Petals on the Wind, the sequel to V.C. Andrews’ best-selling novel and Lifetime smash hit movie Flowers in the Attic, is now available on DVD. Set 15 years after the end of the previous film, the second installment shows the Dollanganger children as they attempt to find their way in the world, following their escape after years of imprisonment. But as Cathy (Rose McIver) and Christopher (Wyatt Nash) try to put their sordid past behind them, they soon discover that certain secrets can’t be left behind. The film also stars Heather Graham, Ellen Burstyn, Bailey Buntain, Dylan Bruce and Will Kemp.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Rose McIver talked about how she got involved with the film, taking on the role from Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) and then passing it off to the next actress, how much she knew about these books before signing on, the intense ballet training, why it was a bit of a harrowing shoot, breaking the cycle of abuse, and whether she was rooting for characters in such a horrific circumstance. She also talked about what attracted her to The CW series iZombie, getting to explore comedy, the fun of playing this character, and getting to do a brief role in the Veronica Mars web series, Play It Again, Dick. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Collider: First of all, what a terrific performance in this film, especially with the intense emotion and difficult subject matter that could have easily gone off track.
ROSE McIVER: Aw, thank you so much! I really appreciate that. That was definitely a focus of ours. We knew that the material was so dynamic and could easily fall into melodrama, so we really worked to try to find naturalistic ways of playing it. And the director was fantastic. Karen Moncrieff did a great job.
How did you get involved with this?
McIVER: It actually came in the middle of pilot season, right when I got back to Los Angeles. I’d been at home for a month in New Zealand, and after about a week of being back in town, this project came up. I really loved Karen, when I met the director. And it was a chance to do ballet again, which I haven’t done since I was a kid. There were just a bunch of elements that were really appealing, and luckily, they wanted me and it all worked out.
Does it feel strange to take over this role from the actress who was in the first film, and then hand it off to whoever will be doing the role in the third film? Do you just look at it as being responsible for this one period in this character’s life?
McIVER: Yeah. I definitely feel thrilled that I was carrying on the story from Kiernan Shipka, who played Cathy in [Flowers in the Attic]. I think she did a fantastic job of establishing Cathy as a damaged but really grounded young woman. Basically, I just viewed it as some of my research was done for me. She had built this character that I then could build upon. So, I was thrilled to take it over from her, and I’m excited to see who continues after me.
Had you been familiar with these books, and how controversial these stories still are?
McIVER: I actually hadn’t read them. I knew the name. As soon as I got the project, I started talking to people in my life, and it turned out that ever second person has read those books. So, I hadn’t read them myself, but I had definitely heard a lot about them and knew that they carried a lot of weight. A lot of people have very strong feelings about them. It sounded like it was a cult series of novels for a generation, like Twilight is for us now, or Fifty Shades of Grey, or these various controversial books that are around now.
What was it like to not only have to wrap your head around this story and character, but also have to go through ballet training and shoot dance scenes?
McIVER: It was definitely a very intense couple of weeks of prep. Luckily, working with Karen, we were very much on the same page about the direction that we wanted to take Cathy, as a character, and her emotional arc. So, a lot of the time was spent on the ballet prep and trying to get back in physical condition. There’s a very specific look that a ballet dancer has, and a skill set. Obviously, I was never going to be able to get quite up to scratch, so we worked with a great stunt double who did all of the pointe sequences for me. So, the training that we tried to achieve in the two weeks before shooting was extensive. I had a lot of fun. The choreographer was wonderful at enhancing the strengths that I had, and helped me work through what we weren’t going to be able to achieve.
There’s a real weight and sadness and level of discomfort with this story. Did you think about that, the entire time you were making this, or did you try to enjoy the happier or more fun moments for what they were, instead of thinking about what this family had been through, in every moment?
McIVER: It was a fairly harrowing shoot, so we really tried to play against that as much as we could. The script really told that tragedy and had that element of the story in it, so we really tried to find the light and the texture, and the ways that we could empathize with the characters and like them. That way, the tragedy was even more weighty. Definitely, there were a few days on set that were very heavy. Luckily, the cast and crew that I was working with had a great sense of humor, and everyone was working on it for the right reasons. So, it wasn’t an easy shoot, but it was great to have the people around me that I did. It made it a lot easier.
Even though it might not have been the most moral approach, what was it like to finally have Cathy take some of her strength back and really make her mother understand the pain that she caused these children?
McIVER: As much as it’s Cathy getting her revenge or her strength, it’s actually perpetuating this terrible cycle that we see happening so often. Somebody is damaged by somebody else, and they inflict it in return. It’s a very sad ending to the story. We see, as the books go on, how very difficult it is to break that cycle. Cathy is a strong, determined young woman who’s overcome a lot of things, but you can’t necessarily shake your past. It always has some affect on you. You just hope that it’s never able to get in the way, in a way that’s too detrimental to the people around you. The children that she ends up having is what they explore in the rest of the books.
There aren’t too many subjects that are more taboo than incest. Because of that, how did you personally feel about what happened between Cathy and Christopher, and where there story ended up? Does it feel weird to root for their happiness?
McIVER: Yeah, it’s a strange one, isn’t it? In a weird way, they do the most socially responsible form that they can. They don’t have children between the two of them. They’re trying not to affect those children’s genetics. They’re trying to do the right thing. But if you look at the damage that they’ve come from, and being locked in this attic through those adolescent years, where they’re discovering themselves and their sexuality, they’re trapped with this person who is the only other person in the world that understand what they’re going through. I tried to look at it like it’s absolutely not an ideal situation and it should never happen, but how can I empathize with Cathy and feel for her and understand why she does it. I think that I was able to do that. It doesn’t make the circumstances any less devastating or the outcome any less complicated, but we can, at least, understand that it wasn’t a decision that they made. It was born out of really difficult circumstances.
iZombie is based on a comic, but it seems like such a crazy idea. What was the appeal of that show for you, and what made you want to play that character?
McIVER: Mainly, I was super attracted to the project because the writers and producers are people that I really look up to. I think Veronica Mars and Party Down are both fantastic shows. And I was excited to do something that has a lot of comedy in it. I haven’t really had a chance to do a ton of it before, and the idea of working on a project for six months, where you get to go to work and laugh every day, was definitely appealing. I’ve done a lot of drama. I’ve always wanted to be an actor that explores different genres and different characters, and this really couldn’t be much further from my past collection of work. For me, it was a no-brainer. I’m having a lot of fun on it. It is a completely surreal show, in some ways, but at the same time, she is a girl who’s 25 or 26, and she’s going through big existential questions that I feel like me and my friends, in our own lives, are going through. It just so happens that she’s a zombie.
One of the trappings of a show like this, where the main character has a secret, is that you always have to hide everything. So, is it nice that Liv’s boss knows her secret and can help her out, and that she has someone to be open with?
McIVER: Absolutely! It’s nice to have that confidante. Those scenes definitely serve as the release, where she’s able to be completely herself and completely unfiltered with somebody. But at the same time, as an actor, I was taught, from an early age, that secrets are the most powerful thing that you can have on screen, and that what you withhold is as important as what you share. With a lot of the key relationships in Liv’s life, she’s withholding this massive secret, which makes for an interesting dynamic and it makes for a lot of great conflict, especially with her love life and her family. To have to hide that from them, it creates opportunity for a lot of conflict, but also a lot of comedy. We’re having a lot of fun exploring that, so far. It’s gone in both directions already, and it should be very interesting to watch that unfold.
McIVER: There are definitely strong similarities, but also some big differences, as well. She’s a strong female. Both Rob and Diane Ruggiero created this character that is a great combination of being sarcastic and wry, at times, but she’s also the lead protagonist and you want to be able to be on her side. In the first episode, you’ll see that things aren’t easy and she’s pretty down on her luck, initially, about her circumstances, but she’s able to find this new purpose when she gets these visions and is able to create justice for people who have been murdered.
And you also ended up appearing in the Veronica Mars web series, Play It Again, Dick. What was that like?
McIVER: It’s amazing! I love how much cross-over they have between their different projects. It’s a real testament to the environment they create to work in and the quality of the material that everybody wants to keep coming back. They have people that enjoy each other’s company, and enjoy the project and the work. So, I was able to do a very brief role in the Ryan Hansen web series. And Ryan Hansen happens to be a great personal friend of mine, so we had a really, really fun time working on that. It’s been a good year, so far.
Petals on the Wind is now available on DVD.