Sarah Hay

Photographed for Constellation by Grace Pickering

As a little girl, I was obsessed with ballet. Since those early dreams, my obsession has shifted to any film inspired by the ballet world, from the forthcoming Suspiria remake to The Turning Point (1977) and, more recently, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010). Last year, discovered the excellent albeit short-lived STARZ series Flesh and Bone by accident (one of my former acting teachers is on the show) and was instantly hooked. I was particularly mesmerized by the seemingly effortless performance given by lead actress and dancer Sarah Hay who, prior to being cast on the darkly dramatic show, was a relatively unknown dancer with the Dresden-based Semperoper ballet. Hay’s turn as Claire led to her Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations, as well as her Satellite Award win for Best Actress in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television. Hay recently moved from Europe to L.A. to pursue her acting career full time. Although her love for ballet will always remain—after all, it launched her career—it’s now acting that most excites her. Hay and I bonded over macrobiotic bowls and cups of tea at L.A.’s appropriately hippie-esque Café Gratitude. It’s clear that Hay is grateful for her artistic journey thus far. -J.B. 


I had never acted prior to the show, so I was really just learning as I went along. Of course, I had some very good actors to watch. Before the show, I hadn’t really thought about acting as a career. I did one Olsen twins’ movie when I was nine. That had been my IMDB page…. At that age, I didn’t really know what acting was going to be like. I felt exactly the same way at nine years old as I do now. Years later, I was in Black Swan, in the company, looking at Natalie Portman, wishing I could be her….

For Flesh and Bone, they did the whole audition process in the United States, and then they started reaching out to European ballet companies. Someone had remembered me as being a little alternative, and a lot of dancers are scared of taking risks. I submitted some audition tapes, then I did a final callback in New York, and one hour after auditioning, I found out I got the part. It was very exciting, but it also turned my world upside down. I was living in Germany with a boyfriend and pets, and I was suddenly just like, “Okay I am moving back to the city!” 

I filmed Flesh and Bone for about five months; I was working almost every day. Although it was created by showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett,  there were a lot of theater writers who worked on it (e.g. Adam Rapp). 

As for Claire, I think some of [her character] was inspired by a real person (though I don’t know who.) Both of my parents are psychologists, so I had a little bit of help as far as behavioral patterns and people that are self-abusive and experience sexual abuse. It was a dark journey to figure out who she was—I expressed some of the darkness that the dance world has caused me to feel and I just used it. I found a sadness in myself and related to everything she was going through. Everything was instinct-driven. I wanted to keep myself as natural as possible. 

My new show, on Showtime, is called I’m Dying Up Here. It’s being produced by Jim Carrey and is set in the ‘70s stand-up comedy scene of Los Angeles. It’s very different from Flesh and Bone. I just did a Duplass brothers anthology on HBO called Room 104. Film-wise, [you can find me in] Extracurricular Activities, a high school horror comedy, which I’msuper excited about. Right now, I’m in a waiting period—making connections, finding myself as an actor, and figuring it all out. —Sarah Hay 

Credits: Flesh and Bone (Starz, 2015), Black Swan (2010), Upcoming: I’m Dying Up Here (Television), Extracurricular Activities (Film)