The title of the show is appropriate, because Sarah Sanguin Carter considers her current TV-acting gig to be manna from heaven.
"Falling Skies kind of fell from the sky," says Winnipeg-raised Carter, 31, whose TV career has been kicked back into high gear by the sci-fi series, which has aired for two seasons on U.S. cable's TNT network and had its Canadian premiere a couple of weeks ago on Space.
Carter had cut back drastically on auditions for TV and movie projects in order to focus on her fledgling music career, but was forced to reconsider when Falling Skies producer/director Greg Beeman -- with whom she worked briefly several years ago during a recurring-character stint on Smallville -- contacted her to say she was his first choice for a character in his new TV series.
"I didn't have a relationship with him outside of Smallville, but we did work well together on that show, I guess," Carter explains. "I've changed a lot as a person since then, so I was shocked to learn he had this very clear vision of me playing (the character) Maggie. Not only that, but he had already sold me to TNT and (executive producer) Steven Spielberg before he reached out to my management.
"It's still a bit mysterious, to be honest, but I guess he'd looked at some of the work I've done since Smallville and decided I had what he was looking for and was someone he wanted to be in business with creatively."
Falling Skies, which airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Space, is a science-fiction thriller set in a near-future world in which aliens have landed on Earth with nasty intentions. Humanity has been reduced to roving bands of rebels fighting to take back their planet.
ER alumnus Noah Wyle leads the cast, playing a former history professor who has been forced to take up arms as second-in-command of the 2nd Massachusetts Militia Regiment. Carter's character, Maggie, was introduced in the series' second episode as a ruthless fighter who has survived great physical and emotional traumas and is extremely loyal to those she decides she can trust.
"I had wanted to be considered for parts that were edgier," she explains. "I was kind of bored with the bubble-gum stuff that was coming my way and had decided I needed to take more risks. And as soon as I did that, this role came along -- it was described to me as sort of Angelina Jolie behind a gun, with the damaged heart of Charlize Theron in Monster. It doesn't get any edgier than that."
Carter, a graduate of Balmoral Hall who studied musical theatre at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and attended Ryerson Theatre School in Toronto, has worked steadily in TV and film since moving to Los Angeles nearly a decade ago. As a series regular, she has played a martial-arts fighter in the WB series Black Sash and a lawyer alongside James Woods in the CBS drama Shark.
It was after the latter two-year gig that Carter decided to take a step back from acting on TV series.
"I had decided to focus on music, hoping I could do something that's a little more my own, creatively. After being on Shark for two years, I sort of felt like I didn't want to read anyone else's lines anymore," she says. "I guess I was just in a different place, looking for a deeper meaning.
"Shark was filmed on a (studio) lot in Hollywood, and it was about doing the same thing every day -- put on the tight suit and the heels and the makeup, and do a formulaic procedural show. After 46 episodes, I started to wonder what else could be out there for me."
Having started to explore music and songwriting during her down time on the Shark set, Carter decided to see if she could make a go of it as a musician.
"(Music) sort of crept up and out of me," she says with a laugh. "I had started to bring my acoustic guitar to the trailer when I was working on the second season of Shark, and I started writing these little songs. And when the show was cancelled, I had 14 songs, and I thought, 'OK, I have some time, and I have a little bit of money, so why don't I record these?'"
She went to Montreal, where she has a few friends who are musicians, and asked them to play on the self-produced CD. The result encouraged Carter enough that she started booking live-performance gigs at clubs around L.A.
"I just got out there as much as possible, and then I met my current bandmate, David Drake, and we formed a band called SanguinDrake, which became a bigger, more serious project," she says. The duo is currently at work on their second album, and Carter says one of her dreams is to have SanguinDrake land a gig at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.
Carter describes her musical efforts as a perfect complement to her acting career, which has been re-energized by her role in Falling Skies.
"Acting is absolutely wonderful for me right now," she says. "Falling Skies came along at just the right time to tell me, 'You're on the right path, just stick with it.' Maggie is an extremely dynamic character, and the show is fantastic -- it's working outdoors, back in Canada, filled with action and such a rich story. I love being in a science-fiction show; there's so much imagination in every single episode."
Carter maintains close connections to family and friends here in Winnipeg, and will return home next month to appear as a guest speaker at the Rupert's Land Debate Tournament at Balmoral Hall.
"They reached out to me, and of course I said yes," says Carter, who travelled extensively as a debater during her high school years. "I've changed a lot since my debating days; back then, I thought I'd end up going to Stanford and studying law. That's not quite what happened, though I did play a lawyer on TV.
"It'll be great to go back and tell the kids there how important it is to learn how to communicate, to take in information and make it your own, and to form your opinions and get them out there. Debating is one of the most important skills I learned in high school, so it'll be fun to go back."
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The Carter File
Selected TV credits:
Cold Squad (2000)
Wolf Lake (2001)
Black Sash (2003)
Dirty Sexy Money (2008)
CSI: NY (2009)
Falling Skies (2011-present)