Sarah Wayne Callies Reveals How Life as a Mom of 2 Connects Her to Role on 'The Company You Keep'

Sarah Wayne Callies tells PEOPLE about her new role as Birdie Nicoletti and how it relates to her real-life parenting experience

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP - ABC’s “The Company You Keep” stars Sarah Wayne Callies as Birdie.
Photo: Brian Bowen Smith/ABC

Sarah Wayne Callies is embarking on new adventures.

The actress is enjoying the premiere of The Company You Keep, her latest project alongside Milo Ventimiglia and Catherine Haena Kim, while also balancing life as a podcaster and mom of two.

Speaking with PEOPLE about the new ABC series, The Walking Dead alum, 45, explains why she relates so much to her character, Birdie Nicoletti.

"Two things that excited me most about her. Number one is that she's a chameleon. She's got this con artist aspect of constantly slipping into different dialects and postures and accents, and running these cons with a sense of playfulness and a sense of fun. My career has been very serious and very heavy and I wanted to do something that would feel like a vacation for an audience," she tells PEOPLE.

"I also get to play the mother of a deaf daughter played by a remarkable young actress (Shaylee Mansfield), who is also Deaf. And [ASL] was not a language that I knew anything about — I didn't know anything about Deaf culture — and so I thought what an amazing opportunity to learn."

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THE COMPANY YOU KEEP - “A Sparkling Reputation” - After Daphne sets a quick turnaround for payment, the Nicolettis devise a plan to steal a valuable necklace at an auction. Meanwhile, as Emma and Charlie are both pursuing Daphne, their worlds nearly collide. SUNDAY, FEB. 26
Christopher Willard/ABC

Wayne Callies is a mom of two — she shares a 9-year-old and a 15-year-old with husband Josh Winterhalt — and felt a connection with Birdie's protectiveness over deaf daughter Ollie.

"In some way, this show might reflect my parenting more than anything else because ollie is Deaf. I have a daughter who's got to take extra care with the way she walks through the world. I've got to take extra care with her education, and the whole family needs to be aware of her in a different way and understand that the world will not accommodate her," she says. "And my kids aren't white and I think you do a similar kind of parenting of non-white kids."

Parenting her two kids is made complicated as she balances work and time at home, explaining she chose to raise her family outside the typical towns where movies and TV happen.

"I made a choice years ago to live in a kind of rural part of Canada and to travel for work rather than to raise my kids someplace like L.A. or New York, where I might be able to work from home, but they wouldn't be able to grow up running around the trees and beaches and things," she shares. "So the hardest part of my job becomes being away from them. It hurts."

The mom continues, "I remind myself that all kinds of parents who have to be away from their kids for lots of reasons and managed to raise wonderful kids. But there is that kind of stupid constant mom guilt that we do to ourselves, which is, 'When I'm with my kids, am I shorting my job? And when I'm at my job, am I shorting my kids?'"

"Every actor I know with kids who's a mom runs in circles on that one. And I think it's just part of reality."

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP - “Against All Odds” - The Nicolettis persuade a wealthy woman to seek revenge on her con-man fiancé at a horse race. Meanwhile, Emma meets Charlie’s family, and the CIA and Nicolettis catch wind of Daphne expanding her business beyond the Maguire drug enterprise. SUNDAY, MARCH 5
Sarah Wayne Callies and Shaylee Mansfield in 'The Company You Keep'. Raymond Liu/ABC

As far as how interested her kids are in her career, she admits that a lot of her work so far has been a little "dark" to share with them.

"My oldest has seen some of it," she says of her past gigs. "I'm really excited for my kids to see The Company You Keep because this is one of the first things I've done that they can really watch."

"I think it's weird for them in some ways because we live in a very normal rural community. So when someone comes up to them with their phone and goes 'Isn't your mom?,' I think there's a little bit of a like, 'No, not really,' " she explains.

"'That's Sarah Wayne Callies, who is not my mom. My mom is this idiot in her hoodie and sweatpants that burns dinner,' " she says with a laugh. "Do you know what I mean? But they're okay with it."

While her kids understand and respect her career, they aren't particularly interested in acting themselves, though they each have unique interests.

"My eldest wants to be a surgeon, so there is certainly a certain kind of creativity there, but he doesn't want to be in fine arts. My youngest loves to build. He builds worlds, and they blow my mind, the things that he will come up with and the thoughtfulness that he'll put into it," she shares.

"I don't know that either one of them would follow me into the arts, and I'll be honest, I don't know that I'd want them to," she continues. "They're their own kids, and I want them to find their own path. There are aspects of this job that are not conducive to certain kinds of stability."

While her kiddos may be thinking about the future, Wayne Callies is enjoying each of them for who they are in this moment.

"My 15-year-old is all social justice and rebellion. Let's go to the marches. Let's start the clubs. Let's write the newsletters, and I love that. I love that spirit of, 'We can fix it,' " she says. "We can. We can make the world into a place where everybody has a place."

"I really want to make sure that that remains intact as much as possible. And I love that spirit, and I love the conversations that we have and the ability to go, 'You need to read bell hooks.' Let's sit down and like you're old enough now, like these are the books that are going to blow your mind. That's such a joy," she says.

"And my 9-year-old, I'm reading Rick Riordan with him right now, the Percy Jackson series. Those are some of the most precious moments in my whole life. Kid on your lap and he's now too big for my lap, but I don't care, book in hand, it's quiet, the dishes are done. The lights are down, the dogs are asleep," she adds, starting to get emotional.

"Those are the things that on the day you die, you just go 'I had that.' It's beautiful."

Wayne Callies says that the emotional moments away from her kids are worth it to her if it helps inspire them to chase their wildest dreams.

"As hard as it is to be away from your kids. I also think it's really important to teach them that when you love something, you pour your heart into it. You find a way to balance everything else," she says. "I want my kids to chase what they love and want my kids to chase what makes them happy. And they won't know to do that unless they watch me do it first."

The Company You Keep airs Sundays on ABC at 10:00 p.m. and is available for next-day streaming on Hulu.

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