June 6, 2014

SCA Alumni Stories: Sasha Alexander

Sasha Alexander’s (BA Production '97) acting credits include starring roles in films such as Yes Man and TV shows such as NCIS and the hit TNT series Rizzoli & Isles, where she plays Dr. Maura Isles. What many may not know is that Sasha graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she studied production in an effort to hone her behind-the-camera skills.

Sasha Alexander

You were already acting as a teenager but decided to attend the School of Cinematic Arts to study production. Can you talk about why you made this choice and how this training has impacted your professional career? I was doing theatre in high school and loved it. But wasn't sure that acting would be my career path. The unpredictable nature of it scared me. When I was 15 I watched David Lynch's Blue Velvet and I remember wondering how the film was made. I was curious about the filmmaking process, so I thought if I learned more about what happens behind the scenes, it would ultimately be a better road for me. It was a great decision on many levels. First, I didn't want to be in front of the camera during this time in my life. I wanted to grow and find my voice and a way to express my stories without any judgment or result attached to it. And this is what I got. From all of my documentary classes to making my own shorts on 8mm, I really enjoyed it all. I even acted in some fellow classmates’ short  films. My return to acting came after a job for a producer at Sony Pictures. I realized everything in this business is hard and you have to do the thing you love most. And for me, at that time, it was acting. After my USC experience, I was so much more comfortable on set because I knew everyone's job, I had done it in school. So I respected the hard work that goes into every area of making film and television and I wasn't as distracted or intimidated being surrounded by so many people. 

What do you remember most fondly about your time at USC? Watching Babette's Feast with Drew Casper, early morning documentary classes, our 290 class, staying up editing all night, 8mm, the dock, the conversations, the true creative spirit of everyone wanting to find a way to express themselves. The friendships, many of which have stayed with me until today. Including meeting my husband [Edoardo Ponti ‘98] at USC. We were both editing our films and I remember passing him in the hallways. We didn't actually date until years after we left school. But a fond memory nonetheless.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? Coming and Going. An independent comedy Edoardo directed and co-wrote with my fellow 290 classmate, Dewayne Jones. I produced and starred in it with Rhys Darby. It was such a fantastic and fun collaboration. We laughed every day and it brought me right back to my USC days. I want to do something like that again, very soon. 

If you could go back and speak to your 20-something Trojan self, what advice would you give? Enjoy it all! Use this time to experiment with ideas and formats and don't get locked into one thing - the business will do that for you later. So allow yourself the creative freedom to try it all. That is what school is for. And build relationships. You will all move into the real world together and it is always great to have those friends that knew you when… 

Can you talk about some of the challenges of being a working mother? How do you and your husband balance your professional and family responsibilities? Being a working mother is extremely challenging on so many levels. Mostly juggling the unpredictable schedule and the travel.  Edoardo and I take turns mostly, making sure one of us is home with the children at all times. It wasn't always easy, but you make it work. Even if it means bringing babies to set. My daughter is so comfortable now on sets that she goes straight to the monitor, grabs her headset and sits down next to the director.  But all the beauty of being a mother has deepened my work and the enjoyment I have in doing it, so I am always grateful I get to do both. 

What do you enjoy the most about working in series TV, and Rizzoli & Isles in particular? We shoot at Paramount Studios and my family gets to stay in Los Angeles most of the year. I love playing Dr. Maura Isles. I work with amazing actors, producers, writers and crew. I work for two strong companies, Warner Brothers and TNT. And I get to be there for my children. I truly can't complain - it's a pretty fantastic job. 

What can Rizzoli & Isles viewers expect from season 5 (set to premiere on TNT on June 17)? Another strong season. More great crimes. More friendship. Some romance for Maura, possibly someone who is not a serial killer, lots of laughs and some seriously cool and gross autopsy scenes. 

What’s on your professional bucket list? For example, do you have a desire to write and/or direct in the future? Producing another film. I am developing a television series. Directing. Finishing a screenplay I just started. Working with Edoardo again. Working with other talented artists who inspire me. Telling stories that I care about.