In January, Lifetime’s film adaptation of the V.C. Andrews cult classic novel Flowers in the Attic lured a whopping 6.1 million viewers to its controversial tale of multigenerational family horrors, brought to vivid life by Ellen Burstyn, Heather Graham and Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka. Almost immediately, production began on the film’s sequel, Petals on the Wind.
Tweaking that novel’s timeline, Petals — which premieres on Memorial Day — begins 10 years after tormented Dollanganger siblings Christopher, Cathy and Carrie escaped their attic prison and the torment at the hands of their mother Corrine (Graham) and grandmother Olivia (Burstyn). Now grown, Cathy (Rose McIver, Once Upon a Time), Chris (Wyatt Nash, Pretty Little Liars) and Carrie (Bailey Buntain, Bunheads) have moved far from Foxworth Hall and are doing their best to live normally, Chris as a doctor and Cathy as a ballerina, while Carrie still battles the most readily apparent physical and emotional scars of the abuse that killed her twin.
Plagued by her own demons, Cathy embarks on a volatile relationship with fellow dancer Julian (Will Kemp, Van Helsing), whose jealousy of her bond with Chris escalates into physical abuse. And when tragedy strikes the siblings once again, Cathy puts into motion a dangerous and seductive plan to exact revenge on Corrine and Olivia.
Burstyn, who virtually stole Flowers as the evil Olivia, says she was unaware of the Dollanganger novels until she was cast in that film, but — like millions of other readers — the taboo tales drew her in.
“I really got into them — not because they’re great literature, but because there is something about them that is very, very compelling,” Burstyn says. “Of course, that might have something to do with the forbidden quality of the incest — how verboten that is normally — being written about in a way that was really not so shocking. It wasn’t evil. It was something that happened under these strange circumstances, and it wasn’t condemned by the writer. The fact that incest was not depicted as rape or child abuse but as something occurred in this family in a loving way, I think, was fascinating to people.”
Still, Burstyn admits that she only truly understood Olivia’s dark heart while filming Flowers’ final, hair-raising scene. “I felt Olivia being put in the closet as a child and I felt her terrible fear and lack of control, and I recognized — because I experienced it — what a frightened person she was,” Burstyn says. “Fear of losing control is what dictated her behavior, and once I felt that, I felt compassionate toward her. I discovered these very deep, not easily available feelings, and I found the terrified person living inside of her. All of that hateful behavior was her way of coping with her own fear.”
While Petals’ tale relieves her of having to further terrorize underage costars, Burstyn endured a new kind of on-set torment. “Olivia’s had a stroke, so they stretched my skin every day,” she laughs. “I kept saying, ‘Are you sure this is going to go back to what it was?!’ I was glad when it was over, frankly, because it was so uncomfortable — and I must say that I looked frightening!”
Though Petals means nothing but bad news for Olivia Foxworth, Lifetime has good news for V.C. Andrews fans — the network is developing film adaptations of two additional books from the Dollanganger series, If There Be Thorns and Seeds of Yesterday, and the stand-alone novel My Sweet Audrina.
Petals on the Wind premieres Monday, May 26, at 9/8CT on Lifetime.
Photos ©2014 Patrick Ecclesine/Lifetime