BWW Interviews: CHASING LIFE Star Italia Ricci Talks New ABC Family Drama Series
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.
What's the atmosphere like on set?
It's amazing! We're constantly laughing in between takes, you're making all these jokes, but I feel like that's just sort of what you have to do sometimes. Everybody just gets along so well and we know so much about each other, crew included. Everybody does such a fantastic job. We're all just so grateful to be there. There are no egos anywhere. It's like I have this gigantic new family that I get to hang out with every day and I would do it for free.
What is April's role and relationship like within her family?
April's dad passed away two years before the pilot in a car accident, so she's become almost the rock, the man in the house so to speak. Her mom is still dealing with it in her own way and her sister is just trying to become who she is and her grandma is just hilarious, so April is sort of keeping it all together. And you learn that she was planning to move away after college, but had to stay home to be there for the family, so she's definitely the foundation that keeps all the wheels turning.
When she gets sick, I think a lot of her hesitation before coming clean about being sick is because she doesn't want the people who she feels she has to take care of are needing to take care of her. She feels so much responsibility to make sure that everybody is happy and when she tells them that she's going to need the help now and she can't play that role as well as she would before then, then she thinks it will sort of all fall apart. Obviously she's scared. She's terrified.
What will viewers be most surprised by when they watch Chasing Life?
How funny it is. The pilot is always tough and general audiences don't always realize that you have to jam so many stories and so many characters and so much information into a pilot episode that a lot of the times it's not like the rest of episodes. But even in our pilot, you feel that it's not heavy. It's a feel good show. It's a feel good family show and I think that people are going to be surprised at how much more they're going to laugh than cry.
What has been your favorite episode to film?
The sixth episode was fun because I got to drive around in a Maserati as fast as I could, which was pretty cool. It's more or so just moments in different episodes, scenes that are a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to this one scene in the finale that I'm going to be filming next week, but I can't tell you what it is. I would say driving the Maserati around was pretty cool!
Can you share anything about the new upcoming season?
The season is going to explore how the diagnosis elevates all of the stakes in April's life. All of her decisions matter to her a little bit more than she thought they did at this point and how she handles that and the mistakes that she makes and the victories that she also accomplishes. It's interesting to see her whole world getting massaged because of this big awful thing, but people can expect to see so many things. I read the scripts and I get so into it like "seriously, what, where, why?" It's so cool.
Did you do any journalism or interview research to prep since your character is a journalist?
When we filmed in Boston, we filmed at the Boston Globe, so I took some time and walked around and watched people more for physical mannerisms and posture and to see what being zoned in as a journalist looks like. I've been interviewed a few times, but I was never seeing this in the building at the desk, so that was really good.
Being interviewed now I feel like I've blacked out and then I finish the interview and I'm like "did I make any sense?" [laughs] But it's hard now because I don't want to be repetitive but I can only answer with the truth and what I know. So it's frustrating and sort of embarrassing when I break down and cry like a baby!
Do you have some autumn memory that you can share?
Yes, my birthday is in October, so those were always pretty great right near Halloween! But my favorite Halloween costume would probably be my parents would always bandage me up and say I was a mummy every time; it was so great. One year my dad built a shower around me with a rod and curtain and everything, so I was just walking roundabout in a shower; that was pretty cool, too.
What is something you hope fans get from the show?
Hope and inspiration to never give up.
What is at the top of your bucket list right now?
I feel like I should say something super prophetic, but I don't [laughs]. I would say to travel. I've never really traveled much, so it would be nice to be able to do that.
Where would you like to go?
I would like to go to Italy.
How difficult is it to portray the shows subject matter?
As an audience member, I enjoy watching things that make me feel represented and I feel like people are interested in seeing this because no matter what role you play, there might be somebody you can relate to, whether it's the mom of somebody who's sick or the best friend or the boss. There's something that you're like "okay, I can relate to that and I feel that validation," it piques a lot of people's interest if they can find something that they relate to. And then there are people who just want to feel like they're not alone in this and they're not. There are so many people that feel everything that every character is feeling in the show.
I've seen The Fault in Our Stars, and it's pretty similar to our show. The types of cancers are different and some of the plot points, but it's a wonderful movie and I hope people watch it. But 50/50, when Joseph Gordon Levitt and I had reshoots for the movie we did, he actually is the one that pulled me aside and was like "I think it's amazing what you're doing, but don't forget that you're not sick." I never really took it to heart before I started shooting and now I'm so grateful that he had said that to me, because like I said, that's sometimes the hardest part.
Do you feel because you've taken on a role like this that means that now you have a responsibility when you're off the set to help with cancer awareness?
Yes, absolutely. As soon as I booked it, I was like what can I do. It always felt like this massive dark presence that I was uncomfortable addressing or even looking at because I didn't know very much about it. Now it's all about awareness we're bringing and we're taking that stigma away from that. We're taking the power away from that and I think that's great.
When I first started shooting and even when I booked it, it didn't really cross my mind that people would look at me and I would be taking on these responsibilities. I don't want to screw it up. I obviously hope that it's going to help some people, but I'm still just a really lucky girl who booked a really great job.
Can you talk about the significance behind all the things April is chasing in Chasing Life?
Oh gosh, she's chasing everything! She's chasing that success as a journalist. She's chasing the happiness for her mother to find love after her father. She's chasing her sister all around as she's figuring out who she is becoming. She's chasing -before she gets diagnosed -she was already chasing life. You can see she's already working hard. The first scene of the episode shows you that, but now she's just got to run a bit faster.
Could you talk a little bit more about what people are writing you and what that's meant to you?
People just share their stories or whether it's having known someone or knowing someone or being someone who has been diagnosed. I get these letters and they're just so amazing and inspiring to me. These guys are the real heroes. It's incredible, the strength of the young adults and adults and children with cancer that I'm beginning to know. It's a little overwhelming, but in a great way. I wish I could do more for them than just respond to a message. I wish I could really make a difference and I guess listening is all I could really do at this point, but I'm always going to try and do everything I can.
If you could play any other character on the show, who would you choose and why?
I think maybe Beth, she's just so funny and snarky and she's got a great accent and her clothes are amazing. She's got the coolest wardrobe. April's is pretty cool, too, but I think it would be fun to play Beth. I think it would be fun to play all of them. Leo is a pretty fun character, too, because you think he's a jerk for a lot of the time, because he's just so sarcastic and ridiculous, but yes I think Beth.
About CHASING LIFE:
The new series follows twenty something April, a smart and quick-witted aspirin journalist, who is trying to work her way up the ladder at a Boston newspaper by trying to impress her hard-nosed editor.
When not pursuing the latest scoop, April tries to balance her ambitious career with her family, her widowed mom, rebellious little sister and grandmother. Just as things start to look up at work, home and on the romance front with co-worker Dominic, April gets the devastating news from an estranged uncle that she has cancer.
About ITALIA RICCI:
Born in Richmond Hill, Ontario and raised in Newmarket, Italia Ricci always had a burning desire to be in the entertainment business. Beginning her career at nine years old, Italia starred in numerous local theatre productions and continued to do so throughout high school. While majoring in drama in college, Ricci participated again in school productions and did a little modeling during summers. As much as she enjoyed performing, Ricci always planned on her entertainment career consisting of entertainment law. However, one day in college, Ricci's friend asked her to be an Extra with him on the movie American Pie Presents: Naked Mile. During a lunch break one of the writers approached her and asked her if she would like to be upgraded from Extra to a featured player, and before she knew it, she was kneeing one of the principle actors in the groin. It was during the filming of Naked Mile that Ricci made several key connections which led her to be cast in the next American Pie movie, entitled American Pie Presents: Beta House.
After graduating from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Ricci deferred her acceptance to law school from the University of Toronto and decided to relocate to tinsel town to give acting a serious shot, giving herself a two-year limit to see if she could make a living doing what she loves. She immediately landed a recurring role as Chase Ravenwood on Disney XD's original series Aaron Stone. Ricci went on to book guest-starring roles on such television shows as CSI: Las Vegas, House, Greek, and How I Met Your Mother. She followed these with the recurring role of Sasha on the Comedy Central series Secret Girlfriend and the lead role of Maggie on the hit Cartoon Network live-action series Unnatural History.
Ricci has also found success on the big screen. She can be seen as Samantha, the object of affection for world-traveling know-it-all Dean Slater (played by Mitchell Jarvis), in the new independent college comedy Resident Advisor, written by the Sander Brothers. She can also be seen as an early love interest for title character Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the fall comedy feature Don Jon, and she stars as Allison in the 2014 Sony thriller The Remaining, a film that follows a group of friends trying to survive the end of the world according to the Bible, written and directed by Casey La Scala.
When Ricci isn't acting, she enjoys cooking, reading, painting, playing video games, and spending time with her dogs, Daisy and Boo. She is also involved with the non-profit One Heartland that works to improve the lives of children and their families impacted by HIV/AIDS and other life threatening illnesses. She currently resides in Los Angeles.
Follow Italia Ricci on Twitter at @italiaricci.