To 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.