The Girl with Something Extra

by Kyle Counts

Starlog #226
May 1996

“I’m the perfect example of girl-from-small-town, has-big-dreams, really-fights-hard-for-them-and-succeeds,” says Sabrina Lloyd with contagious enthusiasm. In fact, the female co-star of Fox TV’s Sliders is so upbeat and perky that one is tempted to suspect her of being in “interview mode” — the manner so many young actresses adopt to win over visiting journalists.

But Lloyd’s smiles and sunny disposition — even on this sluggish day in grey and rainy Vancouver, British Columbia, where the SF/action-adventure series is filmed — turn out to be quite genuine. This is a girl who loves her work and feels quite fortunate to be cast in a prime-time show when others far older than her 25 years are still waiting for their first break.

For Lloyd, who plays plucky dimension-hopper Wade Welles on Sliders, it’s all a bit of a dream. She began acting at age 12 in Mount Dora, Florida, where she landed the role of Pepper in a community theater production of Annie. As she recalls, it, “I wrote down on my audition sheet, I only want to play Pepper.’ I wanted to be the bully, because I was always being bullied as a kid. Opening night I went up to my mother and said, This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ I was so focused at such a young age. Everything I’ve done has been to get me where I am today.”

She moved to New York when she was 18, took a job bartending, and, as she puts it, “started pounding on doors.” Eventually, the offers started to dribble in, including roles in the features Chain of Desire and Father Hood (“Patrick Swayze was a joy to work with and it got me exposure and experience”). Then came her breakthrough performance as the star of the HBO TV move The Coming Out of Heidi Leiter, a true story about a lesbian teen who bucks convention by taking her girlfriend to the senior prom. Few actresses would have taken such a risk so early in their careers, but Lloyd isn’t one to shrink from a challenge. “I’m really proud of that piece,” she explains. “It was beautifully done. To me, it was an opportunity to play an amazing character. Whatever people want to think [about Lloyd’s own sexuality] was fine.”

Willing to Wade

Getting the part of Wade Welles on Sliders was predestined, the actress believes. “It sounds cheesy, but I knew the role was mine when I read it. She was a very different character, spunky and independent. I loved the name, Wade Welles — that was a huge draw. There seemed so much possibility for growth. I love science fiction, too, so the show’s premise really appealed to me. I probably gave the best audition I had ever given. I just went in there and kicked ass.”

Actually, Lloyd had to audition several times. Her first audition was videotaped in New York. Later, the pilot’s director and the series’ co-creator/executive producer Tracy Tormé traveled to Manhattan to meet with her. “Then, they flew me to LA to do a screen test for the Universal brass, and a test for Fox. Every girl I knew went up for this part, including all of my friends. There were all there, and I got it!”

Tormé recalls being immediately taken with Lloyd. “We hired Sabrina almost more for Sabrina than we did for her take on the role. When she first read for us, everyone reacted to the natural, fresh energetic quality she possesses. She has a fantastic enthusiasm for the part and a real pride toward the show.”

Cleavant Derricks, who plays Rembrandt Brown the Sliders, recalls with amusement his first meeting with Lloyd. “I first saw her during the audition process. We were in the waiting room in LA. Coming from New York, I can usually tell New York actors, so I said to her, ‘Excuse me, are you from New York?’ And she said, ‘Yes, I am. I just flew in.’ I said, ‘Oh really?’ And she said, ‘and my arms are so-o-o tired.’ I just fell off my chair. I fell in love with her right then and there. ‘You know what?’ I said. ‘You are Wade Welles. You’ll get this part, trust me.’

“Fox was a little worried because she wasn’t a ‘Fox’ type of girl — you know, the typically voluptuous, Melrose-looking female,” he says. “We all sat down for a first reading and I said to her, ‘See? I knew you would be here! I told you.’ She said, ‘Don’t be happy yet. I don’t know if I have the part, I’m just here for the reading. Fox doesn’t know if they want me or not.’ And I said, ‘You’re marvelous. Many actors would have stood up and said, “No way. If you don’t hire me, I walk away.”‘ She stayed and did the reading and I thought, ‘Good things will come to you for this.’ She’s a sweetheart, a trouper, a marvel in every sense of the word.”

Though there was scant back-story written into the pilot script, Lloyd assesses Wade as “kind of a sheltered girl. She was probably a middle child and wasn’t very comfortable with herself. I mean, she’s a young woman, just like I was when I was coming into womanhood. The awkwardness you feel around guys…that’s obviously there in the pilot, and far as the relationship between her and Quinn Mallory [Jerry O’Connell].”

After the first few episodes, Lloyd became concerned that Wade might be turning into a stock damsel-in-distress. Fortunately, her feedback was welcomed by Tormé and his writing staff. “I didn’t want her to be the typical, weak woman,” recalls Lloyd. “I’m the only woman on the show, so I have a definite responsibility to make her as strong as possible. I was very much in contact with the writers last season about where my character was going. They couldn’t keep her that [damsel-in-distress] mode for long. They knew they had to let her grow, or she would have become boring. They more they got to know me, the more they started incorporating bits and pieces of who I am into the character. Wade from the pilot compared to Wade now is just…well, she has completely come into her own.”

Tormé agrees that Wade is becoming more like Lloyd with each passing episode. “We’ve put a lot of Sabrina into the character of Wade. Originally, Wade was a little bit of the mousy girl-next-door; very shy, a little hesitant about things. She has become much more of an adventurer; she now tends to give Professor Arturo [John Rhys-Davies] flak when they disagree. She’s much more feisty.”

One trap Lloyd desperately wanted to avoid was having her character pair off permanently with Quinn, a move that effectively short-circuited such shows as Moonlighting. “That’s something I told the writers, that I did not want Wade to be just this lovesick girl,” she explains. “We did that last season. This season, what happened between Wade and Quinn is pretty much not even acknowledged now. We’re just sliding together. She cares about Quinn a lot and always will, but she no longer has to be that puppy dog. He’s having other love interests, and she’s not stupid — she’ll have her own love interests too.”

Lloyd agrees that it is an ideal situation for any actress to work on an anthology show — one with continuing characters, that is. “I’m the luckiest girl in the world,” she beams. “The fact that my character is always going to new places and being put into new situations is wonderful. I get to play so many variations on Wade, because she also exists on these parallel worlds. I’ve grown so much as an actor, yet I’m still learning every day. If I’m in one place too long, I start to go crazy. To me, that’s one of the best perks of acting — always getting to go somewhere new. I need that in my life.”

Working with Welles

The most difficult part of visiting a different world weekly, Lloyd says, is staying true to her character. “The way I’ve dealt with all the plot shifts is to get really clear on who Wade is. That way, no matter what situation they put me in, no matter what world we go to, I know how Wade would react in that situation. For me, my character is my anchor.”

Another thing that keeps Lloyd grounded is the special relationship she shares with her male co-stars. “We all love each other very much. Of course, there are times when we get sick of each other, but that’s normal in such a close-knit situation.”

Working with “her boys,” as she calls them, is a continual delight. “Each one brings such different colors to the show. Jerry keeps everybody laughing. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. You can never have a bad day with Jerry on the set. If he’s not telling a joke or a funny story, he’s not talking.”

O’Connell is equally flattering regarding Lloyd. “Sabrina’s great. She has a tough job on the show because she’s the only female lead. I think she was cast because of her out-going personality. To shine, the part needed someone with Sabrina’s personality, and the ability to hold court with these three other men. It’s perfect casting. She’s not afraid to speak up, to speak her mind. I’ve truly come to value her opinions. She’s one of those people you want on your team.”

Derricks, Lloyd boasts, is “definitely my buddy on the set. He’s my partner in crime. I just adore him. He’s one of the most amazing men I’ve every met, so kind and sweet, such a devoted family man. You should see the way his eyes light up when he talks about his wife — he’s so in love with her. And he has four kids, whom he absolutely adores. He’s also very dedicated to his craft. He brings a lot of comedy to his role.”

There’s an edge of awe in Lloyd’s voice when she offers her opinion of Rhys-Davies. “Gosh, he’s such a talented actor. Sometimes I just sit and watch him when he really gets into a scene. He’s very, very good. I mean, he’s a Shakespearean actor! He’ll pick something up and read it for the first time and make it sound like a soliloquy. He’s amazing. And he tells great stories.”

Rhys-Davies confides that “Sabrina and I have never had a bad word to say to each other, or about each other. Sabrina, as the only woman in the group, brings a very special quality to the show that we all appreciate. Actors tend to appreciate the little things, like actresses not being too temperamental. It’s extraordinary how actresses in particular tend to take things out on the makeup and wardrobe people. Not Sabrina. She has a flawless personality.”

Sabrina the Slider

Asked her opinion of Slider’s first season, Lloyd briefly deflects the question by mentioning the second season’s shift in focus. “It’s so easy to fall into the formula of ‘We go to another world, it’s in trouble, we save the day.’ Tracy and the writers want to start focusing more on the characters. That’s a big change; you’re going to learn more about the characters and learn to like them more. Last season the shows were getting too big. When you have four principals, it’s hard to cover them all. I think they’ll be breaking us apart more so that the audience can learn more about who we are as individuals. To me, that’s what TV is all about. You have to care about your heroes.”

As to the kickoff season’s individual episodes, Lloyd praises two in particular. “Fever was one of my favorites. That was the one where everyone had the plague. It was fun for me as an actor, because my character got sick and I had to go through all the emotions associated with that. And I really like Luck of the Draw, the season finale. Intellectually, it was the most intriguing of all the episodes. In this dimension, people volunteered to die through a lottery. That’s how they controlled the population. That’s something I would like to see more of [in future episodes], plotlines that really make you think.”

Some critics charges that Sliders‘ first year was too adolescent in nature, a criticism Lloyd feels had some merit. But, she maintains, the powers that be behind the show “are trying to change that. Fox, I think, is the one that wants the show to be aimed more at kids. I don’t mind that. I’m more than happy to provide entertainment for kids. I’m a kid myself. But I think they are going to try for a more wider audience this season by bringing in more science fiction. That’s where our audience is. As an SF fan, I would like to be able to watch the show. I just love outer space and aliens and all that stuff. I would like this show to be more science fiction.”

Lloyd admits to having an “alien obsession,” so she would “love to land on a world where we have made contact with other life forms and are living in harmony with them. It doesn’t have to be this monster thing. I’m so sick of seeing aliens portrayed as bad. I would love to go to a place where we’ve met them and they’re wonderful and we’re learning from each other. It has helped rather than hindered us, and enriched all our lives.”

Would she like Sliders to run five years, thus qualifying the series for syndication and putting more money in her bank account? “Sure, why not?” she smiles. “I have to trust in the universe that however long the show lasts is as long as I’m supposed to do it.”

And if Fox were to cancel Sliders, and there was a chance to tie up all the loose ends with a farewell episode, what would she want to see happen? “I have two different feelings about that. One part of me says no, I don’t want closure with the show, because things aren’t always so easily resolved in real life. The other part of me thinks it would be nice to have us all go home. I don’t want the show to end, so I don’t want to think about an actual ending.”

As she is finally called away to rehearse her next scene, Sabrina Lloyd takes a moment to explain how she maintains her balance in the midst of such a hectic lifestyle. It’s surprisingly simple, she says. “Sometimes, when I start to take life too seriously, I make sure I can go someplace were I can see the horizon. I’ll sit there and think, ‘I am on a planet, floating in the galaxy. That’s amazing!’ It’s nothing to freak out about. Life is a wonder.”

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