Sophie Thatcher first auditioned for When the Street Lights Go On a few years ago, when it was still set to be a full-length series. It was one of her earliest auditions, so she thought she had the role on lock. She wasn’t yet used to the frequent rejection that comes with being an actor, and she remembers being proud of her performance. Now, she can look back with a laugh at her naiveté.
The earliest iteration of When the Street Lights Go On came in 2011, then a feature film that was picked up, then dropped, turned into a series in 2016, and picked up, then dropped again. Finally, it made its way to the newly launched streaming app Quibi and was condensed into the short-form, iPhone-ready mystery thriller it is today.
When Thatcher received the script for a second time, even in its reworked format, she remembered the self-tape she sent in years before. “The story already has a very familiar feeling to it. It has this nostalgic feeling to it, the '90s, almost like a Stranger Things,” she tells MTV News. “But, just reading the scripts, it just struck me right away, and I looked it up. I looked through my emails back in 2016. I was like, ‘Oh my god.’” It felt like a good sign.
This time around, Thatcher landed the leading role of Becky Monroe, sister to popular girl Chrissy (Kristine Froseth), whose murder shocks their small town and launches a local investigation set to uncover more secrets than anyone is ready to hear.
Playing Becky was a treat for Thatcher — not just because Becky is a cool, alternative ‘90s girl, but because throughout the series, viewers will learn she’s so much more than that persona. “She goes through so many different phases, and is altered by so many different people, and just to do those slight alterations in the character is always a challenge.”
And then there was the added draw of working on a series that would launch Quibi, the mobile-optimized platform offering complete episodes for all its programming in 10 minutes or less. It seems like all of Hollywood was getting in on the trend, with Sophie Turner, Keke Palmer, Zac Efron, Nicole Richie, and more stars jumping at the opportunity to take part. It makes sense: In this era that’s seen genuine celebrities made out of YouTubers and TikTok stars, we crave bite-sized content.
“I think everyone is so connected to their phones,” Thatcher says. “Even [watching] just last night, it felt more accessible, like I could go back and just rewatch it at any point.” Plus, she adds, the short format packs each episode with tension and conflict, rapidly driving the story forward in easily digested segments. And a feature that allows for either landscape or portrait viewing gives the show a video-game feel, “like you’re in control, or you’re more connected to it,” she says.
It’s a good distraction from our current apocalyptic reality, which sees our entire country socially distancing as the novel coronavirus rips through communities. Thatcher is staying put in her family home in Chicago, where she’s finding comfort in fellow female creators, working her way through the “Women Filmmakers” collection on the Criterion Channel’s streaming platform — a current fave is the minimalist stylings of Kelly Reichardt. She’s also reading Radclyffe Hall’s groundbreaking novel The Well of Loneliness and Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. (Thatcher is a big fan of Albertine’s post-punk band, The Slits.)
When The Street Lights Go On seamlessly fits with her current inclinations, thanks in large part to director Rebecca Thomas. “It's a very different energy on set with a female [director],” Thatcher says. “It's almost like there is less tension. It feels a bit more relaxed and people can be themselves and comfortable and speak their minds.”
“It makes me more confident and it inspires me to want to be a director, especially with Rebecca,” she adds. “I felt like we just had so much in common. I would spend time envisioning myself just doing the same things that she was doing with all that confidence.”
Thatcher is also lucky to be isolating with her two sisters, whose creativity lights a fire under her own. She recently collaborated on a short with her older sister, Emma, and she draws inspiration from her twin sister Ellie’s claymations. “She’s so good,” Thatcher says. “I’m warning you, it’s really dark, but it is insane. She’d spend two months hibernating in the basement.” Surrounding herself with women and work from women has pushed Thatcher to be productive during her time indoors. In self-quarantine, it’s music that’s keeping her going.
Thatcher started making her own music last year, sharing her experimental vibes on Bandcamp. A classically trained vocalist, she tones down her vibrato for a more effortless sound. “It’s very atmospheric, a little bit more ambient,” she says of her sound. Her compositions often incorporate piano, the bit of guitar she knows, and a minilogue.
She mostly makes music for herself, reveling in the fact that she answers to no one while she’s recording, and she can dive into her current emotions. It’s the opposite of acting. “With my music, I try to make it as relevant to what I'm going through as possible, and as honest, and if it doesn't feel honest, then I can't continue working hours on a song, it just doesn't feel right,” she says. “My favorite artist is Elliot Smith, and he just goes into vivid detail about what he's been through, and you just feel like you're there with him. I hope I can do that one day and be that kind of storyteller with music.”
Becoming the kind of creator she admires is one of Thatcher’s long-term goals in both music and film. For now, though, she’s really happy with where she’s at in her career — back with the project that started it all.