Sadie Sink on 'The Whale', Taylor Swift, and 'Stranger Things' S5 – ELLE

The actress talks starring opposite Brendan Fraser in The Whale, Stranger Things season 5, and Taylor Swift.
When I step inside Sadie Sink’s room at the Crosby Street Hotel, she apologizes for not wearing shoes. The rest of her outfit is far from informal: She’s wearing a black Rokh blazer with cutouts around the chest and crisp blue jeans. Her high heels, however, are on the floor, not far from her pale bare feet on the carpet. The 20-year-old has had a busy day of interviews in her room—so the shoes are staying off.
After her whirlwind of a year, Sink deserves to take whatever R&R she can get, whether that’s ditching footwear during a press tour or spending Thanksgiving with her family in New Jersey. In 2022, she delivered a show-stealing performance in the fourth season of Stranger Things, one of Netflix’s most-watched shows ever; she continues to receive praise for starring in Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” short film, which now has a Grammy nomination; and she’s done her rounds on the festival circuit to promote Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, where she co-stars alongside Brandon Frasier in his big comeback role. Just days before we chat, she even made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
“I mean, when I look at everything I’m like, ‘Yeah, this has definitely been a year full of milestones in my career,’ I guess,” Sink says humbly. “But, I don’t know. It’s all been really fun, and nothing’s changed for me in my own life. It’s nice to be able to do what I love and to actually be allowed opportunities to keep on doing it. I obviously just feel so lucky that I found what I wanted to do at a very young age, and that I can continue to do it. It’s really special, and I’m very, very grateful for that, because I don’t know what I’d be doing if I weren’t acting.”
The Whale, based on the same-name play by Samuel D. Hunter, follows Charlie (Fraser), an English teacher living with severe obesity and suffering with health complications. Realizing his days are numbered, he tries to reconnect with his family and come to terms with past traumas. That includes reconciling with his estranged daughter, Ellie, a teenage nightmare played by Sink. Ellie is flunking out of class, she bullies kids and torments her father, and even posts photos of dead dogs on Facebook. Yet Charlie, desperate to reconnect, sees something in her. Maybe he can help her, even if that’s the last thing she wants.
Sink plays Ellie with a ferocity in her eyes and a palpable rage brewing inside of her. She bursts in and around Charlie’s apartment like a hurricane, and she thrives on making people uncomfortable. But the off-screen Sink—perched on a chair in her room at the Crosby in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, smiling warmly through her freckles—is anything but. She’s laid-back and poised, sipping a half-empty matcha between questions. Maybe it’s her ability to completely transform that got her the part.
The night prior to our interview, as Aronofsky introduced Sink and the rest of the cast at The Whale’s New York City premiere, he said that he knew right away that he wanted to cast her as Ellie. Sink, for her part, still has “no clue” why. She remembers doing a reading of the script with a few actors Aronofsky had assembled, during which she tried her best and “just went off gut instincts.” But when she did a final audition for the film over Zoom—this time joined by Fraser—she thought she blew it. “I was just like, ‘Oh my God, that sucked. That was so bad.’” Still, the director saw otherwise.
When she approached the severe Ellie, Sink said she started with the character’s pain stemming from being abandoned by her father and her mother’s drinking. “It’s all just kind of this self-destructive coping mechanism that she’s developed over the years to make her feel safe and in control; if people can fear her, if she can manipulate people and then gain power over a situation.” That’s especially the case in how she treats Charlie when they reunite. Tormenting him becomes “her ultimate project,” Sink says, but there’s still a small part of her that’s curious and drawn to him. “I think she sees the version of herself that Charlie sees so clearly, as much as she tries to shove it down. There’s someone good in there, and Charlie really brings that honesty out of her.”
That Charlie can find hope in the otherwise hopeless Ellie makes her a vehicle for some of the film’s hefty themes, like whether a person can be saved or whether anyone is truly good. After being so immersed in this story, Sink walked away with a few life lessons herself. She points out Charlie’s quote in the teaser trailer: “Do you ever get the feeling that people are incapable of not caring? People are amazing.” Sink says, “I remember when we were doing that scene. I heard Darren was saying, ‘This line is the movie.’”
Despite its criticisms, The Whale just might impart viewers some wisdom too. “One of the things [the film is] encouraging people to do is just, I don’t know, find humanity in people, find the goodness in people with all these characters,” Sink says. “I think it’s hard to do that, but by the end of it…I came out of it with a lot more empathy, and hopefully audiences do too.”
Between Ellie and Stranger Things’ Max, Sink has nailed the portrayal of teenage girls struggling with personal issues, while also dealing with the crushing challenges of adolescence. Whereas Ellie is troubled by her father abandoning her, Max is grieving her brother Billy’s death—while also battling supernatural forces. But the similarities end with their traumas. “I think with Max, ultimately, she’s fun and she’s very innocent and I think she’s got a lot of life and hope in her. And she’s a good friend. Ellie, you really don’t know if she’s evil or good until the final moments of the film, really,” Sink says.
“With Ellie, I think I really was very lonely throughout filming [The Whale], which wasn’t intentional, but just with Covid and everything. I was completely alone pretty much the entire time, unless I was on set, but I think that…got me into the right mindset or something. Because she’s a very lonely person as well. So that was a happy little accident.”
Though Ellie spends most of her time onscreen disparaging her father, there is an innate chemistry between Sink and Fraser as scene partners. (Fraser, who delivers a heartbreaking performance as Charlie, even said Sink’s performance was so “breathtaking” that he’d often forget his lines.) They didn’t do anything specific to build that dynamic for the screen, but “once we stopped rehearsing and went to filming, something clicked,” she says. It was “cosmic or something.”
Having Fraser fully transformed in complete prosthetics also helped. “When he was fully in Charlie’s body, I did not see Brendan. So when that’s your opposite in the scene, it makes it 10 times more real for you.”
Sink comes from a theater background—you might’ve even seen clips of her as a child playing Annie on Broadway cross your feed. (“Oh my God!” she says of the surfaced footage. “Yeah, all my friends completely trolled me about that, because I don’t really talk about it.”) Her past life on stage helped her prepare for a career in Hollywood. “I think it just gave me a lot of discipline from a young age, which I think I have carried with me,” she says. In The Whale, that experience was especially helpful for memorizing lines. “I can’t remember the last time I had to be completely off-book. Not just one scene, but the entire script,” she says. But that’s exactly what Aronofsky asked of her before rehearsals began.
Luckily, the play-like production, from the rehearsal process to the one-room set taped out on the floor, felt familiar to Sink. “It also made me feel much more comfortable I think, and as someone who hasn’t really done a lot of film and TV, or at that point really hadn’t had that much experience, that was nice to tap into something that felt a little bit more like home.” She’d go on to say that filming The Whale was like acting “boot camp” before returning to Stranger Things, and it’s obvious in her season 4 performance—from Max’s breakdown at Billy’s grave to her desperate escape from Vecna.
Sink fell in love with acting when she was a kid in her hometown of Brenham, Texas. She and her brother Mitchell were the only theater kids in their sports-loving family (five kids total, plus their parents) and sports-loving town, for that matter. “It was like Dylan, Texas in Friday Night Lights,” she explains. “So none of our hometown friends really did [theater] except for me and Mitchell, and I don’t know why. I really don’t know why. We just got the bug for whatever reason.”
But being the only thespians at home came with its perks. Sink’s family directed their enthusiasm to her performances like devoted football moms on the sidelines of a game. “Sports moms and dads, they support their kids and they want them to go wherever is the best fit for them,” she says. She believes she would not be here without having that from her parents, “because they moved my entire family up from Texas to New York, just so me and my brother could do our little Broadway shows. That’s not normal, and I don’t think a lot of parents would’ve supported that in the way that they did. So, [I’m] very, very grateful.”
Sink’s family even attended The Whale’s New York premiere. Her mother had already seen the film, but it was her brother’s first time—as well as her dad’s. “I mean, they were all sobbing, so that was, I guess, a good thing. It’s got to be emotional for a parent to watch for sure,” she says.
Sink hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to Broadway down the road. She “would love to” be in a play; the challenge would just be handling a live audience again. “When you’re younger, I feel like you’re a little bit more fearless, so I’m curious if the crowds and everything would affect me today. But I would love that, just kind of doing something all the way through, no stopping.”
In addition to returning to her roots, Sink has also branched out across industries, becoming a brand ambassador for Chanel and making a splash in the music world by working with the biggest pop star on the planet. She starred in Taylor Swift’s All Too Well short film opposite Dylan O’Brien, which boasts over 80 million views on YouTube and several awards, including an MTV VMA Video of the Year and now a Grammy nomination

“I had no idea, and she [Taylor] broke the news to me, and it was crazy,” she says of the Grammy nod. “It’s so wild that that came out like a year ago and this conversation around it is still happening. It’s really exciting.” The video only took four days to shoot, but Sink could feel the gravity of the project because of its connection to Swift. “Obviously it’s hers, so I knew what it was going to be. I think it exceeded my expectations for sure. We’re all very proud of it.”
And of course, Sink has listened to Midnights. Her top three tracks at the time of our sit-down are “Labyrinth,” “Sweet Nothing,” and “You’re on Your Own, Kid.” That third pick, she explains like a true Swiftie, is “track five–it’s always the best one.”
Next, fans are anticipating Sink’s return in Stranger Things’ fifth and final season, especially because season 4 ended with Max unconscious, but not dead. What will happen to her? How will this behemoth of a series end? Sink doesn’t even know yet.
“I have not read any scripts; I haven’t heard anything,” she says of season 5, which reportedly begins filming next year. “I really want them to tell me what’s happening, because I have a lot of questions. But we’ll get them when we get them. It’s the final season. We’re not rushing anything. We’re going to take their time on this one [and] get it right.”
Looking back at her recent string of accomplishments, Sink can’t deny the obvious: “It has been a big year,” she admits, “but all things are very exciting and fulfilling for me.” And it looks like there’ll be plenty of bigger years ahead.
The Whale is now playing in select theaters and opens nationwide on Dec. 21.
Erica Gonzales is the Senior Culture Editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage on TV, movies, music, books, and more. She was previously an editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com. There is a 75 percent chance she’s listening to Lorde right now. 

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