VIP Meets Susan Stanley and Sarah Goldberg, the best friends behind new dramedy SisterS

You would be forgiven for thinking Susan Stanley and Sarah Goldberg are actual sisters. “We get that a lot recently,” Sarah tells VIP Magazine as we chat.

The pair have been friends for the guts of two decades after meeting in college 19 years ago. Now they’re finishing each other’s sentences as we discuss their upcoming dark-comedy SisterS. Sarah is Canadian but has an Irish lilt in her voice while Irish Susan has started picking up that Canadian accent.

Of course, the pair, who have been acting for just as long as they’ve been friends, are proud of their brainchild that took seven years to bring to the screen. But Sarah tells us that their real claim to fame is they got in the sea every day before filming while staying in Killiney. Oh, and they spotted Harry Styles when he was en route to the Vico Baths.

SisterS tells the story of two women who find that they have the same estranged father and while they couldn’t be more different, they team up to find him.

From messy women to working with a dream team, here’s how VIP’s chat with Susan and Sarah went…

Hi Sarah and Susan. Congratulations on the show! First off, how did you set about writing SisterS?

Sarah: Well we have been friends for almost 20 years, 19 years to be exact. We met in theatre school all those years ago. We were writing some short, very dramatic plays at that time. We were very, very pretentious. We stayed best friends but we were trying to forge acting careers for a decade after we left school. We always thought we would start a theatre company.

But we wanted to write something together. We had been passing notes and trying to come up with an idea we really wanted to talk about – epigenetics of trauma, chosen family, all types of issues of being a woman in your thirties. We wanted to do it with humour. So we came up with the idea of SisterS in 2016.

Susan: We really wanted to talk about that because when we met we were completely different. I was this hardcore, bitter Irish person. I was cool, but I didn’t love myself. Sarah was this super confident, gorgeous, bright-eyed Canadian, who didn’t hate herself. We were real opposites but we bonded quite quickly.  It was over a Leonard Coen song, and we wanted to use that as a way into this story.

What happens if these two people who are complete opposites are thrown together and have to stay together? What does that to them? And what do they learn about themselves and each other?

We have to say, you two are very convincing sisters! You look very alike! [Laughs]

Susan: Since making the show, we’ve kind of morphed into each other. [Laughs]

Sarah: We’re a cautionary tale of what happens when you spend too much time with your best friend. [Laughs] We had an interview the other day and the journalist was like, “Are you aware that you’re dressed the same? And that you’re starting to talk the same?” We spend a lot of time together! We have been very lucky because we wanted to tell our own story and experiences. To be able to do all of it to a finished production is blowing our minds.

Susan: On top of that, to hear incredible actors say “Yes, we’ll be in it” has us absolutely blown away! No one is more surprised than me!

You’ve been friends since you were in your 20s, you’ve worked on this script for almost a decade. Do you wish you could have told this story earlier or is this the perfect time for it?

Sarah: I think everything happened at the time it was supposed to happen.

Susan: We couldn’t have told this story back then obviously.

Sarah: There’s so much we’ve learned that went into the show. There’s so much life we’ve lived that went into the show. I feel like, in terms of what we do, isn’t in the privacy of our own homes. It becomes public. When you’re in your twenties it’s a vulnerable time, it’s harder to stand by your art because you’re more open to criticism.

I think that public living was something we were averse and allergic to. I know that you can’t really have those things in terms of an acting career. But in terms of putting ourselves out there, we have fully developed minds at this point and we are proud of our art. This is what we wanted to make and this is the story we wanted to tell. We are very proud to stand behind that. That is the only difference between doing it in youth and with a bit of years behind you.

Susan: We also needed that time because now it is a brilliant time for women to be telling stories. Finally! We have something to say! We couldn’t have made it years ago, we had to wait.

Sarah: A lot of women paved the way. We wanted to add our voice to the cannon and it’s taken this amount of time for whatever reason, considering women make up half of the viewing population. It’s taken this long for a business model to follow. There’s always been an appetite for these stories but it just feels like finally, the greenlight is happening for women.

Yes, let’s talk about messy women in telly!

Sarah: I love a messy woman.

Susan: Is there any other kind? People have more than one dimension. We’re not just all one thing. We’re all very complex human beings, just like men are.

Sarah: For so long you only saw archetypal women on TV, she had to be kind and a helper and a teacher or a worrier and the family stabiliser or the b***h or the whore. Now we’re so far past it. Thank God. This whole idea of an unlikeable woman, I’ve dealt with that a lot in the press with the characters I’ve played.

But I always say you don’t have to like her, you have to know her. We are so willing to watch unlikeable men, men do terrible things on television and nobody bats an eyelid. Everybody loves Tony Soprano! With a so-called messy woman, I’ve read some things that are like “Is the messy woman trope over?” Over? She’s just arrived. And she’s f**king here to stay!

The plot of SisterS, of course, is about two women trying to find their father. How did that come about?

Susan: We were trying to figure out, these two women who are opposite, they both have this unresolved longing within them. So we had to figure out how we could turn that into a dramatic show. We thought – oh yes, absent parent. They both have this hole within them because of the absent parent. So if we use that as the premise, put them together and they go on a journey to find him, we thought that was the best way of telling the story.

That’s a very serious topic but this a comedy. Well, we suppose it would actually be, what is now being referred to as a dramedy. Why that tone?

Sarah: That was the tone we’ve always been attracted to and we found the most difficult times in our lives humour has got us through it. That’s how we survived our hardest moments. That’s what brought us together in our friendship. But we were naturally attracted to that style of television like Catastrophe, Fleabag, and Pulling. We wanted to talk about these really dark themes but with a lightness of touch. The hope is that we draw you in with humour but we touch your heart.

You worked with director Declan Lowney, he’s been Emmy-nominated and worked on shows like Father Ted. Tell us what it was like collaborating with him!

Sarah: We love the man, he’s such an artist and such a kind person. He’s been involved in the show for six years when we only had a very rough draft of the Pilot.

Susan: He has decades of experience and has done these seminal shows like Father Ted and Ted Lasso. He’s so humble and he just wanted to facilitate our vision. This is our first baby. He’s been with us since before he got involved in Ted Lasso and before he got very famous. We thought he’d drop us like that!

This show is filmed in Ireland with some seriously stunning scenery. Are you proud to show Ireland off?

Susan: It was particularly to me. I’ve lived in London for 19 years where I did a lot of theatre and not a lot of TV. It was great to come back and shot our own show with this incredible crew and landscape. We’re just spoiled with these riches. I felt so proud.

Sarah: We’re so excited to share it with the American and Canadian audience as well. As the show opens up and expands Ireland becomes more of a character in the show, We’re not doing tourism for Ireland, but maybe we should be! But we hope that there is a feeling of being transported to Ireland.

The show airs tonight, are you excited or nervous for people to watch?

Sarah: We’re all the things!

Susan: Like we were saying about messy women, we have all the things. We’re terrified, we’re excited, we’re thrilled, we can’t believe we’ve made it and that people are going to watch it.

Sarah: We’re actors, we’ve never been on the other side of things. We’ve never seen things through from conception to the end of post. It’s a long journey. There’s a feeling of handing it in and saying we’re done with this. But now people are actually going to watch it and have opinions. We haven’t got that far in our heads.

SisterS will air on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player on March 30th at 10:15pm 

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