This weekend, you've got a chance to see AJ Michalka in a way you may not have seen her before. AJ stars as Hannah in the Lifetime original film Expecting Amish, where her character must make a choice between the life she's known and the world as we know it. We sat down with AJ on Thursday to discuss the film, that time she got killed off Motive, and the ultimate direction she sees her career heading in.
One of the interesting things about Expecting Amish is that Hannah's love interest Josh is played by Jesse McCartney - a fellow singer-actor whom AJ has known since she was a teenager. "I was really excited about that," she told us. "Playing roles like we were playing, where there is chemistry and a relationship going on between these two characters, it does make it easier. I knew that he was also,acting but I had never really auditioned for anything with him or been in anything with him..and it made me more comfortable. I was even more excited about doing the project."
"I think the cool thing about the film is that it's really upholding Amish tradition," she continued. "It's not bashing their religion or culture or way of living. It's upholding it in a really positive light. It was really a film that wasn't trying to be racy or over the top." For example, Hannah is depicted as a strong young woman who's been serving as a sort of caretaker for her siblings, and just because she's tempted by the outside world doesn't mean it's automatically presented as the right choice for her.
Like Jesse, AJ has been an actress about as long as she's been singing, but most people probably don't know that. Her acting career dates back to 2002, when she appeared on the soap Passions and in two episodes of the cult hit Birds of Prey as the young Dinah. Other notable parts include a recurring role on The CW's cheerleading series Hellcats (which starred her sister Aly Michalka) and fifteen episodes of The Guardian.
More recently, she has a recurring role as Lainey Lewis on ABC's retro sitcom The Goldbergs. She was also the murder victim in an episode of Motive this season entitled "Dead End." That one was a whopper: her character Emily was killed by her best friend, after having become pregnant by her friend's father.
"That was a really weird storyline. When I read the script it was like 'Whoa, this is shocking,'" she laughed. "I've always wanted to do one of those procedural shows...I love those shows. They've always been really entertaining to me.
"It was really cool to be a part of that show, because I had also never died on screen before, and it was horrific," AJ continued. "But it was also really interesting, and I actually like how that show has a little different spin on victim-killer."
"I really do want to continue balancing both [acting and music]," she told us. "It's hard and a lot of people are like how do you do it and I don't really know. One does take a back seat when you're focused on the other. You have to be really specific and be in communication with your team...and you just have to be real about it. As much as there are really exciting [acting] projects out there, music is also a love of mine. It's hard to balance the two, but you don't really have to choose, which is the beauty."
"I have a lot of respect for people who are doing both," she continued. "You see someone like a Will Smith or Gwen Stefani, who really have been able to brand themsleves in a classy way, and be musicians and actors and producers and work on a clothing line. I think you can accomplish as much as you set out to do, if you have the right team around you. "
And AJ is setting out to accomplish a lot in the near future. Having formed the production company Violet House Productions with Aly, she's looking toward a big year in 2015 in both disciplines. She and her sister are in post-production on a new film that "really focuses on our relationship as sisters," and they're also planning to release a new record, their first under the new band name of 78Violet. If you want to get an early listen to what they've been working on, they released the single "Hothouse" in 2013.
Saturday night, though, AJ will be tuned into Expecting Amish with the rest of us. "This is something I wanted to be a part of," she told us, "and I really hope people are moved by it."
Expecting Amish airs tomorrow, Saturday, July 19, at 8 PM ET/PT on Lifetime (check your local listings for specific channel); for more on the movie, read my interview with Jesse McCartney. For more with AJ, you can follow her and her sister on Twitter (@78violet) and visit their website (78violet.com).