Bette Midler’s Daughter, Sophie von Haselberg, on Stepping Into the Spotlight
BY: SAMANTHA SIMON
JUNE 15, 2017
Sophie von Haselberg is no stranger to show business. The 30-year-old actress recently landed her first major roles, starring as the Ohio governor’s chief of staff in House of Cards and as Bernie Madoff’s lawyer in Wizard of Lies. But after watching her mother, Bette Midler, flawlessly navigate the spotlight for decades, von Haselberg is more than well-versed when it comes to Hollywood. And she knows exactly what she’s doing when it comes to her career, thanks to a degree from Yale’s School of Drama and a bit of helpful advice from her mother along the way.
But while you can bet that Midler has passed down plenty of acting tips, her most impactful words of wisdom have had nothing to do with stage presence. The best advice she’s given her daughter? “Honestly, I think it’s the lesson that yes, sometimes a project is based in passion and creativity and artistry, but sometimes, a job is just a job,” von Haselberg recently told InStyle. “And if you’re working on something that’s a job as opposed to a passion project, you still work your hardest and you do the thing—and you don’t beat yourself up about it when you go home at the end of the day.”
Of course, Midler herself is known for being passionate about her work. After all, this is the woman who, 23 years after starring in Hocus Pocus, gave fans the ultimate delight by donning her Winifred Sanderson costume once again for Halloween in 2016. And earlier this week, Midler made headlines when she refused to wrap up her powerful Tony Awards acceptance speech as the music began playing her off (she won Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for Hello, Dolly!). Midler’s fans around the world couldn’t get enough of it—and neither could her daughter.
“First of all, I just love that she turned the entire thing into a bit,” said von Haselberg. “Everybody was sitting there, and all of a sudden she’s saying, ‘Cut that- turn that shit off!’ I think that she took the space in a way that, to me, not a lot of other people are capable of doing. And I just loved watching it. My dad and I were sitting there, half-cringing, half-grinning because it was just so classically her. It was great—and I’m just happy it made such an impression.”
You’ve had a busy couple of months, starring in House of Cards and Wizard of Lies. Do you feel like this marks a turning point in your career, in terms of taking on more mainstream roles?
I wouldn’t necessarily say it marks a change in my career. I think it’s just different. I’ve done a bunch of indies in the past, and it’s just a really different way of working. Both are exciting, and, of course, both have their merits. What’s so fun about working on indies is that it’s just a passion project for most of the people involved. And so that just carries a different feeling with it. But filming indie is more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, because you don’t really know what the end project is going to be like. With projects like House of Cards and Wizard of Lies, you do know—or at least you hope you do—because all of the people involved are so incredible. I was over the moon to be a part of both of those projects and to work with those people on such high-caliber productions.
You grew up with a very unique inside look at the entertainment industry. How did that shape your outlook in terms of your own career?
I think that because my mom was in the business, it was extremely important for me—just from a place of self-respect—to really, really study the craft of acting. That’s why I went to grad school, because I felt like then, no matter what, I had actually earned my place to call myself an actor—and not just because I was born into this industry. I was really weary of trying to pursue anything in this business for a very long time just because of the fear of comparison. But it’s who I am, and it go too exhausting to deny that. So I just had to go for it. My mom has always pushed me, as an artist, to create my own work, and not just to do the projects that other people involve me in, which I think is a really good thing. Trust me, I am very happy to be an actor in somebody else’s project any other day of the week. But I also think for the purpose of longevity and being an artist with your own voice, it’s really important to make work that I, myself, am passionate about, and that I’m the driving force behind.
Do you feel like you came to terms with the fact that Hollywood is in your blood?
I wouldn’t say that Hollywood’s in my blood as much as show business is in my blood, in a way. They’re totally intertwined, of course, but there’s something I think so vaudevillian about my mom and the work she has done and created. I feel that that’s very much the world I have been born into and I totally embrace that, and I love that. But I just love Hollywood. I grew up watching all of those old movies, and that whole golden age of cinema feels like home to me. I can quote Some Like It Hot from start to finish, any day of the week. The original The Producers with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, and Fred Astaire musicals, too. My parents and I used to watch those movies practically once a week.
Who’s your idol from that era?
There are so many. Watching Marilyn on screen is like nothing else. It’s just like, how is a person who creates this like that? Then Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot. That comedy, to me, is just what we’re all striving for, in a way.
Your short film YOYO recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, in a category specifically focused on female filmmakers. Who are some women you look up to in the industry?
Definitely Nora Ephron. Her stuff is just so wonderful and brilliant and specific and personal. And then, of course, there’s Kathryn Bigelow, who’s making a totally different kind of film—films that are not “female.” I think it’s so exciting that we can be women in this industry and we don’t have to only make content that is female. Trust me, I love it—I am the first person in line to see a rom-com—but I also think that we’re allowed to play in different genres.
In that sphere, how do you hope to make an impact?
I don’t know yet. I’m interested in comedy. I’m interested in drama. I’m interested in every genre, so it’s hard to say. I think my own tastes tend to lean a little bit more towards fairly realistic comedies, I guess, in terms of what I am capable of producing. But also, I’m young—so, who knows?