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How Sheila Houlahan Went from Local Opera to a Role in The Little Things

The Denzel Washington-starring movie premieres on HBO Max this week.

By Stefan Milne January 26, 2021

When Sheila Houlahan moved to LA to pursue film acting full time, her opera career took off. “Jobs I totally would have killed for when I was just a singer started popping up,” Houlahan says. First, the Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman, whom she’d known a little through a family friend, brought her into a Las Vegas show. Then in 2017, she performed his music as a soloist with Seattle Symphony. She returned the next year in the symphony’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town.

As it happened, her film career started to pan out too. She’d gotten into acting while in college at the Manhattan School of Music. Then some movies she’d done while back in Seattle came out—Beloved Beast and Wallflower, about the 2006 Capitol Hill Massacre. And in 2019 she got a role in The Little Things, a new feature starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto, which comes out this Friday on HBO Max (one of the major Warner Brothers movies that’ll go right to streaming instead of theaters, along with things like Dune). Basically: An old cop (Washington) couldn’t solve a case in which someone abducted and murdered women. When it’s reopened, he teams with a younger cop (Malek) and they focus on a suspect (Leto).

In a phone interview last week, Houlahan couldn’t talk about her role in the film (nor could I get a screener). But obviously she was excited to be in a movie starring three Oscar winners (“getting to work with a legend like Denzel Washington…I was pinching myself”), and a movie in which the cops are people of color and the suspect is white (“I think there’s a lot of thematic material [that’s] going to resonate with people right now”).

Houlahan, who grew up here, is back in the Seattle area since returning last year to shelter in place with her parents. She’s been working on writing a script she hopes to shoot in Washington eventually. This state is famously ungenerous with tax breaks for film production (which means a lot of movies set here shoot in Vancouver BC). Was that persistently fledgling local industry behind her move to LA at all? Indeed: “I think it’s such a waste. Seattle is obviously one of the most beautiful cities in the world.” Anyway, here's The Little Things trailer: 

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