The Lifetime Television drama series The Client List, premiering on April 8th, follows the life of Riley Parks (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a single mother, living in a small Texas town, who leads a shocking double life that would send shockwaves through the community and possibly land her in jail, if it was ever exposed. With an absentee husband, Riley must learn to juggle being a mother to her two children with her job at a seemingly traditional day spa, that offers a little more than just massage therapy.
During this recent interview to promote the risque new show, actress/executive producer Jennifer Love Hewitt talked about what initially drew her to this role, what made her want to do a series version of this story after having done a two-hour film, how she’s been using social media sites to attract interest from viewers, how she mentally prepares to wear lingerie and give the guest stars massages, the research that she did for this role, how exciting she is to be directing the season finale, and that she hopes viewers just have a really good time watching the show. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Question: What made you want to be a part of the television version of this, after starring in the film version?
JENNIFER LOVE HEWITT: We had joked around, when we were doing the movie, about how fun it would be to turn this into a series and really get in deeper with the lives of the women in the spa and everything. So, when the movie did really well, I talked it over with everybody and said, “Let’s pitch it and see what they think,” and here we are.
What originally really drew you to the role of Riley Parks?
HEWITT: I just thought it was really interesting, even with the movie. I think it’s interesting to create empowerment in a woman, who essentially could feel powerless and who could find herself in danger and could look at the situation she’s in, if she wanted to, as not very empowering. This is actually very powerful. She’s making these decisions and she’s making them consciously, and she’s growing sexually, emotionally, physically and mentally, in this job. She’s connecting, in a real, human way, with the human condition and human spirit and hearts of the people on her table. It’s super-powerful. I was really interested in that. I just thought that that was really cool, and a neat message to send out.
You’re a big part of Twitter now, taking pictures from the set and posting updates. How has your social networking enhanced interest in the show?
HEWITT: I have to say that, by nature, I’m like a 90-year-old woman, so the whole internet and Twitter and Facebook, and all of that, I’m very new to. But, I am quite shocked at how much fun it is to be able to reach out to people, on a daily basis, and keep content out there, and how much it actually really does help promote things, in such a different way. I also feel like, sometimes as actors and artists, we don’t really get to be an effective and integral part of the promotional process, other than doing interviews. With Twitter and Facebook now, and all of this stuff, it really allows us to play and have fun, vis-à-vis the pictures that I send out on Twitter every day, or little videos, or whatever it is. I feel like I’m getting to promote the show, in my own way as well, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s a lot of fun.
What do the men in your life think of you playing such a provocative role, week to week?
HEWITT: The men in my life are our crew members and the actors that I work with on the massage table, and they’re pretty happy about it because they’re usually getting massaged. My one male dog is very jealous because I’m gone a lot with the hours. I have had a lot of my guy friends be like, “So, have you learned anything in massage yet? Can I get a massage?” I’m like, “I just worked 14 hours, so no, you cannot have a massage. That’s not what we do there.” I think people are having a pretty good time with it.
How did you mentally prepare for your first scene at the massage parlor? Did you get as nervous as your character did?
HEWITT: It was a little nerve-wracking, the first day, for sure. Essentially, even though we’re actors, the guys are strangers to me, at the time, and I’m there in lingerie. But, I will say that the guys that we’ve hired so far have just been such gentlemen. They’ve been so lovely. I think it’s awkward for them also because I‘m in lingerie and they’re in pretty much nothing, and we’re in front of so many people. It is a very intimate thing to have to massage people, so it does take a couple of takes to feel comfortable with it.
Since the show is on Lifetime, obviously there’s only so much they can show. If it had aired on something like HBO or Showtime instead, and the role actually required nudity, would you still have done it?
HEWITT: I wouldn’t have done nudity, no. That’s not something that I feel particularly comfortable with. I also think that it’s sexier not to show everything. I feel that people’s imaginations can do way more.
Have you ever done anything in your life, where you had to keep a big secret from your loved ones, like your character does?
HEWITT: It wouldn’t be a secret if I tell you, now would it? No, I really haven’t. I’m a pretty bad liar, and I’m not very good at keeping secrets. I’m one of those people who is like, “Let me tell you what happened today. You’re never going to believe it!” So, I feel like I probably would not be as good at this as Riley is.
HEWITT: No, I chose not to. For me, the funny thing is that, even though the show has this provocative setting, and I know that what people are talking about is this happy ending aspect of the show, for me, the part that I did more research on was being a single mom. I’m playing a Texas woman in economic struggles. She’s somebody who, emotionally, has to carry all of these secrets and all of this loneliness, and all of the stuff that she struggles with in the series. I’m from Texas. All the woman in my family are from Texas. So, I did more research in spending time with them and the women that I know who are single moms, and how they hold it all together with a full-time job, then I did the happy ending part of it because, for me, that’s not who Riley is. That’s where Riley finds herself, but that is not who she is, so I chose not to do research on that aspect of things because it wasn’t something that I needed to know how to do, in order to play the part.
Being from Texas and having the show set there, is there anything that you drew on from your personal experiences to create the character or the setting?
HEWITT: Definitely! Riley and Linette (Cybill Shepherd) are there great combinations of my own mom. I feel like Riley is who my mom was in her 20s and 30s, and I feel like Linette is how my mom is now, in so many great ways. Not in what they do in the show, necessarily, but in the spirit of who they are. I’ve really drawn a lot from that. My mom was a single mom who did have a boy and a girl. She was a Texas mom. I’ve gotten to go back to my original accent, which has been really fun for me, but it’s hard to drop now sometimes, when I go home. That part of it has been really fun. It’s reminded me how lucky I feel to be from Texas, and how much I just love the spirit there.
How do you feel about women, like Riley, who are caught between conventional work and perhaps compromising their morals to get ahead?
HEWITT: I think it’s realistic. It may not make people comfortable, and it begs the question of, “Are there any other options?” For Riley, there aren’t, at the time. I think people are just going to have to try to be as non-judgmental about that as possible. But, I do think that this real. The story that we’re telling is real. There really are families that are put in these positions, economically. There are women out there who are in sex worker positions that you would run into at the grocery store with their hair piled on top of their head, and have no idea. So, I feel like, as women and men and people on the planet, you just have to do the best with what life gives you. Hopefully, on our show, people will have a lot of fun watching Riley do the best with what life has offered her, and it’ll be an interesting series.
HEWITT: Not eating pasta because I’m in lingerie all the time! I miss pasta so much. Probably my biggest challenge is not eating all the food that I want to eat sometimes.
Do you think your stint on Ghost Whisperer really helped you, in terms of getting ready for this role?
HEWITT: They’re two completely different roles. It definitely prepared me for the work schedule and for the hours, and for what it’s like to promote a new show, and all of those things. But, as far as emotionally, they’re so different. They’re such different people. So, in that way, not really. But, definitely in the off-camera aspects of how to live a life and work these kinds of hours and do this sort of job, it definitely helped, for sure.
Which role do you like playing more, or do you like both of them, equally?
HEWITT: I like both of them. They’re two totally completely different parts. I will say that there’s one common theme between them, which is their empathy. That is something I am apparently very attracted to, in the characters that I play. I loved that about Melinda, and I really do love that about Riley. I think she’s, quite possibly to a fault, one of the most empathetic people I’ve ever met, and I think that’s a really lovely quality, and it’s hard to find in a human being. And Melinda was that way, as well. But, I couldn’t choose a favorite one. I like not always having to talk to dead people. Definitely giving a massage beats the crossover, any day.
HEWITT: It took some thought, but after meeting everyone at Lifetime and knowing that this was the part I was going to jump into, it was pretty easy. The only real consideration was the hours and just how sleepy you get, but the work made it the easiest decision ever. I love this part, and I love what the show represents. I’m really, really excited for, and blown away by, Lifetime’s commitment to change their network and do bigger, bolder things. To let us help them do that was exciting.
What do you think audiences will enjoy most about the show?
HEWITT: I think people are going to take away different things. I think that it’s extraordinarily relatable, even though people may not think that, right off the bat, with our promotional campaign. But, is relatable in that that’s where we are right now, economically. I also think that there are lots of single moms out there in the world who are doing the best that they can. There are lots of people that married their childhood sweethearts and it turned out different, after some time went by. I think there are also different characters that people will identify with on the show. I think there’s a little something for everybody. I do think that we make the journey really fun for people to watch, and that’s the best television. We all sit down to watch television to forget about reality for a minute, and we want to do that for people.
Are there any characteristics of Riley Parks that were so complex that you had to adjust to them?
HEWITT: Playing her every day, I still ask myself, “Was there another option? Could she have done something else?” Hopefully, my journey emotionally playing her will be the same journey that the audience will go through. Just as you start to maybe feel like you could judge her for a minute, you will realize that there isn’t another way for her, and that she’s doing exactly what she should be doing and that she’s growing in her humanity, in doing this. She’s becoming a better mom and a better woman and a better daughter and just a better person because of her circumstances, and that makes it really cool. But, I think that I definitely have asked myself a few times, “Okay, are we telling the right story here and are we doing it the right way?”
Is it hard to shake off Riley, when the scenes are very intense?
HEWITT: No, it’s kind of fun, actually. She’s real feisty, and I’m pretty feisty in life, too. It’s good for me to get to do that stuff, sometimes. The hardest thing is because I’m 33 now, sometimes I go home, at the end of the day, after a day of massages or a day of really high heels, and I’m sore. I’m like, “Really, old lady? You’re sore from giving massages all day?” But, it’s good.
Do you get to ad-lib at all, or do you follow the script completely?
HEWITT: We pretty much follow the script, but we do ad-lib. The writers are amazing, and I have a lot of respect for what they do and how they break down stories and make it happen. But, when it’s passed off to us, as actors, our job is to go, “Okay, are we saying it in a way that they’re going to be able to grasp it the best? Emotionally, can I deliver it better, so that viewers can cry or laugh or feel something even deeper than what you intended?” So, the only reason to change a line or ad-lib is to have that be the purpose. We do that sometimes, but not all the time.
There has apparently been some backlash from massage therapists over the fact that this show portrays that happy ending element. How do you feel the show does, in terms of portraying the realities of this profession?
HEWITT: I think from the word go, it’s a television series, so I don’t think anybody that’s watching it or turning it on is expecting me to keep the logistics of giving a proper massage. If they’ve seen our billboards, they’re definitely not expecting that. I played a medium on Ghost Whisperer for six years, and the mediums never complained at the fact that I had cleavage while I was crossing people over into the light. In fact, they were super-excited that a hot person was out there representing the medium. So, I have the utmost respect for the massage therapy industry. I get massages all the time. Friends of mine are massage therapists. I think it’s important for people to understand, and they will when they see the series, that we also give legitimate massages at the spa, so it’s not all happy endings. There is a client list and only those people get extras. The rest of the people are there for real massages. So, we do represent both sides of it. But, at the end of the day, it’s the reality. There really are these places and there are lots of people that go to them, and we’re just trying to entertain. We’re just trying to tell a story and would never, ever disrespect any profession, intentionally. I hope that some of those people eventually will be able to stop for a second, watch the show, and find themselves enjoying it.
How do you dive into character for a TV series versus how you portrayed it in the film?
HEWITT: I’m portraying her the same way, essentially, except that I’m getting to know her, every day. What I do love about television is that you actually really do get to know a human being. We’re all different, every day. Stuff happens in my life that comes into how I play her. If I have PMS, maybe Riley is a little bit feistier that day. If I’m really, really happy, she might be super-elated. So, it’s different in that it’s an everyday thing, and we’re getting to break her down, emotionally and psychologically, much differently than we did in the movie. In the movie, we had two hours, so it had to go A, B, C, D, E, F, done. In this, we’re still on A, in Season 1. Season 2 would be the next step in unfolding who Riley is. We’re still figuring that out. There’s definite things that we thought we were going to do, in this season, that either we’ve pulled back from now and have decided not to do in this season because we want to give it more time, or that we’ve rushed because we want to get it out quickly.
You directed some episodes of Ghost Whisperer. Is there any chance you’ll be stepping behind the camera for this show?
HEWITT: Yes, I am directing the season finale, which I’m super-excited about.
How do you feel about directing a cast, when you’re in the show?
HEWITT: It’s great. It’s really fun. The good news is that they’re used to me and, essentially, because I direct, I’ve been able to observe what they like, what they don’t like, their power, and all of their greatest attributes. I’ve been watching, from day one, so when I get in there to direct, I know if somebody is an actor who likes to keep moving while they’re acting, or who needs to use props in order to forget that the camera is there. I’ve seen them figure out how to get to an emotional spot, so I know where, in the day, to place that scene, or what to say to them to bring that out. So, I start at an advantage, which is really nice, when you get to direct the cast like that. That’s cool.
As one of the executive producers, Do you ever get involved with the writing of the show, or the direction it’s going to go?
HEWITT: I do, probably more than the writers like because I have lots of storyline ideas swirl around in my head, and lots of opinions on things. My job playing Riley, and as an executive producer, is to watch over her and the rest of the cast, and see where they’re going emotionally with their characters, in this first season, and what we’re saying to the audience. So, I have been very vocal. I’ve not physically written anything, but I’ve definitely been very vocal.
What do you prefer doing more, movies or TV?
HEWITT: I like them both, for different reasons. Films are amazing. To be a part of a movie is the greatest. It’s so historic and exciting. Television, for me, is great because I love to act, every day. I love to work that muscle. I love to learn, and I love to be able to just do what I love. It’s when I’m at my best. So, I love TV for that reason because it’s every day.
When, in your life, do you most need a massage, and call up and make an appointment?
HEWITT: A friend of mine is a really amazing masseuse, so on those very few days that I get off really early, she’ll come over and give me massage. It’s a way for me to consciously take a minute for myself. I don’t always lay down on the table. Sometimes it’s just sitting up in a chair, getting my shoulders and neck rubbed, but it’s good. Now, it’s research for me as well because if she does something where I’m like, “Oh, wow, that’s really cool, that feels nice,” she can teach me how to do that, so that when I’m actually doing a massage on the show, I can look like I know what I’m doing, and the actors can go home and be like, “I actually got a little bit of a massage.” That’s super-exciting.
What were you really looking forward to exploring more, in the series, that you didn’t necessarily get to do with the film?
HEWITT: Just more of her being a mom, more of the double life, and more of the odd friendships that she would make with the people either in the spa or outside of the spa.
What do you think it says about the economy that a woman like Riley would find herself in a position where she has to do something like this to make a living? Has playing this role changed your mind about the morality or even the legality of this type of job?
HEWITT: The legalities of it are not something that I’ve really thought about. I’m an actor playing a part, and I find it interesting. I do think that it is no surprise that, economically, we’re in trouble. There’s been a lot of trouble out there. I read a stat, a year and a half ago, that more women than ever have found themselves in these positions, mostly doing phone sex and things like that, to help pay bills, so that they could be two-income households. They can do these short-term jobs and still pick up their kids at school, at the end of the day, and drop them off in the morning, and all of that stuff. I find it fascinating. I’m not one to judge the people in that situation, nor would I really want to. I think that’s why I’ve not done research, on that side of things. That’s not for me to really be a part of, but I do think that it makes for a really interesting television series. I think that there’s enough in the story that people will be able to relate to, that you will be able to watch an episode and ask yourself some real questions about where you stand on certain things. If you’re talking about us after we’re off the air, then we’ve done a really good job.
What’s it like working with Cybill Shepherd?
HEWITT: She lights the set. All the lighting that you see on the series is pretty much just Cybill being in the room. She is hysterical. I love her to pieces. She’s just an awesome lady. We were able to bond in the movie, and there was no way that I was going to do the series without her. It’s just great. We have a really good time.
Can you talk about the love triangle that’s forming with the two brothers?
HEWITT: There could be a bit of a triangle. It’s a complicated relationship, between Evan (Colin Egglesfield) and Riley and Kyle (Brian Hallisay). It’s complicated when you go into a family and you’re that close with both brothers. I think that the audience is going to help us make up our minds a little bit on where that cookie is going to crumble. It might be a little bit of both. I don’t want to say too much about it because I really don’t want to give away anything, but there’s definitely going to be a triangle. Riley’s life is going to be turned upside down, and one brother is the driving force behind it being turned upside down, while the other brother is there to hold her hand through it. That’s going to bring up some complications and some interesting storylines.
HEWITT: There was a conscious choice to start over. The movie was the movie, and we are beyond grateful that people loved it for what it was and that it did really well because it got us here. But, we really want people to look at the series as its own thing now. We made subtle differences and changes in things and places, so that we could say, “This is its own deal.” We felt like that was important, and hopefully the audience will be cool with it.
What has it been like to work with Brian Hallisay?
HEWITT: It’s great. He plays my husband, in the series. He’s not had tons to do because he leaves Riley. He’s there and he’s not there, and that will be explained, as the episodes unfold. We’ve gotten really lucky to have really great actors who are really amazing at their parts. It’s been so fun that way. Particularly with Colin [Egglesfield] and Brian, it’s been really to fun to play the scenes with both brothers because they’re so different.
What is the most important lesson you learned about yourself, throughout your career?
HEWITT: Oh, wow! That I bounce back pretty quick from rejection. I think, in 24 years in the business, you have a lot of doors slammed in your face, and a lot of people say mean things. Every time, I’m constantly surprised at how the span of time gets quicker that I get okay with it, and I’m over it. That’s been an interesting thing to learn.
Are you planning on writing another book?
HEWITT: I’ve been playing around with some new ideas for one. If I get a second to sit for a minute, I might take another stab at it.
You’ve been one of America’s darlings for a long time now. What are you looking forward to the audience seeing, with the show?
HEWITT: I’m hoping that they’ll just have a really good time. It’s a fun story that we’re telling. It’s an interesting story. I hope that they will really love Riley and root for her, as well as judge her sometimes. I’m one of those weird people that thinks a role model is an imperfect person, not a perfect person, because that’s who we are as real people. So, we’ve consciously tried to make Riley imperfect, in the most perfect way, and I’m hoping that people will appreciate that. I just want them to have fun. It’s a really fun show. We want to catch them by surprise and grab them by their shirt collars, every now and then, and have them cry or laugh unexpectedly, or get angry for her. But, for the most part, we just want them to have a good time.
What’s a day like, on the set?
HEWITT: It’s great. It’s very funny. The show’s subject matter leads to a lot of fun jokes, and we have a great time. Loretta Devine is the best. She and I are always in hysterics. My favorite thing to do is to bother all day. And, Cybill is just this ball of light. It’s a lot of fun.
What do you do in your downtime, to recharge and find some balance in your life?
HEWITT: I watch The Voice and American Idol, and I sit in my Brookstone foot massager. It’s so exciting at my house.
The Client List airs on Sunday nights on Lifetime, starting on April 8th.