«I’ve never wanted my photography to be controlled by industry because of my emotional attachment to it. I don’t want to shoot for the sake of shooting. I want to tell stories that I’m interested in»
Sasha Frolova lives with her partner Erin Mommsen on the edge of ChinaTown. Erin meets me downstairs with a cup of coffee and invites me to the third floor of a typical walk-up apartment. During the Pandemic, they got an apartment, thinking it would be a temporary stop, but circumstances fell differently. The place reflects the personality of both artists living in the space – painter Mommsen, who carefully curated his art pieces in each room, and artist Frolova, with her obsession with small objects and vintage furniture sourced all over the city. Frolova is a collaborator; she wants to be involved in her wardrobe choices, set design for each image, hairstyle, and story behind it. She’s living her acting life while being happy, loving, and kind to everyone around her.
«I technically was born on the upper west side, but grew up on 57th street, a block away from my grandparents, which has been a very sustaining force in my life, a huge source of motivation. And they’re my role models and my comfort in many ways. There’s nothing more grounding than being around people that have been around for so much longer than you. I am lucky to have that kind of family because I have my Russian father, who was not around very much. It was such a contrast to what family meant because of the two worlds. As I grew up, I realized it’s not just two worlds; it’s two cultures. So I had my American side, even though my grandpa’s French, versus my Russian side. They gave me two very distinct perspectives and were yin and yang that shaped me into a more reflective person».
Mom and dad’s love story
Frolova’s mom took a year abroad to Russia, studying Russian literature at Wesleyan University. She met her dad there and fell in love. They got married, as long-distance relationships were nearly impossible in the 90s, considering there was no technology. So they ended up in America, having Sasha and her older sister.
Growing up in New York City
«We would get out of the city as anybody knows that living in New York can overstimulate. Especially with kids, you either need to send them away or go somewhere during the summer because they’re just way too in your hair. But we weren’t a super worldly family. It didn’t feel like that because I grew up around tons of privileged people with unlimited money». Despite the illusion of not traveling sufficiently due to this comparison, Frolova felt «enough inspired by an idea of a globe that you’re a piece of a huge puzzle».
Growing up in the city means being exposed to so much. As a result, it completely loses its glamor. «In New York, you always know that theoretically, you can do anything at any given second; all you have to do is do it. So I always glamorized the idea of not living in New York; that said it did make me grow up thoughtfully because you’re always absorbing so much».
Acting for Sasha Frolova became a way to «have the idea of trying something else without actually uproot your life and live there». She can choose to live in the city or suburbs just for a certain amount of time it’s scheduled for the filming process. When there is not as much pressure to create a new friend ‘family’, rely on people for emotional well-being. «I love experimenting with living in other places so much, but I will never live anywhere but New York as my actual home».
Frolova’s way into acting started through photography. First, she explained thoughts to herself through analog images and then brought those ideas, which developed into acting as a kind of desire to be inside of an idea of idea-making, what we call meta now.
«I’m aware that my routine is in my control and out. If I have auditions, then I can structure my week around them, dive into something about them that’s interesting to me.. Like if I get a script based on a novel, I’ll go to the ‘Strand’ and buy the book, and then I’ll run to the water somewhere moderately far and read by the Hudson. I’ll make myself focused, but eventually, I feel defeated by acting. I get frustrated by how slow things can be, and I can get resentful because I always want to be working and making. So instead, I’ll hide in my apartment and create, for instance, a tiny paper towel holder for my boyfriend out of scrap wood.
My routine is very inconsistent».
Sasha Frolova’s partner, Erin Mommsen, is sharing a studio in their apartment where he’s painting. «We acquired quite a few power tools, and during the Pandemic, I reclaimed a love of construction work that I didn’t realize I had in me. I love making tiny things. On the other hand, I would say I don’t like taking up too much space. I don’t particularly appreciate jumping».
«Mommsen helps me with all my auditions. He’ll bounce ideas with me if I have a shoot, making things as props together. We’re always doing something as hands-on as possible because we have the time. I think that’s how you maintain your sanity as an actor by acknowledging that you have time, learning things, and constantly developing yourself. Ultimately, every role you play, no matter who they are, what they do, or know, is your version. So if you’re an incredibly dynamic person, wouldn’t you be an incredibly dynamic character? Even if you’re an excellent chef, that could help you someday. So just keep those skills up».
While having a free schedule with some auditions for the following projects, Frolova is working on a short film with her partner Mommsen. Besides acting, she’s keeping her skills up with time-consuming activities like making tiny sacred objects out of’ ‘modge podge’ and developing prints in the darkroom.
«I have a running list of photographers and directors on my computer that I wanna shoot with at some point».
Julie Greve has her beautiful way of representing women.
Brianna Capozzi and Harley Weir are also photographers who are powerfully capturing femininity. «They are women who aren’t talking about ‘being a woman’, but simultaneously are doing just that in every image».
Wes Anderson was the first director that made Sasha want to be in movies. «People like Wes put their stamp on every little piece in the movie and are specific about what he wants. He even takes a pass at the typography on the book spines! The same with Yorgos Lanthimos; you can always tell, feel it tickle your subconscious. As a player in that game, you are there to execute an idea for them; to try to figure out what they’re seeing in their minds and make it a reality».
«I like being a pawn, like a chess piece. I find myself relieved not to have to be myself. The more the people you’re working with have their vision, the more you can get that relief».
Path of photography
«I was passionate about photography because I could take a piece of my mind and make it something that somebody else could see. It made me so happy. Almost saying, let me sneak into your brain and try to pull out whatever movie or show or vision of dream or memory you are trying to have other people understand».
Currently, she’s doing a series with her pregnant friend Ruby, capturing the process every month in her mid-renovation apartment, which evolves while she does.
«I’ve never wanted my photography to be controlled by industry because I have an emotional attachment to it. I don’t want to shoot for the sake of shooting. Everyone with an iPhone can do that. I want to tell stories that I’m interested in, which can be communicated through a still image. I’m lucky to have worked with so many fashion brands to make that possible; because fashion is beautiful even though it can be a controversial industry».
Frolova used to work with Marc Jacobs before their team got changed. There were three opportunities to travel and make beautiful art. She’s lucky to have it but misses those days. Hint, hint, Marc Jacobs, if you’re reading this.
Career tangled to eastern European roots
«My grandpa is 93, and he still runs a business. So it’s my nature to keep going, trying and climbing, as a true Miley Cyrus song».
Sasha Frolova is known for acting in ‘Red Sparrow’, where she played with Jennifer Lawrence, and ‘The Empty Man’, shot in Cape Town and released over the Pandemic. Along with the HBO series ‘Mare of Easttown’ starring Kate Winslet, who Sasha said was an honor to work with.
«I’ve just made a movie ‘From a Son’ with Gilbert and Danny Trejo, which reminded me why acting is crucial. But still, I do the acting. Then it will take some time to come out. With Instagram, everybody has the patience of five seconds before they’re bored, over it, and on the next. It’s a game of patience in the movie industry. I’m pretty sure ‘Call me by your name’ took five years to get made into one of the most successful movies of its year».
«Every achievement that I accomplish feels like the biggest achievement. And I get anxious I’ll never do any better again» Frolova had to relearn Russian for her latest show, ‘Little America’, for Apple TV, which she hadn’t spoken to since she was eight. Her character Yana is from Belarus.
While filming the series in LA, one of the Ukrainian actors in the crew got hit by the horror of war which made Frolova mainly involved in support. «Many Americans aren’t taking it as seriously as they should».
She made a print sale with photographs taken in Ukraine for Marc Jacobs of her friend Sasha Melnychuk and grandmother in Kremenchuk back in 2020. Frolova donated all the money to various organizations helping the Ukrainian people – hospitals, children, elderly, getting supplies in.
Frolova is the one who likes being a character, dressing up, and having fun. She enjoys being with her friends or going to any event, whether an apartment gathering or a big fashion event. There is no guarantee of success or a fast career track, but you grow the most if that makes you happy. You’ll be fine if you come from a position of love for people and admiration, curiosity to discover each opportunity given to you.
Although she won’t recommend doing something if you hate it, Frolova herself finds it relaxing to go running even though she hates being out of breath. She forced herself to do it after reading a Phillip Roth book, where he did the same. She likes it because she can carve out time and listen to music or podcasts.
Pleasure should be pleasurable
There are no healthy or unhealthy choices in Sasha Frolova’s life. On the contrary, it’s beneficial to be happy, which she finds as her mission. Helping people makes her happy at the core. «I love giving people directions and guiding them with the most scenic route».
It’s also healthy to be sympathetic to yourself; check in every day if you feel okay. And if you don’t, spend the time turning inwards.
Small things like composting every week, feeding the birds, and decorating houses for them on fire escape are gestures to nature lovers. Frolova didn’t get enough of countryside life, but it is something she’s currently exploring and diving into her daily life.
«You’ve got ancient trees and people; they both make you feel stable and grounded. If they’ve survived war, fires, chaos, then invented chaos, we feel could be grounded with an old person or a hike».
Frolova was taught spirituality through her dad, who used to take her to the Russian Orthodox Church on UES every Sunday, but he also was inventing his religion. So Frolova thinks about religion from a scientific perspective. It’s like the concept of energy; it cannot be created or destroyed. Instead, it shifts between and connects us because we pull the same energy.
«You have the ability to turn emotions on and off as an actor. Everybody is capable of it. It’s not easy, but you technically can. Simultaneously I can channel emotions and feelings that I want to be having during a day».
«And if you have endless amounts of energy because you are doing something that makes you feel on top of the world. Then give it away, donate your energy to people who need it because everyone in New York craves a little more energy».
Something basic like eating or going outside makes you happy when depressed. «There’s always a beautiful world of people who are either as depressed as you are or a world of slightly happier people, and you just have to stare at the glass and visualize it being full».
You are your fighter and inspiration
As a freelancer with inconsistent and unreliable work, you have to work the hardest for yourself because nobody’s rooting you the way you are except maybe your mother. Frolova doesn’t have a specific mentor but names two directors and friends, Scott Derrickson and Autumn DeWilde, as always being able to talk her down and help her push on to the next.
«If things feel slow, you start to feel like you could have been doing something like you’re not Sidney Sweeney still. Or some other celebrity that is your age. Now we have a heightened view of everyone and everything happening».
«Remember what you wanted in the first place, feelings of when you first realized that those were the things you wanted to be doing, if it’s painting when you were younger, whenever you figured out that you wanted to be a painter, you didn’t do it because of money. You didn’t do it because of clout or fame. You did it because you loved it. There’s the pressure of finances as an adult, which changes everything. If you stop loving them, don’t be afraid to try something else».
Future of film and fashion industries in New York
Frolova claims that funding in the film industry decreased due to COVID. As a result, it’s more challenging to do creative projects, a bit dismal but inspiring simultaneously.
Small fashion brands in NYC got the ability to speak up. All designer-friends got a storefront during this uncertain time, which seems to be a positive change.
The Pandemic left people hungry and inspired.
Sasha was born in New York City and grew up a block away from her grandparents on 57th street with her mom and dad. Sasha received a diverse childhood education in many ways. Exposure to Russian orthodox culture on her father’s side, French culture from her grandfather, who immigrated during Holocaust, and her American mother from Newark, NJ. She built her way into acting through photography, making herself a living person inside the image who can project through herself any idea of a master.
Talent: Sasha Frolova
Photographer: Taylor Tupy
Stylist: Ana Tess
Hair: Erol Karadag