Actress-director Daphne Zuniga is channeling her dark side in Lifetime's Gates of Paradise.
Adapted from the fourth of five V.C. Andrews novels centered on the Casteel family, Heaven's daughter, Annie (Lizzie Boys), finds herself orphaned and crippled. Whisked off to Farthingale Manor by Tony Tatterton (Jason Priestley), Annie pines for her lost family, especially for her half-brother, Luke (Keenan Tracey). Without the warm glow of Luke's love, she's lost in the shadows of despair and forced into submission by the sinfully evil Nurse Broadfield (Zuniga). When Annie discovers a cottage hidden in Farthingale's woods, the mystery of her past deepens. Even as she yearns to see Luke again, her hopes and dreams are darkened by the sinister Casteel spell.
Ahead of Saturday's premiere, ET spoke with Zuniga about her deliciously evil turn in Gates of Paradise, being a newlywed at 56 and if she'd be open to reuniting with her Melrose Place cast members for a BH90210-style reunion series.
ET: You're playing a pretty evil character in Nurse Broadfield from one of V.C. Andrews' Casteel family novels, Gates of Paradise. Before you signed on, were you familiar with her work at all?
Daphne Zuniga: I'm not familiar at all. The only thing I read was the script, the script was well-written and I could tell that the story was multi-layered. The script itself really sucked me in. This character, Nurse Broadfield, was so extreme in her method of supposedly making this girl better. At the end of the day, I had to remember that she was a nurse and I had to decide, "OK, is she pure evil or is she going to be someone who could be of this world walking around on earth and had demented reasons for treating someone like this?" I chose that. I wanted to make her real and I loved how extreme she was and how it seemed normal for her.
Which characters did you fashion your performance after?
There are iconic characters like Nurse Ratched. I looked at One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest again to see those scenes of Nurse Ratched, and I also watched V.C. Andrews' Flowers in the Attic, the Lifetime movie [from 2014]. I watched Ellen Burstyn's performance as an evil grandmother and my goal was to make [Nurse Broadfield] believable in all of her pseudo-abusive behavior and treatment of a girl in a wheelchair.
During filming, how did you separate yourself from a character as sinful as Nurse Broadfield?
(Laughs.) Yes, I don't do that in real life. I try to be a half-glass full person. I'm optimistic. I'm a positive person, for sure, but some of that comes from a lot of my own therapy I've been in for years. And when you're in therapy, you are delving into the shadow aspect of your psyche and all of us have that. So I kind of knew that I had to tap into a side of me that is a bit masochistic and that's the fun part of acting. I don't have to take it home with me. Usually, at the end of the day, I found myself hugging [Lizzie Boys, who plays Annie]. I wanted to see how she was doing and give her advice because she's a young actress starting out. That part of me would come out and I would have no problem diving into Nurse Broadfield when the cameras were rolling. You can't worry about how the other actors are going to feel because it is your job to be true to this character -- and this character doesn't care how the other person feels unless she's feeling pain.
It is cathartic to know everything you're doing as Nurse Broadfield is just for play...
It is a fantasy. It is made up from someone's imagination, but you as an actor get to make it yours. My process is to sometimes use that anger that I have. Maybe Nurse Broadfield is sick and tired of these little young spoiled people and she wants to get it out because she can because this girl is in a wheelchair. I pull out things of me. Am I sick and tired of anyone getting their way all the time? Maybe she thinks that girl's a little spoiled. Well yeah, I know some spoiled people and I pull from that so it's real for me, but then I can go to a hundred with it and exaggerate it. It's always drawn from something that I understand, at least for me.
Shifting gears, you're co-starring opposite Jason Priestley, who is currently on Fox's BH90210 reunion series and it's been over 20 years since you left Melrose Place. If something similar were to happen with the cast of Melrose Place, would that be something that you would be interested in doing and revisiting that world?
Yeah. I would never say no to good material if it were good, right? I'm curious to see how this [new] 90210 comes out. I'm still in touch with some of the actors [from Melrose Place] and we enjoy other's company. I would totally be open to that. I still talk with Laura Leighton, Courtney Thorne-Smith and Grant [Show], so we'd have to see who and what the stories were. But yeah, I'd be open to it.
You're also directing your second movie. What has been your experience stepping behind the camera this time around now that you have your bearings?
I feel like every day I think I have my bearings, I go, "Daphne, you've only done it once." So I'll tell myself, "Don't relax into it. Be more prepared than you think you need." So that's what I've been doing, revisiting the script. There are so many things I learned that come up while you're on set that all the prep that I did really paid off. And I have to just keep doing it because unlike when you're acting, when you're directing, you get zero downtime. And I always have to stay a day or two or even three days ahead. This film's going to be a little different. It's not a thriller. It's more of an emotional family drama. There's no blood. This really is about the emotional story of these characters and capturing that.
Congratulations on getting married. How have you been enjoying married life?
I'm loving it. I've been with him [David Mleczko] for 12 years, so we know each other well. I didn't think it would feel that different. That's partially why I wasn't in a rush. I thought I felt married before and now I feel like there's an extra energy about it. There's a little fizz or a little something extra -- a happiness or joy in it. It does feel a little different. I know that we're new at it, but I don't know, I just smile more and I have a little more energy around it, so I love it.
Gates of Paradise premieres Saturday, Aug. 17 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.
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