Sharar Ali-Speakes became a creative almost by accident. An athlete turned actor, poet, and aspiring producer, Sharar (pronounced “Sahara”) started moving into the acting world within the last five years. Inspired by a moment on the set of All American with her mom, Bernadette Speakes, Sharar says “There was just something about this aspect of ‘I want to be more creative'” that led her to pursue new projects. From commercials to playing Tia in the thriller Missing, we sat down with Sharar to get an inside look at the career she calls her “second passion in life and purpose.”
While she grew up with an actor mom, Sharar was always athletically minded. “Basketball was my entire life. I’ve played it ever since I was kid.” Balancing basketball and martial arts, Sharar had her sights set on becoming an Olympic athlete. She did follow basketball on that track, working toward college and semi-pro basketball. She says that being an athlete will always be a part of her—and even hopes to work on action projects or even stunts someday.
Transitioning from a lifelong athletics career to performing has given Sharar a unique perspective on the industry. She shared with us that playing sports played a big role in developing her work ethic. “I think having goals and wanting to hit them has helped, and I think sports has helped discipline that in me, but I also think there’s that mindset that I didn’t expect. If the failures come, how do you deal with that? It’s different in a sport because you have another game. Sometimes, with acting you’re waiting for just the next audition, and then it’s not just the audition. Sometimes you want that callback or you want to book that job, so it was learning how to also strip that mindset that you can’t always just approach it like a sport. But I do think that my passion and work ethic and discipline has helped me to keep going…and also understanding the hustle.” Sharar knows that there is an element of uncertainty in both careers and that has helped her understand the process better overall.
Many of Sharar’s recent projects have been in the drama or dramedy categories. Just last month, she made her red carpet debut at the premiere of Missing where she plays Tia one of June’s (Storm Reid) friends and supporters as she tries to find her mom who disappeared on vacation in Colombia.
The events that unfold in Missing aren’t typical for every teenager, but Sharar said she felt at home in the role. “I think there’s these great opportunities where you get to play yourself or tap into more so of yourself, and so I think it just felt really organic, from the audition process,” she told us. “You’re just supposed to be in this fun lively environment…I think that’s just also me in real life.” Sharar is there to support her friends through hard times but she’s also someone that can encourage a good time!
We asked Sharar about her favorite moments from filming, and while you might not expect it from a thriller like Missing, they were moments of improv. During the filming of one of the pool party scenes, the group did several takes reacting to a character’s phone falling in the pool. After several takes (and a director jumping in to retrieve the phone each time!), the cast was directed to interact with the water-damaged phone. “…so like put it in a bag of rice and then like…you don’t know when you’re doing. You’re just feeding off of each other and going back and forth, and I just felt that was really fun. It’s not expected or written, but it was something that we got to add parts into it. You never know what cuts actually make it into a film, but I think just having those moments to play is really cool.”
You truly don’t know what will make into a film. In fact, Sharar didn’t see the full cut of the movie until the premiere, two years after filming! She found out that the film was coming out when she saw the trailer (and was tagged by many, many friends and family who saw her in it).
Her reaction? “Some of the third act was cut out, so I couldn’t really finish how the movie ended [in the script], so just seeing how the movie ended, and all the twists and turns…also the uncertainty and the unexpectedness of are people actually going to die in the film or not…I just found that it really kind of kept me on my toes throughout the entire film.”
Sharar made her red carpet debut before seeing that final cut, and while she was nervous leading up to it—”I’m not going to lie to you, I think I was nervous leading up to it all day. You don’t know what to expect.”—now she feels like she’s ready and excited for more events. She shared that she feels like she did really well and credits her team and family and friends for surrounding her with love and confidence.
Outside of Missing, you can catch Sharar guest starring in Truth Be Told on Apple TV+. She recommends the show to Missing fans for the way it at the ways that missing people, specifically missing Black girls are treated or neglected. You can also listen to her spoken word poetry on YouTube. Beyond that? Sharar couldn’t tell us too much, but she wants us to keep our eyes on streaming.