Thursday, June 7, 2018

INTERVIEW: Lili Bordán’s Star Is on the Rise

Lili Bordán
(photo by John Duarte)

You might not know her yet, but you will soon. Daughter of Hungarian film legend Irén Bordán, Lili Bordán is a star on the rise who is making her mark on Hollywood. She has starring and co-starring roles on “Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome,” “X Company,” “Live or Die in La Honda” and the recently released feature film “Book Club” under her belt, and she has more parts in movies than I can keep track of that will soon be released and that she’s working on as you read this. I spoke with her recently, and she gave me the rundown on what’s going on in her life now, and what it took to get her there.

Celebrity Extra: Your mother is film actress Irén Bordán, so you grew up in that world. Did that help inform your decision to become an actress, or did you have other plans as you were growing up?

Lili Bordán: I think that because my mother saw talent and potential in me even as a young child, she thought I could succeed. She wanted me to have the same kind of experiences that enriched her life as an artist. I was very involved in theater as a kid and even filmed some short films and commercials (all of them with my mother playing my mother, coincidentally). It was something we never forced, but when I had the chance to perform, she was always right there driving me to rehearsals and location, supporting me in every way and rooting for me.

Mom introduced me to renowned acting teacher Susan Batson when I was 16. I really I felt like the work she was doing was just next level and that’s when I learned the depth of acting as a craft. I took theater classes and was part of some productions at Sarah Lawrence College as well.

When I graduated, I went to Europe — Hungary — to do a film, and I stayed there for four years. That’s when I really got my footing as an actor because there were so many productions that were filming there; it was the perfect place for me to be at that moment of my career to build credits and get to know the workings of a professional TV/movie set. Theater has a strong tradition in Hungary, and I got to work with some legends of the Hungarian theater.

CE: Oh yes, theater training is the best for honing your craft.

LB: Yes, and it really stretched me because I was acting in two different languages and across many different mediums. I worked on commercials, films, TV shows and voiceover as well.

CE: I know you speak Hungarian — what other languages do you know?

LB: I speak French as well. And I’ve had to act in Italian and German and Russian too. So, I’m pretty good at picking up different languages and accents.

CE: Tell me how your opportunity at “X Company” came about.

LB: I had been in Hungary doing “American Girl” for Disney, and then working on “The Martian” and “Strike Back.” For “X Company,” that was kind of a surprise. I played a woman called Kate who worked at the intelligence headquarters. I had moments in a few episodes, but the role was in no way pivotal. Still, it was an interesting show to work on with a wonderful cast and crew. I enjoyed meeting Evelyne Brochu and getting to watch her work. And then also Lara Jean (Chorostecki), my other colleague, was lovely. They called me back for season two, but I didn’t return. They were nice people and the show was fantastic; I was just making a career choice.

CE: Tell me about “Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome.” All of those series and movies are so popular, with such a huge cult following, it must have been quite an experience to be a part of.

LB: That part was pretty meaty. Originally, it was made to be a pilot for a prequel series, but then it didn’t get picked up for whatever reason. But it turned out really well and was so anticipated by fans that it was released in a few different formats. It came out as an online series on Machinima, then aired as a TV movie on SyFy, and came out on Blu-ray and On Demand few months later. That was a really important role for me in my career. It was also one of those roles where I’m there basically the whole time as an integral part of the story. My character drives the story forward, and it’s all because of this secret she has.

CE: So now you’re officially a member of the ever-growing “BSG” family …

LB: It was a really great experience. I made friends with some of producers and cast who were on the original 2004 “Battlestar.” I met Edward James Olmos, Katee Sackhoff and James Callis. They are really nice and welcoming. I keep in touch with some of them to this day. And then for my “Battlestar,” I got to work with Luke Pasqualino, who’s gone on to have an amazing career. And also Ben Cotton, who is one of my favorite actors to work with and such a lovely person, as well.

Lili Bordán
(photo by John Duarte)
CE: Tell me your work on Matt Damon’s “The Martian.”

LB: “The Martian” was a three-day shoot, and it was a really good tempo. It was paced but not rushed, with short days, which lent to creating a calm, productive set. Ridley Scott and his whole team had been working together for a while, so it’s just a really well-oiled machine. I played a reporter, so I obviously didn’t have that much to do, but I had three scenes. I got to work with a real CNN reporter, as well. He was like: “You want to be a correspondent? We’re looking for people.” I was like: “Wow. Am I that good? I’m flattered.”

CE: You have a nice role in the feature film “Book Club” — which came out on the big screen on Friday, May 18 — starring Hollywood legends Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen. Tell me about the movie and about that experience.

LB: It’s an ensemble cast. It’s about intimacy and finding or rekindling love at any age. My character is a dance instructor called Irene, and my scenes are with Mary Steenburgen’s and Craig T. Nelson’s characters.

It’s a supporting role and I’m grateful to be acting alongside veteran actors like Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson, and also to share a movie with some of my idols like Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda. It’s a true honor, and I’m excited to have been a part of this film.

CE: You’ve got another new movie, “CURTIZ” coming out. Tell me about that and the character you play in it.

LB: It’s a biopic about director Michael Curtiz that takes place during the time of his life when he was filming “Casablanca,” which was also a historically pivotal time because it’s when we declared war on Germany and Japan. Filming commenced in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. “Casablanca” was important not only as a work of art, but some argue that it was important in garnering public support for our involvement in the war. I don’t think Michael Curtiz meant to sell a war. He was just trying to tell a good story, but that’s the power of film. My character, Irene Lee, was the story editor on Casablanca. She worked closely with “Casablanca” producer Hal B. Wallis and actually is credited with finding the play “Everybody Comes to Ricks,” written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison in 1940.

CE: You’ve got another movie that recently came out, “Live or Die in La Honda.” Tell me about that and the role you play.

LB: That came out a few weeks ago on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu and other platforms. I play the role of Vic Taylor, opposite Blake Shields Abramovitz, who plays Blake Baker. It all happens in this small town of 900 people called La Honda in the beautiful red-wooded mountains of Northern California. Vic and Blake have a toxic history together, but they can’t stay apart. It’s about their downward spiral back into old habits.

CE: I was reading in your bio that you are a certified autism movement therapist, and you work with children on the autism spectrum for an organization called Guidance Autism. How did you get involved with that cause?

LB: I was looking for a cause — some way to give back to my community. A friend had started a dance company for kids with autism in 2010, and it has blossomed into this beautiful program that uses dance as a means of helping theses children cope and just have fun. I started out as a volunteer, and now I’m a dance instructor.

CE: It must be a joy to work with those kids.

LB: It’s wonderful. It used to be challenging for me, but now I just fully enjoy it — the format is still in my system. It’s really fun, and I have a very special connection with these kids, and their parents as well. Dance really does have healing properties.

CE: Before we close, can you tell me what else you have coming up that my readers should know about?

LB: I have a feature called “Welcome to Curiosity” coming out in theaters in the U.K. and North America. I’ll be heading to the London premiere in June. I’ve shot other films these past few years that are still in some form or other of postproduction, but I will keep you posted as they are released!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

INTERVIEW: Bailee Madison Shines a Light on Good Witch's Grace Russell

Bailee Madison
(courtesy Crown Media)
We all know her as Grace Russell, the daughter of Catherine Bell’s character, Cassie, on “Good Witch,” which airs Sundays at 9/8c on the Hallmark Channel. But you also might remember her from “Bridge to Terabithia” or “Wizards of Waverly Place.” We’ve watched Bailee Madison grow up in front of the camera, and this season on “Good Witch,” Grace is growing up as well, dealing with her own teenager problems — with a touch of magic. I spoke with Bailee recently, and she told me all about this new season of the hit Hallmark show, and even reminisced with me about her previous groundbreaking roles.

Celebrity Extra: Let’s start off by telling me how you got into acting — it seems like you’ve been doing it your whole life.

Bailee Madison: This question I get asked a lot, and I’ve yet out of all these years come up with a really cool story. But I started when I was so young. I never took any classes ever. I have such a beautiful family and love and support. My sister is an actress, and she was working in Orlando. And then I went off to do “Bridge to Terabithia” and came back home for a year to just be a kid, and then I came back out to Hollywood for the premiere when I was 7, and that’s when things started to happen. But from the first set that I stepped on, I knew that it felt like home to me.

CE: And you’re from Fort Lauderdale, correct?

BM: Yes, I live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in a little town called Lauderdale-By-The-Sea. I still have so much of my family there, and I go and visit whenever I can. I’m actually back home right now. But I love it. That’s truly where my heart is, and I love to get to go back there.

CE: Going back to “Bridge of Terabithia” — that was your breakout role. And you were so young! What was that experience like?

BM: I was 6, yeah. Oh my gosh, it was such a wonderful experience. I was in New Zealand for over six months, and it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. The black-sand beaches and just the people and the culture — it was such a special time for me. But, obviously, that movie is so iconic to so many people on so many levels. And I got to be a part of bringing a book to life. I don’t think I realized how special that really was, and now that I’m older, I’ve read the book and I have talked to kids who are reading the book, and it’s such a beautiful thing that I got to be a part of it. I’m so grateful.

CE: It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you, and it really jump-started your career.

BM: I had all these beautiful people who helped to guide me but also let me feel confident and free enough to just get to experience things on my own, as well, and to try different things. But I really mean it when I say I will forever be thankful for it. It’s a part of my heart, and it allowed me to grow up and really discover who I am. Not a lot of people can say that. So, I’m very, very grateful.

CE: You came onto the show when it was already established as a popular movie series. Were you nervous or excited — how were you feeling?

BM: I was told that they were going to convert the movies into a series for Hallmark, and about how they’ve had this incredible success with the “Good Witch” movies. I went home and watched them with my family, and we all agreed that they were fantastic. And then found myself in Toronto (where the series is filmed). I was able to walk on to something that clearly almost every single person on that crew and the majority of the cast had basically lived together for the past seven years. I think that’s what it was. For me to walk into that, it could have gone any way. But I was received with open arms and support, and we really just wanted to give it our best shot.

CE: What is it like to work with Catherine Bell and the rest of the cast and crew?

BB: Catherine is wonderful. It’s a joy to get to work with someone’s who’s so lovely and supportive. I’ve known her for almost five years now, which is crazy! The last season has been so fun for her, and for me, because as her daughter, I journeyed with her. Cassie has all these questions and I’m trying to help her with it. But we have a good time together. I love these people, and I have to say we have an amazing crew who are so hardworking. And our cast is so wonderful. They really work their butts off.

CE: You film in Toronto — how do you like filming there?

BM: I love Toronto! I wish that we could film sometimes at the end of summer (laughs). We’re always up there when it’s cold, which is still a lot of fun. Last year I took so many fights back and forth from Toronto to LA. I flew home to LA every weekend for 24 hours to see my family and give them a hug. And then I’d fly back to Toronto, my home away from home. And I always, obviously, count Florida as well. But I have so many friends up there (in Toronto), and I have had such a great time so far. I just enjoy it so much. It’s such a beautiful place to get to work.

CE: Tell me what’s going on with Grace and Nick this season. Are they going to adjust well to their parents marrying each other?

BM: Nick and Grace left off on a very heated note at the end of season three. And I honestly think if you look back at the past three seasons, they have had an interesting relationship where they can just go from real hot and cold so quickly. And we’ll pick up on that in season four. They are still as contemptuous with each other as ever. I think that they have to try to pull themselves together for the sake of their parents but in a way they are doing it for each other. As they grow, it is really going to be interesting for the audience to get to see.

CE: Tell me about Grace’s journey this season.

BM: I have to say without a doubt this is my favorite journey for Grace as she develops as a teenager. She’s a very good girl. She doesn’t go out. She’s kind of that picture-perfect daughter who every mother dreams of having. But she’s also a teenager who’s dealing with newfound insecurities and questioning how good she really is. She’s in love for the first time. I think for her there will be a lot of downs, but then there will be a lot of ups, as well. But I think what’s cool is she’s imperfect, and they shine that light on her this season. I found it really refreshing to get to play.

CE: What else can you tell me about this season?

BM: I’m really excited this year; I think that this is one of my favorite seasons yet. I just feel like all of the characters mesh so well together. The storylines were exciting and different and intense and lovable. And a show like this, it has such a great ensemble cast, so I’m excited for them to have their moments in this season of “Good Witch.” I hope the audience just reacts to it because we are excited for them to see what’s coming.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

INTERVIEW: Kara Tointon Hopes You've Checked into The Halcyon

Kara Tointon
(photo courtesy: ITV/Ovation TV)
Kara Tointon is a familiar face across the Pond, but here in America, she is just starting to make her mark. With the help of Ovation TV’s “The Halcyon,” she should soon become a household name. The British series, which is produced by Chris Croucher, who also produced “Downton Abbey,” airs on Mondays at 10 p.m. EST on Ovation. And while the show is similar to “Downton” — it’s been called “Downton Abbey” in a five-star hotel — the fact that it’s a British period piece during wartime is where the similarities end. Recently I spoke with Kara, who plays the seductive and sassy songstress Betsey Day, and she gave me the inside scoop about the series.

Celebrity Extra: Can you give me a bit of background about yourself? How did you get your start in acting?

Kara Tointon: I’ve been acting since I was about 11 years old. My parents wanted me to have an outlet to get my confidence up other than through school means because I didn’t always find school and academia so easy when it came to reading and writing. So I did lots of speech and drama festivals. I really enjoyed public speaking. That’s what sort of got me into acting.

And when I joined the agency at the age of 11 — a young age, it seems — I just auditioned around, and I did lots of ads for different TV shows in the U.K. That was my introduction into doing this sort of job. I took it more seriously when I got 16. I did a show called “Teachers,” which is a British comedy (which also starred Andrew Lincoln of “The Walking Dead” fame). I guess that’s when I decided that I would take it more seriously. And I decided to make this my career.

CE: You’ve done your fair share of British television, most notably “EastEnders,” which seems to be a rite of passage for most British actors.

KT: It’s really funny because when we in the U.K. watch American shows; they look so beautifully done, and I guess it’s quite funny because our equivalent is “EastEnders,” which is very gray and quite depressing. I was actually an extra on the show when I was about 12 years old. And then I ended up going into it as a character when I was 21. I think it’s maybe different in the States, but in the U.K., when you’re on a show, sometimes it can be a great thing, but people get to know you as that character. I went into acting basically because I enjoy playing different characters. I would say I’m more of a character actor; I enjoy different personalities and accents. So that was interesting to be in one place with “EastEnders” for four years. And at the same time, it was really nice to feel part of a team. I do enjoy that kind of teamwork. And then I was ready to do other things, like theater. I feel like I’ve learned more through my time doing theater work than I have in the whole of my career — having an audience and doing the voice work. When you then come back to filming again, you realize the strength that you’ve built up from doing live theater.

CE: You’re in rehearsals now for a play, right?

KT: Yes, I’m rehearsing for “RSC Live: Twelfth Night.”

CE: I love that play — it’s so much fun to read and to watch performed.

KT: So I think as well. It’s a really good one.

CE: And you starred in “Pygmalion” on the West End with Rupert Everett and Diana Rigg.

KT: That was a great job, actually. And Rupert, he’s very funny and charismatic. He’s a bit romantic that you just want to be with him and listen to what he has to say. There’s never a dull moment. And that was such a great female role. A dream job, actually.

Cast of The Halcyon
(photo courtesy ITV/Ovation TV)
CE: Tell me your impressions of “The Halcyon” when you first read the script.

KT: I got sort of caught up in it very quickly because you could see that this was going to be a very atmospheric, fast-paced series. And they said that music was going to absolutely be at the heart of this show. And that can sometimes be difficult logistically when you’re trying to film and always have music in the background, especially when the scene is performance-based. But they managed it really well.

I just loved all the characters, and I just felt that it was something that could go anywhere. They introduce the characters really well. And for me, it’s funny, but in the first couple of episodes, I don’t have very much, but you understand what each character is about and their part within the realm of the hotel. And because the backdrop is a hotel, it gives you so much scope because you’ve got the upstairs-downstairs aspect, but you can peer behind those closed doors. It’s just a wonderful idea for a show.

CE: Tell me about your character, Betsey.

KT: I’d describe Betsey as a complete alley cat. She’s very streetwise. She hasn’t had the easiest upbringing. But she thinks the best of herself. And she’s not scared to say that as it is. I love to play a character like that. It’s so enjoyable. Because most of the time, you’d love to be like that in your own life. It’s a lot of fun. And she has a voice and she sort of banks on being sexy. She’s not actually sexy; I think she’s a tomboy. But she’s found by Sonny Sullivan, who’s the bandleader of the hotel’s band, and it’s given her a place and she’s found her feet in this hotel. And she’s having the time of her life.

CE: There are hints early on that she hasn’t had the best parental role models in her life. How does her mom play into that? And how does this translate to her relationship with Sonny?

KT: When her mother turns up, you get the gist that she has a difficult relationship there with her. And her mother sort of flutters in and out of her life. And we see a nice development with Sonny and Betsey because of this in that he’s the first male who she can depend on. He has become a true rock in her life, and she’s never quite had a relationship with a man like that before. So we see where that develops and that strong friendship that they have, along with their love of music together. It works really well.

CE: Can you give me a little historical background of how and when the series begins?

KT: Absolutely. When we pick up the series, the Second World War hasn’t started yet, or England hasn’t officially entered the war. So at this point, people aren’t feeling quite so scared yet; for a long time, when the sirens would go off, I didn’t realize, but there wasn’t a sense of urgency because they didn’t think it was coming. They didn’t believe it was happening until that first time that bombs do start landing, and it shakes everyone up. And then life changes. So it’s kind of nice to see that buildup of what’s happening before the bombing raids and then when it actually becomes a reality. It really does kick things off for all the characters.

CE: Just the opening scene — which is actually the penultimate scene from the last episode, but we get a glimpse of what is to come as the series then flashes back to “Six Months Earlier” — they don’t quite take the sirens seriously until a bomb blasts through the lobby of the hotel.

KT: We filmed that scene last, actually, which is quite strange, isn’t it? When you do a whole series and that’s the beginning. And that final scene I think is my favorite scene of the whole series. It was quite special because I got to sing “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” which is one of my favorite songs.

CE: I really like the relationship between Betsey and Emma. There is a real love there; it’s not women trying to backstab each other.

KT: Yes, it’s really nice because she’s a bit older than Emma, but she really cares about her. She says it straight. She can see that Emma hasn’t had an easy time growing up — you know, she lost her mom. But Betsey has a real empathy for Emma, and she wants the best for her. Which is really true friendship there.

CE: I have read that it’s been described as “Downton Abbey” set in a five-star hotel, but aside from being a British period piece set in wartime, for me that’s where the similarities end. “The Halcyon” truly is its own show.

KT: It’s such a compliment to have a comparison to anything that’s been so successful like “Downton Abbey.” I can see the similarity because you’ve got the upstairs-downstairs element, but it’s a completely different backdrop of the hotel and storyline-wise and character-wise. The best way to watch anything is just to go in completely fresh-eyed, and just take it for what it is; you’ll get the best outcome when you do that. It’s a really warm show with a great heart, and it’s fun to get carried up by the journey.

CE: What was life like on the set?

KT: As a set, it was probably the most elaborate set I’ve ever seen. And I got to see it from the beginning stages where it looked nothing so opulent as was the outcome. There’s just a warmth about it, because we all know the Second World War so well — not the stories behind the facts, but rather the facts of it and what ultimately happened. What’s interesting is that when one is put in those scenarios, where you’re living on the edge, you just live for the moment. And I think that really resonated with me that when you’re living like that, things actually develop quickly, especially with relationships and with your friendships. And you appreciate so much more because you don’t know how long you’ve got to enjoy it.

And that electricity — I remember the atmosphere being on set. It was just delighting in the colors and everything. There’s something about that time, as awful as it was, that was electric and beautiful. You have this music influence and people just wanting to have fun because life was pretty hard. There was a lot of love, and often good things can sometimes come from bad times.

I just remember being in love with the atmosphere. It was a great cast and crew, and everyone enjoyed being at work. It was great, great fun, the most enjoyable thing I’ve done. I was getting to wear these beautiful outfits, and the people were acting as if I were Rita Hayworth or something. It was a fun part for me especially.

CE: What can viewers look forward to as they begin watching “The Halcyon”?

KT: The show is heartwarming, fast and furious. We can look forward to love triangles, and the trials and tribulations of people who are in different societal classes, and what the war would bring. There’s going to be gut-wrenching moments, but all with great music and upbeat fun. There’s just some really great characters too, my favorite being Lady Hamilton. I’m just really excited to see everyone’s development throughout.

(It was recently announced that the show had not been picked up for a second season, however, Chris Croucher is shopping it around to other networks. If you like what you see, please make your voice heard to help bring this phenomenal series back for another season.)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Felisha Cooper's Transition to Prime Time in Pop TV's Swedish Dicks

Felisha Cooper
(photo courtesy Pop TV)
Felisha Cooper, who is best known to many as Sasha Thompson on “The Bold and the Beautiful,” has been moonlighting as a comedian, so to speak. Felisha co-stars in Pop TV’s newest comedy called “Swedish Dicks,” which premieres August 9 and centers on Ingmar (Peter Stormare), a washed-up ex-stuntman-turned-private investigator who pairs up with a Swedish DJ named Axel (played by Johan Glans). Together they set out to solve some of LA’s weirdest crimes. Keanu Reeves plays Tex, a fellow stuntman whose mysterious death has haunted Ingmar for decades. Felisha plays Sarah, Ingmar’s daughter, and she gave me the scoop on this quirky new comedy.

Celebrity Extra: Aside from playing Sasha on “The Bold and the Beautiful,” you’ve had a lot of guest spots on some really great shows, such as “The Last Ship,” “Criminal Minds” and “Rosewood,” to name a few. How did all of that prepare you for this latest role as Sarah on “Swedish Dicks”?

Felisha Cooper: Just the diversity going from a college student who had her parents killed to being a soldier in the military to being a whore on a soap opera (laughs). It made it a fun trip, and really opened the window of where I can go as an actress. Like how diverse I can play, and it just gave me a lot of confidence that I can really do any role myself, as long as I can understand it, and it shows me walks of life that I have never been through. But I have to make sure the character has been brought to life and that somebody out there on the planet can relate to it. That’s most important for me. It gives me a sense of “I can do this.” There’s definitely a challenge to go to one role from the other, that’s for sure.

CE: What are some moments that stand out to you working on those other shows?

FC: The one that stands out most in my mind is being on “The Last Ship,” and I was working opposite Charles Parnell. He’s such an incredible and intense actor; he’s such an incredible master chief that you feel like you’re actually in the military. You’re on this ship, and your captain is talking to you so you can save the rest of the world. He just gives you that intensity and that focus that you have to pay attention to it, and you have to react to it. It was so fulfilling. He was just an incredible actor to work with.

CE: Your father was a drill sergeant in the U.S. Army, so you had some practice being around that.

FC: I was a little bit prepared going into that show. My dad taught me a lot of respect, a lot of manners, and so I felt like I was paying homage to him in a certain way by being on this show. It was so incredible and so fun, it was almost like it was a world I already knew without having to be in the military. It was a fun dynamic.

CE: Tell me about the dynamic of being on “The Bold and the Beautiful.”

FC: It was very fun, and it was definitely a sort of acting boot camp. For the most part, it’s such a well-oiled machine that it’s kind of like a 9-to-5 job. You’re there, you do your job, there’s not a lot of room to screw up, and then we move to the next scene because we have so much footage to cover in such a short amount of time. You know your shit or you get out. It’s very exciting for me because I like thinking on my feet, I like the challenge, I like the pace of it. It’s fun, but as I said, it also can be very challenging.

CE: What are some memories about “The Bold and the Beautiful” that stick out to you?

FC: I worked opposite Rain Edwards. I played her sister and she is this beautiful young actress. She’s full of passion and heart, and she has this incredible history that she draws from. Which was awesome to be with someone around my age who gives just as much intensity. But working with Anna Marie Horsford and Obba Babatundé, that was just like transcending. They’re iconic in film and television, and I learned so much from them, not only professionally but personally.

When you connect with them on a personal level and then someone yells action for you to play the script, it just makes it so much more connected. They taught me that; they created that within me. We would rehearse our scenes together all the time, and Obba gave so much depth and clarity, it was almost like he was my teacher, not just my scene partner. He was absolutely amazing to work with because he’s done so many incredible films and plays. He’s really knowledgeable about what he’s doing, and he has a way to find the subtext in a script. It was mind-blowing for me.

CE: So the way your career has progressed, from guest spots to a lead role in daytime television to another lead role in a groundbreaking prime-time comedy — did you plan this all out, or are you taking it as it comes?

FC: Oh, I’m a crazy control freak. I remember being like 17, and I had this little notebook from homeroom or something, and I wrote down stuff like, by the time I’m 21, I’ll win an MTV movie award, by the time I’m 30, I’m going to win an Oscar. I wrote all that stuff down just because I was trying to speak it into my life. But honestly, the reason why I became an actress is because when I was 6 years old, I wanted to be Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen — that was my biggest goal in life from the very beginning. It sounds so silly, but what else do you expect from a 6-year-old?

CE: Nothing against Mary-Kate and Ashley, but are you shooting higher now?

FC: Yes, now I want to be Meryl Streep. Oh, and Viola Davis. My tastes have grown a little bit. I can’t think of many actors I’d be starstruck by, but them, they are definitely at the top of my list.

CE: So now you’re doing a bit of a transition …

FC: Yes, we’re transitioning from daytime television to primetime television. We’re getting up there, climbing the ladder.

Felisha Cooper as Sarah in Swedish Dicks
(photo courtesy Pop TV)
CE: Tell me about “Swedish Dicks.” With a name like that, it definitely needs some explaining.

FC: Girl, my first reaction was: “Wait, is this porn? I have a mother!” But seriously, I remember sitting on my bed, I think I was watching “Glee,” which is my favorite show, and I got an email from my manager, and it read: “Appointment for Felisha Cooper — Swedish Dicks.” I thought, “You’re kidding!” So I went through and read the role of Sarah and thought, “Oh, this girl sounds awesome.” It’s as if someone imagined me before they knew me. I am perfectly Sarah. That’s exactly how I think, exactly how I talk. I got sass, I got this quick wit, I got all the fast talking.

So I went to the audition, and like a week or so later, I got a callback, and then on the day of “The Bold and the Beautiful” Christmas party, we’re all taking selfies in the photo booth they had set up, and I get a call from my manager to tell me that I had booked “Swedish Dicks.” I started screaming right then and there because I was so excited. I loved the role, and I couldn’t believe they had picked me.

CE: Tell me about Sarah.

FC: Well Sarah is Ingmar’s daughter; they were estranged. He left when she was little, and she was raised by her mom. Now Ingmar has come back into her life and wants to have a father-daughter relationship, but she’s kind of like: “You haven’t been here for me. I don’t really want anything to do with you.” But the undertone is that she does want a relationship with her father, and she does love him. She’s angry that he was gone for so long, but she is happy that he’s back. She feels like she has somewhat of a family again. The more the relationship builds, I think her heart will soften and she will realize he’s actually a genuine guy. He’s made some mistakes, but he has no ill intentions, and that’s kind of the dichotomy of our relationship. Sarah is a hotshot lawyer, takes nothing from nobody, she’s beautiful, she dresses well, she makes good money, and she’s just doing her damn thing.

CE: Sarah and her father, Ingmar, have a rocky start getting to know each other. Tell me more about that. Does he get her involved in the cases he goes on?

FC: Sarah definitely has a soft spot for her dad, so he’s gotten her to go on chases and stuff with him. She gets him out of the scrapes he gets into it, and she does it pro bono because he’s her father. She hates it, but the reason she does it is because she loves him. Even if she won’t admit it, she loves him. 

CE: In real life, Peter Stormare and Keanu Reeves are good friends, and Keanu plays a pivotal role in this series. What is Keanu like to work with?

FC: Oh my God, Keanu is such a delight. He is reserved and he’s calm, and he’s got this very strong demeanor. But just let him open his mouth, and he is the nicest man in the world. He’s so kind, he’s so engaged. His eye contact is so perfect; you can tell he cares about people when they speak to him. He’s not all like, “Oh, I’m Keanu Reeves”; to him, he’s just Keanu, and that was one of the most endearing qualities about him. I think he’s wonderful.

CE: What else can you tell me about the show?

FC: It’s relationship-based. They all go on cases together, but everyone is tied together. Ingmar and Axel are partners; Ingmar is very headstrong, which is where I think Sarah gets it from. Axel is trying to be headstrong — he’s learning, kind of like an understudy to Ingmar. He’s very passionate, very kind and very sweet. Sticks his foot in his mouth and is a bit naive, but he means well.

Sarah is kind of the outsider looking in, thinking that these people are all crazy, but there’s something tugging at her heartstrings that makes her want to participate. She recognizes that her dad is actually trying. It took him too long, but he is actually making an effort, and she realizes that.

CE: What’s the vibe of the show?

FC: It’s heightened comedy, but we all take it very seriously. That’s what is so incredible about it. It has that film-noir “Breaking Bad” vibe to it. If you watch it, especially the intro — it’s kind of like “Breaking Bad” as a comedy, if you will. I find it to be so incredibly fresh and new and an awesome show to watch.

CE: This really does sound like a smart and fun show.

FC: It is. It really is a great show; it’s a new, unconventional comedy. I think it will do well. I know it’s been very well-received in Sweden, and hopefully America will feel the same way.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Interview: A Look Back at John Cusack's Career

John Cusack
With this year’s MegaCon in Orlando, Florida, fast approaching, what better time to share the John Cusack panel from last year? If you’re like me, you grew up watching his movies. From “Better Off Dead” and “Sixteen Candles” to “Gross Pointe Blank” and “The Raven,” John really is a household name. I had the opportunity this fall to join a panel discussion with John about his career, past and present. So buckle up and take a ride through cinema history with me.

Question: One of my favorite of your collaborations is with Nick Hornby, who wrote and adapted “High Fidelity.” Any chance of more stuff from you two?

John Cusack: It’s up to Nick because he writes the books, but I stay in contact with him, and his books are in such demand and he’s in demand. I thought it was a pretty good combo, so I’d love to do it again, definitely. He’s a terrific writer.

Q: You often used to work with your hometown Illinois crew (including sisters Joan and Ann, and friend Jeremy Piven) on films; any chance we’ll see you guys together again?

JC: I haven’t done anything with any of my friends that I used to work with a lot before because life seems to take us in different directions. We’re all in different places. But it will always be fun to get back home again.

Q: How about Broadway; have you been offered anything or would you like to tread the boards one day?

JC: On Broadway there’s a play called “The Price”; it’s an Arthur Miller play, which I like, but I haven’t found or been offered anything that I really wanted to do.

Q: More recently, tell me about your experience filming “Chi-Raq.”

JC: I don’t know how familiar you are with the film — we shot on the Southwest side of Chicago with 1,400 extras, but it’s real terrible, terrible situation. But there’s a lot of people doing great work over there trying to take back the city block by block. I play a white Catholic priest (Father Mike Corridan) on the South side of Chicago who’s been there 40 years. And so he’s spent every Sunday preaching there, and (director) Spike (Lee) and I were taking notes. Spike was writing and we were doing stuff. We spent a lot of time there and found a way to bring the story to the screen.

Q: Would you like to be involved more in indie movies? However, you seem to be proficient at any genre you try your hand in.

JC: I really like doing the supernatural genre. It just depends on what I can get going. The movie business is strange. I think it might be easier to do something like that on cable TV now because people seem to want to make movies either where they make it for like 4 million bucks and they’re art movies, or they want you to put on the tights and be a superhero. You can’t pick ones in between at the moment. But maybe I’m capable of something like that.

Q: In your opinion, what makes a movie work?

JC: I don’t know. I think any time when movies work and they’re good, there’s some part that you relate to. And sometimes you are doing them, and you think they are going to do one thing, and then the producers and the studio jump on and change it so that they don’t really reflect what they had in mind. So, it depends on the film. But usually when they work out, then you feel that there’s some part of you that’s connected to them.

Q: You’ve been known to really get into your roles, and acquire the skills that your character has.

JC: I think sometimes if you learn a skill, you pick it up right. So, if the character is doing something, you immerse yourself in it. So, like when I played Lloyd Dobler and he was a kickboxer, that’s when I started doing martial arts, and I’ve been doing that for 25 years now.

Q: I’ve read where you’ve really enjoyed working with Billy Bob Thornton.

JC: The best thing about playing with Billy Bob is just to hang out with him all the time on the set, because he’s one of the coolest, funniest people you will ever meet. One of the best people you will ever meet too. You can come on the set, and all of a sudden you’ll walk in and he’s put barnyard animals in your trailer. He’s an awesome guy.

John Cusack in 2014 at the Cannes Film Festival
Q: How do you feel about this rash of folks remaking old movies instead of creating new ones, and also all the sequels? Is there a movie you would like to remake, or a sequel you’d do?

JC: I don’t think it’s good to do a remake of a movie unless you think you can do it differently or can add something to it that it didn’t have. There is an old movie that was based on a novel called “Fat City.” It was a John Huston film, and it starred Stacy Keach and he played a boxer. I’ve been a boxing fan for a long time, so I thought, “Man, I’m 49, so I’d like to do one while I can still do it.” So I thought, “If I could do ‘Fat City’ that would be really cool.” It was done in that sort of Technicolor ’70s era when they started to make everything super-bright. At the same time it was thought to be cool, but it actually looks dated now. But I thought that might be a cool remake to do.

And then with sequels, you have to get people back together and do it the right way. If I were offered to do a sequel to one of my own movies, I’d do it, but you want to do it right.

Q: Are you hooked on any TV series at the moment?

JC: I really like “Better Call Saul.” I like everything that Vince Gilligan is up to. I think it’s such interesting stuff he’s doing. Any of those types of shows. And I’m also like a strangely secret zombie-movie fan. So, I could show up on “The Walking Dead.”

Q: You have been in the movie business for so long; what keeps you coming back?

JC: The love of it and luck, and just getting out of Hollywood whenever I can. What I’m saying is, when you stay in it all the time, it’s good to get away from it and be a normal person.

Q: Any advice for someone who wants to make it in Hollywood?

JC: If you can do some theater. Make your own movies. I mean, you can shoot it anywhere. Don’t ask permission. Learn it as you go. Make it up as you go along. And just do it because everyone says, “Well, I want to be an actor.” And then they don’t act. If you want to be a basketball player, you have to play basketball. You just couldn’t walk out onto the court and never been to the game. If you can, just do theater and do plays. Do scene classes. It’s like athletics. You just have to do it. And do it yourself. Don’t ask permission. Make your own movies.

Q: What are some parts of the business that you don’t like?

JC: Sometimes doing press work. The acting part you can do, but it’s like the stuff around it. I think sometimes selling is a lot different than acting.

Q: What is a recent movie role that you’re glad you took on?

JC: I got to go to China last year and film “Dragon Blade” with Jackie Chan. If you get a call saying, “Hey do you want to go out to the Gobi Desert and do this fight scene with Jackie Chan in a Chinese-language movie?” You just go: “When am I ever going to get a chance to do that? I’ve got to go do that! So, it was a wild experience and really fun. And then usually if the movies work out, those are really good experiences.

Q: Do you get or have you even been star-struck while working on a movie?

JC: Yeah, especially when I was younger. I remember Paul Newman, and I was like, “Oh, man!” Paul Newman was such a gentleman. He was pretty great to do a movie with. I couldn’t believe it. I got to work with a lot of my heroes growing up. And I couldn’t believe it. How did this happen, you know? Woody Allen and Al Pacino. Gene Hackman. All those guys. I grew up watching them.

Q: You’ve done a bit of voice work for animated movies. Do you like doing that kind of work?

JC: Yeah, I do like it because it’s fun to watch them figure out how to create the characters visually, and then you start to do the voices, and then you see a little bit more of it. Then you see more and more again. And the work that they put into those movies is incredible. It’s sort of a lazy job to do the voices because you just get to go into a studio and play. It’s a fun gig.

Don't miss this year's MegaCon Orlando from May 25-28 at the Convention Center on International Drive in Orlando, Florida. Find all the info you need here.

Friday, April 21, 2017

INTERVIEW: Nikki DeLoach on Taking Risks

Nikki DeLoach, left
Photo courtesy Hallmark Channel
Ever since the brilliant and groundbreaking MTV comedy series “Awkward” ended in 2016, series star Nikki DeLoach has been hard at work on the silver screen, forming quite a relationship with the Hallmark Channel. Next up for Nikki is Hallmark’s “The Perfect Catch,” which premieres Saturday, April 22 at 8 p.m. EST/PST. Nikki stars as Jessica Parker, a local diner owner who is a single parent to an 8-year-old son. When Jessica’s former high school boyfriend, superstar baseball player Chase Tanner (played by Andrew Walker), returns to town, Jessica finds the inspiration to reinvent her struggling diner and revisits the past to find something even better for the future. I spoke with her recently about this role, as well as her burgeoning relationship with Hallmark.

Celebrity Extra: Can you tell me in your own words what “The Perfect Catch” is about?

Nikki DeLoach: It’s really interesting because this movie was really a two-hander, wherein a lot of Hallmark’s movies are just about the woman with the male playing a secondary role. What I really loved about this particular movie was the fact that it’s a bit of a two-hander for me and Andrew Walker, who plays my love interest, Chase. He gets to have a really great storyline as well as my character, Jessica. Essentially, Jessica is a girl who never left her small town, and her life hasn’t turned out as she thought it would. She’s a dreamer whose dreams never really happened. She’s now a single mother who is struggling to make life work and struggling to run her grandfather’s diner, which has become a dream of hers to make it a success and keep it going.

CE: Enter her ex-boyfriend …

ND: Yes, Chase had a very different life from Jessica. He left town right out of high school, and he went to the big leagues and became a professional baseball player. He has since experienced a fall from grace after a bad game in the World Series. He was cut from his team, and all the fans are angry with him. He comes back to his hometown to lick his wounds and to regroup, and also to wait on a new contract, for another team to pick him up. So he comes back to town, ego a little bruised, and Chase and Jessica run into each other. They were high school sweethearts, and when he went away, she decided not to go with him because she didn’t want to hold him back, and that was the last time she ever saw him.

CE: Now that they are adults, having lived their lives away from each other, how does his return affect Jessica?

ND: He inspires her to dream bigger, to take some risks in her life and go after the dreams that she always wanted to have. And she in turn reminds him of what’s really important in life and that sometimes maybe you can come home. I won’t totally give away the ending, but it is Hallmark, so they do end up together, but with some twists and turns along the way.

CE: How does Jessica’s son fit into all this?

ND: Well, her son’s father left town to pursue his musical dreams. He gave her son the baseball bug, but he never gave him the training. And here Jessica is, the single mom who is terrible at baseball, trying to pitch to him and practice with him. The other kids make fun of him because everyone else has their dads around to help them, and here he has just a sad mom. But she’s doing her best, and then in comes Chase, who’s a professional ballplayer, and her son brazenly asks him, “Can you help me practice for this game I have this weekend?” Through her son, Chase and Jessica reconnect.

CE: In what ways could you relate to and empathize with your character, Jessica?

ND: I’m not a single mom because I have a husband, but he’s an entertainment attorney who leaves in the morning and gets home after my son goes to bed. His job is a lot — it’s a lot of work — and so a lot of times it feels like I’m raising my son on my own, and it’s really hard. Granted, it’s not half as hard as real single moms out there, but I felt like I could really relate to her because I’m taking my son to soccer practice and doing all these things with him that of course my husband would want to be a part of, and it’s hard to do that on your own.

I also related to her in terms of your dreams coming to fruition. I’ve been in this business for 30 years; I started out as a child actor, and there have been several times in my career where I lost everything and had to start all over again. And every single time you have to start all over, it gets harder and harder to take those risks because your heart has been broken and you’ve been disappointed so many times. So I really related to the dreamer in her whose dreams never really came to fruition. In the script, she takes that one last risk to make everything happen for her, and I feel like I did that in my own career and in my own way. And it’s paying off, but I really loved that about her story because I think there are a lot of women out there where it’s hard to make the time to make their dreams come true, and it’s hard to also find the courage. They have been disillusioned and their hearts have been broken. It’s never too late to go for what you want in life.

CE: What other messages would you say this movie has for its viewers?

ND: The message for Chase’s character is that sometimes it’s not too late to come home and essentially start your life all over again. For Jessica, it’s sometimes it’s not too late to start your life over again and to have the life you’ve always wanted. Both of them are parallel in similar yet different ways.

CE: What was the shoot like? I hear it was pretty cold while you were filming.

ND: Yes, we filmed in Vancouver, and it’s a spring movie, but it was freezing outside. They were having a winter that all the locals said they had not had in 30 years. It seriously rained every single day of production, and it snowed and rained for the first two weeks, and it even hailed for two of the days. We were up against a lot — when half of your movie is supposed to be exteriors and then rain is pouring down every single day, it makes it difficult. On any given day, if we caught a break in the rain for an hour or so, we would book it outside and try to get what we could outside. You had to be prepared for that because they would say, “Let’s just go to scene 36,” and you have to wrap your head around 36 and learn the lines for 36, and get out there and be ready to do it. And sometimes you would get only one take in before the rain came back.

CE: Were you guys able to make the most of a tricky filming situation?

ND: On any other set, those circumstances would have made it a very difficult shoot and a very unhappy shoot, but this was quite the opposite. Everything we were up against with the weather, our director was sensational; he had a great attitude. Our crew was wonderful. The cast — we were always in such good spirits. We were just happy to be there and filming this movie.

Nikki DeLoach (center) on the set of
The Perfect CatchPhoto courtesy Hallmark Channel
CE: You’ve worked with Hallmark before — tell me what they are like as a boss.

ND: It seems so sterile to call them an employer because what they are is family. I get to belong to this wonderful family that is making really great programming. An entire family can sit down and watch, and you can never find that on network television. I so appreciate that, and everything they say that they stand for, they really do. From the president, Bill Abbott, to his top executives Randy Po and Michelle Vicary — they all stand for the values that they say they maintain. And they treat you so well; I’m treated so well by them, my family is treated so well by them. They take care of us, and honestly, I have an amazing time every time I get to do a project with them. It’s really brought a lot of happiness into my life.

CE: Since you like working with Hallmark so much, and you previously made a Christmas movie with Andrew Walker and now this spring-fling movie, I think you two should make a Hallmark movie for each season. Next up, the Fourth of July.

ND: Yes! Hallmark needs to see us as the seasonal couple, where we’re in four movies together and, honestly, that would be Andrew’s and my dream come true. We love working together. I have a family; he has a family. We both have a lot going on in our lives, and actually he loves my husband more than he loves me. We did a movie together in Winnipeg, and my husband came up to visit for a week. The boys went out — they went out every night — and I’d be at home, studying my lines and having to get up at 6 the next morning. And the boys would be out watching hockey games and football games, just having a blast. The two of them became really great friends. I absolutely love his wife. You meet good people sometimes, and you feel like you’ve known them your entire life. Andrew feels like the older brother I never had, and he’s become family to me and vice versa, so we really love working together. I have said to Hallmark, “Put us together as much as you want because that really works for us.”

CE: One of my all-time favorite shows was MTV’s “Awkward.” The writing was brilliant, the casting absolutely wonderful. Do you all ever discuss doing a reunion movie?

ND: We do! We have a lot of people who tuned in, and they really want more. There have been ideas bounced around of doing a movie for MTV that would bring everyone back together over a summer, and I really hope that happens. I’m like, “Maybe I’ll pitch the idea; I’ll come up with a concept and pitch it.” And thank you for saying that. That was one of the greatest experiences of my life, getting to work on that show and do that material every day and to play the character of Lacey, who will go down in history as one of my favorite people that I’ve ever gotten to play. I just love her, and I miss her every day. I miss that whole cast, just being with them. We talk all the time and we see each other all the time, but it’s different when you’re used to seeing them every day.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Interview: Cassidy Gifford on Finding Balance in Your Work and Life

Cassidy Gifford
Photo by Stephanie Diani
Cassidy Gifford isn’t a household name — yet. Her parents, Kathie Lee and the late Frank definitely are, but Cassidy is making her own mark in Hollywood. The talented actress is just getting her start, but she is certainly one to watch. On April 15 at 9 p.m. EST/PST, she stars in the Hallmark Channel original movie “Like Cats and Dogs.” Cassidy plays Lara Hale, a dog lover, who through some mix-up is stuck sharing a vacation rental for the summer with Spencer, who is a cat lover. Spencer and Lara could not be more different, and they will have to figure out a way to get along without killing each other. I spoke with Cassidy recently, and she is thrilled to play this role and to star in her first romantic comedy.

Celebrity Extra: Tell me about the role of Lara and what attracted you to her and the movie.

Cassidy Gifford: Lara Hales is a 22-year-old free spirit who has hit a point in her life that I think most of us at this age can relate to: a stagnant existence where we’re not really sure where we want to end up or what we want to do. So she ends up renting a place for spring break to get away from my very, very serious and by-the-book parents, who own an accounting firm that she works at in this sweet little town in Michigan called South Haven. So, it’s kind of an escape for her and her dog Frank —whose name is Billy in real life, and I fell absolutely in love with him.

CE: And then enter Spencer (played by Wyatt Nash) …

CG: Wyatt is just terrific. He plays Spencer Hopkins, who is the seeming antithesis of Lara; he’s very serious and he’s writing his thesis and he’s dating this girl who is very similar to him. He’s very straight-laced, to the point that it’s almost debilitating. Some people are so stuck in their ways, and it can almost be toxic. And I know a lot of people who are actually like that. He ends up booking a place on our version of Airbnb, which is called Go BnB in the movie, and we end up living in the same spot.

CE: Let me guess: This is where the cats and dogs come in?

CG: Yes. He has a cat; he’s a cat person. And I have a dog, and I’m a dog person. Hilarity ensues, as you can imagine, because we end up at the same place and we end up trying to stick it out together, and it’s just a very sweet story. It’s the story of two young people seemingly stuck in their own respective ways and not realizing that is what is getting in their way. It’s a tale of two people who are at different but similar points in their lives, and they don’t realize that what they need is the opposite of what they are getting.

CE: How was the filming process? What was it like to work with the cast and crew?

CG: The movie is really sweet and it’s real, and as actors, we were given the chance to play a little bit. Our director, Ron Oliver, is terrific, and he gave us a lot of freedom to improv, and if it didn’t feel right, he would say, “Try it again until it does.” It was a really cool, collaborative project, and that’s something that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do before, and it was awesome. I fell in love with Vancouver — that’s where we were shooting — and the people there and just everything. I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am to have had the experience.

CE: You were saying earlier how much you enjoyed filming in Vancouver. Tell me more about that experience.

CG: It was so stunning. We were staying downtown, so our commute to work every day was about an hour, an hour and a half. And I had always thought that California is cool because if you go a couple miles in any direction, you can be at the beach or you can go downtown, a couple hours north and you can be in the mountains, but Vancouver was like, you go 4 miles in any direction and it was almost a different climate. It was crazy! We’d be downtown and it would be raining when we got picked up, and then we would end up where we were filming and it was like Narnia — there was just snow. I’m from the East Coast, so I’m used to snow, but we were filming a spring romantic comedy, and so it was slightly different because we ended up having to shoot around a lot of it.

CE: How did you work your way around it?

CG: The first week we had shot some things on different locations on the water, and we were out on the pier getting a lot of our exterior shots, and then when we moved to the house, it was snowing pretty much every single day for the rest of the shoot. We had to get everything outside that we hadn’t shot, and then one morning it was just stunning — the snow had melted because it had gotten just warm enough, so we completely flipped the schedule around. We were shooting outside all day, even though it was cold; it was warmer than it had been, so we got everything we needed outside. Our director and the entire crew had a good eye for what we needed, and they flipped everything around and made it work, and it ended up being more than we could have ever imagined.

Basically, it was like trying to film a springtime rom-com in Narnia. But it worked out. It made us laugh, and it was funny because we were cold and freezing our butts off, but it was fun because we were all in it together. It definitely made it more interesting, especially with the dog and the cat, who were such good sports about it too. They were just the cutest things in the world, even though the cat wouldn’t listen — he would not listen. He was so stubborn, but it made it funnier.

CE: Speaking of dogs and cats, you said that you are a dog person; what about your co-star Wyatt Nash?

CG: It was so funny because going into it, Wyatt was a cat person, and I am obviously a dog person, but over the course of the movie, I would give him a hard time. It’s not that I don’t like cats; I love animals. But I grew up being allergic to cats. I grew out of it, but I have this intrinsic thing to stay away from them, otherwise I would break out in hives, and so it’s this subconscious thing where I don’t get that close to them because of spending 15 years of my life being afraid of them because I couldn’t breathe or I would break out in hives. As filming went on, Wyatt would come to set every day and go to the dog first, and by the end of the shoot, he was like, “OK, I think I’m a dog person.” So, we started fighting over who loved the dog more, whose name is Billy in real life, but we were fighting over him and who could give him more treats.

Wyatt and I had so much fun. We ended up becoming such good friends, and the fact that he lives in LA ... on the first day, we learned that we went to the same church and went to the same place to work out. His fiancee came to visit, and she was just so sweet, and I ended up being their third wheel for the last week and a half of filming. It was a blast. If I had to choose between the two of them, it would be a tie because they are both so sweet, and we all had so much fun and became like a unit.

Cassidy Gifford
Photo courtesy the Hallmark Channel
CE: Can you tell me in which ways you can relate to your character, Lara?

CG: I wouldn’t say I’m the crazy free spirit. I definitely have structure in my life, but I am very much a go-with-the-flow kind of person. I tend to believe that things are going to work out even when you’re at your crappiest point; there will be a light at the end of the tunnel — to keep throwing clichés at you. I believe that things do end up working out, and there are going to be more pitfalls that you stumble upon because that’s life, but I think that balance is key.

Lara definitely likes junk food, and so do I — much to my dismay. That’s another thing that Spencer and Lara don’t have in common; he’s very healthy and blending his smoothies. I always have Fritos in my bag or a jar of Skippy peanut butter or something that isn’t good for me. I believe that yes, you have to do healthy, of course, but at the same time, if you’re cheating yourself out of every little pleasure in life, that’s no way to live. I think you should be able to work out and eat healthy, and on the weekends you should be allowed to binge a little bit and have some fun. I think that balance is key. That’s something my dad (Frank Gifford) always said growing up: Moderation is the key to life. I think that is a similar quality that Lara and I share as well. It made it a little bit easier to relate to her.

CE: I’ve heard great things about working with the Hallmark Channel. What was the experience like for you?

CG: It is wonderful, and I can’t tell you how much I loved them there. I had been meeting with them for about a year. There was another project that I couldn’t do because of scheduling for another thing I was shooting. But then when they came to me with this about two months ago — I’m a dog person anyway — so when I read the script, I thought, OK, this is something I am definitely interested in. And then our director, Ron Oliver, rewrote a lot of parts about it, and the whole ending he changed, which ended up filtering into the beginning, which ended up changing a lot of things. And when I got the new script, I thought, I have to do this.

The people at Hallmark are so kind and so sweet, and they are trying to bring a little bit of goodness back into this world. Everything from the news — you’re just bombarded and every day — it’s just all bad news. I feel like Hallmark has a really good eye for realizing that there really is an audience who wants to see something that’s endearing but still has family values. And there’s a way to have that wholesome quality without being corny or cliché and over the top. I think with this project, people are going to like it because it’s sweet and it’s fun, but it’s real.

CE: Tell me what it was like filming this movie, with it being your first romantic comedy. A lot of your earlier work has been in horror movies and thrillers, so this must have been a nice change of pace.

CG: There’s a running joke between my family and friends that any time I get cast in something, they’re like, “Oh, are you going to die in it?” Which I don’t think is that funny because I’m the one doing it. The life of an actress is you take the work when you can get it. You hear “no” a lot more than you do “yes.” So I was so excited to play this role because it’s completely different from my previous roles. It’s similar to other movies I’ve done in that you get to know your cast and find your rhythm day in and day out, but this role was so much fun to play.

Wyatt (Nash, who plays Spencer) and I got to know one another after about a week. We got comfortable on the first day — it was so great. And you can’t always expect that, and I feel very fortunate that the people I’ve worked with and the different casts that I’ve been a part of that we’ve gotten along so well. But Wyatt and I had a blast because it was pretty much us and the two animals for a majority of the movie, so it gave us a lot of freedom to play and to improv. It was so much fun because there wasn’t this looming darkness hanging over. You can’t help that if you’re doing a horror or thriller.

I just finished doing an independent thriller this past fall in upstate New York where I play a girl suffering from bipolar disorder, and even though I was learning so much, there is just this lightness of doing a romantic comedy. I love watching romantic comedies, and if you love watching them, then being a part of one is a dream — it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And to have the freedom to improv, it makes it feel like it’s yours, and you feel like you have more of a stake in it because it allows you to be vulnerable in a completely different way.

Sometimes, being funny is more nerve-wracking than it is to scare someone. It’s easier when you know that’s the extent you’re going to go to, but when you’re doing comedy, there’s a risk in it that’s different. I was kind of nervous going into it, but once I got to know Wyatt, we realized that we have very similar senses of humor and we could poke fun at each other; it just made a world of difference for us. We’d ride to work in the morning and we’d laugh pretty much the entire way, and by the time we got there, it was like, oh, we’re just continuing what we’ve been doing. It doesn’t even feel like work. It was really cool, and it was totally different from anything I’ve ever done. I couldn’t have loved it more.

CE: What do you hope people take away from “Like Cats and Dogs”?

CG: I think we as humans get so easily stuck in ruts of complacency and feeling comfortable and being in our safe space, that even small changes to our daily life can be great as long as we’re open to them. It’s so much easier to just be the way we are, especially when it works — that’s when it’s easiest to do. Even when making smallish changes, we tend to think, I’m going to stay the course because it’s getting me where I need to go. But to just be open to small little lifestyle changes, like making a healthy choice in our diet (which is what Spencer makes Lara do) or just loosening up (which Lara teaches Spencer). Just making little concessions that you don’t realize could actually be good for you. Finding a balance between lightening up and also having structure — it’s worth it to see both ends of the spectrum and to realize that there is a healthy, happy medium.