"I was addicted to acting," Sarah Bolger says. "To me, it was the most interesting and cool and creative job." It's a job that Bolger's had since she was just a kid. By the time she was 10 years old, she was flying back and forth between her home base of Dublin and L.A. to promote In America, a Jim Sheridan film about a young family that moves from Ireland to New York City in an attempt to work through a personal tragedy. "Being given the license by your director to create your own dialogue at that age—it was wonderful," she says. The film not only went on to earn three Oscar nominations, it fed Bolger's addiction. Since then she's landed roles in such shows as The Tudors and Once Upon a Time and films like The Lazarus Effect (with Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass).
Although the 24-year-old still considers Dublin home, right now she's living in L.A. with her dog, Fluff, a mutt whom she describes as "a tiny ball of apricot wool." It's a busy week for Bolger: her newest projects just released within a day of each other—although the premieres' timing might be the only thing the two have in common.
AMC's new show, Into the Badlands, plays like a mashup of Mad Max, Game of Thrones, and Kill Bill, which meant Bolger needed some fighting lessons—four months' worth, in fact. "I turned black and blue," says Bolger, with a giggle. "I couldn't walk up the flight of stairs! It was so intense but so much fun." She puts that brutal training to good use as Jade, the beautiful new-wife-to-be to ruthless opium dealer and baron of the Badlands (no less), Quinn (Marton Csokas). "There's an element of a younger Lady Macbeth-style attitude and vulnerability," Bolger says of Jade. "She strives for the top, strives for success, and manipulates to get it. She's such a cool, interesting woman."
Bolger plays a far less cunning but equally strong woman in My All-American, a biopic about University of Texas football hero Freddie Steinmark. The film follows Steinmark's story, from his rise to sport stardom (in 1969, he won the team a national championship and then a match against Arkansas dubbed "The Game of the Century") to the decline of his health (a cancerous tumor in his knee ended his career and, eventually, his life) and his relationship with girlfriend Linda Wheeler. Bolger, who plays Wheeler, talked with her in preparation for her role. "I thought she was brave just for picking up the phone for me," she says sincerely. "When we spoke, she was crying, I was crying—it was heartbreaking to hear what she went through."
"When we spoke, she was crying, I was crying—it was heartbreaking to hear what she went through."
Bolger took a lot of care to create her own version of the character and accurately portray Wheeler, a performance she's hoping will do her justice. "There was such purity to what they had. I mean, I'm a cynic, but it was something like love at first sight. I don't think that would feel the same now," she says. "It was so lovely to play something so honest."
My All-American is in theaters now. Watch Into the Badlands on AMC every Sunday at 10/9 p.m. Central time.
Stylist: Jessie Cohan. Hair: Bridget Brager. Makeup: Sabrina Bedrani