Shiri Appleby has just wrapped work on “Unreal,” a prospective series that goes behind the scenes of a “The Bachelor”-style reality show and, according to her, “will definitely expose people to just how unreal ‘reality’ is.”
The dramedy “shows all the things that the creators do to manipulate these contestants to do and say what they want them to do. It’s dark, it’s funny. It’s got a really fresh feel — a fresh take on this by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who has a strong voice and point of view. I think that, given the opportunity, we can make something really great, so I’m extremely excited about it.”
Shiri has a juicy role as a producer who is back on the scene after an on-set meltdown, “and she’s confronting a lot of her demons. She is really wonderful at manipulation, and capable of crushing lives of so many people.”
It’s the latest in a string of projects for the beauty who rose to fame on “Roswell” — and who gave birth to her first child, daughter Natalie, in March. That was the same month that her extremely explicit sex scene with Adam Driver debuted on HBO’s “Girls,” accompanied by a rash of commentary. Since then she’s been in a romantic storyline on “Chicago Fire” and had a guest star turn this month as a Coast Guard junior officer so fiercely loyal to the military she resists cooperating with law enforcement after becoming the victim of an alleged gang rape on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” In a complete change-up, she will next be seen starring in Lifetime’s “Kristin’s Christmas Past” Saturday (11/23).
The fantasy, also starring Judd Nelson and Elizabeth Mitchell, has her character time traveling to interact with her own self (Hannah Marks, with Shiri above) circa 1996 as she revisits old family wounds.
“It was fun because it reminded me so much of when I was 19 and questioning so many things,” she tells us. “It was really interesting to sort of be the more experienced one on the set.”
The biggest challenge was “to find the humor and also, in the unbelievable circumstances, always to be able to find the truth in the story. You just have to commit to the job at hand, and know what your characters want, then you just really play that and usually that will guide you through the scene.” Aiding in their depiction of the same young woman, Shiri and Hannah “both really like to talk with our hands, and we’re very emotional actors. I felt like we tried to discover when we were thinking similar things at similar times.”
What would Shiri tell her own 19-year-old self if she had the chance? “I think I would probably just tell myself to worry less and enjoy the ride more. Everything seems so important and then you realize later that a lot of it really isn’t,” says the actress, who started working at age four. She’s amassed credits ranging from Tom Hanks’ “Charlie Wilson’s War” to “Havoc” with Anne Hathaway, to the erotic cult fave “Swimfan.”
It will soon be family time for Shiri and her man, chef Jon Shook, and baby Natalie. “We’re going to Richmond, Virginia to see my partner’s family and then we’re going to spend Christmas and New Year’s at home — which sounds just right. Nothing sounds better,” she says.
As for the challenges of new motherhood and an unusually demanding professional life, she says, “It’s been fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed being able to bring the baby to work, and having a full life — something I’ve wanted for a really long time. I feel really blessed it’s all working out.
“Since ‘Girls’ there’s been a lot of interest and I felt I was really lucky; everyone was really accepting of me having a child. The people I’ve worked with so far have been supportive, and you know, you want to strike while the iron’s hot.”
If “Unreal” becomes a series (it is also for Lifetime) it would mean Shiri would be based in Atlanta for four or five months a year. Would she be willing to set up housekeeping so far from home?
“Absolutely. That’s part of the job of the actor.”