A question about whether she feels more responsibility playing a character based on a real person than a fictional role gets a huge response from Sarah Bolger. The role the actress has in “My All American” is based on the real life of Linda Wheeler, a woman whose high school sweetheart went on to be one of the most memorable players to suit up for the University of Texas football team.
“There so much extra pressure,” Bolger says in a loud voice. “This part of her life was so beautiful and her relationship was so beautiful. I am so honored to get to play her.”
“My All American” is the story of Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock), a young man who, in the late ’60s, wants nothing more than to play college football. The hurdle he faces is that most coaches consider him too small to play major college football.
He gets his chance when legendary University of Texas coach Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart) gives him a scholarship. Steinmark begins his own legendary career at the university with his high school sweetheart (Bolger). The couple never realize they are going to have to face a far bigger challenge away from the gridiron.
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Bolger didn’t get to sit down with Wheeler to talk with her about the role, but they did spend hours on the telephone as Bolger walked around the University of Texas campus. Wheeler also provided Bolger with excerpts from her diary and photos of her and Freddie.
This background material helped Bolger as she began to create the way she would play the role. Every decision she made was based on playing the role with the deepest amount of respect for Wheeler.
She jokes that the only other real person she ever played was Bloody Mary in “The Tudors,” but since the real Mary Tudor died centuries ago, there was no chance that she would see Bolger’s performance.
“My All American” is set deep in the world of college football. The Dublin-born actress never watched American college football while growing up, but she’s been to both college and professional football games since coming to the United States.
At one time, she thought “the line of scrimmage” was just something people made up and not a real term for football. It wasn’t that important to her until she learned the nuances of the game. The real Wheeler wasn’t a big football fan, either, when she met Steinmark.
“This is both a great and interesting sports story as well as a love story. Those are the things that shine bright in the film. For me, this story is much bigger than being a fan. The love that Freddie and Linda had was so pure and innocent and real. They had a magical chemistry,” Bolger says.
It was easy for Bolger to relate to a sports story because a cast is like a sports team. Everyone has to be at the top of his or her game or the results are not good. And the director is a strong coach to motivate team members to do their best.
Bolger praises “My All American” director Angelo Pizzo for his ability to rally the troops.
“My All American” follows a recurring theme in Bolger’s career. She continues to pick projects that have her playing characters from different time periods and worlds.
In “The Tudors” (the role that most people want to discuss with the actress), she played a character from the time of Henry VIII, while her upcoming AMC series, “Badlands,” puts her in a futuristic world. And she played Princess Aurora – better known as Sleeping Beauty – in the ABC series “Once Upon a Time.”
The interest in these kinds of roles isn’t something Bolger sets out to do.
“I am always attracted to the best scripts. It just so happens they are historical or whimsical,” Bolger says. “I like roles that are fantastic and have a lot of whimsy. They talk to me.
“I love all things magical.”
She sees a lot of magic in “Into the Badlands,” where she plays Jade, a woman in her early 20s whose charming demeanor hides a core of ambition. Bolger describes her as being a lot like Lady Macbeth.
“My All American” opens in theaters on Friday, Nov. 13, while “Into the Badlands” launches at 10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, on AMC.