Tag Archives: Lifetime

Alyson Stoner Talks ‘Sugar Babies’ and More

alyson stonerTo look at Alyson Stoner’s resume, you’d never think she was just 21. The actress-on-the-rise has credits aplenty for someone years older than she — the “Step Up” film franchise, “Cheaper by the Dozen” and the “Camp Rock” movies, her years on the Disney Channel’s “Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” plus her dance career working with names including Missy Elliot and Will Smith, her recording career and more. Come Aug. 15, Stoner will be seen starring in Lifetime’s “Sugar Babies,” a movie inspired by the burgeoning numbers of young women tapping into college funding by offering “companionship” to wealthy men. She also performed the title song. The telefilm underscores the fact the well-spoken actress is all grown up now.

Q: Had you heard of anyone being a sugar baby before you got involved with the project?

A: A friend had just been approached about a month prior to my reading the script and that’s how I was introduced to the idea. My friend ended up declining the offer of companionship, but the offer was pretty deep and pretty favorable. She’s just over 21 and she’s a hungry artist, so she was an easy person to solicit — a beautiful young woman. Actually, that was the reason I was so curious, having had this just happen to my friend.

Q: This concept blew me away, being the mother of a young woman myself.

A: I think it will open up a lot of conversations. This is a hot topic already circulating widely. What I love about the approach of the movie is that we’re opening a dialogue, but we’re not determining for anyone is the what is right or wrong stance or attitude. Some people use a relationship like this all platonically, some with a certain stringent sort of clinical, cut and dried attitude. Each one is so unique and so individual.

Q: Did you like the way your character was developed?

A: There were very few changes to the story, so when I had an issue with anything in the script I had to take the responsibility to reinterpret how I positioned myself in a scene and what direction I chose as an actor. It might not be a change in dialogue but a change in inflection and connotation.

Q: Can you think of an example of that?

A: On paper, Lifetime dramas can be pretty melodramatic and I wanted to keep the performance grounded in reality. I think of the part where we’re in the car and he’s giving me gifts. When you read it on paper, there appeared to be a neediness and an insecurity and giddiness, and those were valid emotions. I wanted to remind the audience that she does think for herself, she does have a moral compass to begin with. There are things I chose in order to portray a strong woman as opposed to a weak target, in order to show that she wasn’t totally victimized but a conscious participant. That’s where it gets really messy — when you start to justify within your own value system, deciding what you want for yourself and what you’ll do to get there. I wanted to create a little more tension and depth.

Q: You character seemed to be thinking a lot in that scene. I was seeing conflicting emotions on your face. There was a lot going on between the lines.

A: We were shooting at night and wearing thin, so it was helpful emotionally. It’s such an intersection of thoughts in a situation like that one. You’re mixing love and money, artificial partnership with genuine affection. You’re wondering where you stand in the hierarchy of his other women and it’s so confusing. Then you add the conflict of actually needing these men, developing a dependence on them. It’s so prevalent. If it’s a business deal, let it be a business deal. But when hearts get involved it gets very complicated. It built so much compassion for women who get caught up and don’t realize it until it’s too late. Some women are very naive and others are very aware. It’s so individual and it plays on so many levels.

Q: What did your friend who was approached think of all this?

A: My friend was not familiar with this world. When she was approached it was very, very innocent and casual. The intrigue was, it turned out to be very alluring to her. She ended up saying no because of personal circumstances. But if things had been different she might have leaned toward getting that support. I think it’s like a drug in that it’s a quick fix. It’s instant gratification for attention, excitement, adventure, an escape from your own reality. I had a talk with her about this film, and told her after having done it I had a lot of appreciation for the attraction of it.

Q: How did you get along with Giles Panton, who played your sugar daddy?

A: The day we met was the day we filmed our first kiss and full make-out scene.

Q: Of course! That seems to be the way it happens a lot in movie shooting.

A: It caught us, we were performing, but it had that kind of lustful energy behind it. We felt the tug right away and it shaped our scenes together beautifully because there was a genuine connection.

Q: You’re so busy with other acting work, your charity work in Ethiopia, your recording. How did this fit in your schedule?

A: We shot this film in 13 days, 16-18 hour days. The crew was there even longer. It was an absurd schedule, but the intensity and pace mirrored the scenes so it kind of tied into the drama. You carve time.

Q: You have the feature film “Summer Forever” rolling out this month.

A: Yes. The last six films I’ve done have been smaller and it’s been exciting to be involved in the roll-out campaigns, going out to the actual demographic and getting feedback, engaging people on social media platforms — you feel like a true team player rather than just going out and being part of where a studio is spending its ad dollars. I think being a hybrid or a multi-hyphenate is becoming commonplace, even mandatory.

Q: What would you like to be doing next?

A: Having done several movies and a series and some animated shows, the most challenging thing would be to break through as a music artist, to really be able to pour my heart and soul into music.

Q: To that end, you’re now at work on a new album. How is it going?

A: We’re very excited, hoping that it crosses a lot of generations and cultures. We’re going for a global classic pop sound like a Janet Jackson or female Justin Timberlake.

Q: Do you have an eta on that?

A: My estimate is probably fall this year.

Gladys Knight, a Dose of Fresh Inspiration — and Romance

Gladys Knight photoGladys Knight admits she would never have thought of tackling a romantic role in the just-wrapped “Seasons of Love” if Taraji P. Henson, executive producer and star of the Lifetime movie that just finished shooting, hadn’t brought her into it.

“This part is one of the main characters of the film,” the seven-time Grammy-winning singer lets us know. Speaking of Henson, with whom she worked previously in Tyler Perry’s “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” Gladys goes on, “I don’t know what she saw in me that she would think I could even do a part like this, but they called me and, oh! I prayed so hard about it, because I wanted to do well. It’s a love story even though it’s coming out at Christmas time. I just really didn’t know if I could pull it off. I’ve never been in a situation where I had to be like this with a partner.”

So how was it to be affectionate on camera? “I felt like I was cheating on my husband!” admits Gladys, and lets out a great big laugh.

And her husband? “My husband is pretty protective when it comes to me,” she replies. “We share everything. I asked him, ‘How do you feel about this?’ and he was okay, you know, but at that time I didn’t know I was going to have to kiss the guy!” She laughs again.

Gladys’ mate since 2001, William McDowell, wasn’t on the set as she was going through her romantic paces. In fact, he wasn’t even in the same state. “We bought a school,” she explains, “and he’s working so, so very hard to get the school renovated so we can get going in making a difference in young people’s lives — young adults’ lives. He’s down in North Carolina working on that.”

Right now, Gladys is in the midst of a media blitz on behalf of her new “Where My Heart Belongs” inspiration/gospel album.

She wrote some of the material on the album as far back as the 1970s, when she was performing with her brother Merald, William Guest and the late Edward Patten, a.k.a. The Pips.

“I was looking for certain stories, certain information I could put on this album, just as a reminder to people about the spirit that we should have and that God is still amazing and we need him in our lives,” she explains. “I wanted to give people just a peek into the most important part of my life and how I feel about that.”

She says she was prompted to start the album as a response to the troubled shape of the world: “I think sometimes a little message is like a candle in the dark.

“At first I thought it was going to be a Christmas holiday album, where we would talk about the spirit of the Lord and loving each other and that kind of thing. And then the closer I got to it, I felt like his love for us and our love for him should be for all seasons. I started putting songs in there that people usually just listen to around certain holidays, like ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus,’ like ‘Were You There When They Crucified My Lord’ — songs that we should be thinking about any time of year.”

Gladys has been out touring this summer, including some dates with Kool and the Gang, and has more performances ahead. The devout Mormon (since 1997) is also still managing to find time to do Latter-day Saints firesides in-between. Then, too, there are her 16 grandchildren and eight great-grands. Gladys tells us that she does indeed get time with them, that “If we’re away from North Carolina too long, they come to see me.”

That the beloved Empress of Soul and her husband are embarking on brand new major enterprises at this time of life is no small inspiration in itself.

How does she do it? Answers Gladys, “I just take it all in stride and be grateful for the blessings that I have, and if I stay focused on the blessings, I ain’t got time for nothing else.”

Peri Gilpin Longs for Laughs as a Change-Up After Tough ‘Choking Game’ Movie

Freya Tingley and Peri Gilpinperi gilpinPeri Gilpin would like to get back to the funny. The actress who rose to fame as lusty radio producer Roz Doyle on “Frasier” — and more recently appeared as the compassionate mother of an Olympics-bound gymnast with medical trouble on ABC Family’s “Make It Or Break It” — says she had a blast playing a hooker on “Modern Family” last season. That’s even though the job necessitated explaining to her 10-year-old twin daughters what a hooker was.

“I’d love to do more comedy again,” declares Gilpin, who does, of course, have a major humorous bent. She admits her former “Make It Or Break It” daughter Ayla Kell would jokingly insist she act more serious on the set. Gilpin is also occasionally seen as the wife of Ted Danson’s “CSI” character, and they joke about being a couple of old sitcom actors.

Her latest made-for-television film definitely takes her into the serious
dramatic realm.

Lifetime’s “The Choking Game” has Gilpin as the mother of a bright high
schooler (Freya Tingley) who begins to slip in her studies and show other
alarming signs of being involved in something sinister. That something turns out to be a “game” of deliberately choking — sometimes self-strangulation, sometimes at the hands of another — in order to get high. These “flights” are stunningly common. Gilpin says she was surprised to learn “teenagers doing this are organized online,” something the movie reveals in detail.

Notes Gilpin, “I loved the script, and the fact that my character was not ‘just the mom.’ This was a mom who really cared about her child, who was racking her brain trying to figure out why all of a sudden she was appearing with red eyes and bruises on her neck.”

She gives kudos to her young costar. “Freya — oh, my God she is just so good technically. She’s Australian, and I never heard her Australian accent until we finished shooting. She’s wonderful. She and Alex (Steele) made it so believable that they passed out. They made it real in a scary way.”

“I’m glad this mother was written in a sympathetic way,” notes Gilpin of the
script drawn from the book “Choke” by Diana Lopez, “even with though she
couldn’t see the pressures on her daughter. Having two 10-year-old daughters myself — having kids — reminds us what it’s like facing these pressures of trying to get along with their peers and gain independence from us.”

Gilpin also sees “The Choking Game” as “a metaphor for so many things kids can get involved with that aren’t good for them. And with all the interaction and information available on the internet, the dangers increase exponentially.”

The other day, in fact, she says she had her girls at her mother-in-law’s house and, looking something up on a laptop, they all “saw something on the laptop we shouldn’t have seen. I was so embarrassed. It’s a whole other realm, and it’s only going to get more complicated.”

She stresses that “there’s no bad guy” in “The Choking Game.”

And, “Like ‘Make It Or Break It,’ this brings up stuff to talk about for
families, which is great. I think the more specific you can get, the more
universal something is.”

Still, after all that, it’s easy to see why a good laugh looks very inviting.