If You Think Sadie Sink Plays Another "Angsty Teen" in 'The Whale,' You're Not Paying Attention

The actress discusses the breakout role — which she says is nothing like Max from Stranger Things — along with the controversy surrounding the film.

Sadie Sink
Photo:

Shayne Laverdiere

You’re not imagining it — Sadie Sink really is everywhere. While our dreams are still being haunted by Max’s fate from Stranger Things season 4, the actress's résumé has been growing steadily, whether she’s popping up in short films, like Taylor Swift’s All Too Well, or fronting beauty campaigns for brands like Givenchy. Most recently, however, the buzz around Sink involves her role as Ellie in the critically acclaimed film, The Whale. The movie, directed by Darren Aronofsky and based off of the Samuel D. Hunter play of the same name, follows a 600-lb. man, Charlie (played by Brendan Fraser), hoping to reconnect with his daughter (Sink) as his health deteriorates.

Sink describes the first time seeing the script as “hectic,” since she only had a few hours to look at it over before the first table read.

“They had called me to do this table read before Darren fully knew that it was happening. He needed to hear it read out loud. So, I kind of read it in the car on the way there,” she explains to InStyle. “Then, once we sat down and actually read through the entire thing, it was a very cold reading, but still, I was just like, ‘Who is this? She's a piece of work.’ Ellie’s so complex and so beautiful. I was really hoping that I'd get the opportunity to really understand her a little bit more.”

Ultimately, the character — who hasn’t seen her dad since he abandoned her family when she was just 8 years old — is someone Sink describes as “twisted, but in a lot of pain.”

Sadie Sink The Whale

A24

“She has no idea who she is,” she says of the teen, who often acts out in retaliation and even puts sleeping pills in her father’s sandwich.

One thing that is clear, though. To Sink, despite also coming from a broken home, Ellie is nothing like Max from Stranger Things.

“I think if you're comparing them, you're not looking close enough, because they're wildly different,” she explains. “Also, the projects are different tones and require different styles of acting. With Max, she's still a kid. She's still got innocence in her and is ultimately a really good person, and you can see that pretty clearly. With Ellie, she is a good person but that's the last thing she wants you to see. And she makes a point of being feared, essentially. They're completely different. If you're seeing, ‘Oh, an angsty teen,’ then look a little closer.”

Ellie also has a lot more rage, Sink adds, especially whenever her father shows any sense of compassion, which he often does. She’s mad that she previously misjudged him and acts out by doing outlandish things.

“I think this anger has really become some kind of weird coping mechanism for her. In the scene where she's twisting the knife [into the kitchen countertop], when I read that in the script, I was like, ‘Wait, what is that?’" she says. "But if you look at it and you really study her habits, any time Charlie is telling her how beautiful she is, how amazing she is, how intelligent she is, it strikes a nerve in her for whatever reason, because she's not used to hearing that.”

Sadie Sink Stanger Things

Netflix

Of course, part of the reason that Sink’s performance is so captivating is thanks to her co-stars. She tells us that working with Fraser made everything feel more natural, as the actor was so committed to the role and “fully surrendered to this character and showed up ready to work.”

“What was more interesting to see wasn't really the physical transformation, but it was mostly the mental transformation that we all kind of saw,” Sink tells us. “We’d been rehearsing for three weeks, but it wasn't until he was fully in the prosthetics where something clicked. And I don't know if it's just because it just completed the character, so it made everything just feel, I don't know ... a lot more. Something just clicked, and it just felt real, and there he was. So, that was the most impressive thing to see.”

Fraser’s prosthetics and weight gain have definitely received a fair amount of backlash since the movie’s Venice Film Festival premiere, but Sink has a response ready when asked about the controversy.

“I would say watch the movie. The title is a reference to Moby Dick by Herman Melville, which is a key part of the movie. And I think what our movie is truly about — it's Charlie's story. It's not a universal story. It's one specific story," she says. "Ultimately, what we're trying to do is really teach people to look past their preconceived notions. Hopefully, by the end of it, you'll see Charlie for who he truly is. You'll see Ellie for who she truly is. You'll understand Liz, and you'll see Thomas. And that's the point. Just to find the humanity.”

Sadie Sink All Too Well

Taylor Swift Productions

Aside from The Whale, Sink has received a lot of praise for her part in Taylor Swift’s short film, All Too Well. Since premiering in Nov. 2021, the project has been nominated for a 2023 Grammy and has already won multiple awards, including an American Music Award and multiple MTV Video Music Awards. It even helped to launch a new career for Swift, who is now set to make her feature film directing debut for Searchlight Pictures.

“It was a very unique, special project that I didn't even think it was real when she told me. I didn't know her before, but I was a super fan, obviously,” Sink says of working with Swift. “It’s crazy that we're still talking about it a year later. I'm really happy for her and I think everything that she's been getting for this film is so well-deserved. She's got an eye for filmmaking, so she deserves it.”

Sink wouldn’t mind exploring other aspects of her career either, adding that she would love to return to Broadway at some point, perhaps for a play (the former Annie star says musicals can be "intense").

“I would love to do it again, because that's how I fell into all of this — through theater,” she says. “I'm really happy that I had that start, too, because I think it was like boot camp. I was so young, but still, you are working hard. It’s something I really wanted at that age and it really lit a fire. I'm happy that I have that experience and discipline because I think that I've carried it with me. It definitely served me on The Whale, because it was a play and it was shot in chronological order, so you kind of get to tap into that.”

Sink’s plans for 2023 still remain somewhat up in the air, though, which means anything can happen at this point. Like most of us, the actress is still in shock 2022 is coming to a close.

“2023 doesn't seem like a real year — that was when my credit card was going to expire and I was like, ‘That’s not real,’” she jokes. “And now, we're here. I don't know if I have any big goals or anything like that. I haven't really thought about that yet. I'm not a planner, I really just kind-of go with the flow.”

Related Articles