Had she lived in late 19th-century England, Sadie Sink’s porcelain skin and long reddish hair could have made her a Pre-Raphaelite muse. But she was born 20 years ago in the small Texas town of Brenham, and her early artistic interests have made Sink one of her generation’s most promising actresses. Indeed, Forbes magazine just included her in its 30 Under 30 list. The Stranger Things phenomenon has fueled Sink’s international success, but before appearing on the Netflix series, she already had years of acting under her belt. In 2022, she landed her first major film role in The Whale, director Darren Aronofsky’s long-awaited psychological drama, which co-stars Brendan Fraser, who returns to the big screen after a years-long absence. The film will hit US theaters on December 9. It could be the project that distances Sink from Stranger Things and demonstrates her talent in other areas.
“Darren Aronofsky is obviously brilliant, and working with him was a really formative experience, and Brendan [Fraser] is so incredible in it, and also just probably my favorite human on the planet. It was so amazing having that experience with him. I learned a lot about myself as an actress, and tapped into a side of things that I hadn’t really explored before,” Sink said last June in an interview with Vanity Fair. In September, the actress made her debut at the Venice Film Festival, where she witnessed the film’s positive reception; the audience gave it a standing ovation of several minutes.
As a teenager, Sink experienced the Netflix effect firsthand through her supporting role in the second season of Stranger Things, the show in which she plays Max Mayfield. Sink had to convince the Duffer brothers, the show’s creators and directors, to let her audition for the part because they felt she was too old for the character. At 14, she landed the role that would change her life. That was in 2017. Her visibility grew tremendously overnight, as reflected by the number of Instagram followers she has, an unofficial barometer of emerging stars’ popularity. She now has over 25 million followers. “Things around me started changing, but I never changed. I’d be flying to LA for the Golden Globes one day and then be right back at home with my mom telling me to take the trash out the next,” she explained to the British Glamour magazine in a recent interview.
In the show’s most recent season, which aired at the end of May, Sink stole the spotlight. Her character had a significant plotline and made the show’s fans suffer. In addition, her dramatic flair heightened the anguish of some key episodes. Sink’s character also drove the success of Kate Bush’s 1985 song “Running Up That Hill” by listening to it non-stop in the series: “I did not know Kate Bush beforehand, but then I immediately skimmed through her work and then became increasingly more obsessed, and then I was listening to her all the time. I cannot even tell you how many times I’ve listened to ‘Running Up That Hill’. It’s been a lot, but I’m still not sick of it,” she told Vanity Fair, referring to the song’s global success following the premiere of the series.
Broadway and an adolescence in the spotlight
Stranger Things made Sink a global celebrity: according to Netflix data, on the weekend it premiered, the first installment of the show’s fourth season was the most watched English-language series. But Sink’s acting career has been years in the making. The daughter of a rugby coach father and a math teacher mother, she might have pursued teaching. But Sink’s involvement in the High School Musical movies sparked her love of acting and she signed up for drama classes. At age 12, Sink landed a starring role in the Broadway production of Annie, just as Sarah Jessica Parker had done decades before.
When Sink’s career began to take off, her whole family moved to New York. That decision has borne fruit: in the years that followed, Sink rubbed shoulders with actresses like Helen Mirren, with whom she worked in the 2015 play The Audience in which the young actress played Queen Elizabeth II as a child. In the film The Glass Castle she had a supporting role in a cast featuring Woody Harrelson, Brie Larson and Naomi Watts; Sink co-starred with Watts again in 2017 in Chuck, the drama based on the life of a boxer inspired by Rocky Balboa. During the same period, Sink also appeared on television with small or guest-star roles in series such as The Americans and Blue Bloods. More recently, in 2021, she starred in the second installment of the Fear Street films. And Sink’s indie drama Dear Zoe premiered a few weeks ago; her face appears prominently on the film’s promotional poster.
Having conquered theater, film and television, Sink explored new territory in November 2021, when she collaborated with Taylor Swift. The singer asked the actress to star in her music video-short film for the song “All Too Well,” which was inspired by Swift’s breakup with actor Jake Gyllenhaal and first released in 2012. “It was nice to step outside of Max’s shoes for a bit, especially after playing her for two years for season four—to do something that felt like a complete opposite of that,” she told Vanity Fair. The 15-minute music video received five nominations at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards and won Video of the Year, among other awards. Sink has additional film projects on the horizon, as well as the fifth and final season of Stranger Things, the premiere date of which has not yet been announced.
The young actress is also becoming involved in the fashion industry. Sink has already worked with numerous fashion houses who were attracted by her visibility; in turn, these collaborations have further boosted the burgeoning star’s media exposure. Stella McCartney chose Sink to star in her winter campaign; the actress also appeared in the Chanel and Miu Miu fashion shows; and Sink’s social media pages include sponsored posts as well as her professional projects. At 20 years old, she is well aware of her atypical adolescence. “It’s such a weird and specific situation that the Stranger Things cast and I are all in because the world knows who our characters are but we’re still trying to figure out who we are as people…I think being in the industry accelerates you and you mature faster,” she observed in Canada’s Fashion Magazine. Sink’s adolescence in the spotlight has now given way to a new stage. It seems that, for the foreseeable future, we will witness her continued growth on the screen.