Former FWB student Sophia Layne makes top 5 on Netflix reality TV show 'The Circle'

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — Sophia Layne was voted most likely to be social media famous in the 2017 Fort Walton Beach High School yearbook.

Her classmates were right.

Layne garnered much social media fame after her appearance in season 3 of Netflix's “The Circle.” The reality TV show follows contestants who are isolated in separate apartments as they communicate via social media and attempt to become the highest-rated player among their peers.

“I held up my award in my audition tape and I was like, ‘This is why I have to get on here so I can prove them right,’” Layne said.

Layne, a Fort Walton Beach resident, placed third in the competition and will soon visit L.A. to pursue an acting career.

Sophia Layne was on the Homecoming Court at Fort Walton Beach High School.

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The limelight has a way of finding Layne.

She moved from Alabama to Fort Walton Beach at 15 and became heavily involved in high school activities. She was class president and on the homecoming court nearly every year and pursued theater every year under the previous director, Christa Whittaker.

“Christa Whittaker was like my second mom,” Layne said. “She taught me everything I know. In high school I wanted to be a star; that was the dream. Then as I got a little bit older in my senior year, I realized I wanted to not be super in the spotlight but I wanted to direct and still be involved in theater, but more behind the scenes.”

Sophia Layne portrayed Elle Woods in the Fort Walton Beach High School's production of "Legally Blonde."

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After graduating, Layne moved to Orlando, where she pursued college intermittently and worked as a scare actor at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando Resort.

Layne saw a former high school theater classmate post about submitting an audition tape for “The Circle” on their alumni Facebook page. Layne and her girlfriend, Savannah Hagan, love the show.

“I'm a huge ‘Survivor fan’ and reality TV is like my thing, especially reality game shows,” Layne said. “As soon as ‘The Circle’ came out, Savannah and I binged it. We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we're obsessed.' I was like, ‘I could win this whole thing.’ ”

Sophia Layne was voted the most likely to become social media famous in her Fort Walton Beach High School yearbook.

Layne decided to submit an audition tape in March 2020.

“I did it fully not trying, just being myself, no makeup, hair in a messy bun, sat down on the floor,” Layne said. “I think the audition tape was supposed to be about a minute long, and mine ended up being almost 3 minutes. I was not putting in any effort besides just having fun.”

Layne got a call the next day, which she almost declined because she thought it was her credit card company.

“I was like, ‘I know they're not calling me in a pandemic,’ ” Layne said with a laugh. “I ended up answering it, and thank God I did. I'm so grateful. It's so cool to look back at little high school me and think about how proud I must be.”

Layne auditioned for season 2 and expected to fly to the U.K. in late September. But September came and went, and she got a call from her casting agent in October, just after she had moved back to Fort Walton Beach.

“He was like, ‘I just wanted to let you know you didn't make it for season 2 but you made it for season 3,’” Layne said. “It was a major shock and everything happened so fast and having to go buy a giant suitcase and figure out, ‘What am I going to bring?’ and just no time at all to prepare yourself was honestly the most fun part.”

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Her family and friends were ecstatic.

“It was heartwarming,” Layne said. “Everybody was like, ‘We've always known you were going to be the star. This is what we've all been waiting for.’ I get chills again thinking about it, because my whole family has invested so much time into pushing me to do this and getting me to theater rehearsals and getting me at that show and making sure I was getting the classes I needed. All of the sacrifices finally paid off. I feel like I was doing it for myself, but also everyone else who has gotten me where I am.”

Layne had never been out of the country. She got a passport for the show barely in time because of COVID-19-related delays.

She then had to quarantine in Manchester for two weeks, which was ironic because the show involves being isolated, too, she said.

“It was crazy because I was in a whole other country, but quarantining so I couldn't really go or do or see anything,” Layne said. “It was such a tease, but it was still such a cool experience because the groceries alone, like the different foods and stuff, were so fun to try. I would want Cheez-Its and there's obviously no Cheez-Its in the U.K.”

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It was neat seeing “movie magic,” and how big of a production the show was, Layne said.

“In the show, for instance, they have an alert sound whenever an alert comes on the TV, and you don’t actually have that when you're in ‘The Circle,’” Layne said. “When I got the first alert, it just pops up on the TV and I was like, ‘Where's the sound at?’ and my producer was like, ‘Oh, there is no sound; we add that in later.’”

Fort Walton Beach resident Sophia Layne was a contestant on season 3 of the Netflix reality TV game show "The Circle."

The experience allowed Layne to conquer her greatest fear of being alone with her thoughts.

“I've always been such a busy go-do person, and then quarantine and COVID happened and it was the first time I ever had to stop and not work or not go to school,” Layne said. “I wanted to take the extra step and put myself in ‘The Circle,’ one, because what an amazing show and I would love to do that, and two, to see how I would handle myself with no entertainment or cellphone or anything. It was definitely a challenge but one that I needed for sure.”

Layne went into the competition with a catfishing strategy, in which her social media profile was a fake identity.

“I wanted to go in and use my sister's profile to grab ahold of the demographic I wouldn’t normally grab as myself, playing as the little young goofy lesbian I am,” Layne said. “I used my sister's super hot pic and played straight so I could grab that douche-y male I knew was going to be in there, because there always is, every season. I used my pictures to do that and flirt my way to the end, and it worked.”

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Competing was hard because Layne is a perfectionist. It was difficult to watch after.

“When it comes to games, I'm so damn competitive and this is just one giant game,” Layne said. “I was like, ‘I want to take an all-female alliance straight to the end,’ and I wasn't able to do that. There's so many twists and turns in ‘The Circle,’ you have to learn to roll with the punches, and that is something that was so hard for me. I got really low, kinda beaten up, and disappointed with how it was going. I felt like I was failing.”

After the competition, Layne said she received an “overwhelming amount” of hate from internet trolls, but Netflix provided a therapist and other resources that helped.

“I've gotten amazing love, and that outweighs the hate and so it's been so nice,” Layne said. “My birthday yesterday, having thousands of strangers be like, ‘Happy birthday. We love you so much,’ it was so cool.”

Fort Walton Beach resident Sophia Layne holds her face in a scene during season 3 of the Netflix reality TV show "The Circle."

Layne turned 23 years old Tuesday.

Layne received much positive feedback from an interaction she had about her sexuality on the show. She and another character shared their coming out stories.

“‘The Circle’ is such a cool game because it's all about making connections, and having that conversation through a TV with a stranger shows you how we're all so similar,” Layne said. “Having so many people see that moment and reach out to me, saying, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘It's so nice to have some representation on TV,’ is amazing. That one person saying like, ‘Hey, you remind me of myself and I get to see myself on TV and realize I'm not alone,’ makes it all worth it.”

Layne hopes "The Circle" will propel her career.

“This was the most perfect push me off the cliff, and now I have to fly kind of opportunity,” Layne said. “I got to the point where I was like, ‘I don't think this dream is very tangible anymore,’ and then, sure enough, Netflix came along and was like, ‘We want you.’ I think this is the first step of me really just learning to fly and take those big, big scary steps.

“My dreams are already coming true and I know I can't stop now.”

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