A Chat with Alyssa Milano

What has Alyssa Milano been up to since she was Phoebe on Charmed and Rebecca on Romantically Challenged? Accessing her inner child.

Well, at least that’s what her character Jane is doing in the new Lifetime movie Sundays at Tiffany’s, which premieres tonight. Based on a James Patterson novel, this super-cute movie is about Jane, a girl who grew up celebrating every birthday with her mother taking her to Tiffany’s for a very special birthday gift. And along for every childhood trip was her imaginary friend Michael.

But now, twenty years later and childhood gone, Jane is a smart businesswoman, who co-manages a New York theater with her mother (Stockard Channing) and is about to marry the very famous actor Hugh (Ivan Sergei). But when Michael (Eric Winter) shows up again and is, well, not so imaginary, things begin to change.

I had the great opportunity to watch this movie a little early, and I have to say, it quickly turned into a favorite. Placed in New York at Christmastime–in fact, Christmas Eve is both Jane’s birthday and soon-to-be wedding day–the movie had a great wintry feel without the Christmas plotline. Milano herself has such chemistry with the rest of the cast that it’s just an uber-fun romantic comedy that you’ve got to check out.

I was fortunate enough to talk to Alyssa on a recent conference call, where we chatted costars, Christmastime, and even her thoughts on a Charmed movie. Did I hear that right? A Charmed followup movie? You’ll have to read on to see.

*****

Why people should watch Sundays at Tiffany’s: From the leading lady herself, short and sweet: “I think the best thing about it is actually how romantic it is. It’s what I was first attracted to. It’s really a modern-day fairy tale in a way, which is something we don’t quite see too often anymore.”

[Read more after the break!]

What did you enjoy most about making it? The group was in Toronto for six weeks making the movie, and as Alyssa says, when she’s away on location, it makes it a lot easier to stay focused on the task at hand. Plus, she adds, “I was so crazy about this cast. Everyone did such an amazing, amazing job and made it not only easy…but it all felt like we were doing something great.”

What do you have in common with Jane? It wasn’t really what she had in common with Jane that mattered to Alyssa. “What I was attracted to when I read the script was that she was hurt in her past and she, out of a protection mechanism, became the oppressed romantic that she was. Some of the most interesting characters to play are the ones that are flawed that have to go through this journey,” Alyssa says. Jane is hardened-off to love, and then through magical circumstances, she was allowed to love wholly again. On the other hand, Alyssa was never not a romantic in real life. “I guess our business drives might be similar,” she says, but it was the differences that had that attracted her to the role.

What was the most challenging part of the role? “Coming up with a character that was hardened-off and protective of herself and making sure that didn’t come across as bitchy.” Alyssa wanted the viewers to see Jane’s change from beginning to end, but she wanted to make her likable, not to have her come off as icy or bitchy at the beginning.

How was reuniting with your other cast members? “Oh my God, it was so great.” Alyssa had worked with Ivan Sergei before on Charmed and had worked with Eric Winter before in a pilot that had not been picked up. In their time off, they went to Second City, watched improv, and laughed. “Any time you’re reconnected with people you worked with before, it’s a great feeling. It’s a very small world anyway…” she says, “so when you add on top of it the chemistry [you have with other actors], you hope that you get to work with them again.”

What kept you in the industry all these years? Frankly put, Alyssa’s not sure she can do anything else. Alyssa didn’t go to a regular high school and didn’t participate in college classes. “This is all I’ve really ever known,” she says.

And what’s kept you in TV? Alyssa likes the stability of TV, as opposed to film, where you really don’t know when your next job will be. “At least for that season you have a job,” she says. “It sort of allows me to enjoy life a little bit more.”

Did you ever think about another career? “In everything that I do besides acting, acting has been the platform that allowed me to do it.” Alyssa’s been very grateful to still be working after all this time, and she never really thought about another career, though in her early ’20s at one point, she thought she might go to med school to help kids.

Do you think it’s harder today to be a child star? “It’s harder and easier in a lot of ways,” she said. As Alyssa tells it, when she was a kid, there were very few people her age on TV that made that transition, and she was on TV when it wasn’t necessarily cool to be on TV. “We weren’t taken seriously as actors, so it’s easier now.” On the other hand, now we have a fascination with celebrity, and the internet has made it easy for this fascination to alienate celebrities from being normal. “Everyone’s under a microscrope now,” she says, “but what I usually tell people is that the people who had a hard time and struggled are the same people who would have struggled dong anything else…I was blessed to have an amazing family that kept me grounded and reminded me of what was important in life.”

Think you’ll have kids one day? “We are going to take what God gives us. We’re not trying, but we’re not really not trying either…Whatever God gives us, we’ll be grateful for,” she says.

Are you obsessed with recycling? “Yes, of course. I’m obsessed with everything green.” Alyssa has preordered the Leaf, and her husband is getting the Volt. “After the oil spill, I  just had this very distinct, strong feeling that I never wanted–if I were someone who had kids–my kids to see me pumping gas at a gas station.” But that’s not all she’s obsessed with. She’s a vegetarian and an animal lover, even having a large cohort of dogs and horses of her own. “I actually live in my animals’ house,” she laughs.

How are you green for the holidays? Alyssa doesn’t do many lights on her house. She adds that LED lights are awesome, and so are solar-powered lights. She has have some of those in her garden.

What are some of your Christmas traditions? For Alyssa, it’s eating, eating, and more eating–oh, and family. “In my family, my mom is still the matriarch,” Alyssa says. “Every Christmas Eve we go to my parent’s house, and my mom makes an Italian feast.” She prepares mainly different types of traditional Italian dishes, with an American course after that, which includes turkey, ham… “We’ll eat until we’re in a food coma,” she laughs. Her dad and brother play instruments, and at about 11:30, they open all the presents that were to and from each other. Then, Christmas Day, “We have a big Christmas brunch, then open gifts from Santa.”

You love gardening. What do you plant? Alyssa’s husband built an organic garden for her, and she’s obsessed with it. On the recently planted list? Salad, argulua, spinich, beets, snap peas, string beans, broccoli, cauliflower… “We just had our first salad from the garden; it was so delicious, I can’t even tell you.”

What do you look for in potential characters? There are a few elements important to Alyssa: “The complete package is something I know will produce a great movie. It’s such a crapshoot to make something that’s great…I try to look for things that I know will help that, and I think having this story and having [this movie] based on a James Patterson novel definitely helps. Then all the other creative elements–cast, producers–are super-important to me.” As for the characters specifically, “I love playing women that you see grow on camera…I’m really attracted to flawed characters because I feel like we’re all flawed.” Ultimately, she adds that it’s more challenging to play something more real.

Will you be watching the premiere? Alyssa sure hopes so. “I think will be traveling back from NY,” she says, so she’s not sure if she’ll be home in time.

Thoughts on producing versus acting? Since Alyssa also produced Sundays at Tiffany’s, it’s a fair question! “I definitely think whatever project a producer does, it makes you a little more emotionally invested.” Alyssa says that when you’re producing, you know what the vision is like the back of your hand, which puts you on the same page as some of the creatives that are involved. In acting, on the other hand, sometimes you’re figuring out on the set the direction you’re taking the character. Producing allows you to be “more creatively involved and more emotionally aware.”

How was it working with Stockard Channing? “She is exactly what you would hope working with Stockard Channing would be like. I was always a big fan of hers, even more so after working with her,” Alyssa gushes. “It was a great reminder why I still love my job. I get to go watch people like her work and still learn.”

Did you have an imaginary friend as a child? As far as Alyssa knows, she didn’t. “Maybe I did and just don’t remember,” she adds.

Do you take time to tweet on set? “I basically tweet no matter what I’m doing,” she says, so yes, definitely on set. There is one exception: when she’s gardening. “It seems like that’s a total contradiction.”

How important do you think Twitter is to promoting films and shows? It’s important, but Alyssa thinks there still isn’t a specific formula that has worked. “All I know is that for me, I have three accounts,” she says, referencing the accounts for her clothing line, for Alyssa.com, and for her personal account). “I feel very weird self-promoting too much on my psersonal account.”

Since this is based on a James Patterson novel, did you speak to James at all? Alyssa didn’t, but she did make good use of the book: “One of the wonderful things about doing movies that are based on books is that you have a deep well of information for the character not only from the script but from the book as well.” Alyssa took ideas from the book, like where Jane was in her life. It was “the bible of the story.”

Do you have a favorite scene in the movie? Quick answer: the dinner scene when Michael shows up. “It’s just one of those scenes where everything was working better than you could have ever imagined,” she says.

Jane has a hard time choosing her wedding gown in the movie. How did you choose your own wedding dress? “It was one of those moments that people tell you about, but you don’t quite believe them,” Alyssa says. Her mom had told her that when you put it on, you know. Alyssa had met with three or four designers and was ready to settle on one, but then got an appointment with Vera Wang. When she found her dress, what happened? “I put it on and I started crying, and I was like, this is it…There’s no way there could have been a more distinct realization. I knew right when I put it on.”

How hard was it to play the mother/daughter relationship, considering how well you get along with your own mother? “It would have been a lot more of a challenge if it wasn’t written as well as it was written. Oddly, no matter how close a daughter is with a mother and a mother is with a daugher, there is always going to be a mother/daughter relationship,” she says. “It’s a very unique dynamic.” Alyssa’s relationship with her mother is different from any other relationship in her life, and she was able to tap into the mother/daughter element. “When I was a teenager, man, did I put my mom through it!” she says, so she tapped into that. “The things you can relate to can make the scene work, even if you can’t relate to [the scene] at all.”

What about your upcoming film, Hall Pass? The movie comes out February 25, and it’s about two guy friends that are married, and they’re given a week to go do whatever they want–a “hall pass.” Alyssa plays Grace in the film, directed by the Farrelly brothers. “It’s very very funny,” she says.

Would you do another series? “In a second. Absolutely.”

And what about a Charmed followup movie? Her answer? “I would love that. I don’t know if it’s apossibility, but I would absolutely love that.” Well, maybe there’s a little hope there.

*****

Don’t forget to check out Alyssa Milano on Sundays at Tiffany’s tonight at 9/8c on Lifetime.

*images courtesy of Lifetime Television

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