modernfamilyI am a big fan of 23-year-old Sarah Hyland who plays rebellious daughter Haley Dunphy on ABC’s Emmy-winning series Modern Family. The talented actress has been acting professionally since she was seven years old (her first screen appearance was playing Howard Stern’s daughter in Private Parts) and she is currently in her fifth year on the popular sitcom (which was cited by Michelle Obama as the First Family’s favorite TV show!). Recently she has ventured into other roles during the show’s hiatuses. Her performance as Blanche Barrow in a recent mini-series about Bonnie and Clyde got her good notices and now she’s appearing in Vampire Academy in a decidedly non-Haleyish role. Though the film, which opened last weekend, was not embraced by many critics, I found Daniel Waters (Heathers, Batman Returns) script to be far more intelligent and engaging than those of another teen vampire series we all know.

sarahhyland-premiereDirected by Mark S. Waters (Mean Girls), Vampire Academy is based on Richelle Mead’s YA novel. The film tells the story of Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) and Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), two 17-year-old girls who attend a hidden boarding school for Moroi (mortal, peaceful vampires) and Dhampirs (their half-vampire/half-human guardians). One of Rose and Lissa’s classmates is the geeky Natalie (Hyland), the daughter of Victor Dashkov (Gabriel Byrne), the head of one of the 12 royal Moroi families. The high school kids must learn to protect themselves from the Strigoi, the immortal, evil vampires who try to hunt them down. Vampire Academy also stars Olga Kurylenko, Danila Kozlovsky, Sami Gayle, Dominic Sherwood and Joely Richardson. I sat down with Sarah Hyland in Los Angeles.

Danny Miller: I think Modern Family is the only network sitcom I still watch. You are so great on the show, I loved this week’s Haley-centric episode!

Sarah Hyland: Haley-centric! (Laughs.) Thank you so much!

Are you getting really tired of people comparing Vampire Academy to the Twilight movies?

Yes, I am! It’s really so different from Twilight. People see “vampire” in the title and say, “Oh no, vampires and teenagers again. We’re so sick of that!” But this is a completely different vampire world.

I think it’s funny that in the world of Vampire Academy, the Twilight films exist. Those references were pretty clever. 

We paid a little homage to it — but those lines were in the book, too!

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I appreciate the way the film sets up the three different groups (the Moroi, Dhampirs and Strigoi) so clearly, I was worried I’d be lost.

Yeah, it sounds so complicated when you try to explain it but when you see the film it’s very apparent, especially the very different ways we all look.

When I talked to the director, he said he specifically wanted to cast young actors who were not that well known in this film. Is being on such a popular TV show ever a handicap when you go out for different parts?

It can be! I always feel like I have to prove myself. But this part was SO fun because it was  completely different from Haley. That’s why I wanted to do it so badly, to show people a different side of me. But yeah, being on a successful TV show (not that I’m complaining!) can make it hard. You know, when I did Bonnie and Clyde last year they were pretty apprehensive at first. I was  known as this modern teenager and they worried that playing a 22-year-old in the 1930s would be too big of a stretch. But with the wigs and costumes, I didn’t look like Haley at all. I really hope that I won’t get pigeon-holed — I would like to play all sorts of parts.

I think you have a great career ahead — but please don’t leave Modern Family any time soon!

Oh, trust me, I won’t! (Laughs.)

When you got this part were you already familiar with Richelle Mead’s books?

No. I actually read the book during the filming. I was doing Bonnie and Clyde up until two days before we started Vampire Academy so I didn’t have any time! I really wanted to be faithful to the book while bringing some of my own attributes into Natalie, including my own physicality. Daniel Waters wrote an amazing script but Mark was really wonderful about letting me play with the character a little bit.

Of course, with something like this, I guess you have to worry about not straying too far from what the fans of the book are expecting.

That’s true. But I don’t think I strayed that far, and the fans have been very supportive. It was really fun to bring the book to life — we put our souls into this project!

hyland-greygardensI have to tell you that I saw you do that wonderful musical of Grey Gardens on Broadway when you were a little girl with Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson. I’m kind of obsessed with the original documentary by the Maysles Brothers and you were so great as young Jacqueline Bouvier. I thought you looked so much like her.

Oh my gosh, thanks, that’s so sweet of you to say because I always thought she was so gorgeous! I doubt many fans of Vampire Academy have seen that show!

Would you like to do more musicals?

Absolutely, it was so much fun! It would have to be somewhere down the line, though, because I don’t think I could commit to a Broadway show while Modern Family is still going. But I’d love the chance to do a movie musical. Maybe something as dark as Grey Gardens!

It’s about misfits just like this film is. I think the high school metaphor works really well in Vampire Academy because we all tend to feel like we’re part of a different species at some point. Having acted from such an early age, did you have any kind of normal high school experience?

Well, I went to a performing arts high school so “normal” was out from the get-go! But I think all high schools have those different groups — there are always the backstabbing best friends, the cheating boyfriends, there will always be all those really dramatic things that happen. I think it’s important for young kids to find their way through such experiences — it’s like a necessary rite of passage! Everyone has to deal with bullying, even if you’re popular. High school isn’t easy but I don’t think it’s supposed to be. It helps create your character and helps form who you are as an adult.

Oh well, at least most kids don’t have bloodthirsty Strigoi trying to hunt them down.

That’s true. Having Strigoi after you in high school really makes you up your game!

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