The phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” most definitely comes into play when first laying eyes on the English-born model, actor and musician Sam Sarpong. When I was first asked to follow Sam over the course of several months, I immediately imagined a typical model-turned-actor. I did a quick run-through in my mind of what my experience with him would consist of: girls, parties, the limelight, and designers, among other narcissistic impressions. I did not expect to see much else, initially unaware that Sam is the complete opposite of the conventional Hollywood star. But who is Sam Sarpong?
When introduced to Sam, I found him to be very calm and personable. We talked briefly on the set of Cold Case about his transition from ‘Sam Sarpong’ to his guest role as ‘Zed, the rap star.’ It was remarkable how effortlessly he switched characters. The following week I met up with Sarpong in Burbank for the African Orphans’ public-service announcement. Although tired from a studio jam the night before, Sarpong rolled up his sleeves and vouched with other celebrities for a better tomorrow for children with AIDS. From there I followed him to the set of the film Cross the Line, where he took the opportunity, during breaks, to discuss his excitement about his upcoming video shoot in Hollywood and his struggles to break through as an artist.
Coming from a broken home in London to the cruel reality of the American entertainment industry, Sam confessed that he is no stranger to rejection: “After my parents divorced, I moved from the U.K. to the U.S. with my dad. When I graduated from high school, I really started pursuing acting.” Despite being rejected for major roles in films like Remember the Titans and Coach Carter, Sam continued to work even harder. “I must have read for both of those films over six times, and when I didn’t get the part for either, it just made me more determined,” he said. I left the set of Cross the Line feeling inspired and anxious for both the video shoot and his future. Sam has a way of making people not only see his passion, but feel it as well. Rainy weather prevented neither him nor the other artists from giving their all during the filming of his music single, “On 1,” as well. In the following weeks, I found it difficult to get a hold of Sam while he was in the process of producing his own documentary. It was interesting to see how he explored all avenues for making his show more entertaining, yet realistic. He even asked for my personal opinion about what would make the show better!
That night, Sam invited me to an event he was attending, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to see him outside of his work element. To my surprise Sarpong was the same guy I met on the set of Cold Case. Neither the fame nor the spotlight changed his organic nature. He made sure that I stayed close with the group the whole night, introducing me to everyone in the process. And when the night ended, Sam spoke about the significance of working hard and his memories of a show, Save the Last Dance, that never aired. “When I was cast for one of the five leads on that show,” he confessed, “I thought that was going to be my big break! But the day before it was set to air, [the station] pulled the plug and cancelled it.”
While driving home I couldn’t help but think about how the Hollywood scene had failed to envelop Sam. He converted his obstacles into positive forces that would only continue to help him with his craft. “I’ve done over seven pilots in my career, but not one of them has been picked up,” he stated. “And the one thing that has kept me focused and determined is my ability to stay grounded, knowing that every opportunity is a chance for me to improve myself. I’m still waiting for that big break, and I know it will come.”
Over the course of my shadowing Sam, skeptical as I was, I had my eyes opened to the inconsistencies of stereotypes and first impressions. In witnessing his demanding lifestyle, my perception of him changed. The last few events I attended with him at the Magic Convention in Las Vegas and at the Los Angeles International Film Festival all proved to be testaments to how hard he works. Ultimately, he believes that his family is what keeps him so focused and determined. "Everything I do is for my family and the people around me,” Sam proclaimed. “Without them I wouldn't be able to do what I do."
Photograph by: Brendan Meadows
Make Up by: Cristina De Sao Jose