In All the time Nice, Awards Insider speaks with Hollywood’s best undersung actors in career-spanning conversations. On this installment, Sonja Sohn discusses the thrilling evolution of her function in Will Trent, and why it’s beginning to remind her of her career-making activate The Wire.

When Sonja Sohn first began getting observed by Hollywood, she didn’t take the eye as a praise. “All of that represented a sure stage of vainness and superficiality,” she says. “I used to be a baby of the late ’60s and ’70s. My father was politically energetic. I offered the native Black newspaper and Jet journal door-to-door. We had one Black Panther in our neighborhood in Newport Information, Virginia, who was all the time having conversations with my daddy. These had been the seeds of a punk sensibility—a really excessive antiestablishment standpoint.”

Sohn nonetheless carries that conviction in dialog almost 30 years into her screen-acting profession—one wherein she’s skilled nearly each nook of the trade. From her breakout roles within the indie Slam and the HBO sequence The Wire to her intensive work throughout movie and TV since, she’s demonstrated spectacular longevity and flexibility.

But she has additionally felt “the stickiness of the construction that all of us must abide by,” as she places it, grinding by means of some “lean years” wherein the enterprise didn’t present up for her in the way in which that it ought to’ve. She’s realized to “see that as a message that my consideration ought to be someplace else. I’ll create one thing else.”

Ever since The Wire’s finish in 2008, Sohn had observed her ardour for appearing start to wane. Then the ABC pilot Will Trent forged her as a law-enforcement official, what she anticipated to be a typical authority determine in a typical broadcast crime drama. “I got here into it understanding what these limitations could be, simply conserving my expectations inside cause,” she says. “You do your individual work as an actor, however you’re constructing a personality solely based mostly on what you may see, proper? I simply didn’t anticipate, being the boss in a community crime procedural, that there was going to be an entire lot extra.”

Then, there was.

Final week’s Will Trent reveals the backstory of Sohn’s Amanda Wagner. Her deputy director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation survived a brutal assault in her youth, then framed the assailant for a distinct crime afterward. The episode permits Sohn to peel off the character’s steely masks and present each her vulnerability and rage. Up till this level, she’d performed Wagner with a cool, unflappable sense of energy; right here, the façade cracks.

Sohn speaks of this episode, this second, as a excessive level for her as an actor, one which has “reignited” her love of the craft. She hasn’t had the chance to do this sort of deep character work in a very long time. “I fell in love with appearing by realizing that by permitting myself to be this channel of expression, there was going to be some reciprocity throughout the artwork,” Sohn says. “With the ability to use a few of my private historical past, the stuff of my life, and seeing that that had actual use and worth on this [work]—as a colour and a tone and a tenor—is what we’re doing by means of the artwork. [I learn] about myself.”

Sohn initially got here to appearing by means of poetry. After having two youngsters, she determined to pursue an English diploma and found a expertise for writing, ultimately immersing herself within the slam scene. At an open mic, the producers of a movie—referred to as, appropriately, Slam—watched Sohn carry out certainly one of her poems, “Run Free.” It’s a hanging textual content, rooted in that second in Sohn’s life. “I used to be making that first flip, that first second in a younger grownup’s life once they’re turning into self-aware,” she says. The piece, indignant and powerful and anguished, ends in Sohn reflecting on her brother’s tragic homicide, a trauma she’d by no means written about to that time. Following the efficiency, she was provided the a part of Slam’s feminine lead, and accepted. Right here was an appearing job that didn’t really feel superficial.

Sohn can be credited as one of many writers on Slam, which went on to win the Grand Jury Prize on the Sundance Movie Pageant. Her flip as Lauren Bell, a writing trainer who mentors the movie’s younger hero, is incandescent—particularly her recitation of “Run Free,” which is included within the film. For somebody who’d been resisting the shape for a lot of her life, this was fairly a breakout—and the trade observed. All of a sudden, Sohn was nabbing small however memorable elements in movies helmed by Martin Scorsese (Bringing Out the Lifeless) and John Singleton (Shaft).

“You’re a bit of enamored by the entire thing,” she says of these early years navigating Hollywood. Her skepticism of the mainstream didn’t abate, although. “I reside on the earth—I don’t reside in my head,” she says with a smile. “I’m like, I’ve received youngsters, I’m getting a divorce, someone’s received to pay the payments!” How one can steadiness fulfilling work with these materials wants? “It’s all the time been a problem,” she admits. “It’s nonetheless a problem, not going to lie.”

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Sohn with The Wire co-star Dominic West at a premiere occasion in 2004.

Scott Wintrow/Getty Pictures

There are, in fact, exceptions. As we get to discussing The Wire, Sohn’s best-known challenge so far, she exits her Zoom field for a second to discover a tissue. She’s began crying whereas making an attempt to specific how a lot the present has meant to her.

David Simon’s sprawling, layered, polemical portrait of latest life in Baltimore is now considered certainly one of (if not the) greatest sequence ever made. However again within the early 2000s when Sohn signed on, it was an Emmy-less underdog at HBO, scraping by because the community coasted on megahits like Intercourse and the Metropolis and The Sopranos. It was additionally Sohn’s first TV job, and actually, her first intensive work contained in the Hollywood system. Taking part in one of many lead characters, hardened detective Kima Greggs, she struggled to search out her bearings, tripping over strains and seemingly all the time enjoying catch-up.

“I had by no means been on set like that and had by no means needed to transfer at that tempo. So there was loads to be taught that I used to be not taught,” she says. (She’s labored with a number of appearing coaches over her profession, starting with Actors Studio veteran Susan Batson, however by no means attended drama faculty.) “And we had been working in neighborhoods that had been very acquainted to me culturally, [which] was triggering in some methods.”