It’s the kind of role that would appeal to almost anybody: a female con artist in the Old West. By necessity, it invites the almost automatic appeal of undeniably romantic elements — the period clothes, the horses, carriages, six-shooters and echoes of a simpler time. But more than anything else, it was the adventure that drew Daphne Zuniga to her role in Hallmark Channel’s Mail Order Bride.
“I was thinking, ‘What kind of part do I want to play?’ and I really got honest with myself,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘I want to do an adventure. I want to do something adventurous.’ Like if I were to do Romancing the Stone with Michael Douglas — I want to play the Michael Douglas part. I really wanted to do something like that, that was physical. And this came up, literally, a few days later.”
Zuniga plays Diana, a pickpocket and con artist who steals away from Tom Rourke (Greg Evigan), the cruel man who “owns” her, with $10,000 and a new identity borrowed from a friend: a would-be mail order bride who died in Diana’s arms. Carrying nothing but a suitcase and the letters her friend received from the unknown fiance, Diana takes off into the frontier with the hope of starting a new life borrowed from the identity. But before long, she finds herself in over her head, and just as she’s at her most desperate, her past comes once again nipping at her heels.
Between the duplicitous nature of her character and the savagery of Evigan’s Rourke, Mail Order Bride might seem a little afield of Hallmark Channel’s “safer” fare. “I can’t speak for Hallmark, but it is true — it was a little more risky than, maybe, their other stuff. But they were really all for the action and the drama. They really were for that,” Zuniga explains.
There’s also a fair amount of what could be considered ambiguous morality in the film. Diana has a brother — a priest — with whom she’s been in cahoots since childhood. He still accepts money for his church earned from her “indiscretions,” which makes him, at the very least, a slightly more interesting man of the cloth. “There is no cut-and-dried morality, is there, for anybody?” Zuniga asks. “If you’re human, you’re living out some version of what you think right and wrong are, but — some version.”
“It is about survival,” she continues. “What I might do given a certain upbringing and certain situation in life certainly would be considered wrong, duplicitous and evil, compared to Diana, who had completely different circumstances and was brought up by a man, really, who taught her his version of right and wrong.” For Zuniga, it’s an important observation, as she indicates that it was in this difference of perspective that she was able to find the character she needed to become. “You just try to find the justification of why someone would be that way,” she says.
For now, Zuniga is looking forward to a shift in her own perspective, a move away from playing some of the more hardened characters she’s portrayed of late — like the icy Victoria Davis on The CW’s One Tree Hill. “I’d love to do humor,” she says. “I really like comedy, and there’s a tough businesswoman — a lawyer — I’m going to play who one day wakes up with a family and has to deal with kids and those situations and how you talk to them, and what are they saying to you. Do you fall in love with them in spite of yourself? And with the husband that she just wakes up with one day?”
At the end of the day, Zuniga doesn’t feel she’s overly demanding, but she does hope for ever-greater variety in the parts she’s selected to play. “It’s not like I need to go play some wild, crazy action hero,” she says. “Life is so entertaining anyway. I guess the parts that I would like to play are just well-written scripts — when there’s humor and tenderness and truth, and relationships. … That’s why I love to act.”
Mail Order Bride premieres on Hallmark Channel Nov. 8.
To see what Daphne Zuniga had to say about Victoria Davis and her experiences on One Tree Hill, check out our blog entry here.