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BWW Interviews: CHASING LIFE Star Italia Ricci Talks New ABC Family Drama Series
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Italia Ricci portrays April Carver in the new ABC Family drama CHASING LIFE. In the series, April is a smart, charismatic and quick-witted aspiring journalist in her twenties, April seems poised to have it all. She's landed a job at a major Boston newspaper and a date with her super-sexy co-worker, Dominic, all while managing to be a supportive daughter, grand-daughter and sister to her family, who've recently lost their patriarch to a tragic accident. In an unexpected twist of fate, April lands in the hospital where her estranged uncle, George, works as an oncologist, and she learns the devastating news that she has cancer. In the face of this daunting revelation, April refuses to give up her dreams and goals. As she fights to keep her life from unraveling, she'll discover new reserves of strength and passion within and find that facing death head-on may really be the only way to truly live.
The actress recently spoke to the press about the new and exciting ABC Family drama:
Will we see more of your character's chemo process? What sort of research did you conduct to prepare?
You will see more of that, absolutely, because it's all part of the horrible process that cancer throws at people, but you will see the stages. And the research -- immediately after I booked the role, I thought I was going to learn everything I could about cancer, become and expert and be able to handle anything that the writers threw at me. But then I realized that my character doesn't know everything about cancer and so I thought it would be better for my performance if I didn't know more about it than April knew. So I wasn't anticipating anything that was going to happen to her.
What attracted you to Chasing Life and your role as April?
The show itself is just so incredible and it's real. It could be happening to anybody. It is happening to anybody. It has happened and it will be happening and it's such a real story and it's written so well and it's so inspiring. It has so much of everything in it that I've wanted to be a part of telling it. I feel so lucky -I was just an actor sent in on a mission to go in. I wasn't sifting through scripts being like "I only want this one." This is when I got the audition I was auditioning for everything during the pilot season and this one was like a golden ticket. This is the role that you're just like "Oh my gosh, this is going to be one that everybody is trying to get." I got so lucky.
Did you know Scott Michael Foster from Greek? What's it like working with him again?
We didn't really stay in touch after the episode of Greek, which was five and a half years ago or something. He didn't even remember me at the table read for Chasing Life for the second episode [laughs]. I introduced myself and I was like "we worked together" and he's like "really, when?" I was like, "oh wow" because we had to kiss in Greek. But we are so close now. He's hilarious. You can see we've had to post a couple of videos talking about the show and I can't keep a straight face when I'm with him. He's hilarious and he's so talented it's insane. It's sort of intimidating sometimes and I'm like "can you try to suck a little more because you're making me look really bad." [laughs]
How would you describe your character April?
She's so many things. She's just a regular girl. She's a stubborn, smart, ambitious girl who just wants happiness and success in her career and love, everything that most people want. She's written so well that I feel like she's every man's woman because she's not always in the same head space. She gets giddy and girly and goofy and then she'll just be an angry drunk, we're all a little bit bipolar [laughs]. It's just the way the world works, but she's so inspiring and she makes mistakes and then she relies on people to help. She's not a hero. She's definitely a role model, but she knows she's not perfect. I think that's really important for a character we want audiences to relate to.
How did you get your start in acting and what do you enjoy most about it?
I started when I was really young. I did a lot of local theatre. I always enjoyed it. I was always putting on shows for my family or even just myself in the mirror being a total psychopath just screaming monologues till I was crying or laughing or a complete nut case. And then I went to college and got my degree in drama, but I'm very much a Type A. I'm not really much of a risk taker. I'm very calculated, so I didn't really want to just move out to LA and try my best at something that I didn't know for sure I could succeed at.
So I decided to go to law school to do entertainment law. This way I could be in the industry, but in a controlled career within it. But before I got to start law school, a friend of mine is with an agency and was an extra on a movie near my hometown one summer and asked if I wanted to go for the day and get paid to pretend I was at a party. And the writer saw me and asked me to audition for a role and I got it and they wrote me into the next one and it all just sort of snowballed. I'm the luckiest girl in the world.
Do you think Chasing Life can properly portray what cancer patients go through?
The show isn't all about cancer. From the people that I've spoken to everybody goes through it differently, so there's no one way to try and show the world what somebody would be experiencing. So I did my best to play April as authentically as we can within the confines of entertainment television. I'm sure there will be some people who completely disagree with how she's reacting to certain things physically and emotionally and then there's some people who might say that's exactly what they experienced, or what they saw somebody experience.
I hope people can at least understand. They're going to know it's still television. It's not a documentary, but at the same time being on set doing some of those scenes, it does get scary when you have to remind yourself that you're not sick.
How do writers keep a show like this from getting too dark or depressing with such a heavy subject matter?
People just have to take my word for it, it's not depressing. It's not dark. It's not going to leave you feeling heavy after you watch it. The writers are so brilliant. It's funny. They deliver the bad stuff or the dramatic stuff and then it's right back at it just like real life is. There's comedy in it and there's so much more to it than the cancer. It's about friendship and her family and her romance and there are episodes that you totally forget that she's even sick.
What was your experience like filming in Boston?
I had never been to Boston before shooting the Chasing Life pilot in 2012. I love it there! It's so amazing and the sense of community there and it makes you feel like you're in the movies. I found myself speaking like the locals saying "wicked good" and stuff, which I'm sure everybody in Boston hates, but I had a lot of fun there. Everybody was go grateful for us to bring the show there and they were all really informed about it, too. I went beside the hotel to get a bottle of wine somewhere and the guy asked me what I was doing. I was like "I'm here for a new show" and he goes "is it the one about the journalist?" And I was like "oh my gosh; you know the show! That is so cool." Anyhow, I was more excited than he was. I almost wanted to take him out for dinner I was so excited.
And the food, oh my gosh, the food. Every time we go to do exterior shots, I leave ten pounds heavier. Good God, I love the North End. I love it!
Are there any other favorite landmarks that stuck out to you in Boston?
I don't have a lot of time off when I'm there to get to play, but the cast and I did get to go to Harvard, which is cool, very touristy. We all bought sweatpants. We went to the Beacon Hill, because that's where the Carver family lives, which was also really, really cool. We got to shoot in Fenway, which actually got cut out of the pilot, but we spent the whole day shooting in Fenway. It was really, really cool. I think Fenway was probably the coolest, but I really do wish that I had more time. I went to the aquarium one day by myself. That was really nice, too. I want to explore it so much. There's one street you feel like you're in Europe and then the next street it looks like New York -- there's just so much to it.
What was your favorite part about filming Chasing Life?
My favorite part about filming the show, we've got pretty good food on set [laughs]. Yesterday we had a mac and cheese bar, like four different types of mac and cheese, it was bizarre; it was amazing. But really, the cast and crew are my favorite things. I am so excited to go to work every day. They are some of my favorite people in the entire world. One camera man moved to another show in the middle of shooting and I broke down and cried on set. But definitely the cast and crew.
How are you and your character April are alike?
We're both pretty stubborn and hyper organized. I can't function if there's a dirty dish in the sink or if things aren't where they belong. My friends when they come over, they'll just try and mess with me by like turning a vase, rotating it, so that the handle is not out or something and I'll stop in the middle of the room and notice something is different; this is not okay [laughs]. I'm a little OCD, so I think April and I share that. There's a bunch of jokes in the show about how organized she is and I think that's really the writers just taking shots at me. I wish I was as ballsy as her. I hope to be. She's actually inspired me a lot more than I expected her to, which is great.
What was the audition process like for you? What was your reaction when you found out you got the role?
The audition process, I was so nervous about this audition because it was for such a great role. Besides one other series that I did called Unnatural History, I had only ever played quintessential stereotypical hot girl one or something, so when this one came up, I was like "oh my gosh, it's real." It's something that I can actually lose myself in and become and something that's going to scare the hell out of me because I don't know if I'm good enough for it.
So I went to the first audition right after getting a couple of shots because I was getting my green card and I'm not good with needles, much like April, so I felt a little green. I didn't even remember the audition. I remember getting into the car and just crying and thinking I ruined it; I screwed it up. I called my agent to see if I could get another appointment and they're like "actually you're screen testing" and I just about peed my pants [laughs]. Then I screen tested against two other girls who were amazing and then I booked it and I got the call October 9, 2012. I was at McDonalds and I grabbed my Big Mac, forgot my fries and went and had Big Macs and champagne at my manager's.
My friend has a video of me getting the call and screaming and running around McDonalds like a complete psycho.
Do you feel like this role will give you more opportunities as an amazing actress?
There's so much to do with April and it's so exciting that some days I get to come in and bawl my eyes out; and some days I get to come in and scream my head off. And some days I get to come in and laugh like a hyena. April gets to do so much and I don't have to wake up and play the same tone every day, which keeps it so interesting and I think keeps the performance fresh. I feel like I'm just sitting here crossing my fingers and hoping people enjoy watching me, but I just hope that people relate and are interested in what I've done with her. I'm just so terrified still.
What is the hardest part about playing April?
At the beginning the hardest parts were days when I would have scenes where I'd have to get to a pretty emotional place and then we would finish the scene and move on to a happy scene or a regular scene. I would feel like I hadn't finished letting all those emotions out, so I would end up just crying in my car on the way home or in the shower or something just to let it out [laughs], so I didn't project it onto to some other part of my life that didn't deserve it.
But now that I'm getting a lot of fan mail and people are sharing their stories with me and it's so beautiful and I'm so grateful that I can be somebody that makes them feel like they're being heard. The hardest part, I don't feel so great when I get to come home and not be sick when there are so many people who can't turn it off.