by Connor Dalton

Over the last several years, the talented actress has ingrained herself in Australian theatre. Sarah Krndija’s credits include the work of masters such as Sondheim and Shakespeare. Moreover, she’s also been a part of many productions of revered film and television properties receiving the musical treatment with the likes of FriendsCruel Intentions9 to 5, and 50 Shades of Grey. And her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Krndija’s star has ascended even higher this year, with her first television role and her first lead in a stage musical.

The television role was in the Prime Video series Class of ‘07, which follows a group of women trapped at their high school when a tidal wave strikes during their ten-year reunion. In the role of the brash American exchange student, Sandy Cooper-Reid, Krndija proved to be a scene stealer.

The role requires Krndija to be larger-than-life and then some, but she is able to walk the tightrope of being extravagant without ever losing sight of her character’s humanity.

For her first lead role in a stage musical, Krndija is currently hard at work rehearsing for the latest iteration of Mamma Mia! The Musical, where she’ll be playing Sophie Sheridan.

While on her lunch break after a morning of belting out ABBA, Krndija spoke with FilmInk about wishing to do comedy on screen, discovering Sandy’s apocalyptic look, and how she makes an iconic character like Sophie her own.

This story contains spoilers for the television series Class of ’07.

What was the audition process like for Class of ’07?

“For Class of ’07, [casting director] Anousha Zarkesh did a massive call out. I come from a musical theatre background, so I don’t often get all the briefs, but for this one, it felt like every actor from every sector and genre was being seen for those eleven roles. And it was kind of unique in the way that we got to choose who we wanted to audition for, and Sandy was number one on that list for me. Antagonists and villains just kind of appeal to me more, and the audition scene was the one where she’s talking about her dog influencer life, but I actually didn’t know that she returned as a cannibalistic savage pirate (laughs). So that was a treat to discover in the callback, but it was fairly straightforward — just a self-tape and then a Zoom callback, and it was a pretty special fit, I think.”

Since graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts, you’ve appeared in a lot of theatre. Were you actively looking for a television role?

“Look, it’s kind of where I started — training in film and television before I went on to study musical theatre. And even in musical theatre, I really do more roles that are acting heavy. But I did a beautiful short film called Something Has Died in the Forest and a very spiffy dark comedy called The Junket in 2020. And then after COVID, I really wanted to do some comedy on screen because I’d done so much on stage and I’d done drama on screen, and I thought, Hmm, I wonder if this will translate (laughs).”

Sandy is such a big character, and she provides you with a lot of opportunities to show your range as a performer. What did you love about playing her?

“Well, I think it’s just that. It was the highs and lows. I was able to explore the range of the character. She’s so many things all at once: she’s desperate for attention, she’s trying to find her place amongst the women, she’s tearing people down, she’s crying out for real friendships, she’s eating seagulls… It felt like nothing was off limits in terms of choices because she’s so brash, absurd, and like you said, big. She kind of stylistically sits in a bit of a heightened comedy world. I think that was her purpose amongst the women. For me, coming back as the pirate was the real gift of Sandy, though. Just to be able to up that animalistic stuff, having that costume, having the seagulls around my neck, having no teeth, having the three-kilo wigs — that was the biggest treat for me, really diving into that character comedy moment (laughs).”

Sandy is hungry

On the flipside, in playing such an extreme character, were you ever mindful of making sure that she never became a caricature?

“Hugely, yeah. And that’s something Kacie [Anning], the creator, and I talked about from day one. But I am the kind of performer that’ll just go, go, go, and throw caution to the wind and just abandon any kind of preservation, so I relied heavily on Kacie to be like, ‘Alright, let’s dial that one back’ or ‘Let’s go for another and soften the eyes’ (laughs). So, I really left it up to her, and I had full trust that she would carve out the version of Sandy that she wanted. I think my only job was to give her as many varied takes as possible, and then she could paint the picture however she wanted.”

There is a lengthy period where Sandy is missing and assumed dead. When those scenes were being shot, did you isolate yourself or limit your interactions with the cast as a way to stay in character?

“Well, initially, I really wanted to be on set to see what else was being filmed and also, because it was my first time on a big-scale set, I just wanted to be involved and learn as much as I could. But then, when I was there, I actually experienced that thing Sandy experiences, which is being on the outside and not being a cog in the machine because I wasn’t useful that day. I remember doing that quite a bit and feeling those things and going through those motions and thinking, Oh, this is actually helpful for my return. But in terms of isolating myself … not really.

“Some days when I was filming — like that beautiful scene with Emily Browning and Sana’a Shaik, when they discover that [Sandy’s] pregnant — I did isolate myself in terms of when I was in the makeup trailer. I went to my own trailer and did some visual exercises that helped me. [Sandy] has one line: ‘Do you know how lonely it was for me out there?’ And, albeit it’s done through comedy, it was really lonely for her. She was five months on a boat by herself. The only interaction she really had was with a Spanish canoeist (laughs). It was difficult to not get roped into the energy on set, though. We had a lot of fun (laughs).”

The show has such a charming ensemble of actors. What was the behind-the-scenes culture like when you were filming?

“Well, we were locked down for two months of the shoot in terms of we couldn’t go out to bars, we couldn’t go to restaurants, cafes, that sort of thing, just to keep the thing afloat while COVID was ramping up. So, we created a bit of a community. The girls and I get on like a house on fire; we had nobody else to hang out with, so thank god! So, we would travel to set together, we would come home together, we’d have dinner together, we’d watch series together. It was really a beautiful connection. I think, even watching the series, I see as it goes on, our comfortability with each other deepens and our comedy is spiffier. It was a once in a lifetime group dynamic.”

As you mentioned, you are the one that goes through the biggest physical transformation. You sport a very distinctive apocalyptic look. Did you have much say in the design of that appearance?

“Yeah, I mean, for me, it was just, ‘As heinous and as unrecognisable as possible, please’. I insisted on the rotting teeth, even though maybe she wouldn’t have that much rot, but anything for comedy. And you’ll notice that there are wristbands around her wrist; she’d want to protect her vulnerable parts, she wouldn’t want to cut herself, that kind of thing. What else did I … oh! (laughs) We had those sandals, and we noticed they crisscrossed up in a fashion sort of way. That was something where I was like, ‘I reckon she would want to stay a little bit on brand, on trend, in vogue’. And just making sure it was much more economical than her ridiculous reunion frock, which is just impossible to move in and not at all functional. Yeah, the dirtier, the better. I was a bit of a nuisance in the makeup chair. I was like, ‘More dirt! More blood!’ (laughs).”

Sarah (fifth from right) with the rest of the Class of ’07 cast at the show’s premiere screening

We think our favourite line of yours is when the others find out you’re lying about there being no survivors, and most head off to sea, leaving you stranded, and you scream, ‘I’ve got killer whales that hunt on my command!’ 

(laughs) That’s my favourite line too!”

It is such a wild line and one that seems destined to be quoted and meme’d. What was your reaction on reading it? 

“That’s so funny that you mentioned that specific moment. My reaction was, I love this crazy woman. She’s just so unexpected, and that’s what I mean by there was so much to play with. Like, okay, she’s been gone for five months, and she’s communicated with whales; I love her erupting tendencies. I just think Kacie has done a really great job to write really defined characters in terms of style. We’re all playing within the same world but different comedic styles. And I think Sandy gets to cover that big character of physical humour, almost slapstick sometimes.”

Has there been any discussion about a second season?

“Well, while we were filming the first season, the girls and I basically wrote the second season — we fan-fictioned ourselves (laughs). We’re still fingers crossed to hear some news, but it’s great to see how well it’s doing. We were number one in Australia for, I think, ten days in a row — quote me, I’m that sure (laughs) — and it’s building a bit of a fan base on Twitter. It’s awesome to see it’s hitting the people that we really hoped would enjoy it.”

Don’t cry Sandy

We’re guessing it’s something you and the rest of the cast and crew would do in a heartbeat.

“Oh, hugely. Sign me up for a second, third, and fourth. There’s never going to be another moment in my career where I can play a character like Sandy. The more time I can get with her, the better.”

You can next be seen on stage as Sophie in Mamma Mia! The Musical. Aside from us taking up your lunch break today, how have rehearsals been?

“Pretty magical, pretty gruelling, pretty surreal. We’re on day ten now, and we’ve finished act one. I found out I was cast in November, so I feel like I’ve been simmering on it for a while, and it’s great to finally be in the room and say the words and sing the songs. It’s going to be pretty special, I reckon.”

When you tackle a discography as iconic as ABBA’s, what do you need to be wary of? 

“So, any time a musical is a jukebox musical, you’re kind of faced with a dilemma of how can I contextualise this for [my character’s] story? Is this song operating to forward the plot, or is it just a diegetic moment in the show where we enjoy the luscious music of ABBA? And I think it’s more categorising the music and how it’s facilitating the story and making that really clear in your mind and then going from there with the text. But more than that, pop songs weren’t necessarily made to be sung eight times a week. So, it’s building that stamina and being a bit more considered with vocal choices just to make sure you can hit it eight times a week and give everybody a great show.”

Sarah (third from right) with the Mamma Mia! The Musical cast

Sophie is such an iconic role and has been portrayed by so many terrific performers. In playing this part, how do you honour what has come before while also making the character distinctly yours?

“Well, this is the fourth time Mamma Mia! has come around Australia with the same creative and production team. So, they’ve done four iterations of it, but we’re lucky that this iteration is a newly imagined, newly staged version. Gary Young, our director, got me on board knowing that, so I really feel like I’m creating a new Sophie just because I have licence to make my own decisions in terms of blocking and staging. Nothing is really locked in. Nothing’s off limits creatively. I mean, I have to say the words and sing the songs, but in terms of interpretation, I kind of have free rein, which is a rare thing in Australian musical theatre. But because they’ve done four iterations of it, there are props that have been with the show for twenty years. Sophie’s diary that opens the show is littered with little notes from previous Sophies, and I really feel connected to them in that way. [So I am] just finding little pockets of originality, but honouring what audiences love, expect, and hope to see on stage.”

With all the success you’ve amassed on stage and screen domestically, do you plan on taking your work overseas in the future?

“I truly love the Australian industry, and I feel beyond privileged that I’m included in it, but maybe one day. I don’t know; it’s not something I’ve given a huge amount of thought to. I just kind of chase the right roles and the right story. I’m definitely very nomadic as a human, so it’s in the pipeline, but when? I’m not too sure (laughs).”

Well, either way, we want to see this fan-fiction season two brought to life before you book any airfares!

“I’ll publish them myself if we don’t get greenlit (laughs).”

Class of ’07 is available to stream on Prime Video

Mamma Mia! The Musical begins its tour of Australia on May 24th at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. For more details and to purchase tickets, head to their website