Christina Ricci & Josh Bowman on the Importance of Lifetime’s ‘The Nellie Bly Story’
While she has a habit of taking on real life people for Lifetime — having previously played ax-wielding Lizzie Borden — Christina Ricci says it’s ultimately the script that attracts her to projects.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the Victorian Age and all the weird things that happened during that period,” the actress tells TV Insider. “It was such a confusing time. There were great advances, but also such barbarism.”
Escaping the Madhouse: the Nellie Bly Story, in which Ricci stars in the title role, covers the time Bly spent in the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island as she attempted to uncover the inhumane treatment of patients.
“I’m always looking for the most interesting material and parts,” Ricci says. “‘Truth is stranger than fiction.’ A lot of times, the lives people have lived [in real-life] are far more interesting.”
Bly’s suffering wasn’t in vain. Her work shined a light on the need for asylum reform, but Ricci says that Judith Light’s chilling and powerful portrayal of abusive Matron Grady, a composite character, who rules with an iron fist in an iron glove, is also one who educates in her own way.
“Grady is a tortured child who grew up and tortured people,” Ricci observes. “We live in a culture that exploits children and we don’t talk about their safety and protecting them. With Matron Grady, it’s important we make the connection between someone who is abused and someone who then goes on to abuse and torture. We all need to be aware of consequences.”
Bly (born Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) died in 1922 so there wasn’t a tremendous amount of research material available to the actors. “I read some articles that she wrote,” Ricci says. “I tried to familiarize myself with the world she would have come from before going into the asylum.”
As Dr. Josiah is also a composite character, there was no one in particular for Bowman to research, however, he says, sadly, there are plenty of current day examples of men who abuse their power on which he could base his persona in this film.
“There’s a lot to pull from for this character in this day and age,” laments the actor, noting his character is ultimately “led by his desires. He feels he’s in love with [Nellie] but he also abuses his power, which translates into today’s society.”
Dr. Josiah initially starts out as a good guy trying to help Nellie. Just as he did as Daniel Grayson on Revenge, however, we start to see different sides to the not-so good doctor
Speaking of Revenge, Daniel and Emily (Emily VanCamp)’s tumultuous relationship didn’t end on an entirely bad note as Emily shared her true feelings with her dying ex.
“I want you to know that it wasn’t all a lie,” Emily told a dying Daniel. “Not with you.”
“I actually came to [the producers] with that idea,” says Bowman, VanCamp’s real-life husband, who exited the series half-way through its final season. “I thought it was the best way to go out.”
Bowman hopes that viewers walk away with being inspired by Nellie’s story, despite her horrific journey. “I’m a ‘glass half full’ guy,” he says. “This movie is about a woman who carved her own way in a male-dominated business. It was the beginning of investigative journalism. Putting herself through that experience made Nellie a hero to me. She broke boundaries with perseverance and persistence.”
Next up for Ricci is her role in the film Percy which stars Christopher Walken as a farmer who takes on a big cooperation after his crops are interfered with.
“I play someone not from the EPA but it’s akin to that,” Ricci shares. “Christopher’s character is a farmer who gets sued. The story is him fighting that court case.”
Don’t be surprised if Ricci’s future projects concern the safety and protection of either children or the elderly. “It makes me nervous that we never hear about those two groups,” she says. “Someone needs to take up championing for them.”
Regarding his last series for ABC, the short-lived Time After Time, in which he played John Stevenson aka ‘Jack the Ripper,’ who was pitted against H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma), Bowman says viewers missed out on a whopper of a cliffhanger.
“H.G. Wells attempted to go back in time with Jane (Genesis Rodriguez) and they end up in the future,” reveals Bowman who’s seen all the episodes. “He finds [my character] and I’m running this big corporation. He bumps into me in the house [looking for Jane] but she’s gone and I say, ‘I was waiting for your H.G.’ It was actually a good cliffhanger.”
As many Lifetime films do, Escaping the Madhouse concludes with helpful postscripts that fill viewers on what happened in real life, giving viewers perspective.
“I’m glad they include those,” Bowman says. “It makes you want to go back and watch it again.”
“It’s important to set things in context and remind people that this is something that really did happen,” concurs Ricci. “I believe we should be given all the facts.”
Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story, Saturday, January 19, 8/7c, Lifetime