At just 17 years old, Skyler Samuels has already had to readjust her expectations for her acting career.
Never did the self-proclaimed “dorky, uncoordinated” young woman think that she would be called on to exhibit superhuman powers, grow long catlike nails, perform hair-raising stunts, and play a character who can die multiple times. But it’s all just part of her new job as the title character in The Nine Lives of Chloe King, which debuts June 14 on ABC Family.
Chloe King is a good-natured San Francisco teen who lives with her adoptive mother (Amy Pietz) and is desperate to add a little excitement to her everyday life. She gets far more of a change than she ever expected, however, when she starts to notice she has exceptional physical abilities, and that a mysterious figure is chasing her. Chloe soon learns she is part of an ancient race, the Mai, that have been hunted by human assassins for thousands of years, and that her people’s survival may just depend on her.
It’s a lot to lay on any person, much less a girl trying to also lead a normal high-school existence. There are interesting parallels to Samuels’ life, as the relative anonymity she’s enjoyed up to now may come to an end if the show becomes a hit. I spoke with the composed young starlet recently about the excitement of landing her biggest role to date, and what it’s like playing a superhuman:
This is your first lead role, and you’re in practically every scene. What’s that been like?
It’s been such an incredible experience. I was on a show last year [The Gates] and it was an ensemble cast, and it was very exciting because that was the first series that I ever did. But now to be on this show, I’m really proud to be telling this story, and to be such a pivotal character. It’s been amazing, and it’s an incredible learning experience. I’ve had to do more as an actor and as a person on this show alone than everything I’ve ever done put together.
Has it been a tough role physically? Are you called on to do a lot of stunt work?
There’s definitely been a lot of stunt work. I had no training in stunts or action or anything like that before we started the pilot. I started running three miles a day and working with our stunt coordinator and doing all sorts of training — Pilates, boxing, all sorts of stuff. I do most of my own stunts. There are certain things obviously I’m not allowed to do, like getting thrown out of a window. That’s a bit of a liability. But most of the stuff I get to do, which is really great. As episodes go on, I’m getting to do more and more because of all that I’ve learned, so it’s a very exciting process.
Did you ever think when you set out to be an actress that you’d get to do superhero stuff, and have big, long cat nails?
It’s funny you say that, because I joke about it all the time. The last thing in the whole world that I ever saw myself doing was action. I’m totally dorky and I’m not coordinated. Nor am I an athlete. I’d never be in action. Especially a superhero, and sure enough here I am, 17 years old, and I’m this crime-fighting, action-bound teen. Well, you never know what life’s going to give you, and I love it!
It’s tempting to call Chloe a superhero, but do you see her that way?
I see the character as a superhero, but I see her as a superhero for all the qualities that aren’t supernatural about her. I think her supernatural abilities make her who she is as a person. That makes her a superhero because she’s just this wonderful person who’s on this adventure and is trying to find herself. She’s just so relatable and aspirational, I find her to be a superhero. But I think Chloe thinks she’s just different and she’s not totally accepting of it at first, but she comes to learn that these different qualities and these abilities that she has, it doesn’t have to be a curse. It can be a gift.
How much of the show will be Chloe trying to have a normal high-school existence with all this other stuff going on?
It’s a constant struggle. Chloe was just trying to fit in in high school like any other girl before this whole supernatural thing showed up. It certainly added another obstacle for her in trying to find that balance. How to have a boyfriend and how to make new friendships and have a normal mother-daughter relationship and go to school, meanwhile handling this, because the two always overlap. It’ll be a constant battle in how to attain that balance, which I think is really true of anything in life. You always have to work to balance those things.
It’s funny you mention the boyfriend angle, since it’s established in the first episode that she can’t kiss anybody without harming them. That has to make romance pretty tough to pull off.
It certainly brings up some difficulties, as you can imagine. Chloe falls for a boy, a couple boys. There are a few love interests. You definitely have a very juicy love triangle set up this season, which is going to be fantastic. She’s trying to be with the guy she loves, but at the same time she can never explain to him why she can’t be with him or date him or kiss him, so that’s really tough. Chloe is having to learn step by step how to deal with that, because it’s hard. She falls in love with a human, and that definitely presents some trouble. But she might find a way around it, she’s a crafty girl.
You seem to show up in series with some kind of supernatural bent to them — The Gates, Wizards of Waverly Place. Is that a genre you particularly like, or has it just worked out that way?
It’s funny. There’s some kind of magnet in me, I fear, that is just attracted to sci-fi shows, and I don’t know what that is. I was never a big sci-fi girl until I became one. It’s been very fun and exciting, but the cool thing is even though I’ve been on a lot of projects that have that sci-fi element, no show is like the next. They’re all completely new. It’s been fun. I’ve gotten to explore a variety of characters and experiences in the supernatural realm.
Had you read the books on which Chloe King is based?
I went and I read the Chloe series. It’s different from the book series. There’s a lot of things that stay the same, but there’s also a lot of things that we changed. We definitely modified Chloe’s character a little bit and adapted the characters in the book to be more TV-friendly. The way that we developed the TV show, it’s definitely more about the superhero and the action and the excitement and the empowerment and aspiration of it all. Whereas the books focus a little bit more on the mythology, we’re bringing in the action and the drama and the love, all that exciting stuff.
How much do you know about what’s going to happen with the character?
I’m always surprised by these scripts. Even when I think I see what’s coming, it’s always a surprise. But I have looked ahead and I must tell you, we have an incredible season in store. People are going to be really surprised by what they see. This is not conventional television. This is something different, something special.
Did you have any idea where it was going when you read the pilot script?
When I read the pilot, before I even went in for the audition, I just kept thinking, “This is the coolest thing I have ever read.” And it was really awesome because I could hear so much of my own voice in what Chloe said and how she interacted with her mom and her friends, and it was kind of like reading my own story. I’ve never related with someone so much, which is kind of funny, because Chloe and I are quite different in a lot of ways, but I fell in love with her and the story and all the characters. I knew that wherever this story was going, it was going somewhere good, and I wanted to be a part of it, so I’m very happy that I have that opportunity.
What about Chloe did you relate with?
Chloe and I are both quirky girls. We act like goofballs, and we try to go out with cute boys. We don’t follow the status quo, we’re very much individuals, not looking to fit in but just trying to stand out. We’re proud to be different, to some extent, outside of the supernatural things. Chloe and her mom have a great relationship, and I have a great relationship with my mom, and it was really important to me that Chloe have that. It’s kind of her safe haven to be home with mom and to have that open, honest environment. That’s something I relate to a lot, and I think that’s a very important part of a teen girl’s life is to have that strong relationship with the mom. So I’m very, very adamant about that.
It’s fun to watch the scenes between you and Amy Pietz, who plays your mom. What’s your relationship like with her?
Amy Pietz is a fantastic, talented, amazing woman. She’s so awesome and so fun. We have amazing scenes throughout this whole season, but they’re real. When I’m with her, it’s like I’m with my real mom. We go to this place where it’s not Chloe and Meredith, it’s like Skyler and her mom. It’s like we’re there, and it’s a real relationship with the struggles and the beauty of having a mother-daughter relationship like that. It’s a lot of fun.
Talk a little about how you got the show. What was that process like?
I had gone in for an audition. I was the last of 200 people who had shown up on a big cattle call one day, and the casting director was like, “Ugh. The final one. Let’s just get through this.” But sure enough she seemed to take to me, and it was great. All I could keep telling her was, “I love this girl. I love this girl. I love this girl.” One thing led to another and within three weeks I had a callback and tested for the show and I booked it. Now, before you know it, we’re going to series.
If this show becomes a hit, are you ready for the fame that comes with that?
You know, the way I’ve described the show is Chloe is an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances, and I didn’t realize how much that quote applies to myself. I am a 17-year-old girl from L.A. who goes to high school full time. I’m just a normal girl who landed the most incredible opportunity of my entire life, and I’m definitely ready for all the madness and excitement and wonderful things I have ahead of me. I’m very much looking forward to the future of this show and the future of my career.