It made be almost impossible to believe, but actress Shiri Appleby has been acting professionally for three decades. At the tender age of seven, she appeared on the soap opera Santa Barbara, and she's never looked back. One of the rare child actors to transition into a successful adult career, Appleby headlined a hit TV series on Roswell 18 years ago, and is doing it again today on UnREAL.
In between her television acting gigs and recent forays into episodic directing, Appleby also looks to fill hiatus breaks with film roles that allow her to branch out into other genres. Her latest is starring in director Sean Byrne's horror film The Devil's Candy. The actress plays wife and mother Astrid Hellman. She's married to Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry), an artist who moves his young family into a beautiful Texas home that turns out to have a horrific history. Years before, the home was the staging ground for some grisly murders, and that bad ju-ju ends up infecting Jesse and his family.
Recently, we talked to Appleby about why horror projects appeal to her and what she's planning with her new development deal with A+E Studios, and we look back at some standout genre roles on her very long resume.
What about The Devil's Candy let you know that this was a project for you?
I think with The Devil's Candy it was a combination of being really inspired by Sean's previous film, and his work. And then having come in and read with Ethan, I felt like there was a really natural connection between us. It was going to be easy to play off of one another. I felt there was a really personal story between our two characters and our daughter. So all of that excited me about going into the project.
What about Astrid appealed to you?
A lot of those characteristics of being a mother and feeling protective, and wanting to be a partner that supports their partner in their journey and struggles. And at the same time, the excitement of finding your first house and building something big for your family is something that I can relate to. And that desire to create safety for your family and the heartbreak of what it would be to move into this dream house and it's riddled with pain for you. I could connect to that story on an emotional level.
It struck me that you play a lot of women trying to find that work/life balance with vigor. Is that on purpose or by chance?
I've been working since I was a young kid so I don't really know what life is like without work. (Laughs) It means so much to me that I can really relate to characters that are striving for something, that have drive and dreams. Work is the place for them to fulfill those dreams, or to fail and then need to succeed again. All of those characteristics, I share that. It's a big part of my journey. So when I find characters who have the similar drive of wanting to create something for their family, or create a life for themselves through work, I know I'm always going to be able to connect.
So you have to play being terrified in this film, but what actually scares Shiri?
I definitely have fears. I got bit by a dog when I was young, over my eye, so I've never really been comfortable around dogs or animals. I got bucked off a horse when I was 26. So I'm afraid of animals a little bit and they can feel that. And the ocean, I grew up going to Zuma Beach, and the water can be really rough so sometimes I get scared of the ocean.
Switching gears, it was recently announced that you signed a multiyear, exclusive overall television production deal with A+E Studios. As an actress who sees what's out there to play, is this a chance to make better projects for you and other women?
Yes. When I'm auditioning for pilot season, I can read scripts and know which one is going to work and which one is not going to work. There are some years I don't see anything I'm going to connect with. There's always a gap in stories that are emotional and strong and vibrant for females. The shows that I grew up watching that meant a lot to me were Felicity and Ally McBeal. Those are the kinds of stories I want to tell with women striving for something, having goals and aspirations, winning and failing. Telling stories about women doing things that inspire other women. There are so many stories out there and I want to be a navigating force in getting them out there.
Will you develop projects that you might also star in, or direct?
Right now, it's about getting things on the air and getting things made. If I can be of benefit as an actor or a director, wonderful, but that's not my intention. I want to find stories I really believe in, and help breathe creativity and life into them, and push to get them on the air.
Is there a timetable of when we might see your first projects?
I have a handful of shows and movies in development so it's really a matter of getting them to the right place, in the best shape that they can be for the market. It's about creating and developing quality material that I feel when it starts circulating, people will say, "That's something Shiri Appleby would be behind." That's my goal.
Let's take a walk down memory lane and look at some genre roles that standout on your resume. At age 10, you appeared in Freddy's Nightmares. Was that traumatizing or did they shield you from the Krueger of it all?
(Laughs) From what I can remember, it was a scene in the kitchen with a family and then we ran out into the backyard for a BBQ. I wasn't in anything with the horror.
You did two appearances on Xena: Warrior Princess. What was that like?
Selma Blair was originally supposed to play the role but then she got a part in a big movie and suggested me, so that's how the role found its way to me. I remember Lucy Lawless was incredibly supportive, and so kind and generous. We really talked through things. For me it was a big job. I was 18 years old and someone flew me to New Zealand to be an actress. I had a big storyline so I felt a sense of responsibility and growth. They were so generous to have me back a second time. I really appreciated that job at the time.
This year is the 18th anniversary of the premiere of Roswell. People are finding the show now on streaming services so how does it feel to have a new generation of fans for the series?
It's so fantastic. It's like people talking about your high school yearbook, is how I feel about it. People feel so warm and you were so young. Those stories are now such distant memories that you look back at them with fondness. I've bumped into Jason Behr a number of times recently, and Jason Katims. It's always so wonderful and I feel lucky when people bring up you were part of something at the beginning of your career that had an impact. You can't feel anything but grateful for that.
In 2004, you did a Syfy Original film, Darklight. What stands out about that film?
I remember shooting the movie in Bulgaria which is an interesting, shell-shocking experience for five works. The impact was the people that I got to know and being immersed in this other culture.
Last but not least, in 2008 you were in horror legend Mick Garris' series, Fear, Itself. What was the pull to be part of that show?
I thought the whole project was interesting because it felt like a theater group. They were getting a bunch of cool horror directors and casting as best they could to make these little horror movies. It was like an anthology series. I liked the idea of being part of that.
The Devil's Candy is out March 17th in select theaters, VOD and On Demand.