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The Dollangangers are back.
It’s been a whirlwind four months since Lifetime premiered its adaptation of V.C. Andrews‘ controversial Flowers in the Attic novel to impressive ratings: 6.1 million viewers tuned in Jan. 18, making it basic cable’s top-rated television movie since late 2012. The female-skewing network was so confident in its success that more than a week before it aired, executive vp and general manager Rob Sharenow announced plans for a sequel, Petals on the Wind, with the hopes of striking gold a second time.
Though the Petals on the Wind novel picks up immediately following the events of Flowers in the Attic, Lifetime’s version takes place 10 years later. Set in 1971, Petals follows the Dollanganger siblings, now young adults, as they try to shake off the legacy of their mother’s abuse. But their efforts are marred by lingering guilt and tragedy — not to mention Cathy and Christopher’s continued incestuous romance. Dogged by disaster, Cathy concocts a scheme to enact revenge on her mother, Corrine (Heather Graham), by luring her husband (Dylan Bruce) into the complicated plan. Earlier this year, screenwriter Kayla Alpert had described Petals — which has Rose McIver, Wyatt Nash and Bailey Buntain taking over as the older Dollanganger children — as “a juicy, compelling revenge drama.”
But just how fast did things move on the production? Only two weeks passed from McIver’s first audition in Los Angeles to the start of filming on Feb. 25, which didn’t afford enough time for her to read the novels (“I feel like the only person on the planet who wasn’t [familiar]”). Immediately after filming wrapped, McIver jumped onto The CW’s iZombie. “Because Flowers was such a success, they really wanted to get this production all together. It did turn around very quickly. It all kind of went pretty crazy,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. Petals also has a strong dance component, so McIver spent the majority of preproduction doing the ballet work — something the New Zealand actress hadn’t done since she was 13.
Assuming the same role (albeit a slightly more mature iteration) from another actress — in this case Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka — can be a challenge, but McIver used Flowers as a starting point for her portrayal of Cathy. “It is 10 years later, so there’s a lot that’s changed for her. But in her essence, it’s the same character, and she has the same love for her family and her brother [Christopher] and the same struggles with her mother and grandmother,” McIver says. “It was helpful to draw on the history that Kiernan had created.”
The draw for McIver to play somebody as complex, tragic and conniving as Cathy was simple: exploring the struggle between the demons of her past and the desire to create a new future. “She has such a big heart and wants the best for her siblings and really doesn’t want to be the product of her circumstances. She has a strength of character and tenacity that I find so admirable, but at the same time, she was hurt so badly by what happened to her [in Flowers] that she can’t help but have this huge chip on her shoulder that she’s constantly battling with,” says McIver. “I think that happens a lot in our lives. We try really hard to depart from the things that have hurt us, and they come back and rear their heads over and over again.”
She adds, “Cathy is trying to be somebody new and be her own person,” but she “still feels the pain and the experiences of what happened to her growing up continually haunting her.”
Cathy at one point leaves Christopher and Carrie to embark on a life with star ballet dancer (and abusive boyfriend) Julian Marquet (Will Kemp) that she believes will be better than the one she left. Their love affair turns out to be less than romantic and more the stuff of nightmares. “Christopher was very much her partner in her [sexual] experience growing up, and obviously being her brother, it was deeply inappropriate and taboo. Cathy was looking for somebody else she could connect with,” says McIver. “[Julian] arrives at a time when she’s vulnerable, and she endures a lot more from Julian than anybody ever should. She does realize that, knowing that it’s not the right thing for her to be engaging in, but [she’s] wanting affection with another person and not being able to do that with her brother.”
McIver admits that there were “several” sequences in the movie that were “quite taxing” and “emotional” (there are a few violent Cathy-Julian encounters), but the confrontation between Cathy and Olivia Foxworth (Ellen Burstyn) at the Foxworth mansion near the end of the movie took the cake. “It’s very much at the height of Cathy’s quest. It’s her saying, ‘Look what you’ve done to me. You’ve ruined me, how am I supposed to be myself and be a strong woman when you’ve taken away everything? You made our lives a living hell for two years,’ ” she says. “Confronting a family member who you’re so spurned by and so hurt by but trying to enact revenge upon is a really complicated emotional journey, and that made it a difficult scene.”
Are Cathy and Christopher meant to be, or, are they strictly victims of their environment? That’s a question McIver doesn’t think there’s a right answer to. “It’s such a gray area. You only know what you know, and for her, the other people she was drawn toward hurt her terribly, and Christopher doesn’t hurt her. We can understand why that’s her safe place,” McIver says. “It’s a very complex question. In an ideal scenario, this wouldn’t even be considered, but for Cathy, she doesn’t really have a lot of strong role models that can lead her in other directions. She finds that being with Christopher, at least she has a confidante and somebody who really understands her.”
Petals on the Wind premieres Monday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.
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