In the new ABC Family TV series “Chasing Life,” Canadian actress Italia Ricci takes the lead role as April Carver, a 20-something year old aspiring journalist whose life takes an unexpected turn when she is diagnosed with cancer. In her career, Ricci, 27, has starred in such projects as the TV show “Aaron Stone” and the 2013 indie film “Don Jon” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
During our interview, Ricci talked about how realistic a show like “Chasing Life” might be in comparison to someone living with cancer and discussed why she thinks the “cancer drama” is something audiences will be interested to see.
The series premiere of “Chasing Life” airs June 10 at 8 p.m. on ABC Family.
Do you think a show like “Chasing Life” can properly portray what cancer patients go through?
The show isn’t all about cancer. From the people that I’ve spoken to everybody goes through it differently, so there’s no one way to try and show the world what somebody would be experiencing. So I did my best to play April as authentically as we can within the confines of entertainment television. I’m sure there will be some people who completely disagree with how she’s reacting to certain things physically and emotionally and then there will be some people who might say that’s exactly what they experienced or what they saw somebody experience. I hope people can at least understand. They’re going to know it’s still television. It’s not a documentary, but at the same time being on set doing some of those scenes, it does get scary when you have to remind yourself that you’re not sick.
How do you think the writers will keep a show like this from getting too dark or depressing with such a heavy subject matter?
People just have to take my word for it. It’s not depressing. It’s not dark. It’s not going to leave you feeling heavy after you watch it. The writers are so brilliant. They deliver the bad stuff or the dramatic stuff and then it’s right back at it just like real life is. There’s comedy in it and there’s so much more to it than the cancer. It’s about friendship and [April’s] family and her romance. There are episodes where you totally forget she’s even sick.
We’ve seen dramas where cancer is at the center of the narrative like in the film “50/50” and the upcoming “The Fault in Our Stars.” Why do you think this subject is something people want to see? Do you think it’s partly because most people know at least one person who has battled cancer themselves and they can sort relate to it?
As an audience member, I enjoy watching things that make me feel represented. I feel like people are interested in seeing this because no matter what role you play, there might be somebody you can relate to, whether it’s the mom of somebody who’s sick or the best friend or the boss. There’s something there where you’re like, “OK, I can relate to that and I feel that validation.” It piques a lot of people’s interest if they can find something they relate to. And then there are people who just want to feel like they’re not alone in this. They’re not. There are so many people that feel everything every character is feeling in the show. I’ve seen “The Fault in Our Stars,” and it’s pretty similar to our show. The types of cancers are different and some of the plot points, but it’s a wonderful movie and I hope people watch it. But “50/50,” when Joseph Gordon-Levitt and I had re-shoots for the movie, he actually is the one that pulled me aside and was like, “I think it’s amazing what you’re doing, but don’t forget that you’re not sick.” I never really took it to heart before I started shooting and now I’m so grateful he said that to me because, like I said, that’s sometimes the hardest part.
Do you feel because you’ve taken on a role like this means you now have a responsibility when you’re off the set to help with cancer awareness?
Yes, absolutely. As soon as I booked it, I was like, “What can I do?” It always felt like this massive dark presence that I was uncomfortable addressing or even looking at because I didn’t know very much about it. Now, it’s all about the awareness we’re bringing. We’re taking the power away from [cancer] and I think that’s great. When I first started shooting and even when I booked it, it didn’t really cross my mind that people would look at me and I would be taking on these responsibilities. I don’t want to screw it up. I obviously hope [this show] is going to help some people, but I’m still just a really lucky girl who booked a really great job.