News Column

Sami on set: Tulsa teen brings fresh take in 'Sean Saves the World' role on NBC

September 29, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 29--Tulsa actress Samantha Isler will never be mistaken for a "Hollywood" kid. And that's a good thing.

It's exactly what sold executive producer and co-star Sean Hayes on having the ninth-grader play his daughter of the new NBC sitcom "Sean Saves the World."

"She came in and read, and right away we all agreed she's the one," said Hayes in a previous phone interview. "She is actually so unbelievably talented, and her instincts are huge. ... And we saw so many girls over such a long time, and she was the only one that didn't have that kind of expected Hollywood take on the character.

"She didn't seem like a Hollywood young actress," he continued. "She seems like a very, very real person. And then you meet her, she's gorgeous and funny and super smart and very well-mannered and seems to have it all together. Kudos to her parents for doing such a great job."

Such a great job that she's probably one of the few actresses who asks if she can smile in a scene although she's been directed to keep a straight face. It's a tough job when acting opposite comedy-great Hayes.

"I keep myself pretty composed for the most part," she said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, where she and her mother, Tara, are living while the series is being shot. "There's been a few lines that I asked if I could smile just a little bit."

In "Sean," Isler plays 14-year-old Ellie who, when her mother takes a job out of the United States, decides she wants to live with her single gay father. He intends to be the best parent ever but has no clue and has to rely on his mother, played by iconic comic actress Linda Lavin (of "Alice" fame), for help. At the same time, he's also dealing with a new company owner who fouls up his plans to be the perfect Pinterest-worthy dad.

"He's so funny and so energetic," the Monte Cassino student said of Hayes, the former star of "Will & Grace," who also produces three other shows on the air now -- "Hot in Cleveland," "Hollywood Game Night" and "Grimm." "He's fun to hang out with, and he keeps everybody laughing. There is never a dull moment."

To get the part, she auditioned and did a screen test for Hayes and showrunner Victor Fresco.

"I really loved the character, and I met Sean and Victor and just loved both of them so much. We had so much chemistry going in. When they offered me the role, I was ecstatic."

But taking a lead role in a TV series meant moving to Los Angeles and leaving family in Tulsa behind while the show is in production. The decision wasn't made lightly.

"I knew it was a commitment, and I love to act. The show is so funny. I had second thoughts about it, knowing there would be a lot of sacrifices and a lot of things are going to change, but it's what I want to do. It was a very quick summer. But it was completely worth it."

So Sami, as she is called by family and friends, and her mother live in Los Angeles during production and return to Oklahoma on holidays and when there is no production. Her father, Tony Isler, and sister Haley, who will be 13 in time for Thursday's premiere of the show (according to her sister) are back home in Tulsa.

"The hardest part of acting is that I miss seeing my family and friends," said Isler, a ninth-grader who has a room where she studies when she isn't needed on set. "I am so used to seeing my friends every day at school, and I miss that. I miss my family and my little sister a lot.

"I am thankful for (the video chat app) FaceTime."

But it's worth it. Acting is something she has done since she was little, performing skits for the family with her sister. She appeared in plays and theater productions before she got her first taste of film acting in "Home Run," which was shot in Tulsa and Okmulgee. It was her role as a young Little Leaguer that helped her decide she wanted to be an actress and helped her convince her parents it was the right thing to do.

"Once I got that experience of getting ready for the cameras, and I got used to it, and it was the last night of my shooting on 'Home Run,' and I was done and wouldn't be going back anymore, I remember saying, 'I can't be done. I have to keep doing this,' " she told the Tulsa World's Michael Smith last spring.

Next up, she appears in the film "Dig Two Graves" starring Ted Levine from "The Bridge," being released in 2014. She describes it as a "really edgy, gothic thriller."

"It's a very complex story about a girl and the environment she lives in, and it's a story of revenge. It's a very intriguing story and kind of a mix between 'Winter's Bone' and 'Alice in Wonderland.' The crew has been telling me that. It's not like anything I have ever read or seen before. There's a lot going on, and it definitely keeps you on your toes."

Despite starring in a national television series, Isler said she stays grounded by surrounding herself with great people, amazing friends and family who don't treat her any differently.

"It's still crazy to me," said Isler, who still has to clean up her room before she can go to the movies or hang out with friends.

"I'm trying to figure everything out, and that's how I felt coming into the show, watching the actors work and being a little overwhelmed. Now I consider them great friends. They are fantastic, and they have been guiding me in the right direction. I have come to know them as wonderful people rather than as celebrities. I know them on a personal level.

"I still get starstruck going to events. I step back and look at the big picture and say, 'I can't believe I am doing this.' "

Rita Sherrow 918-581-8360

rita.sherrow@tulsaworld.com

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(c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)

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