Sabrina Carpenter on Her Dramatic Transformation for 'The Short History of the Long Road' (Exclusive)

The Short History of the Long Road
Cailin Yatsko

The actress talks to ET about her stripped-down, dramatic turn and teases new music.

Those familiar with Sabrina Carpenter -- the fashionably blonde, pint-sized star of Girl Meets World and Adventures in Babysitting -- may be in for a surprise when they watch her in the upcoming film The Short History of the Long Road, which is making its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday, April 27.  

The 19-year-old actress sheds her Disney image with a gritty new role as Nola, a teenage vagabond whose world is upended, forcing her to rethink the reality of the nomadic existence her father (Westworld's Steven Ogg) has created for her. As she makes her way to Albuquerque, New Mexico, she forges unexpected relationships, including reconnecting with her estranged mother (Maggie Siff), that may provide the roots she needs to stay in one place. 

"She's a girl trying to survive," Carpenter tells ET, explaining that Nola is someone who has been "raised by her father in a van her whole life, so she doesn't know how to wear makeup, she doesn't know how to shave. She doesn't do all the stuff that a normal 19-year-old girl would do."

Ultimately, the part required Carpenter to dye her hair, go makeup-free and wear second-hand clothes -- a complete makeover that gave the actress chills when she first saw herself in character. "I just felt like a different person," Carpenter recalls. "I think I was able to really find Nola through that physical transformation."

Not only was it crucial to helping Carpenter embody the character, she wanted people to be able to watch the movie and "not see me as Sabrina and see someone completely different," she says, adding: "I've been waiting to do something like this for so long."

The film is her latest grownup role, along with The Hate U Give, that will cast Carpenter in a new light for both her fans and the industry alike. For her, it was a "very conscious" decision to take on projects like these to not only show her growth as a performer but also give people a chance to see something different from her. "[They] help me to tell stories that I can't tell through my music or maybe through other projects that are a little bit more lighthearted," she says. "It's also about being able to play characters that are complex."

Cailin Yatsko

In addition to The Short History of the Long Road, Carpenter will soon be seen on Netflix in Tall Girl, a new teen comedy in the tone of John Hughes' classic films that will explore the nuanced and complicated world of high school. The actress will play Harper, the pageant-winning older sister to Jodi (Ava Michelle), the film's titular 6-foot-1 girl. "Harper is the polar opposite to Nola," Carpenter laughs. 

While it may fall on the more "lighthearted" side of things, the role still excites the actress because the character is not like anyone she's played before. "It's never the same thing twice," she says excitedly, adding: "I have a lot more fun when I don’t know what’s coming next." 

Outside of acting, Carpenter knows that her fans are still waiting for the release of Singular: Act II, the musical sequel to her third studio album, Singular: Act I. "It is coming very soon," she says, suggesting it may be out as soon as the next few months. "It's exciting for me, because I've never released an album like this before," she says, adding that the songs on the new album will continue the narrative of the first chapter. "It’s kind of like Singular: Act I flipped upside down, in a sense."

And when it comes to her fans, whom the actress knows love to dig into every role and dissect every song, Carpenter hopes those who watch The Short History of the Long Road "will let themselves be vulnerable and maybe find something about themselves within the story." 

All showtimes and ticket information can be found here. Check back for ET's ongoing coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival, running April 24 to May 5.