Barry star Sarah Goldberg on Sally's epic speech and finding inspiration in Succession
Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Barry season 3 episode "all the sauces."
Ever since she first stepped on stage in the first episode of Barry, Sally Reed has been a woman on a mission. Over the course of the series' three seasons, Sarah Goldberg has brought a single-minded fervor and almost obsessive ambition to Sally, charting her rise from inexperienced actress to aspiring Hollywood power player. In Barry's brilliant third season, Sally finally achieves a taste of what she's spent her whole life working for, writing and starring in a TV series based on her own life — only to realize that sometimes, reality doesn't quite live up to dreams.
Season 3's fourth episode, "all the sauces," is a particularly delightful showcase of everything that's made Goldberg's performance so extraordinary. The episode follows Sally as she prepares for the premiere of her series Joplin, which she wrote herself based on a past abusive relationship. The subject matter is serious, but there's a bleak comedy in watching Sally repackage her trauma to move it through the Hollywood machine. The episode culminates with a manic speech at the Joplin premiere, where Sally has a tearful breakdown on stage, gasping for breath and gleefully celebrating the show's 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
On a show already stacked with heavyweight talent — including Bill Hader, Henry Winkler, Stephen Root, and Anthony Carrigan — the 36-year-old Goldberg is a particular standout, and she landed an Emmy nomination for her role in season 2. Here, Goldberg opens up to EW about Sally's season 3 journey to stardom — and finding inspiration in Succession.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me! Where are you calling from?
SARAH GOLDBERG: Of course! I live in London. Where are you?
I'm in Los Angeles, but like Sally, I'm actually from Missouri …
Oh no, so you're going to know that Sally doesn't have a proper Missouri accent. [Laughs]
Honestly, you're great. I don't have much of an accent myself!
I feel seen. There had to be one. [Laughs] I mean, I have a Canadian accent. It doubles for Missouri. Vancouver for Missouri is what we're working with.
It's basically the same thing.
Season 3 finds Sally going through some very high highs and some very low lows. She's finally got a little bit of power, and it's fascinating to see how she responds to that. What was it about her arc this season that you found most interesting?
I was just excited. I wanted to go darker with the character. I was excited that we were pushing her into territory where she has a little bit of success and a little bit of power after being in quite powerless positions for season 1 and 2. I was curious: What does someone in her position do with that power? Do you become a better version of yourself, or do you lean into the worst parts of yourself? With Sally, unfortunately, I think it's the latter, and I was interested in how she behaves.
We had a luxury of seeing her in different hierarchical situations. Even in the first episode [of the season], she's in a scene with her boss, and she's monosyllabic and desperate to please. Then, in the next scene, she's with D'Arcy Carden who plays Natalie, and she's ordering her around and bullying in the way that she was bullied. I was curious about that sort of duality. I was really inspired by Tom on Succession, Matthew Macfadyen's character, and how he's often in this really vulnerable position where he's the one being bullied, and you really empathize with him. Then, suddenly it flips, and he's got a little taste of power and he becomes a monster.
I wanted to explore that with Sally. I'm the only female series regular on the show, and there was obviously a lot of pushback to Sally and how unlikable she is. I wasn't surprised by that. But here's a show full of guys who kill people, and that doesn't bother anybody. But a woman is a little ambitious, and it's unwatchable. So, I wanted to play with that and go, If you think she's unlikable, how far can we go? This is a show about morally bankrupt people, and I didn't want to be exempt from that just because I'm the only female. I feel like there's this push on TV to make women likable and to make women the moral barometer of a show and for women to carry the message, and I was not up for that. So, I was excited that we pushed her into a pretty dark place.
I spoke to co-creator Alec Berg earlier, and he talked about that likability. He told me people have said that to him about Sally, and his response is always: "You do know Barry kills people, right?" He said the dichotomy between how people respond to Barry and Sally is kind of baffling.
It's baffling, but it's good. It makes for good conversation. I wasn't surprised that was the response. We were fully prepared for it in season 1. I want to ask those questions of society: Why is that the case? Why are we so repulsed by this woman, when there's literal murderers on screen next to her, and we're rooting for them? It's pretty interesting, and they've done such a good job over the years, I think, of really pushing the duality in all the characters. They're all people who are trying, and they're people who have the opportunity again and again to become better versions of themselves, but they often choose the more immediate solution, which benefits them the most in the short term. We see those consequences over and over, which I think is really smart writing.
One of the things that's so incredible about Barry is its tone: You've got these beautiful, dramatic moments, but they're often accompanied by the absurd or the comedic. As an actor, how do you try to navigate that balance, where you're playing these serious moments, but the show itself is a comedy?
Well, I think as an actor, our job is to play tone. I went to theater school in England, and then I worked there for a long time in theater, and then I moved to New York in my late 20s. When I got to America, people kept asking me as I was trying to start my career there, "What do you do? Are you comedy or drama?" And I didn't understand the question because in the U.K., it's like, well, you're an actor, so you've got to do both. You've got to play comedy when it's a comedy, and you've got to play drama when it's a drama.
I think it all comes down to the writing and if it's good writing. It's a cliché thing to say, but if you push for the truth in the scene, and if the writing is funny, that's going to sing. If you try to play the joke, you'll fall flat on your face. Especially with the way [the Barry writers] write jokes because they don't write in-your-face jokes. It's not broad comedy. It's very specific comedy.
In episode 4, "all the sauces," we see Sally give this speech at the premiere of her show, and she basically has a meltdown on stage. What do you remember most about filming that?
It was a fun thing to shoot! I thought a lot about it, like, okay, here's this character whose dreams are coming true. This is what she's wanted more than anything, and it's happening. It's not what she anticipated, so she's having this very private moment in public. Often when I watch award speeches and you see actors totally lose it, you're like, "It's just a trophy!" [Laughs] But in that moment, they're actually having a very private moment in public.
So, I think that was the goal with the speech. She's got her speech prepared, and she so wants to be the artist that doesn't care about reviews. But this piece of information gets fed to her, and she digests it in real time in front of hundreds of people. That was just a thrill to play. We had hundreds of extras, and we were in an amazing theater, so I didn't have to imagine much.
There's a version of Sally doing that speech where she's much more articulate, and she's sticking to the script, but to break it all down into someone literally unraveling in real time was just fun to play. It's the kind of weird, wacky ideas that the show is full of, and Bill and Alec are constantly full of. I was grateful for that scene, and it was a ton of fun to do.
And Elsie Fisher, by the way, is just amazing. I mean, it was such a privilege to work with her. We were very lucky to have her, and it added a really deep element to that storyline. To have somebody so green coming into this world and seeing everything so clearly, and she's the only one calling out the truth, and nobody's listening to her, I thought that was really effective, and she did such a good job.
There are some really great — and very intense — scenes between Barry and Sally this season. What was your most memorable day on set working with Bill?
Bill does a really good job of collaborating and not creating a hierarchical environment on set. It's like a real best-idea-wins atmosphere. That's my overall feeling of the season: It feels like there's no s--- ideas. You can hype up just about everything. Sometimes we go through nine s--- ideas to get to the 10th one and go, "Ah, that's it!" He doesn't have an ego about that. He's not embarrassed about throwing out bad ideas. It's like, "Let's just get this part over with, and we'll get to the meat."
The scene that a lot of people are asking us both about is the scene where he totally loses it at me. That was a surprise gear. I hadn't seen him go that far in a scene — not in a Sally scene, anyway — so that was cool to watch. Our normal selves in between takes are just goofing around and keeping it buoyant so that we had the energy to do the scene. But it was exciting to see him switch into that new gear.
I feel like everyone came back from the pandemic so happy to be back at work and so grateful to make this season finally, that everybody had a low-level hysteria that played into all our characters in a great way. We were just so excited to be there. So, I feel like everybody switched on a new gear. And Henry this season is remarkable. He's giving a performance unlike anything else he's done in his career, and he's said that. It's extraordinary to watch.
That's always nice, when people can come to work feeling creatively energized.
It really was. That's the energy of the show, and I really think that energy comes from Henry, especially, because he's in his 70s and he's been doing this longer than any of us. He really comes to work every day like it's his first day, with that same enthusiasm and gratitude. It's truly contagious. No one is going to be an asshole on set around Henry Winkler! We just couldn't! [Laughs]
We do feel like a funny little traveling band. There were two-and-a-half years between when we shot the pilot and when it first aired, and it was almost like we were this little theater troupe that had done a play out in Pasadena, like, "This is our little secret!" We really built this camaraderie before the show was out in the world, and we've grown from there.
I think the last couple years have taught us all a lot of things. For us, coming back, the main thing was just not to take it for granted. Not that we did before, but it had a new level of, "Wow, this is really special." Henry and Stephen [Root] have said that from the beginning, as people who have seen it all and done it all. I remember Stephen — who's so extraordinary and just the greatest actor working in show biz — said to us when we shot the pilot, "You know, this just doesn't happen, so focus in. Because this doesn't happen." These guys have seen it all, and we're lucky to have their perspective. I was 30 when I was hired, so I could've gone, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cool, Stephen. I get it." [Laughs] But he's right.
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