Create & Cultivate 100: Entertainment: Sophia Bush

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Sophia Bush has had a year, on screen and off.

It began with a development deal with 20th Century Fox, which gave her the reins both in front of and behind the camera. She’s now hard at work both producing and starring in CBS’ forthcoming Surveillance, an NSA spy drama on CBS, meaning her days involve not only acting but also reviewing scripts, casting, hiring—and if you didn’t already know her for her starring roles in hits like One Tree Hill, Chicago PD, Incredibles 2, and our old fave, John Tucker Must Die, you’d think she was a seasoned producer, hearing the way she talks about running a set.

Sophia has also been a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement. She’s adamant that Time’s Up be not just about Hollywood, but every industry, because, in her words, the problem is a systemic, psychosocial, societal problem. But she knows her influence as an admired woman in Hollywood, and she’s committed to using that influence for good.

Read on for Sophia’s take on flipping the script, in more ways than one.

You signed a talent and development deal with 20th Century Fox last year. Tell us about your starring role in Surveillance and what other exciting things you’re working on through the contract.

Entering into this next phase of my career, and being able to check a few more boxes on my goals list, felt very empowering. It’s meant reading countless scripts and sifting through mountains of material to find the things that speak to me. First and foremost that meant zeroing in on a new show to both star in and produce. This marks my first time fulfilling roles on both sides of the camera simultaneously, aside from the episodes of One Tree Hill that I both acted in and directed. Shout out to my fellow ladies in the DGA! That meant I was part of meeting with and ultimately hiring our director, the incredible Patricia Riggen, who served as an executive producer and my North Star on set. That means I was involved in casting for every role. I screen tested many actors myself, alongside Patricia and David C. White, our writer & creator. And I was able to set a tone on set. To make sure that everyone knew that they were heard, cared for, and would be protected if the need ever arose. It was so incredibly fulfilling and I cannot wait for more.

You starred in Incredibles 2 and are now hard at work on Surveillance—two very different projects. What’s been the most challenging and enjoyable parts of working on each?

Well, when you make an animated film you can go to work in sweatpants, so that’s a real bonus! And to learn from Brad Bird and the incredible team at PIXAR was a real dream come true. And on a story where the ladies take the lead, no less I’ll happily work for them for the rest of my life!

Surveillance is a more traditional working environment. Long hours. A set that requires a flight away from my home to get to. But within those “tough” descriptors was also so much joy. Incredible attention to detail with everything from the script and what we’re saying with it. From wardrobe to set design. It was perfect. I was more energized than I’ve ever felt on a set. More alive. Being so invested in each and every aspect of the job made it feel so deeply connected from the jump off. If I can be that happy at work every day, I’ll do this job for as long as I can.

What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?

This year, certainly. Making films and shows that I truly believe in, with wonderful people, that have been deeply inspiring and completely healthy? That’s been a real earned joy.

Where does your passion/drive come from?

I think of it like a fire. I’m not sure where it was lit, but I know that it happened when I was young, and I’m in no danger of my fuel running out any time soon!

What piece of wisdom would you share with young women just starting out in the entertainment industry?

I’d say to women in ANY industry that you need to work hard, cultivate a real community of women, take constructive criticism as a challenge to better yourself, and also refuse to take abuse of any kind. Speak truth to power. Even when your voice shakes.

In the age of #TimesUp, how do we flip the narrative that the onus is on women to change how they’re treated in the workplace?

I’ve been frank about my experiences over the years, as have many women thanks to #TimesUp, because women need to know that they are not alone. And that mistreatment in the workplace is never okay. It should not be our responsibility to quit, to give up our financial security, our hard-earned positions, or our careers, because abusive people cannot keep their hands/words/body parts to themselves. Companies and employers need to make reporting safer, need to ensure that victims are not retaliated against, and need to actually punish abusers. Period. And women as a collective need to call for these changes, and we need men to back us up and join the chorus as well.

Which women in your industry do you look up to most? Why?

I look up to Ava DuVernay, Reed Moreno, Kerry Washington, and Oprah. Julianne Moore. Amy Adams. All of these women have forged their own paths, told their own stories, and offered truth about real, deep, human experience to their audiences. And they’ve fought to do so. They remind me never to give up pressing for more transparency and honesty.

Pain is information. Take it as such, grow from it, and figure out how to do better and work smarter next time.

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When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?

Bumps and hurdles are part of the journey. No one, and I mean NO ONE, has had a life or career without hardship. Pain is information. Take it as such, grow from it, and figure out how to do better and work smarter next time.

If you weren’t working in entertainment, what career path would you choose and why?

I’d be a journalist. Nothing matters more to me than telling true, empathetic stories about people. And journalists dedicate their lives to doing so, all over the world. They have my ultimate respect.

What are you most excited for in 2019?

I’m most excited that over 100 women will be sworn into the United States’ most diverse Congress in history. It’s about damn time.