News Column

Actress Samantha Isler comes home to lead Tulsa parade

December 8, 2013


Dec. 08--Samantha Isler will get to see her very first Tulsa Downtown Parade of Lights this year.

Unlike most first-timers to this 8-decade-old tradition, Isler will be viewing the parade from a most auspicious vantage point -- as the 2013 Grand Marshal.

Isler co-stars in the NBC sitcom "Sean Saves the World" as the daughter of the title character, played by Sean Hayes.

It's been a very busy 2013 for the 15-year-old Tulsa native. She starred in the independent film "Home Run" that was released earlier this year and spent a good portion of January filming another movie, "Dig Two Graves," which will likely be released next year.

Isler is in Tulsa this month, as "Sean Saves the World" is on hiatus for the holidays.

And although the whole parade business is new to her, Isler is extremely proud to be a part of this Tulsa holiday tradition.

"I was shooting on the set when my mom got the call that I was going to be the Grand Marshal," Isler said during a recent conversation at Cedar Ridge Country Club. "I wasn't sure if we would still be filming in December, but if I had to take a day off to fly to Tulsa, be in the parade and then fly back, I'd have done it."

As it stands, Isler has a good bit of time to spend with family and friends during the holidays -- something that has been at a premium since production began on "Sean Saves the World."

"Christmas is a huge thing in my family," Isler said. "We usually start decorating the day after Thanksgiving. We spend Christmas Eve with one set of grandparents, and Christmas Day with the other grandparents and our family.

"And we watch (the Will Ferrell film) 'Elf,' " she added, laughing. "I think we've probably watched it 45,000 times since it first came out. Everybody loves it -- I guess it's one of those funny things that brings a family together. We all have different things that we're interested in, but 'Elf' is something we all have in common."

Isler will return to Los Angeles after New Year's Day to resume filming the final five episodes of the first season of "Sean Saves the World." Whether this will be the only season for the show is still up the air, but Isler said there are signs that give the cast some confidence.

"It's a new show, and every new show takes awhile to catch on," Isler said. "All of us in the cast love it, so we aren't worrying. And I think the network believes in the show. We've had the head of NBC come to some of the table readings (when the cast does the first read-through of that week's script) and other executives have come to the tapings.

"And they laugh, which is a good sign."

Isler got her first real taste of show business when she entered a "Today" show competition to be a "Kid Reporter" in 2009.

"I always wanted to act -- I guess I've always been a bit of a drama queen," Isler said, laughing. "So I started taking classes in Oklahoma City. And I started to realize that it's easy to say that you want to act. But if you're actually going to do it, you have to realize it's a big commitment.

"I know a lot of people who say they want to leave Tulsa and go off to L.A. or New York City. But I can't wait to come back to Tulsa. It's a great place to be. For one thing, living in Los Angeles has taught me to appreciate Southern hospitality. People are nice in L.A., but it's nothing like the way people are in Tulsa."

Isler appeared in some local productions with Clark Youth Theatre and other youth theater groups. Then came "Home Run," which was shot in Oklahoma and was such a positive experience that Isler convinced her parents, Tony and Tara Isler, that she should start her career in earnest.

Isler obtained an agent, went to California during the casting season for TV pilots, and landed the "Sean Saves the World" role.

Isler's parents take turns staying with her in Los Angeles during the taping, and she fulfills her educational requirements through an independent study program, with a teacher who works with her on set.

"I really miss things like going to football games and pep rallies, and when I come home to Tulsa, I always try to go to those things," Isler said. "But on the positive side, I'm in a room alone when I'm doing school stuff, so there aren't any distractions and I can really focus on the work.

"And my on-set teacher is great -- she really stays on top of things."

Isler's next project, "Dig Two Graves," is quite a departure from her previous work. A dark thriller with supernatural overtones, it stars Isler as a girl called Jake whose older brother has mysteriously disappeared.

Jake is approached by a trio of moonshiners who claim they can raise her brother from the dead -- in exchange for another life. This moral quandary underscores the film's title, which comes from an old adage about anyone who seeks revenge should start by digging two graves -- one for the object of vengeance, one for the person seeking that vengeance.

The film also stars Ted Levine, who played the killer in the Academy Award-winning "The Silence of the Lambs" and co-starred in the TV series "Monk," and Danny Goldring, who appeared in "The Dark Knight" and "The Fugitive."

"It's kind of a mix of Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Winter's Bone,' " Isler said.

The first day of shooting, Isler's character was supposed to gut a deer; however, the stunt person whose hand would be shown doing the actual butchery did not show up at the southern Illinois set.

"So the director asked if I would do it," Isler said. "It was the first day of shooting, and I didn't want to start off badly with everyone, so I said, sure, I'd do it. So if nothing else comes of this film, it made me learn how tough I can be."

James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478


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