cast in the Signature Theater Company's Off-Broadway production of Lanford Wilson's ''Fifth of July.''

She got terrific reviews, from New York Times critic Ben Brantley on down. Her career has been a slow and steady build ever since.

The most important lesson she has learned is patience.

''When you're in my business, it's up and down. You can be very busy for a short amount of time, for a few months -- or if you are filming, you can be insanely busy for a few weeks, depending on the size of your part. And then there are lulls, when your busy is auditioning.

''There's a definite ebb and flow of things, and it's a hard thing to get used to. It's something that people who are committed to being in the business understand.''

Lord returns to Maine several times a year to visit friends and family. She always comes up in the summer when the weather is glorious, and at the holidays. She still very much considers herself a Mainer.

Because she has had to work hard for everything she has achieved, she's been able to keep her success in perspective. None of it has come easily, she said, and all is a by-product of her commitment.

''I grew up thinking of myself as the ugly girl with messed-up teeth. To come from that and get some parts on film, it's really quite amazing.''

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

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