Q&A with Alexandra Chando of ABC Family’s “The Lying Game” (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)
August 14, 2011 by Dennis Amith
From her early beginning as an actress on television with “Rockville CA” followed by starring in the soap opera “As the World Turns” as the character Maddie Coleman. Now, Alexandra Chando plays the main role of two characters, Emma Becker and Sutton Mercer in ABC Family’s new TV series “The Lying Game”, an adaptation of the novel series from “Pretty Little Liars” creator Sara Shepard.
In the new one-hour scripted drama, Alexandra plays two characters. Emma Becker grew up in foster care, while Sutton Mercer grew up with a loving, wealthy family. And the two have come face-to-face and realize that both are sisters. Emma agrees to impersonate her sister while Sutton goes to Los Angeles to find her real biological parents. But for some reason, when Sutton is supposed to return back home, Emma feels that something may have happened.
Now Emma may have to come clean and risk her own safety in the hope of uncovering her twin sister’s whereabouts.
Also, starring in “The Lying Game” are Andy Buckley (“The Office”) as Ted, Helen Salter (“Supergirl”) as Kristin, Blair Redford (“90210”) as Garrett, Sharon Pierre-Louis (“Lincoln Heights) as Nisha, Kirsten Prout (“Kyle XY”) as Char, Alice Greczyn (“Lincoln Heights”) as Mads and Allie Gonino (“10 Things I Hate About You”) as Laurel.
With the premiere of ABC Family’s “The Lying Game” set for 9pm on August 15th, Alexandra Chando recently took part in a media Q&A to promote the series.
Here is a transcript from the media Q&A:
Moderator What can you tell potential fans and fans of Pretty Little Liars why they should be tuning in to watch this new series?
A. Chando Okay. Great. Well, I think one of the main things for Pretty Little Liars fans to know is that our series is also based on the novel by Sara Shepherd, who wrote the series Pretty Little Liars, so that is definitely a start. Our show it really is a mystery. It’s a little bit dark. There is definitely a lot of mystery to it, but at the same time, it has a lot of heart. It touches on romance and love triangles and relationships between parents and their teenagers. There are definitely a lot of secrets. I think a lot of the Pretty Little Liars fans will be able to get into our show, as well, because we kind of have a very similar tone, if you will.
Moderator I see that Helen Slater is in the cast. Who does she play exactly, a mother, your mother?
A. Chando Yes. Helen Slater plays my mother. She also plays Sutton Mercer’s adoptive mother.
Moderator Can you talk about playing dual roles and the challenges that come with that?
A. Chando Of course. It’s first a blessing, first of all, to just have the opportunity to play two roles. To be able to develop two characters and kind of find different things about them and explore them each and every day has been incredible. It does come with its challenges, though. I have 15-hour work days and I’m working an awful lot compared to what I would be working if I was just playing one character.
It’s a challenge in the sense, besides the hours and the exhaustion, just trying to keep them straight sometimes. We’re about to embark on Episode 6. Today, we start it. it’s gotten a little bit easier to really feel like these characters and understand them, but there are moments where a little bit of Sutton will creep into Emma and vice versa. It’s definitely been a challenge and I’d say, as well, having to act with a green screen or an eye line with an X on the wall has become easier, but it was definitely in a challenge in the beginning.
Moderator What did you learn from your five years as Maddie Coleman that helps you with future roles now?
A. Chando Honestly, I think I learned more from my experience on the soap, not necessarily from the particular character. The soap experience was absolutely incredible. I couldn’t have learned what I learned in a classroom on that set. Honestly, like the work ethic and just how incredibly difficult it was to learn 30 pages a day and film 5 episodes in a week. It really, really taught me how to take on that much work and that type of role, and it’s obviously led me to be able to get through these challenging, long workdays for sure.
Moderator What would you say is the most important thing that you’ve learned from the time that you’ve spent so far on the show?
A. Chando Wow, that’s a great question. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve learned many things about myself personally and about the work. I think as far as me personally, I feel like I’ve really learned the amount of focus and work ethic it takes to really hold up a series and maintain great work and produce good work. I’m incredibly focused as far as my hours and my work schedule. That is definitely something that I learned about myself. I guess that’s kind of it. That’s the most important thing; kind of an internal thing for me.
Moderator Of the episodes you’ve shot so far, what has been your most memorable moment so far this season?
A. Chando There have been a lot of incredible moments this season so far. I would have to say there’s like a little snippet of it in one of the trailers. It’s from Episode 2. Blair Redford and I were out on the set is called The Overlook, but they used a crane shot. All you see is grass for miles and miles. It looks like we’re in Africa, but we’re dancing in this grass. That was certainly memorable. It was kind of surreal. It was beautiful.
Moderator Could you please describe both of the characters a little more that you play?
A. Chando Sure. Sutton Mercer is the twin sister that was adopted into a very wealthy family. She kind of grew up in a privileged lifestyle. She is kind of used to getting things handed to her; having things come a lot easier for her; takes a lot for granted. I wouldn’t consider her a mean girl by any sense of the word. I think she is just very self-absorbed and knows what she wants and knows how to get it and will kind of do anything that she can to do that. And Emma Becker, who is the twin that was not adopted and was brought up in the foster care system, she is just a kind-hearted, really selfless person; just really longs to have that family connection that she has been missing for all those years and just truly warm-hearted and doesn’t take anything for granted.
Moderator How are you like either of the two characters?
A. Chando I can relate to both of the characters. Obviously, with Emma, I consider myself a kind person, thoughtful, and I try not to take things for granted. I mean I grew up in a wonderful family, a wonderful household, which is great, but with Sutton, I think, I relate to the way she handles things emotionally. She’s less emotional. She’s kind of compartmentalizes things and I kind of find myself doing that often, especially in this industry and where life has kind of taken me. There is a little bit of both of me in each.
Moderator Do you think The Lying Game will appeal to soap fans and why?
A. Chando I definitely think The Lying Game will appeal to soap fans. It definitely has the tone of intrigue and mysteries. First of all, let’s just say Chuck Pratt wrote and created The Lying Game. He wrote the pilot and he was one of the head writers for All My Children, so he is definitely incorporating many soap themes and the dramatic storytelling of that. There are love triangles. I always laugh because in soaps is kind of where the twin sisters thing started where one character is playing two people, so that always makes me think of the soap world. I definitely think that there are many similarities as far as the drama and intrigue that our show will bring.
Moderator On As the World Turns, there are heavy dramatic aspects of your role, but you’re also really funny. Do you think we’ll have a chance to see any of that comedic talent in The Lying Game?
A. Chando I think so. I try and bring it to Emma. Emma is a little bit more of the quirkier one. I try and bring it to her as often as I can, as often as they allow me to without going over the top. Yes, I think that just in Emma’s character, really, I try and bring that lightness to her, especially because it’s such a difference from Sutton.
Moderator I know right now we’re not too far into you filming the series, but which words would you use to describe your characters’ motivations because I’m sure playing a dual role there are definitely certain ones for Emma and certain ones for Sutton?
A. Chando Yes. Well, I think they each have the motivation to find out the answers as to what happened to them; why they were separated; who their birth parents are. I think that is certainly some motivation and a common bond that they hold. As far as Emma goes, right now she’s in this world where she’s just trying to navigate and survive through it. I think she’s trying to, when it comes to Ethan in particular, she’s really trying to maintain her integrity as far as the fact that it is her sister’s important boyfriend, so she’s just trying to remain honest and have integrity.
Sutton is a little bit deeper and she’s a little bit more on the selfish, self-absorbed side. Her main goal is to really just find out who the mother is, who the father is, what’s going on with that, and not worry about anything in her past.
Moderator What first attracted you to this role?
A. Chando Well, aside from the fact that I would have the opportunity to play two characters, which I’ve always fantasized about doing, the pilot was just so well written and the characters so relatable and not only my characters, every character in the show, I think, has an element of relatability for an audience member. That was really incredible. Just the fact that it was an ABC Family show and ABC Family puts out really great projects, as well as Alloy, and the connection was Pretty Little Liars. Everything just kind of lined up, but specifically, the characters were just really solid characters and I just thought it would be such an interesting thing to be able to develop these two girls and see where they lead.
Moderator Who do you think is the most interesting character and why?
A. Chando I’m going to say two. I think Sutton is a very interesting character because she is not a bad person, but she is definitely a selfish person with motives. But I think that there is something more to her and it’s kind of a sad thing because she grew up with these great parents in this great environment but there’s just something missing for her, which is sad.
Then, I think that Andy Buckley’s character, Ted, is an interesting character. I am so interested to see what happens with that because I think they’re laying some groundwork where the parents are obviously keeping a secret and we don’t know who. I don’t know. I keep thinking that there might be something with Ted.
Moderator If you could tell viewers one thing about the show, what would it be?
A. Chando That they’re going to love it! I honestly wholeheartedly am so proud of it and so excited for everyone to see it. I really truly think that they are just going to love it and find it to be a really great story.
Moderator One of my questions was with a world of Twitter and Facebook, how important do you think it is to interact with the online community and the fans that are all out there cheering for you?
A. Chando I think it’s really an incredible way to communicate and interact with your fans, especially Twitter. Though, I will say, I’m not as good at it as I should be. I often find myself wondering what interesting thing I can say. Our fans are the heart and soul of our show and that keeps us on the air and make such a difference. To be able to communicate with them through Twitter and reply back to them or re-Tweet things that they say, I think that it’s a really incredible way to connect with them. Yes.
Moderator It looks like you’re putting 110% in the new show, but do you have any new projects coming up?
A. Chando I don’t. I don’t have time. I don’t, but maybe in hiatus we’ll try something new.
Moderator How can we tell the distinction between Emma and Sutton? Do you deliberately make yourself talk a little bit differently, as well as dress a little bit differently, in terms of the double part?
A. Chando Absolutely. I think the hair and makeup is definitely a key element, as well as the wardrobe. When we started, I sat down with our hair and makeup ladies and wardrobe and we kind of planned it out how we were going to do each character; who gets what makeup; who wears their hair differently and which way. But I also think on top of that Sutton talks a little bit differently. It’s not necessarily an accent thing. She talks just a little bit differently as far as she always has a little bit of a drawl, in a way. She kind of grew up in that very privileged way, so she talks in that kind of manner. Her posture is different. She’s definitely a little bit more polished.
Moderator Do you have a preference for one of these characters over the other?
A. Chando I love both of them. I think both of them are very interesting, very fun to play. Emma is a little bit easier for me to play. I can relate to her really well, but Sutton is interesting because she’s a little bit more work. I really have to consider what she says, how she says it, and she’s got some things going on as far as the reason she is the way she is. It’s certainly a little bit more interesting to try and work out Sutton’s characteristics, I think.
Moderator Did you read the novels beforehand?
A. Chando Actually, when we shot the pilot, which was in December, the first novel wasn’t out yet, so we didn’t get to read it until after the pilot was done being shot. But I did read the first one. I haven’t had a chance to read the second one yet, but I did read the first one and it was so helpful. It really helped paint the picture of who Emma was and where she came from and her upbringing and what she has kind of dealt with in the past.
Moderator Do you think it differs a lot, like the show versus the novel and how they play what is called the lying game in the novel?
A. Chando The show does differ from the book. It’s a mystery and in order to keep fans intrigued and keep a television series going, we need to maintain that element of mystery. If we were to just follow the book directly then there would be no mystery involved. We did depart a little bit from the book, but it’s based on the characters and the lying games are mentioned.
Moderator Do you still keep in touch with any of the cast of As the World Turns, and if you could choose one of the cast to play on your new show as a guest star, who would it be?
A. Chando I do still keep in touch. Actually, I hang out with Jesse Soffer, who played Will, very often in L.A. when I’m there. We actually live a couple blocks from each other. And I am still very good friends with Zach Roerig, who played Casey. You know, it’s tough. We both have very different schedules and him being busy with The Vampire Diaries, but we do keep in touch. It’s important to us to maintain a friendship.
If I were to pick one of them, I would say Jesse would add a great element to The Lying Game. He can really play the mystery of it. He can really play that dark character and I think it would be really interesting to see him a show like this.
Moderator Of your characters, do you enjoy playing the one that’s you’re most like or do you enjoy playing more of someone who’s not like you.
A. Chando I enjoy both, but Sutton is a little bit less like me. She’s a little bit more of a challenge to figure out, so I think she’s fun to play.
K. Mulcahy ABC Family is known for incorporating teaching moments and positive messages into its programming. Switched at Birth, which is one of our favorites, does that really well. In The Lying Game, what kind of message do you think it has for the audience?
A. Chando Well, I find that our show has a lot of heart, especially the story revolving a little bit about Emma and following her story a little bit more so than Sutton. I think that Emma comes from the foster care system and really did not have a great childhood. I think that the show does a really great job of touching on that and how it had kind of affected her. Goodness. That’s a really good question.
Each character and each storyline has really incredible heartfelt moments and heartfelt issues that they deal with as far as the adoption process and the challenges of being adopted and wanting to find your real birth mother and not knowing the answers and just struggling with. Having parents that you were raised with, but they’re not your biological parents and just trying to not hurt them but want to know who your real mother is and that challenge and what you face in that world. Also just other relationship challenges and the dynamic of family and boyfriends and all of that.
Moderator In The Big Break in the MTV reality show you pretty much committed to living the dream of becoming an actress in a very public way. If you back to 2005 and give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
A. Chando I would say to myself and to anyone, really, to stay true to yourself and if you know what you want, you’ve got to fight for it and hang in there and maintain a thick skin. Most importantly, stay true to yourself and never waver from that.
Moderator As someone who has done a bunch of different television roles at this point, do you purposely try to watch yourself? Do you catch things here and there, and how do you react to that?
A. Chando Well, it’s interesting. At first, it’s difficult. It depends really what it is. When I first sat down to watch the pilot of The Lying Game, I was squirming in my seat for the first three minutes because it’s such a surreal thing. You know, I’m my own worst critic, so I’m obviously going to sit there and judge, judge, judge. It’s interesting to sit there and see yourself. It’s almost as if you’re watching somebody else, but I do like to watch. I like to learn things. You can always learn something from a performance; pick it apart, but also learn things. Yes, I try to watch everything that I’ve done just to learn and grow.
Moderator Do you have anything special planned for the premier of The Lying Game in a couple of days?
A. Chando I’m not sure! I’m working, so it just depends what time we get out. I think we’re all very excited. It just kind of worked out that we’re all going to be working on our premier night. I think originally the whole cast had planned to get together and watch it together, but it’s kind of a tentative thing now. I may be sitting alone on my couch watching it on DVR.
Moderator Is there anything you were surprised to learn about Emma or Sutton’s state of mind or motives while getting to know them over each script?
A. Chando I’m surprised every day by them and by different things. I learn a lot about Emma and how she handles things. She’s a very strong character and she’s a strong girl, especially because of the way that she was brought up and kind of was on her home, so she’s definitely developed a very courageous spirit. It’s interesting because she handles things very differently. Sometimes it doesn’t really match up. She’s a little bit of an emotional character, so that was definitely a surprise to me. I found it interesting, especially as I started playing it, that she became a little bit more frenzied and emotional than originally what I had imagined her to be.
Moderator What are some characteristics of Emma and Sutton that you have brought to the table and added to them?
A. Chando I would definitely say for Emma, like I had said previously, I try and bring a warmth to her and kind of a comedic lightness to her. She’s very smart. She’s intelligent. I think she’s one of those people that doesn’t realize how fantastic she really is in a way, which is interesting, and that’s fun to play. With Sutton, her characteristics are very different. I don’t know. Like I said, I’ve kind of drawn from the way I handle some emotional things to add to Sutton and kind of make her be a little bit of a stronger individual.
Moderator When you do get a little bit of extra time, and probably a very little bit, do you have any guilty pleasures that you like to sneak off and do?
A. Chando When I have the time, I enjoy getting manicures and pedicures, which I haven’t had the time to do, so that’s kind of a guilty pleasure. It’s so hot in Austin. We’re shooting in Austin. I would love to spend more time outside. It’s just too hard. I’m a big movie go-er. I love going to the movies. I love just constantly studying and just allowing myself to enjoy other people’s performance. I would say that.
The cast and I, we do some fun things. We spent 4th of July on the lake together, which was so fun. We try and do some fun things; explore Austin together.
Moderator How many episodes have you filmed of the series so far, or have you completed the first season?
A. Chando Today is the first day of shooting Episode 6, so we have 5 more to go. We have a 10-episode season.
Moderator Will you probably end on a cliff?
A. Chando Yes, for sure. Every episode ends with a cliffhanger. I don’t know anything, so I don’t know what’s going to happen with the finale, but I am almost positive that it is definitely going to be a crazy cliffhanger.
Moderator What could you tell fans of the books?
A. Chando I will say that it is different from the books, but we do have the same characters and I think it will be really interesting and fun for them to see the characters come to life and just see it all unravel and see what happens with it. Like I said before, it’s based on a book, but it’s a mystery so if we want to keep people guessing and keep the audience intrigued we need to kind of veer off a little bit and do our own thing in order to make that happen.
“The Lying Game” premieres on ABC Family on August 15, 2011 (Mondays 9/8c)
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