Shows about twins or lookalikes tend to be on the cute and cuddly side. Think The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Sister, Sister and The Patty Duke Show. But ABC Family is going a different way with The Lying Game, which premieres Monday, adding an element of danger to the mix.
Emma and Sutton are twin sisters who only recently found out the other existed, and up to now they have lived completely different lives. Emma has been brought up in foster homes, the latest of which seems to be a particularly malevolent environment, while Sutton has been pampered and privileged in an Arizona mansion. After being falsely accused of a crime, Emma flees her home to meet up with Sutton, only to have Sutton quickly take off for a trip to Los Angeles to supposedly find out about the pair’s biological parents. She asks Emma to fill in for her while she’s gone, which requires the shell-shocked girl to live a whole new life in a different world.
Alexandra Chando plays the dual roles of Emma and Sutton, and the young actress spoke to us about creating the characters, what it’s like to possibly be on the brink of stardom, and living down her episode of True Life:
Getting to play twins has got to be every actor’s dream, right?
(Laughs) It’s definitely been a dream come true for me. It’s really incredible to be able to develop two characters and really show a range of what I am capable of. It’s a challenge, but I love it.
How did you go about developing the characters and illustrating their differences?
When I’m developing the characters, I try to come up similarities between the girls, because they are after all twins. I tried to make that a common thread, but I also wanted to make distinct differences based on where they were brought up. Yeah, I believe their upbringing and their surroundings really shaped them into who they are and what you see today. I still believe they are similar in some ways, deep down, but I also think that their lifestyle has really molded who they are.
Having watched the first episode, I’m still not completely sure if I’m going to be in for a drama, a thriller, or maybe even a little bit of comedy from here on out. How do you describe the show to people?
That’s great that you had that reaction. It’s definitely a drama, and there is certainly some mystery thrown in there. I can’t say too much … but I know that they are definitely going to incorporate some mystery as it’s based loosely on Sara Shepard’s book series. The first book anyway has a lot of mystery in it. I definitely know that there are some mysteries some intrigue and some secrets and lies happening.
Have you met Sara Shepard, or read the book?
Yes. When we were shooting the pilot the book wasn’t out yet. I had a chance to read it about a month after we shot the pilot, and I did get to meet Sara when I was in New York. I had lunch with her, and it was so great to meet her. She’s so lovely. We had a really nice time together. It was fun to get to pick her brain about the characters and about all her writing and everything. It was really nice.
Tell me a little bit about how you perceive Sutton. Is she a mean girl?
I don’t necessarily know if I would call her a mean girl. The issue with Sutton is she is very entitled. She’s used to everything being handed to her. She grew up with a very privileged lifestyle. She’s a very entitled person, and she takes a lot for granted. So you have this girl who’s in high school who’s just kind of over it. She just wants it to be done. She’s like, “I’m over you people. I’m way past this.” So I don’t necessarily think she’s a malicious person. I just think that she has this attitude where she’s just better than it all.
The highlight of the first episode has to be the scene where Emma and Sutton meet in the locker room. How was it to film that?
Oh my goodness, it was crazy. We did the scene in sections. So the first part was the part where we walk in and we’re circling each other. I was Emma first and we would choreograph it, and I would just walk around in a circle without anybody there. Then I’d change into Sutton and I’d try to remember what I did as Emma and I would do the same thing except as Sutton. That was the most complicated. For the rest of the locker room stuff, it was just split screen, so we were able to just kind of play around with that. I did Sutton first, and then I changed to Emma, and I think the most difficult for me was after I did Sutton remembering what I did so Emma could respond and react. That was the most difficult. My brain was working overtime, but it definitely gets confusing at times.
And you even got to hug a body double.
(Laughts) It’s so funny, my parents saw a clip, and they were like, “Who are you hugging?”
I know the series is going to deviate from the books, but do you plan to use some things from the books in how you portray the characters?
I think more so for Emma. The books have been extremely helpful. Sara does a really great job of giving a lot of background on Emma and describing her living situation in the foster home that she’s in and that type of thing. That helps me paint this picture of where Emma is coming from. Other than that, I developed the characters before I read the book. I’m going to take what I can from the book, but I think I’m mostly going to stay on the track that I’m going. But with Emma it’s definitely been helpful.
Do you feel any personal connection with Emma, in terms of being a normal girl who is thrust into a glamorous world? In your case, it’s acting and Hollywood.
Yeah, of course. There are definite moments in my life where I’m doing something or I’m at an event or something like that and I have to pinch myself. I’m like, “Is this really happening?” “How am I here right now?” And it’s even little things that happen where I’m like, “Oh my goodness. I can’t believe it!” With Emma I can kind of pull from that and draw from that. It’s funny, too, because where we shot the pilot we were on locations in these mansions. So for me anyway, I walked in there, as Alex, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, these places are ginormous and they’re beautiful. Look at the view!” There wasn’t much acting going on, because I really was, as Alex, like, “Oh my God, this place in insane!”
Are you concerned at all, given the fact that the shows are both based on Sara Shepard books, that there will be any unfair Pretty Little Liars comparisons for your show to deal with?
We’re all very happy that it’s mentioned in the same breath, and I’m not worried. I’m actually very excited that we’re mentioned with Pretty Little Liars and that it’s from the same author. They’ve had such amazing success, and all we can hope for is that we have similar success as they’ve had. It would be great. Regardless, it’s just great now to have a show on the air, especially now in this time.
Part of being on an ABC Family show is having a sizable presence in social media. How are you with Twitter/Facebook etc.?
I’m not very faithful with my Twitter. I often never can think of anything to tweet. I’ve got to get better about that. I think once I’m on set it’ll be a really great tool to connect with fans, and be able to post a picture or two from set. I think that’s the best thing I would be able to tweet. It’s going to be tough, I’m a very private person. As far as Facebook, I’m not super big on Facebook, but Twitter, definitely. It’s a great outlet.
Are you ready for all the attention that’s going to come your way should the show become a hit?
I don’t know. It still hasn’t sunk in. Right now it’s the calm before the storm and I don’t know what to expect. I’m just kind of enjoying every moment leading up to it. If that happens it happens, and I’ll find ways to deal.
You were featured in a 2006 episode of True Life (“I’m Getting My Big Break”) that followed you on your first acting gig on As the World Turns. How do you feel about that True Life experience now?
I will tell you whenever I see that they have a True Life marathon on MTV, I’ll page through the guide to see if mine’s on. It’s so old now that I don’t think they play it anymore. But I think I have a DVD of it. It’s definitely great that I have it, because the first six months of my career is documented, which is really cool. I watched a clip of it the other day on YouTube. One of my friends hadn’t seen it. I was just like, “Oh my goodness.” That felt like it was so long ago, and I feel like I’m so different now. I was such a dork. I’m still such a dork.
Photo: © 2011 Disney Enterprises, Inc. Credit: Colleen Hayes