Jill Sughrue, “Edith”

Tell us about the character you play in Escaping Freedom (no spoilers!).

I play Edith, the church’s secretary and self-appointed matchmaker, who just wants everyone to find a perfect mate. She really does care about Vincent and thinks he’d be happier if he settled down with a nice wife.

What attracted you to this role and/or film?

The script said Edith was ‘grandmotherly,’ which fits right into my wheelhouse. My favorite role in real life is being grandma to my two young grandsons. Raised in the Catholic church and going to parochial school, I also feel like I knew lots of ‘Ediths’ and could embody her spirit. I didn’t really know much about film, but was pleased to be cast!

Without giving away plot points, what do you see as your character’s longings and desires in life? How do they go about reaching them?

Edith is pretty lonely and therefore lives vicariously through the other people she interacts with. She takes herself and her job very seriously. She’s also very traditional and conservative, but I like to think she isn’t totally closed off to new ideas and situations.  

If you don’t mind sharing, what are some ways that you felt you were very different from or similar to your character?

I actually think I was more like Edith when I was young. Raised in a very sheltered, traditional, and strict Catholic family, I didn’t experience much diversity. Everything was pretty black and white. I think Edith had a similar background, and staying so connected to her traditional church, she didn’t have much opportunity to grow. Which is the opposite of my journey, which has opened my eyes and allowed me to spread my wings and embrace diversity in all its fabulous colors, even as I might be a bit shocked in the process!  

What got you interested in acting?

I’ve wanted to be an actor as long as I can remember. In sixth grade, on a fluke, I was cast as the little sister in a high school musical (“Seventeen” by Booth Tarkington). It was such an amazing experience! So, when I was a freshman in high school, I tried out for the chorus in “Camelot” but didn’t make the cut. My 14-year-old ego was so crushed that I never tried out again. I would watch films and plays and wish I could be part of them, but instead kept my head down and stayed in corporate America for over 30 years. I was 58 when I saw a Craigslist posting, and took myself into an agent’s office to ask if they thought I had any potential. The agency turned out to be a bit of a sham that I fortunately have moved on from, but I did get professional headshots and starting taking acting classes. Whether in front of or behind the camera, I adore being on set and finally feel like I’ve found ‘my people!’

What did you look forward to most when filming began?

What can I say – being on set and part of the team!

When approaching a role of this nature, what type of preparation do you do?

Edith wasn’t an exceptionally demanding role so it was pretty easy to put myself in her place. I gave myself a history and looked for the dowdiest clothes in my closet and walked around in her skin for a few days.

What is the most important thing you would want an audience member to take away after watching Escaping Freedom?

I haven’t seen the full film yet, but knowing what I do know about it, I’d want people to walk away with compassion for the characters and for themselves.

What was the most challenging aspect of working on this film for you?

Not too deep, but I was sick during my two days of filming. I did my best to stay away from everyone, not touch anything, and get my cough under control before my scenes.

Being an actor, what do you see as your role in the filmmaking process?

Bringing honesty to my character, being generous with my scene partners, and coming prepared so the shoot goes smoothly. And participating in films that move and inspire people!

Who are some artists (any field) whose work inspires you?

Wow, that’s a good question. I define inspiration as something that makes me want to be a better person, the world a better place for everyone, and the courage to try something new. It’s been many years since I watched it, but Tom Shadyac’s documentary “I AM” comes to mind. Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Gregory Peck’s ‘Addison Finch’ in the film. The authors Ann Patchett, John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, David James Duncan, and now Michelle Obama. Steven Speilberg, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep. Screenwriter Richard Curtis with actor Bill Nighy (“The Girl in the Café” and “About Time”).

What’s one memory from this project that you will never forget?

Shooting the scene with the parrot and the little girl.