By: Amrie Cunningham [My Take on TV]
You know me. You know that I’ve been championing the high quality of Side Order of Life since before it started on Lifetime. I feel a connection to the show since I got to talk to the creator Margaret Nagle. She gave me insight into what would happen as the season went on, and it was so exciting to see that played out. I watch the show every week, sometimes twice, with my roommates. I got the privilege of talking to four members of the cast over the past two weeks, and as if I needed another reason to be addicted to this show, they got me wanting me to see the final three episodes more than anything!
When someone asks me why I watch the show, the cast chemistry is almost always my first response. The characters interact as if the actors have known each other for years. Talking to Marisa Coughlan (Jenny), Chris Gartin (Rick), Diana-Maria Riva (Vivy), and Ashley Williams (Becca) has made me want to go work on the show so I can spend time with them! I asked them about the interaction and here is what they had to say:
“I think that like, somehow, we are all so like our characters…we don’t all spend a lot of time in scenes together, but off camera, it is even better, and we can’t wait to get more of that on camera. We all really get along great. A lot of the things the characters are going through on the show…are so similar to our conversations that they are so similar to our dialogue sometimes, we laugh about it!” says Chris. Adds Diana, “You know, no joke, it is ridiculous how well we came together. I mean, we are this tight knit little family that could not have blended better and there is so much trust between us that, we will literally turn to each other and say ‘I’m blocked with this, what do I do, where should I push?’ We will turn to each other for advice on our own work, which really is a sign of a lot of faith and trust in each other and respect for each other. That, to me, is a glorious group to be with.” As if you need more reason to love them, Marisa says, “It’s kind of ridiculous haha, I work the most with Rick (Chris Gartin) and Vivy (Diana). I couldn’t be much more in love with them and Jason, too. I just lately don’t have the pleasure of working with him as much! It’s just one of the things they really did well, and it was just sheer happenstance. It was serendipity I guess, because we really do have an amazing natural affinity for each other. It’s a very fun set to work on, which I can’t say for all sets ha! It’s a fantastic time.” As for Ashley, who came in later than the “core four” as I call them, she has nothing but love. “They have been the most awesome cast to work with and they have all been so friendly from the beginning and they were really close because they had just finished shooting the pilot when I came in. They sort of bonded, and then I was this guest. But they have been so cool to me, it has been really fun!”
Ashley and I also spent a little more time talking about how much she enjoys what she’s doing. “It’s been really fun. Jobs like this just don’t come around for people like me. You know, I’ve sort of been piecing together a career over the past three years or so, of different recurring guest spots and you know, Movies of the Week, and stuff, which have all been really much better suited to my personality than you know, doing something like Marisa is doing right now. I don’t know if I could handle the amount of work that she has right now. She is doing such an amazing job and she is really like throwing herself into it. But it is like seventeen hours a day, and I feel so lucky to be able to be a part of this show and being able to give it the focus and the energy that I can give it, which isn’t near what Marisa can do. I feel very lucky to be a part of it.”
As a viewer, it’s always interesting to hear why someone may have taken a role, or what in a character the actor loved enough to take it. Marisa says, “To be honest, she is closer to me than anybody else I’ve ever played. I very much identify with her in terms of, especially in the pilot, where she was in her life. And kind of the weird stage of figuring out who you are. I guess in theory, you’re already supposed to know, but really, none of us do, haha. Kind of taking risks, making changes, and going against the grain. And going against maybe what society or your parents or the world at large tells you. And you know, I can identify. I’m an actor, I’m from Minnesota, so it was a given that I would pack it up and move out here, and in personal relationships, the fact that there was a similar type of process that develops on paper, but I don’t know if it’s right and I guess I identified with her in a million ways, and I kind of felt like the world at large would, too, because we kind of all go through that phase of shedding the layers of everything that has been projected on us and trying to figure out effectively who we really are.”
Chris’ take is along the same lines – “[Rick is] very close to me in many ways and yet we are in totally different places in our lives. He [is] the editor of a magazine and he has a real sort of stable job and career, whereas I obviously don’t, having that indulgent life of an actor. I have two kids now, and I’m sort of focused on that. He is more focused on more career and a lot of superficial sort of ideals. I think he has found himself at a crossroads where he is kind of achieving all of his superficial goals and finding himself sort of empty and now is trying to find some substance in his life. So, I call him a narcissist with a heart of gold. He’s a good guy, but he is just like so many of us are, wrapped up in a sort of narcissistic life and habits.” Ashley says, “The first time I read the script Becca was in, it said under her character description that she has always wanted to be Jenny. And there was something about that that appealed to me, because I could relate to it, I think, envying someone who is prettier than you, and more successful than you, and has the guy that you’ve always loved. That’s something that we can all relate to. And I don’t know, I kind of just felt like the character came to me very easily because I sort of get that!” Diana is a little more literal about it. “Well, first of all, they offered it to me haha…but it probably was one of the most delicious roles I have ever played, because the challenge of playing a woman, a cancer survivor is great, it’s a grand challenge. It’s a huge responsibility so artistically, that’s the biggest challenge I have ever been given and it’s to go along the journey. To go on those ups and downs and to take on the character of the fighter is a delicious challenge. There was no hesitation is saying yes to that.”
The question actually continued with Diana as we talked about how relatable her character is, even to someone who doesn’t suffer from cancer. “I think there is lots of, whether you’re a cancer survivor or not, there are a lot of areas and a lot of colors that people can pick and choose to relate to, whether it is in the area of love, in the area of being driven with her work, in the area of her friendships and all of that. So it’s nice that the show does a good job of showing her whole life, not just her cancer life. Most of the cancer survivors I have talked to say that we have our life to live, not just our cancer life, so that’s always good to see.”
I asked the lot of them what’s coming up for their characters. For Jenny, says Marisa, “Oh, a lot! The cell phone man remains alive throughout the rest of the season and will be in next season. There are a lot of twists and turns, is all I can say. My character has a lot of misleads and a lot of, well, some disappointments, and situations where I think I’ve found him, and I haven’t, but it’s really interesting and really well-written, and it’s a lot of fun to play. You’ll see. It gets juicier by the episode.” For Vivy, says Diana, “There will be some good questions and answers directly addressed. We’ll see what’s going to happen between Vivy and Rick. And then if something is going to happen. Is she going by way of the Latin connection with Eduardo or is she going to finally open her heart and mind up to this man who has been carrying a torch for her for who knows how long.” As for Rick? “All of the relationships sort of play out to a somewhat fulfilling degree. Obviously, there are a lot of places they can still go, like Jenny and I, who knows down the road. (It’s funny – I asked Marisa who she thinks Jenny’s soul mate is, and she said Rick!) But right now, it’s Vivy and Rick. And that’s play out right until the very end. I don’t want to ruin it.” When I talked to Margaret in July, she teased of a wedding in the finale. Chris added to that idea, saying “Two people are getting married in the last episode. That’s all I can say. I can tell you that, but I’m not going to give you any more information on it ha!” We’ve already seen Becca and Ian get engaged (when I talked to Ashley, she was so excited about that! “He proposes to me! And there might be a wedding”, she teased). She went on to let me know that she had done a scene with Cell Phone Man! “It was very cool and very exciting. He is very handsome!”
The biggest question I like to ask actors is what they would say to a new person, approaching their show for the first time. Says Ashley, “You know what? I think what is great about Lifetime is that it is really likeable, comfortable. It’s TV that makes you feel relieved about your life. It’s television that is like really comforting to watch. Even though the show is based on a character with cancer, I feel like it’s a really feel-good show. There is a lot to like. You know, warm chocolate chip cookies and mugs of coffee and girls being there for each other and friendship. Marisa echoes that sentiment, saying, “I think it makes you laugh and cry almost every episode. I think it’s a really hard thing to find on TV, the whole dramedy. It’s often attempted but rarely achieved, and I think Margaret has just kind of nailed it. I mean, I feel like the feedback from most of our fans is that they laugh and they cry every episode and it never gets to be so depressing that you want to turn it off, but it is never light and airy without there being a poignant scene with heart.” Diana says “Because there is nothing else like it on television. And I’m dead serious about that. The whole mysticism is a new way. A fresh thing that is on right now. The combination between soap, heavily dramatic, heavily comedic, going either direction, and totally refreshing. The cancer line itself, even though it is not a show about cancer, the whole cancer character is like nothing you’ve seen on TV? When is the last time you saw a character in a role with cancer? People have gotten cancer and they are out by the next season. But this is one who came into it with cancer. So the good thing is that she has a real life, being played to the core, and you know, and we have the love parts, the sex parts. You get a lot of everything in this show. And to all the guys out there, I’m telling you, you don’t have to check your balls at the door watching this show. There is enough testosterone in it for you!” Chris tells me “Because it’s better than ever really, right now. I think we are finding the tone and the relationships, and they are starting to hear our voices, and it’s all just kind of coming together, and I think the last episodes are really better than the beginning, and it wasn’t bad to begin with. It’s just getting better and better. And there is more Rick in the last episodes, quite frankly, so it is more fun for me.”
My personal favorite episode of the show is the episode that dealt with always being in love with your first love. As someone who completely believes in the science the show presented, I asked the gang what their favorite episodes to shoot were. Chris says “Any episode that Vivy and I have a lot of stuff. The first love episode was pretty fun. In first love, where Margo (Jenny’s mom) and I have a flirtatious stage. She kisses me and it was fun. It was a funny episode to shoot. And then there was some heavy stuff as well. What’s fun is going back and forth between light humorous drama and then some poignant kind of heavy stuff that is more emotional. It’s an actor’s dream to be able to jump back and forth to kind of go through all of that.” Marisa adds, “[Mine’s] probably the first love episode. On set we read that script and everyone was just a twitter with what they could relate to. Their first love, and I mean, I had weird dreams about my first love for weeks. I just thought it was kind of a universal thing that we all could relate to. I have a feeling, in the end, [the season finale] will be my favorite!”
Ashley offers a different take. “There was one where I was like crying my eyes out with Vivy. It was during a dinner party. I put on this wedding dress. It was a fantasy of Jenny’s and I just sort of love being a part of her imagination. I don’t know, it was really just a fun one. It was really prop heavy for me, but that was a fun one and the scenes with Jason Priestley that I’ve had have been really fun. When he proposes to me I just got to be in my pajamas all day, eating ice cream. Which was kind of amazing. That’s been my favorite episode so far, where you can eat ice cream all day with Jason Priestley.”
As for Diana? She can’t make up her mind. “Honestly, I could tell you what my favorite on is, and then the next week airs, and it’s like ‘that one was my favorite’ ha, because with every episode, we just get a marriage between the writers, the actors, and the directors and the wardrobe, and the hair. It gets stronger and stronger and more settled and more groomed and we become a stronger show. So last week, I was watching episode 10, and I called everyone, texting everyone with ‘Oh my God, this is fantastic’ or whatever, then all of a sudden, I watch episode 11 and I texted everyone again “Oh my God, this is so great, this is so fantastic.” So it’s just that I see the rest of our show is better. It’s impossible to say which one is my favorite since I think they are all good.
I then took the conversations in a different direction. I asked everyone what they were working on in their downtime from the show. Diana says she has a “couple irons in the fire with some features, but nothing has been confirmed so I can’t comment on that, but I am actively working with a writing partner named John Mertz on a one-woman play, I hope to get some time, you know, depending on what our shooting schedule would be for a second season, hopefully before that. (I asked everyone about Season 2. So far no word, but our fingers are crossed!). Chris is refreshingly candid about his hiatus plans. “Just now, we are starting to be able to audition or go for an audition, but I don’t have time, so I haven’t been able to go on any auditions since the series started. I’m planning right now, to go and get another job as soon as we wrap, but no offers or anything like that, so I have to audition for everything but I have time to do that. After we wrap, I’m right back to pounding the pavement!” Marisa has fascinating plans. “I did a few movies between the pilot and the beginning of production so those will be coming in the next several months, and then I don’t know what I’m going to do on hiatus. I’m trying to figure that out right now. I’m traveling for a bit because I can’t even bear the though of going straight into something else, so I’m going to see my family in Minnesota for now, but I’ll probably do something between now and next season!” Ashley is taking a break. “I got nothing. I gave up auditioning, ha. And this is sort of it. This cycle is actually kind of the best thing I could have ever hoped for, you know doing a job for a couple of months, that’s recurring and trying something I’ve never done before. And then, I’ll be unemployed for a little while. And then hopefully, I’ll get something else. I kind of like it. It makes me feel like I’m really like a freelance kind of person. I’m just kind of digging it right now.”
After some back and forth with me on feeling free, and enjoying that, Ashley went on, saying, “It’s like there are lots of jobs out there, and people say no to me all the time. I can turn down jobs and then, if it’s a recurring job like this, I can leave if I get another job, you know what I mean? I kind of like the unpredictability. But I’ve learned that being an actress is all about how you deal with the hiatus and as productive as you can be in that time. As productive as I can get in that time, the better I am when I do work, so that sort of has been I think where the learning curve has been the most steep. It has been my being off times, because there are a lot of them, haha.” I told her I appreciate her candor for the downside of being an actress. “Yeah, it’s not like it’s the most sane career to dive into! I don’t really know what I was thinking. But I feel like I am sort of pulling it off right now, which is a relief. Talk to me in a week when this job ends. I don’t know what I’m going to do!”
You know how you always have dreams of your favorite actors acting with their favorite actors (is that only me dreaming about that?)? I asked them who, present, past, dead, alive, they’d want to work with, if they had ever gotten an opportunity. Marisa chose my favorite people on the planet, really. “I love Christopher Guest. The whole crew of those people. I would be absolutely overjoyed to be a part of one of their movies or to work with any of them. I love Catherine O’Hara, she is so funny. I mean, the theme of wacky comedians. My greatest sort of love is to do outlandish comedy. That would give me a good chance to do that.” Ashley shared every actress’ dream of working “with Meryl Streep. She is quite a force. I’d love to work with some amazing comedians. Some amazing role. I mean, like Diane Keaton characters are the most I look up to and emulate. Yeah, I would say Diane Keaton right now, today.” Chris went in a different direction, saying, “Gene Wilder. I could say Brando, but that’s boring.” Diana offers up “Shirley Maclaine because she makes me laugh so hard, and I want to make people laugh as hard as she makes people laugh. Barry Pepper, because he splits a hair like nobody’s business when it comes to delivering a character. And Clint Eastwood because I want to be challenged by his directing. I hear he is like one take, and he’s out. And I would just love be in one of his movies if I could. It would be awesome.”
We then segued into where their careers would take them in 5 to 10 years. Ashley says, “Okay, completely honestly? I want to have kids! Hahaha. I want to be a mom. I really love what I have got going on right now, and I would love to keep going the way that I am and sort of be there with my children on my days off, instead of just going hiking with my dog. So I think ultimately, the job for me would be to go back to a soap opera, something that is steady work, if not too much pressure. Not too many hours on the set. I would love to work three or four days a week, and would be able to have my children on set with me. I think that is where I am heading right now. If I can pull it off that would be a childhood dream come true. Either that or I would just love to retire and be a mom and like, you know, start a school or something!” Chris hopes to “branch out a little more, and you know, get some writing and directing and not just staying totally focused on acting and you know, more movies and just working more regularly. Just working as much as possible. Less downtime.” Marisa says, “One thing I’ve learned on this is that I have a real love for the creative side of this and the working side of it. I think on this show, I’d love to have the opportunity to have a little bit more hands on. As any of them can attest to you, I’m hands on as it is, more so than they probably wish I was. I’m very involved in like everything from the music; I mean I love being extremely creatively involved in all sides. It’s been a great learning curve for me. I now have a great understanding of how much I have an affinity for that stuff from this show, being there all day, every day. I have developed some ideas in the past. We developed a pilot that didn’t go. I probably can continue on that path and create a vehicle for myself that I could create.” Diana says she would “love to have an opportunity to play roles like this, where an audience can walk away, remembering it for a good period of years. I would love to play something really guttural, like a Braveheart. Like a sword slinging, I don’t know what, period piece. On horseback. Just a good guttural piece like that. And really, I just would love to keep working hahaha.”
I’m one of those curious fans that wonder if my favorites are watching my other favorites on TV. I asked them all what they watch in their downtime. Marisa seems to love comedies as much as I do! “3o Rock, The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, anything funny. That’s about it, really. I watch Grey’s Anatomy, but I don’t watch any of the other like kind of shows, like Heroes. I hear good things about them, but I never watch them”
Ashley has a long list (she’s like me in that way. We laughed about how our TV favorite lists could go on for days!). I love Damages. I couldn’t wait until 10:00 last night. (this interview took place last week). Every Tuesday night, I’m puttering around waiting for 10:00 to come around to watch Damages. So I think that is my favorite show right now. Um, I have watched the premiere of Tell Me You Love Me. I try to watch every premiere of every show and sort of like check it out. Just give it a shot. I mean, of course, I love Grey’s Anatomy, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I’ve been watching that. Curb Your Enthusiasm. I love reality shows. I love Top Chef. I love Project Runway. I totally watch The Hills. I totally watched My Life on the D list, like those kinds of shows, I find them awesome!”
Diana says “I have small children, so my bedtime is kind of early, so I don’t get to watch too much, but I am a fan of Grey’s Anatomy. And Two and a Half Men. I would say that for drama and comedy shows, I love those two very much.” Chris had a lot to say on the subject. “I don’t watch a lot of dramatic television. I’m very into HD, so I only watch HD channels, and my favorite thing right now is the documentary called Shark Man. I watch sports and documentaries mainly. A dramatic show, I would say Sopranos is too cliché. House is a great show. [Chris is in an episode of House – Finding Judas. Really good stuff]. And Curb Your Enthusiasm I love. What’s that show on HBO now, the Eagle? (I helped him out with Flight of the Conchords). Yeah, I think that’s hilarious. And sometimes Showtime. Showtime has some good stuff. I can’t tell the difference between HBO and Showtime anymore. (I said I think that was Showtime’s plan). They are actually doing it.”
He and I talked for a bit more about what sports he likes, both to watch, and play. I have to say I’m a Knicks fan. I offered up that I’m a Philly sports fan, which is the worst and most loyal thing to be. His response? “Oh…really? It’s such a sad state of affairs right now. Well, I can relate. I’m going to try to watch football, and get into the Giants and Tennis. It’s mainly tennis and basketball is the two things I spend most of my time doing. Roger Federer is really the only guy worth watching. No matter who he is playing, he is fun to watch.
Ashley and I also got some time to discuss how she feels about doing drama versus comedy and her state of mind on her life as an actress. “I think it depends. I definitely feel way more at home in drama, but I keep on getting these jobs on like funny shows. Honestly, I’m really not that funny (she is, believe me. She had me laughing the whole time were on the phone!) I try to sort of figure it out. Figure out the timing of it. Honestly, I’m not that good at it. But I feel most at home doing drama. That may be a cop out because I’m just scared to do comedy.” I went all fan-girl on her and told her I loved her in everything I’ve seen her in. Laughing, she said “I’m 28 and I’ve sort of put together this career right now, which is not what I thought it would be. When Good Morning Miami premiered, they though it would be a huge hit, and I think people thought that I would be a star and it’s sad when that show started, and I didn’t feel like I could carry that show. I didn’t understand it, I just didn’t get it. I had a lot of trouble with that job. When the show got cancelled, I quit acting for a year, and I sort of took some time to figure out what I want to do and what kind of actress I wanted to be and stuff. Ever since I decided to come back, I’ve been working consistently since, doing these weird characters that I don’t like totally like, like they are not totally likeable. Well, Becca’s kind of a loser, ha. She’s like a dork, she is kind of annoying, but there is something about that that is really like fascinating for me to play! I don’t know what it is. When I got out here, and I got Good Morning Miami, I think I thought I was going to be a leading lady, famous person, haha, and I just didn’t feel right once I got there. I didn’t like it, I didn’t like the pressure. I was scared a lot of the time. I was terrible at watching myself. I’m terrible at going to awards shows and red carpet. I’m terrible at it, it’s not me. So I think what is happening right now feels right, and I feel so much more at home this way.” I congratulated her on taking her time, thinking it out, and showing that she does have the comedic timing she doesn’t think she has – “yeah, well, I think I had time to think it out because my show got cancelled! Haha!”
Seriously guys, I cannot express enough to you how great this show is and how AWESOME these four people were to interact with. Yes, it’s on Lifetime, but “this ain’t your mama’s lifetime,” as Diana pointed out. Check out the final three episodes (one this week, against, gasp, the Season Premiere of Desperate Housewives and two next week). Tune in to see Cell Phone Man revealed (spoiler phobes, beware. The voice on the end of the line belongs to Steven Webber, late of Studio 60). Tell Lifetime how much you love it, and join me in hoping for a second season to continue following these great characters!