Talking DEAD OF SUMMER, bizarre screenplays, and James Franco with Amber Coney
Amber Coney currently stars as Cricket Diaz, a counselor at the incredibly creepy Camp Stillwater, on Freeform’s DEAD OF SUMMER, the late 80s horror show that premiered at the end of June. Tonight’s third episode is a big one for Cricket, so I got on the phone with Amber to talk about why this show stood out to her, what she hopes to see for Cricket, and where the show goes next. Oh and of course we made time to talk about MOTHER MAY I SLEEP WITH DANGER?, the recent remake of Lifetime’s cult-classic movie-of-the-week. Why, you ask? Not only did Amber take on the role as a part of the vampire pack, she WROTE the screenplay at frequent collaborator James Franco’s request! Check out the full interview for more!
I made the bad decision to watch this show well after dark – so many scary things! When you a read a script like this or a show like this comes across – how much did you know about what the show would be before you got involved?
I really loved the first script that I got; that was what drew me to it. I saw the horror elements. In the first episode most of it is cliffhangers and there are a few scares, a few ominous things that are happening, but obviously you know that that’s just a start [laughs]. I knew that it was in the horror genre so they could go as far as the network would let them and I was pretty sure it was going to get dark. I was drawn to really the characters. I thought the characters were really awesome and well-developed. I really clicked with Cricket when I read it. It was like, I would love to play this part, I would love to be a part of this project and that doesn’t happen with every script I get. It was kind of magical in a way. Adam and Eddie (Horowitz and Kitsis, creators), told me “when you walked in the room, and did your thing, you ARE Cricket!” [laughs]. That was pretty cool. I really felt like this part was written for me and that’s never happened before, so it was a pretty special experience. I love the dual nature of the material – how you really get to know the characters and you get to see them on a deeper level through the flashbacks and then you see how things from the past manifest in behaviors in the present and how they go about with their life objectives in the present day as well. Yeah, I just love how it has that, and also the creepiness and the strange and bizarre nature of the world that we’re in at Camp Stillwater.
I like that it is creepy and bizarre, but it’s also a character study because like you said – we’re getting to know these characters. It’s not just about the ghosts and dead people. Seeing them interact – you have old friends and old loves. You can relate to that whether you’re scared or not.
That’s what I really loved about it. That’s a great way to put it – it’s a character study. There’s a lot to latch onto as an actor in that way. There’s so much to latch onto, actually. The characters are really well developed. Basically, I was told almost all of my backstory prior to shooting the pilot. I didn’t read further episodes until later on, until after shooting the pilot, but I knew where they were going with the part, so I knew what I had to develop in my imagination and the life I had to create. That really filled me and helped me to bring a lot to the first episode – it would have been impossible to bring the specificity and layers necessary for Cricket if I didn’t know where she was coming from.
What can you tease about what we’ll see as the season continues?
Obviously, she’s an evolving character. Hopefully, we can see her sort of come into her own, and get some strength [laughs]. And for the series, I think anything is fair game at this point. People keep theorizing about what’s going on – first of all, I don’t necessarily know because I haven’t read all of the episodes, because they haven’t been given to us yet, but it can really go anywhere. I’m excited to see the twists and turns that it takes. It just gets weirder and that’s kind of what I love about the nature of doing something of this genre. It’s really an abyss that you can delve into [laughs].
I love also that it’s set in the late 80s! What was it like to embrace the 80s?
I think it’s like knowing, with any era, you have to know the world that was then, the world that was the time period. The music and the fashion, as a cast we would watch a lot of 80s films – I’d have screenings in my hotel apartment and I’d show people like, The Breakfast Club and River’s Edge and The Fly. A lot of awesome 80s movies happening! We watched Halloween. A lot of these were recommended by Eddie – getting into the media and the culture in that way was really important. Also, we would all just love to listen to the music. I was so weird [laughs]. On the pilot, I would just play music off my iPhone when we were all hanging out or before we were doing readings, or before rehearsals, I would just bump Michael Jackson or David Bowie [laughs]. Most of us were given mixtapes from Eddie and they had songs that our characters would have listened to. My character’s song is “The Killing Moon” by Echo & The Bunnymen. That’s kind of something that became important to me as Cricket and also I started to really love it as Amber! It wasn’t very hard to make that connection.
Freeform cast members seem to really embrace the social media world, interacting with the fans. What has that been like for the show?
Everyone that’s interacted with me – I just got on Twitter. It says I’ve been on there for a while, but I was inactive for years. I had like 35 followers and it jumped so drastically! Everyone who is reaching out to me is like obsessed with the show and really loves it and is so supportive. I’ve really taken to the fans. I love to interact with them. They’re calling me like, Queen of the Fandom, because I’m like the only one who responds [laughs]. I feel like it’s important. They’re who this is for, and they’re so enthusiastic about the show and that gets me riled up. I’m so glad when I have time to be able to respond. I just hope later on if I have less time, no one will get mad at me [laughs].
The shows feels like a show where we’re going to have more questions than answers.
I think so, too. I think that’s an amazing way to put it actually [laughs]. I feel the same way.
What’s the conversation like with James [Franco] to say “Hey, I’m thinking of doing a vampire ‘Mother May I Sleep With Danger?’; how do you feel about that and would you write it?” What is that conversation like?
Oh my god, that was basically it. “Oh lifetime asked me to do this remake, but I’m adding lesbian vampires,” and it’s like, okay, yeah. And he’s like, can you write the script by next week? I’m like, yeah, totally! Shut myself off for 5 days to finish it. I had no idea what we were doing or what I was getting myself into. I’m really glad I did it, and the storylines, I’m really happy with it in that way. It really turned out how he saw the remake and how he saw the story, and it’s really a fun piece. It’s really crazy. But I mean, when in your life do you get to make a lesbian vampire film? There’s no way I could have turned that down!
What else do you have going on right now besides DEAD OF SUMMER?
I’m shooting until August and then trying to submit for other projects while I’m here, and that will get more intense when I’m back in LA and able to actually go in for things. I’m looking to do films and guest stars on TV shows. I’m still writing. I just finished another script for James – it was my 9th one I’ve done for him actually. I’m still writing screenplays and staying active. Keeping my creative juices flowing and staying open and hoping for the best projects to come my way.
Do you have a genre you lean towards, or one you like to write or read the most?
Crazily enough, for some reason, I’ve been doing a lot of really horror or gory movies. Some of the stuff I’ve written, I’ve been writing with James so it makes sense, ha, but it’s been really bizarre and really twisted. I always have to find a way to justify and make it make sense that I’m writing it [laughs]. My heart lies, I love kind of like indie style drams – Blue Valentine, Charlie Kauffman movies. I love Tarantino, American Beauty. My taste isn’t exactly what I’ve been involved in. I’m hoping that more of those will come my way. Up until this point, I really wanted to explore darkness, more dark and twisted things creatively and it just so happened that it was when I was starting my career [laughs] so it was a weird point, but now I’m like, alright, you’ve gotten that out of your system! Of course I’m open to doing more stuff like this in the future, but I feel like there might be a shift coming soon in terms of the kind of material that I’m involved in!
DEAD OF SUMMER airs Tuesdays at 9:00PM on Freeform.