Chasing Life is an upcoming ABC Family drama series about a young up-and-coming journalist who is diagnosed with cancer and must now deal with the results. The show stars Italia Ricci as April, who talked with Shakefire about working on the series and handling such a difficult subject matter as cancer.
Shakefire (SF): What attracted you to Chasing Life and your role as April?
Italia Ricci (IR): The show itself is just so incredible and it’s real. It could be happening to anybody. It is happening to anybody. It has happened and it will be happening and it’s such a real story and it’s written so well and it’s so inspiring. It has so much of everything in it that I’ve wanted to be a part of telling it. I feel so lucky —I was just an actor sent in on a mission to go in. I wasn’t sifting through scripts being like “I only want this one.” This is when I got the audition I was auditioning for everything during the pilot season and this one was like a golden ticket. This is the role that you’re just like “Oh my gosh, this is going to be one that everybody is trying to get.” I got so lucky.
SF: How would you describe your character April?
IR: She’s so many things. She’s just a regular girl. She’s a stubborn, smart, ambitious girl who just wants happiness and success in her career and love, everything that most people want. She’s written so well that I feel like she’s every man’s woman because she’s not always in the same head space. She gets giddy and girly and goofy and then she’ll just be an angry drunk, we’re all a little bit bipolar [laughs]. It’s just the way the world works, but she’s so inspiring and she makes mistakes and then she relies on people to help. She’s not a hero. She’s definitely a role model, but she knows she’s not perfect. I think that’s really important for a character we want audiences to relate to.
SF: How are you and your character April are alike?
IR: We’re both pretty stubborn and hyper organized. I can’t function if there’s a dirty dish in the sink or if things aren’t where they belong. My friends when they come over, they’ll just try and mess with me by like turning a vase, rotating it, so that the handle is not out or something and I’ll stop in the middle of the room and notice something is different; this is not okay [laughs]. I’m a little OCD, so I think April and I share that. There’s a bunch of jokes in the show about how organized she is and I think that’s really the writers just taking shots at me. I wish I was as ballsy as her. I hope to be. She’s actually inspired me a lot more than I expected her to, which is great.
SF: What is the hardest part about playing April?
IR: At the beginning the hardest parts were days when I would have scenes where I’d have to get to a pretty emotional place and then we would finish the scene and move on to a happy scene or a regular scene. I would feel like I hadn’t finished letting all those emotions out, so I would end up just crying in my car on the way home or in the shower or something just to let it out [laughs], so I didn’t project it onto to some other part of my life that didn’t deserve it.
But now that I’m getting a lot of fan mail and people are sharing their stories with me and it’s so beautiful and I’m so grateful that I can be somebody that makes them feel like they’re being heard. The hardest part, I don’t feel so great when I get to come home and not be sick when there are so many people who can’t turn it off.
SF: Will we see more of your character’s chemo process? What sort of research did you conduct to prepare?
IR: You will see more of that, absolutely, because it’s all part of the horrible process that cancer throws at people, but you will see the stages. And the research -- immediately after I booked the role, I thought I was going to learn everything I could about cancer, become and expert and be able to handle anything that the writers threw at me. But then I realized that my character doesn’t know everything about cancer and so I thought it would be better for my performance if I didn’t know more about it than April knew. So I wasn’t anticipating anything that was going to happen to her.
SF: Do you think Chasing Life can properly portray what cancer patients go through?
IR: The show isn’t all about cancer. From the people that I’ve spoken to everybody goes through it differently, so there’s no one way to try and show the world what somebody would be experiencing. So I did my best to play April as authentically as we can within the confines of entertainment television. I’m sure there will be some people who completely disagree with how she’s reacting to certain things physically and emotionally and then there’s some people who might say that’s exactly what they experienced, or what they saw somebody experience.
I hope people can at least understand. They’re going to know it’s still television. It’s not a documentary, but at the same time being on set doing some of those scenes, it does get scary when you have to remind yourself that you’re not sick.
SF: How do writers keep a show like this from getting too dark or depressing with such a heavy subject matter?
IR: People just have to take my word for it, it’s not depressing. It’s not dark. It’s not going to leave you feeling heavy after you watch it. The writers are so brilliant. It’s funny. They deliver the bad stuff or the dramatic stuff and then it’s right back at it just like real life is. There’s comedy in it and there’s so much more to it than the cancer. It’s about friendship and her family and her romance and there are episodes that you totally forget that she’s even sick.
SF: How did you get your start in acting and what do you enjoy most about it?
IR: I started when I was really young. I did a lot of local theatre. I always enjoyed it. I was always putting on shows for my family or even just myself in the mirror being a total psychopath just screaming monologues till I was crying or laughing or a complete nut case. And then I went to college and got my degree in drama, but I’m very much a Type A. I’m not really much of a risk taker. I’m very calculated, so I didn’t really want to just move out to LA and try my best at something that I didn’t know for sure I could succeed at.
So I decided to go to law school to do entertainment law. This way I could be in the industry, but in a controlled career within it. But before I got to start law school, a friend of mine is with an agency and was an extra on a movie near my hometown one summer and asked if I wanted to go for the day and get paid to pretend I was at a party. And the writer saw me and asked me to audition for a role and I got it and they wrote me into the next one and it all just sort of snowballed. I’m the luckiest girl in the world.
SF: Did you know Scott Michael Foster from Greek? What’s it like working with him again?
IR: We didn’t really stay in touch after the episode of Greek, which was five and a half years ago or something. He didn’t even remember me at the table read for Chasing Life for the second episode [laughs]. I introduced myself and I was like “we worked together” and he’s like “really, when?” I was like, “oh wow” because we had to kiss in Greek. But we are so close now. He’s hilarious. You can see we’ve had to post a couple of videos talking about the show and I can’t keep a straight face when I’m with him. He’s hilarious and he’s so talented it’s insane. It’s sort of intimidating sometimes and I’m like “can you try to suck a little more because you’re making me look really bad.” [laughs]
SF: What was your experience like filming in Boston?
IR: I had never been to Boston before shooting the Chasing Life pilot in 2012. I love it there! It’s so amazing and the sense of community there and it makes you feel like you’re in the movies. I found myself speaking like the locals saying “wicked good” and stuff, which I’m sure everybody in Boston hates, but I had a lot of fun there. Everybody was go grateful for us to bring the show there and they were all really informed about it, too. I went beside the hotel to get a bottle of wine somewhere and the guy asked me what I was doing. I was like “I’m here for a new show” and he goes “is it the one about the journalist?” And I was like “oh my gosh; you know the show! That is so cool.” Anyhow, I was more excited than he was. I almost wanted to take him out for dinner I was so excited.
And the food, oh my gosh, the food. Every time we go to do exterior shots, I leave ten pounds heavier. Good God, I love the North End. I love it!
SF: What was your favorite part about filming Chasing Life?
IR: My favorite part about filming the show, we’ve got pretty good food on set [laughs]. Yesterday we had a mac and cheese bar, like four different types of mac and cheese, it was bizarre; it was amazing. But really, the cast and crew are my favorite things. I am so excited to go to work every day. They are some of my favorite people in the entire world. One camera man moved to another show in the middle of shooting and I broke down and cried on set. But definitely the cast and crew.
SF: Can you share anything about the new upcoming season?
IR: The season is going to explore how the diagnosis elevates all of the stakes in April’s life. All of her decisions matter to her a little bit more than she thought they did at this point and how she handles that and the mistakes that she makes and the victories that she also accomplishes. It’s interesting to see her whole world getting massaged because of this big awful thing, but people can expect to see so many things. I read the scripts and I get so into it like “seriously, what, where, why?” It’s so cool.
Chasing Life is scheduled to premiere on June 10, 2014 on ABC Family.