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WLHS graduate Kate Sumpter gets her first on-camera acting job in BBC series 'The Little Drummer Girl'

Kate Sumpter grew up watching all types of mini-series aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), but she never thought she'd be an actress in one.

Sumpter, a 2005 West Linn High School graduate, had the opportunity to act in "The Little Drummer Girl" — a six-episode mini-series about a covert Israeli unit that tries to convince one of the characters to act like the lover of a Palestinian terrorist and freedom fighter in order to infiltrate a cell that has been targeting Israelis across Europe. The show aired at the end of October on the BBC and AMC in the United States. SUBMITTED PHOTO  - Kate Sumpter, a WLHS graduate, is an actress on 'The Little Drummer Girl,' a BBC program.

"She (the main character) has a very complicated relationship with her handler and as they fall in love and she learns more about the people she is double crossing, the lines of fact and fiction become blurred," said Sumpter, who played a South African Mossad agent who was part of an anti-terrorist spy unit in Europe. "I hadn't done on-camera work before so this was very exciting. It was insane that my first TV experience was working with Park Chan-wook (the director). I feel like this first experience set the bar pretty high."

Growing up, Sumpter was involved with basketball, soccer and rugby and was a part of WLHS's Mock Trial team, student leadership and May Court, so she said it was difficult to focus on theater, though she always loved it.

"I ended up doing acting competitions representing West Linn High's thespian troupe because I could work on my pieces around the other stuff I was doing, and I won the Oregon state solo acting competition my senior year," Sumpter said.

Sumpter then went to the University of Seattle and double-majored in international studies and drama.

"My intention at the time was to get a law degree and go into politics, but I ended up finally admitting to myself that I needed to see where the acting path would lead," she said. "I acted in Seattle for the next few years, doing mostly what my parents refer to as 'weird' theatre — aka experimental theatre — and was a member of the New Works Theatre company, The Satori Group."

Sumpter then decided to move to London in 2015, where her parents are originally from, and continue her acting path. She graduated in 2016 from the classical acting masters program at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA), and returned to the U.S. to act in an all-female version of Shakespeare's Henry VI play in Seattle called 'Bring Down the House.'

But it wasn't until Sumpter returned to London in 2017 — managing a pub after working a few jobs and writing and performing her own work for about eight months — that she received a life-changing phone call.

The casting director had seen her final show at LAMDA and called her in to audition for a part in "The Little Drummer Girl."

"I was thrilled but figured there was no way I'd actually get it," she said. "For the callback, I had to do a South African accent which I hadn't done before. I was managing a pub in London at the time and it so happened that one of our regulars was South African. I asked him if he'd help me with the audition and he had me over to his house and he and his son worked with me for four hours until I got it."

The day after she received the big news of her dream come true, Sumpter quit her job.

But there was one giant hurdle that was blocking Sumpter's path: Four days after being cast, she couldn't walk.

Sumpter herniated a disc in her back so badly that she lost the ability to use her left leg. This was less than three weeks before filming began.

"Aside from being in more pain that I thought was possible, the nerve damage was traveling up my leg and threatening some important body functions so I had to get emergency surgery," Sumpter said. "When they realized how badly I had herniated it they took me in an ambulance to get the discectomy. They cut away two vertebrae to remove the part of the disc that was almost completely compressing the nerves in my spine. The surgery was successful, but I still couldn't walk without help and was very fragile."

But Sumpter was determined to take hold of her first on-camera acting opportunity. And after a miraculous recovery, she never missed a day of filming.

For Sumpter, one of the most exciting parts was when the cast filmed the show in Greece for five weeks.

"I still can't believe I got to be a part of this amazing team," she said. "Seeing everyone's work come together into this beautiful series has been very exciting and satisfying."

"The Little Drummer Girl," can be viewed on www.amc.com/shows/the-little-drummer-girl.

West Linn Tidings reporter Clara Howell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-636-1281.


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