June 10, 2014 10:50am PT by Philiana Ng
'Chasing Life' Star Italia Ricci: Cancer Drama Aims to Be 'Inspiring' and 'Real' (Q&A)
ABC Family's Chasing Life is more than a show about cancer.
Based on the Mexican telenovela Terminales, Chasing Life follows 24-year-old April Carver (Italia Ricci), who finds out she has terminal cancer right when she gets her big break at her local newspaper. Coupled with everyday worries such as friendships, family conflicts and romance, the hourlong series -- coming on the heels of Fox 2000's box-office draw The Fault in Our Stars, a love story revolving around two cancer-stricken teens -- aims to be "inspiring" and "real," Ricci tells The Hollywood Reporter.
"[It] puts a spin on crappy news that makes you see it in such an enlightened way that I feel a lot of people don't realize exists out there," she says. "The cancer only has the power that you give it." Ricci talks to THR about the challenges of getting the story right, crying in the car and seeking guidance from Arrow star Stephen Amell's mother.
What did you gravitate toward in the beginning?
When I was auditioning for it, I knew the story was great aside from the cancer. There are so many things about it that are real and relatable and brilliantly written. Now that I have been working on it, it’s not a show about a cancer. It’s so much more than that. It’s a show about doing what you want to do and living your life as well as you can, while dealing with things that are tough and balancing the good and the hard and the fun and the sexy.
The show maintains a balance between the seriousness of April’s diagnosis with the other aspects of her life, such as her aspirations of becoming a journalist. There is always that chance that it could veer into melodrama, if not done right.
The stories going on could be happening to your next-door neighbor or the person behind you in the grocery store. There’s nothing unbelievable that’s happening. There’s not a scene you’re watching where you’re like, “Oh, that would never happen.” It could be a downer, it really could, but it's not. It's a much lighter drama than I think people realize. From the people I've spoken with who do have cancer, it's not their whole life. I hope that shows people that they don't have to be afraid to talk about it because it's all that somebody is.
What was the process like getting into April’s skin? Were there challenges?
She’s pretty similar to me. We’re both very A-type, organized and focused on an end goal. To play April minus the cancer and the single mom and the sister even, April as a person I feel very similar to. That part is very easy. The hard part is imagining how it would feel to be getting this news, to be in the situation she’s in. There are days where we’re doing heavy scenes and I have to get to a certain place to do the emotions justice, but you’re not finished emotionally letting it all out, so I’ll cry in my car on my way home or in the show, so I don’t throw that emotion on another part of my life that doesn’t deserve it. I’ve been getting in touch with a lot of fantastic fans, who are relating to the story; I come home and get to turn off being sick and shut the cancer down for however many hours before I have to get back to set, and that’s extremely hard. That makes me feel so guilty. It’s really hard to explain. It’s just a really shitty feeling.
Are you internalizing a lot of what April’s going through?
I’m just now getting a grasp on the fact that people are going to look at me and feel like I’m giving them a voice, or April is. Whatever their association they have with it, I’m that person and the show is going to be that to them. And that’s a lot. That’s a lot of responsibility that I guess I always knew came with the show, but is just now beginning to materialize. I’m so scared that I’m going to screw it up.
Have you incorporated any real-life experiences or anecdotes that you or the writers have heard?
We’ve talked to a lot of people who are going through the type of cancer April’s going through. We have a lot of friends of our team who are very familiar with this story, and I have people I’ve been speaking with for insight. Stephen Amell, who’s on Arrow -- his mom is a breast-cancer survivor, so when I started filming my chemo scenes, I sat down with her and she was amazing in telling me what it all physically felt like. I was bawling, of course, but she’s so strong and she helped me so much in those episodes. We haven’t written any single stories around anybody in particular, but there have been moments that have come [out of them]. There’s a character who’s named after this little girl Sophie, who has brain cancer.
What can we expect to see this season as April goes through her process of dealing with her diagnosis?
It deals with everything. It deals with how she now, given this news and given this new outlook on life, deals with her work and her love life. The audience will take that journey with her. It's not just her journey. It's how her sister, who's a teenager trying to figure out who she is in high school, is living her life with April having cancer -- and April's mom, who's a single mother. It's a good family show.
How difficult will it be for April to maintain a level of sanity through all of this?
April is so strong-willed. I look up to her for that because she knows what she wants and she isn't going to let this take that away from her. All that the cancer diagnosis does for her is amplify the stakes for her. Everything means a lot more than it did before because she thinks that her time is running out, which is sort of a beautiful thing, which is kind of the way I wish I looked at my life and I'm trying to now because I see how much richer it really does make everything, but April is so tough and she knows who she is and she's not going to let cancer get in the way.
Chasing Life premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ABC Family.