If you live in Los Angeles, specifically Hollywood, it's more rare to meet someone who isn't in some way part of the entertainment business (or trying to be) than the opposite. In the first apartment complex I lived in, there was a guy who became a reality TV "star" (for a minute), another guy who is now a pro wrestler, an agent at CAA, a post-production coordinator, and, of course, actors. Lots and lots of actors. Two years ago, I moved into a different apartment complex, where I became neighbors with one of today's rising stars, Amber Coney.
A few months after I settled in to my new place, Amber moved in down the hall from me, who was working at a restaurant while trying to break in as an actress. In roughly a year and a half, Amber Coney has gone from Katsuya hostess to writing and starring in actor/producer James Franco's insane remake of Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?, debuting Saturday, June 18 at at 8 PM ET on Lifetime. During this short amount of time, she also landed a leading role in Freeform's upcoming series Dead of Summer, debuting Tuesday, June 28 at 9 PM ET.
In case you haven't noticed lately, Lifetime isn't exactly the same network they were a few years ago. The network celebrated their 25th Anniversary last year with A Deadly Adoption, starring Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, which showed that the network was embracing much darker programming. That's where Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? comes in, a vastly different remake of the network's 1996 TV movie starring Tori Spelling as a young woman whose boyfriend (Ivan Sergei) is aggressively obsessed with her. While there are certainly similar themes at play in Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?, to say it's simply "different" would be an immense understatement.
This version, which Amber Coney wrote based on a story by James Franco (who also has a supporting role), does feature a young woman involved in an unusual relationship, who also has a conservative mother, but that's about where the similarities stop. The story centers on Leah (Leila George), a theater major who wants to bring her new girlfriend Pearl (Emily Meade) home to meet her mother (Tori Spelling). What neither mother nor daughter realize, though, is that Pearl is actually a vampire, whose bloodsucking cohorts (one of whom is played by Amber) are expecting Pearl to "turn" her new girlfriend.
Over the weekend, I had the chance to speak with Amber over the phone, while she was on location shooting Dead of Summer about how she first met James Franco, how she revamped this cult classic for the 21st Century and much more. We also chatted about Dead of Summer, future projects and much more. Take a look at our conversation below.
Amber Coney: I'm so glad we were able to set this up!
Absolutely. So you're up in Vancouver all summer?
Amber Coney: Yeah. I'll be in L.A. for like a day on Wednesday for my Dead of Summer premiere, but I'm pretty much here until August.
I got a chance to watch this over the weekend, and it was really something else. It's not what I expected at all, but I really didn't know what to expect. I wasn't that familiar with the original movie, so I had no idea what to expect coming in, but I loved it.
Amber Coney: Did you imagine that your kindly little neighbor was working on this story? (Laughs)
(Laughs) Not quite. The first thing I wanted to ask was that I saw James has a story credit on this. I was curious how that worked out. Did he have a draft of the script, or an outline, and you just worked from that?
Amber Coney: Yeah, so he came up with the story, the reinvention and the addition of the lesbian vampires was his idea. He basically called me and said 'Hey, so I'm doing this remake of this 90s cult classic with Tori Spelling, and I'm adding lesbian vampires.' Oh, ok. So, he said 'I want to pitch my idea in the form of a full script. If I sent you an outline, would you be able to write it by next week?' I was like, 'Yeah... maybe... yes, yes.' I really didn't know, but I did it.
Amber Coney: Yeah! I mean, this is crazy, Brian. I wrote the first draft, like... if you manically saw me going in and out of the apartment, this is why. I sat and I wrote it in four days. It was four days, and one day of editing, and then I sent it to the network, and Lord be with me, I sent it over and they liked it, which was amazing. I pretty much just concentrated my time and just churned it out. I'm kinda crazy like that. So yeah, there was an outline I worked off of and then I just filled it in with the character development and dialogue and all that.
So he had it set up at Lifetime and he just basically needed a script really fast?
Amber Coney: Yeah, so Lifetime actually reached out to him and pitched him the idea to do the remake first. They did A Deadly Adoption, they want to continue on with having these important artists for their revamps, so to speak, of these older movies. That one, A Deadly Adoption, plays it very straight, and he wanted to do something different, with these fantastical elements in play.
I haven't seen the original, but just from what I've read about it, this is just so different. Did you delve into the original at all, or did you just work from his stuff and kind of ignore it?
Amber Coney: Oh, no. I definitely watched the original prior to reading the outline. There are character dynamics that clearly stem from the original, and if you look at the plot, there's a similar progression as well. Of course, I tried to bring in homages. The scene where Leah brings Pearl home for dinner is almost a replica of the scene in the original. If you really look, there are some nods to the original. Obviously the mother character is probably the biggest thing that ties the two together. Even though it's a complete reinvention and clearly so different, it still ties to it. And, also, it explores this fear of sexuality in a different way, but it still explores that idea as the original does.
How did you first come in contact with James? Had you worked with him on something else before he brought you on to work on this?
Amber Coney: I met him at USC. He was there for an event and I was working. I was part of this VIP hosting thing for screenings and I met him there. Then I started acting in his projects, and he got me involved in small roles, and then he figured out I could write, and he put me up to a novel adaptation of this book that him and I were both reading. He was like, 'Do you want to try and write a script for this?' Yeah! My first script ever was an adaptation of this Southern gothic novel about this ostracized mute in this small town.
Was it a (William) Faulkner novel?
Amber Coney: It wasn't Faulkner, it was Nick Cave, he's an author and musician. So I did it, and that was kind of the test, in a way. I did it really fast as well, I only spent a couple of weeks on it. He sent it to his development team and they loved it. That got the ball rolling. Once he realized, 'Oh, this girl is really good,' he would just incessantly send me outlines. I would finish these stories in like a week or two. I'm working on my ninth script with him right now.
Wow. That's crazy. So you also play Sonte in Mother as well, one of the other vampires. Was that always part of the plan, to have you play one of the vampires?
Amber Coney: Yeah. I really wanted to experience this process as a writer, primarily. I wasn't pining for any role particularly, but I definitely wanted to be in it, and I've always wanted to play a vampire. So I called up his producer and said, 'Hey, I have to be in the vampire pack.' He's like, 'OK.' I still have my fangs in this plastic container. It was really a dream come true.
Did James always have it in his head that he wanted Tori to come back as the mother? I thought she was great in the film. It was a really cool mother-daughter dynamic. Was that always part of his original pitch?
Amber Coney: Yeah! I think we all wanted to bring in the original actors, as many as possible. Her and Ivan were perfect for the roles they played, so it kind of synced up seamlessly, and to all of our benefit. Yeah, she's awesome, and just so great to work with. I loved working with her. She's just such a kind-hearted person and so cool to work with.
Since the whole scripting process came together so quickly, was it the same for the actual shoot? Did you only have a couple of weeks or like a month to shoot this?
Amber Coney: Well, yeah. So, the script was done in a week, but that was Draft 1 and we were working on the script from August to December, when we actually shot. There were so many permutations. We were originally toying with the idea of having a father character instead of a mother character. We had it as Daddy, I Slept With Danger but it sounded a little weird. That was the original title, so a lot changed from that first draft. But yeah, we molded it, and we only shot the movie in a few weeks. It wasn't like we didn't have enough time, we weren't pressed or anything. We shot it over the holidays, which was crazy. It's like, Merry Christmas. Let's make a lesbian vampire film (Laughs).
You also have Dead of Summer coming out this month. It seemed like that came together right after you shot this.
Amber Coney: Yeah, it was crazy. That didn't have anything to do with James, it just came through my reps. It was like one of the first auditions I had for pilot season, so it was really early on, I think February. I got the script and I thought, 'Wow, this is totally something I'd want to do.' I get a lot of scripts and I don't have that strong of a reaction, that's pretty rare. So it's perfect that it worked out! I really, really wanted to be a part of it.
Can you talk a bit about who you play and how she fits into the story?
Amber Coney: Yeah, I play Cricket, her full name is Carolina Diaz. I'm one of the camp counselors that comes back. We were all formerly campers at Camp Stillwater, which is this Midwestern camp. It's really an ensemble piece, this group of counselors plus Deb, played by Liz Mitchell, who is the camp director. We stick together throughout the whole series. Basically, my character is well-worn and snarky and has all these one-liners and all this sass, generally. She kind of uses that humor to cover up some insecurities which you find out about in the flashback episode, which is episode three. It's really cool, because each character gets a flashback episode, where you discover why they act the way that they act, in present day. So, how the show's constructed, it's set in 1989, you have the 1989 present day, we're all really excited, this summer of fun. I really want to snag one of these guys, who's a counselor, this guy who I've had a crush on since I was a kid, and I feel that would validate myself in some way. We're all stoked to be there, and then these really crazy, creepy, ominous things start happening. We don't know what to believe, we don't know what's real, and you see our inner demons and this spirit of the camp manifest. So, that's the present day, then the flashbacks.
It seems, maybe not too dark for Freeform, but it definitely seems to be pushing the envelope of how dark they get.
Amber Coney: Oh yeah, yes, completely. It's perfect for their re-brand, because I don't think there's anything... there's nothing in this genre on Freeform, so it's totally a departure. The thing is, it's very dark, and people obviously die, and there's blood. Even though that's the case, the creators Eddie (Kitsis), Adam (Horowitz) and Ian (B. Goldberg) have said it's really dark, but they don't want to go bleak. There's always going to be some sort of humanity in the story, which I think is important as well. They have to balance all the twisted s--t that happens (Laughs).
You mentioned earlier that you're working on your ninth script with James. Is there anything you can say about that?
Amber Coney: It's gonna be good! I don't want to give anything away. I have to keep all of these under wraps. But yeah, it's been kind of crazy balancing filming and working on scripts, but I know I can do it and I'm excited moving forward. I'm confident I can be a writer-actor at the same time, which was has been my goal all along.
Did you go to USC for writing or was it mainly for acting?
Amber Coney: I was in the BFA acting program, so that was what my focus was. It was like a conservatory type program, so there were like 16 kids and we were all in the same class and would do ensemble plays together. But, I was at USC, and I had a lot of friends in the film school, and I realized I have to take advantage of the cinema school. I loved movies already and I wanted to educate myself further, so I got a minor in cinema. Most don't have that much room in their schedule, but I'm a super-nerd so I just pursued as many classes as possible. I took a screenwriting class, because I read so many scripts as an actor, and if you read that many scripts, I'm sure as you know, the more scripts you read, you realize what works and what doesn't, what good structure is, how strong characters are built. Then adapting that novel was kind of like my master class. It came to me naturally, but it's been a refining process because I've had opportunities to keep practicing my craft, which is really great. I studied a little bit in school, but mainly it's self-perpetuated.
It's just crazy because the first time I met you, you were working at a restaurant and doing movies or whatever on the side.
Amber Coney: I was hostessing. I know, it's insane. But I've been so determined. I was hosting at Katsuya. I literally kept myself in the lowest position possible, because I didn't want to get too comfortable there. I have to have a fire under my butt, and I won't get comfortable until I get the job that I really want to ultimately do. I'm so glad and I'm never looking back.
I think that's all I have for you. Thanks so much for this, and I hope to see you when you get back in town.
Amber Coney: I know! Yeah, I'll see you when I'm back in L.A. Talk to you soon.
You can watch Amber Coney as the vampire Sonte in Lifetime's Dead of Summer, premiering Saturday, June 18 at 8 PM ET on Lifetime. Her new series Dead of Summer debuts Tuesday, June 28 at 9 PM ET on Freeform. We'll be sure to keep you posted on any of Amber's future projects, so stay tuned.