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Photo: Lewis Jacobs/The CW

Shiri Appleby on the difficulties for female directors in Hollywood

Contributed by
Mar 20, 2019

Almost 20 years after starring in Roswell, which aired on The WB from 1999-2001, Shiri Appleby is on the set of the latest adaptation of the Roswell High book series, Roswell, New Mexico. But this time, Appleby was behind-the-scenes directing a very special episode of the show, which is currently airing on The CW.

Last November, SYFY FANGRRLS visited set as Appleby was wrapping up her episode to chat about the differences between the reimagined show, what it was like directing an episode, and the continuing difficulties for female directors to gain opportunities in Hollywood.

What are some of the key differences between your Liz and Jeanine's Liz? And have you guys had a conversation before you start filming, do you sit down and kind of hash out, 'Hey, I'm not going to be territorial over this.'

Shiri Appleby: You're so cute. (jokes) "Give me my part back, lady." No. (laughter) There's definitely not that. It feels like passing the baton. And my version of Liz was sixteen. Her version of Liz is in her late twenties. And so I think my character had so much vulnerability. She was really trying to figure out who she is. And her version of Liz knows who she is. She's a very strong woman. She's capable of asking a man to dance without having a lot of insecurities.

In some ways, it's just a much stronger, much more mature, evolved character than I played. I think a lot of that has to do with the age, and I think a lot of that has to do with just who Jeanine is and what's she bringing to it. I was a young girl myself at the time. That was like life was upside down. I was just holding on for dear life myself. But she has a lot of strength.

But [Jeanine] emailed me, I think, once [showrunner] Carina [Adly MacKenzie] called me right before they offered, just to make sure because I kept saying in the press whenever I was doing things, they'd be like, "So what do you think of the Roswell reboot?" And I was, "I can't wait to direct it. I'm so excited." Nobody had asked. I was just putting it out there. And so she called just to make sure I was serious. Do you really want to direct it? And then Carina said is it okay if I pass your email onto Jeanine. So Jeanine emailed me right away and I [said], "If you have any questions, if there's anything you need, I'm here for you." But she's a very accomplished actress and incredibly talented. I think it was just that common courtesy of passing the baton and basically saying the role is yours now. Make it your own.

So to also add into the mix you're tackling a lot more, heavier subject material. There's immigration, LGBTQ+ representation. So what has it been like being able to direct that?

Yes, absolutely. I mean it's so interesting because Liz is really having a strong point of view that was very different from my Liz. Our show was very much about what does it feel like to grow up, to feel like an alien in high school and not know your place. And this is very much, "What is it like when you're an outsider trying to fit in the world that you live in already?" I think they put their own spin on it, and so it's interesting to me. The character of Michael goes both ways. I think that's awesome. I think it opens up the show. They're tackling big issues, and at the same time, the show is about relationships, which the original show is really about. It's about human emotion, and so it's interesting how they're able to take these new topics and, at the same time, bring it back to what made the show work in the first place.

You're in a very rare position. I don't know if this has ever happened before where you played a role and now you're directing someone else playing that same role. So is there anything that you, back when you were an actress playing this role, wish that you had more control over that now you actually get to?

Well, I definitely wish I had more control over my emotions because I was just breaking down all the time. The character was very emotional about things. So I've been saying, let's not cry, we don't need as many tears. This is a character of strength. But at the same time, it's also saying things like "Every time you see Max, your heart skips a beat. When you see him, let's see the light in your eyes" and be able to bring the things in that worked. These are the things that really worked between them, [the] Max and Liz connection, and how can I pass that on.

And so that's been really satisfying, but at the same time, they really have their own relationship, Max and Liz, and they have their own chemistry and it's very much alive and it's not a replica of mine and Jason's. So as the director, I'm just thinking, how do I make it stronger?

What kind of directorial freedom comes with aging these characters up?

Again I think it's about making them make bolder choices. Do you know what I mean? There's not the naivete of, who am I in this world? It's more about speaking up and saying what you want. I think that's been a big part of this episode for a lot of the characters. Alex's character in particular. It's a lot of finally break free, say what you want, and a lot of these characters, in this episode, are finally saying what they want, being with who they want to be, and I think that's been pretty exciting. I mean the fact that they're all sort of coming together at this one moment, I feel pretty excited to be directing this episode.

What do you think would surprise fans of the original Roswell to know all these years later about you guys filming the original?

What could I tell them that would be... I would say the exciting thing is, is that so many of the actors since they found out that I'm now directing the episode have been reaching out and that has been so satisfying. I mean, it's literally twenty years ago, it's like having a twenty-year high school reunion. But Katherine Heigl and I have been texting more now than we probably ever did. The amazing Jason Behr sent me flowers on my very first day, with the sweetest note that was a quote from the original show which was: "If you could see you the way I see you now."

I literally walked into my room thinking, oh, my agents. Oh, no, no, no, no, not my agents. Oh, maybe my husband. No, no, no, no, it's not my husband. Oh my God, it's Jason Behr. Do you know what I mean? Colin Hanks is so supportive. I think it's just amazing that there is still this connection behind us and I still feel their support in this new role.

Since your older cast members have obviously been reaching out there and asked about it, is there any hope of us getting some sort of reunion episode or make a guest appearance?

Do you know what's so funny? Is that I have attacked Jason — I mean, Jason Behr and I are dying to work on something together. We're really trying to figure it out, what that could be. We really are trying to figure it out. Because the chemistry is still there, I don't know what it is. But I saw Jason Katim, behind the scenes, in the bathroom at Matilda On Broadway. I'm, Shiri Appleby, hi, can we reboot Roswell? I mean, this was before this. I was I want to make this happen. But I really feel right now it's not really our place. This is the version of Roswell that's existing and all we can really do is get behind it and give it our support.

But if anybody has a script idea for Jason Behr and I, we're happy to do it.

Any chance we can see him do a cameo on this show?

It's so funny, the whole time we were shooting I was going, "Should I throw myself into the background and be Where's Waldo?" But I'd be happy to continue to come back and direct as many episodes as they will ask me to do. I'd be incredibly honored. But it really is their show and I want to let it be their show.

In terms of this career moment for you, going from this show that you're on, to being behind the camera because it's not something that a lot of women get to do in Hollywood. What has this meant for you?

This has really been everything. I mean, I started acting when I was three-years-old. And when we did Roswell, we did sixty-one episodes. We had one female director on the very last episode, and so I never had an image in my mind of what it would be like to see a female direct.

I dated a lot of directors. Do you know what I mean? And not until I was thirty and I was on Life Unexpected and I got to know this director, Liz Allen, that she gave me the push to start directing and I got my opportunity on UnREAL. And I have to say since I've been on UnREAL, I have been pushing and pushing and pushing to get an opportunity to direct on a show that I'm not acting in, and it has been incredibly challenging. This is my first episode that I'm directing and not acting in it, and it feels like I'm starting a new career. I am more excited to come to set than I have been in so many years. Last week was one of the most thrilling, professional experiences.

I just think that we are in such an incredible moment in time for women in this business. There's so much opportunity, and to have had so many years of experience and be able to see how much I've learned has been thrilling. I have to say one of the greatest parts of working on this show is working with these other actors and teaching them what I've learned. It's like teaching them the camera, teaching them about what can you get out of being on a TV show and sort of passing that information on. It's just been incredibly rewarding.

Roswell, New Mexico airs Tuesdays at 9pm on The CW.

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