Meet the Cast of “Chasing Life”
“Chasing Life” is ABC Family's new hit drama follows the life of 24-year-old April Carver after she is diagnosed with AML. Italia Ricci plays April Carver, and I had the opportunity to chat and interview Italia, as well as Haley Ramm (Brenna) and Mary Page Keller (Sara) over coffee.
I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this show. I lost my dad to cancer almost 5 years ago, and my uncle 7 years ago this week. It's affected my family in so many ways, as it has so many other families. I really wasn't sure if I could even handle an episode. It's true, each week makes me cry, but it's a great show.
Italia's smile and charisma are infectious. You can't help but want to talk to her as she is so down to earth. She's humble and so grateful that people like the show—ad like her character in the show, as she puts so much of herself into April Carver.
How do you get in the mindset for this role?
Italia: Well, I booked it and was just so grateful to have a job first, and then it’s such a real story and I wanted to tell it as accurately, authentically, and honestly as I could. My first instinct was to do all of the research that I could and know everything there was to know about cancer and AML and talk to people and talk to doctors, just know everything. But then I realized that April doesn’t know everything. She’s not an expert. She knows just as much as your average person who just knows about hearing it from people. So I didn’t want my performance to anticipate what was going to happen to her. So I tried to learn with her, so as soon as she found something out even though it was written in the script or a scene, I went, “Okay, how much would she actually know? I want to know that, too.” And our writers are incredible, and we have teams of doctors and researchers and survivors and people who are still battling it who are all part of helping this be a real story.
How has the response been?
Italia: I get so many beautiful and honest stories. Some of them public, some of them private. On Facebook, my messages are open so people can share with me privately, and they are welcome to. I get tons, and so far I have responded to every single one. It’s hard now, but I do respond to each one. Well, I’m not going to respond to, “Hey, what up girl,” fake messages, but the ones that are “Thank you.” But you guys are way stronger than I am. All I do is pretend on TV. You deserve more attention.We talked about how cancer has affected many of us the group, both directly and indirectly. We can relate to the story.
Italia: That’s the thing about this show. Some people are like, “That’s not at all how I dealt with it.” And then some people are like, “That’s exactly what I’m going through.” There’s no one way to tell a story about somebody dealing with cancer, or any illness really, so we just do our best to just do what I feel like I would do, because even it though it’s not all gonna be what everybody does, some points are gonna hit people perfectly. And even if it’s just one episode that you relate o or one decision that she makes, that means they we were doing it right.
How do you connect with your cancer?
Italia: I’ve been lucky very lucky that I haven’t had any sort of extreme personal relationships who have had to deal with that, and I’m one of the only people in the cast, one of the few people in the world who haven’t had to deal with that, so I almost felt like I wasn’t worthy of telling this story. So instead of feeling guilty about it, I decided to pretend it’s me. I was really scared when it came out because I wasn’t painting a character on, it was me as April reacting to all of these things, so it wasn’t like if it were poorly reviewed or people didn’t like my character, I’d be like, “Oh, well I played it wrong.” I’d be like, “Okay, well, I suck.” So I feel like I relate to her by that it’s me in an alternate universe.
On the mother-daughter-sister relationships dynamic
Italia: Every time I try to map it out, I read the script and think, “what the, what?” I put so much of myself into the character. Every actor does that. We’re all so honest that it’s easy. We don’t have to fake any chemistry. Even after that scene where April and Sarah get in each other’s faces, we hugged and cried and said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell at you.”We talked about how I can relate to the dynamic and emotion of my mom losing a spouse and dealing with your kids not having a father. But then they get hit with this curve ball. I can't even imagine. It hits home; it’s authentic. Women binding together to help each other out.
When it comes times for chemo, what do you do with your hair?
Italia: We’ve already shot that. I offered to shave my head on camera because it’s so real for a lot of people. They were so grateful, and we were going try to work it out so that I'd be able to, so they could actually see it coming off in the scene. But because we shoot our exteriors in Boston every 10 episodes, we go for a week to shoot all scenes from all 10 episodes in one week, the length would never have matched. So you see what happens to her during the chemo, so as the hair grows back I have all these different wigs, which are incredible.
Originally from Dallas, TX, 22-year old Haley moved to Los Angeles at the age of 8 with her mom to pursue acting. She kept landing roles, so eventually her whole family moved to LA with her. She has the most striking blue eyes I've seen in my life and this shy demeanor that makes her instantly likable. Like any good woman, she has great taste in shoes and only buys them on sale.
How is it working on the show?
Haley: You know, even when we’re doing really intense scenes, it never feels really that intense. Everyone gets along so well. This is my first time doing a show. This is my first time being a series regular, and it’s the best experience I could ever ask for. I hear other people have horror stories about being on shows, and I always got really nervous about it, even when I was doing the pilot. You’re in Boston with these people, and you hope you all get along, and we get along smashingly. It’s been the best experience.
It feels like the most real show and I’m so happy to be on a show that feels authentic and isn’t where people turn on the TV and say, “Ugh, that never happens. People are so annoying.” It’s very real.
How did you get involved with the show?
Haley: I had an audition one day, and I thought it went really well. I didn’t really think much of it. I was testing for a lot of other shows at the time, and I was kind of jaded about things and I was like, “Eh, I’ll never get it. It’s fine.” And then I got a call back, and I met with the network to test, and I ended up getting it. I found out an hour later that I got it. It’s all very quick. It’s weird how that happens. One week you don’t have a job and you’re freaking out and the next week it all just happened.
Do you have sisters in real life?
Haley: I have a brother. I have an older brother, no sisters. This is my first TV sister.
How do you relate to the sisterly bond, sisterly banter that goes on?
Haley: I don’t really relate to it, but my brother and I have our fair share of bickering, so I feel like it’s all relative, having a sibling and arguing about things.
There are so many different characters. I think if you tale out the cancer it’s like a romantic comedy, but you add in this devastating situation into the mix.
How comfortable were you with the kissing scene?
Haley: With Greer? I was actually very comfortable with it. I kissed a girl on screen one other time; it was a real TV movie, it wasn’t like a real relationship. It was funny, comedic. It was really comfortable. We had Melanie Mayron as our director, and she made the whole set super comfortable; she closes off the set every time I have a scene like that with Greer. They’re very respectful, the whole set. It’s just like another day.
“Every time you have a scene like that with Greer?”
Haley: [LAUGHS] Pretty much. You caught me. She’ll be around.
Will they bring in that 3rd sister you find in the picture?
Haley: In the next few episodes, before episode 10, definitely, I go on a school trip with Greer and I start to dig up my past while on the school trip.
Even us, waiting to get the scripts, was awful. It’s like, “I want it now.” I mean, I would be anywhere, in the middle of a store, in line to get coffee, and I start reading the script on my iPhone and couldn’t put it down.
Do you want to do movies? Do you like TV series work?
Haley: I’ve never done a sitcom before. Most of my background is in movies, mostly indie movies where you don’t really get paid anything, but you’re doing it for the art, which I love. It’s so beautiful how everyone can sacrifice so much to be there and put so much into it. So that’s mostly what my background it. But this is my first series and I hope that they keep it on for awhile because I love to be a part of it.
Movies are always great to do when you get them. One thing I’ve never done that I want to do is theater. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I’ve never done theater, but I’d love to. I think a stage production would be really fun.
Mary Page Keller is a theater, TV, and movie icon. I've watched her on TV since I was a child. A mother of two boys in their late teems, I can only dream to be half the mother she is in her to life.
One being a mom
MPK: I have two boys, 20 and 17, so they are finally coming into adulthood now. I mean, boys are an extreme volatile and full of energy. I’ve got two really good boys, so I’m very fortunate, but I’ve definitely had those waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning going, “Oh, please, God, let them be safe.” And, “Is he home?” And as they become a little older…It’s really fun, I love the way she’s written Rebecca, where she says. “Nice bong, by the way,” I love that they’ve kept it real and they aren’t trying to over precious with her.
So you have two boys. Where do you channel that mother-daughter relationship? They tend to me more volatile than most mother-son relationships.
MPK: It’s a very, very different thing. I only have sisters, and my sisters only have daughters, so when I saw the penis on my son’s ultrasound, I was like, “What am I going to do with him? What am I supposed to do with this? I honestly don’t know where to go from here.” And then the minute he was born, it was like, “I get it.” The mother-son thing is very precious and very unique, and I will always be a bit of a mystery to them, which is amazing. With daughters, there’s a kind of “I know what’s going on,” so there’s always that little bit of “I’m mom.” And I’ve raised them that way. They’ll try to use bad words, and I’m like, “Not in my presence. I know you’ll use them with your friends, but not with me. It’s not that I care that you do it, it’s that I care that you know you’re audience.” You’re going to be there one day with your girlfriend’s parents, and you need to know that this is not okay and not to do it. So I’ve tried to raise them with the idea that they need to respect the boundaries, and women, and how you approach. So I think I have the woman thing, the girl-mother-daughter thing, from that respect.
It’s a very female atmosphere on set, because of the three generations in the house and because of Susanna and Joni and there’s a real understanding of how women relate to each other. They are very collaborative. They’re all, “Go do whatever feels real.”
MPK: I am untweetable.
We’re going to hashtag with you.
MPK: How will I know?
We’ll have Italia and Brenna tell you.
MPK: Tell my daughters to tell me! They are so great.
How did you get involved with this role?
MPK: Like anything as an actress, I’m submitted for roles, and ironically I was writing at the time this came out. My husband is a writer for Grimm, and I got to write an episode of the show with him. I was in writer mode, I didn’t have my hair and make-up done, and this role came along, and I was like, “Oh, we have network noted today, I can’t go on an audition.” And my husband read the script, and said, “No, you have to go, this is you. You’ve got to do this.” So I went and met with Joni and Susanna.
I didn’t have a chance to memorize the lines for the audition and hoped it came out close. It came out great.
Visit ABC Family and “Chasing Life” online:
Official ABC Family “Chasing Life” website
Twitter @chasinglifeabcf #ChasingLife