Peri Gilpin is taking on a new role in Lifetime's original movie The Choking Game, playing a mother who's about to be shell-shocked by what her daughter (played by Freya Tingley) will do for a high. It's a tough subject and a compelling film. We checked in with Peri last Wednesday to discuss the movie - and how many Frasier references she still gets, even though the show ended a decade ago.
"I read the script and what struck me was honestly, it wasn't like [just] the mom of the kid doing the thing. It was a mom in hell trying to figure out what her kid was doing," Peri explained of her Choking Game role. "Everything starts out so great. [Her daughter]'s starting her senior year, she's a wonderful athlete, she's a good student. And then all of a sudden her daughter just starts to change in front of her, and she can't find drugs and she can't figure out what's going on.
"The daughter's doing what kids do. She's experimenting, she's exploring, she's trying to develop some confidence and independence," she continued. "But she's going about it in kind of a crazy way. So it's that weird line where you want to kill them yourself or you want to help them."
What's disturbing about the movie - based on the book Choke by Diana Lopez - is that it's not entirely made up for television. The specific story is fictional, but the "choking game" is an actual phenomenon, particularly through social media. "They're being introduced to it as a game where you can get high," Peri explained. "These teenagers, I think, that get into this kind of thing, they're a little lost. They're trying to be someone with their brain together...You can find other people doing it that don't have to face the idea of hurting you."
Despite the heavy subject matter, Peri told us that the experience of making the film was a welcome one. "I loved working with this director, Lane Shefter Bishop is her name, and also the producer Jon Eskenas, because they worked really hard creatively and technically to make it relevant. And I loved the crew in Winnipeg, and I loved Winnipeg. It's beautiful, and I thought it was a really great choice for this. Freya and Alex [Steele] are wonderful actresses, and I had such a great professional experience."
"And everyone, I think, felt like it was an important story to tell," she continued. "It's not heavy-handed at all. It's about this really lovely teenager who meets another lovely teenager. They're both lost a little bit. It's sort of like the kind of thing you could watch with your family and talk about it after."
Peri is, of course, best known for her long-running role as the brassy Roz Doyle on the classic TV sitcom Frasier. Does she still get Frasier references all the time? "Yes, I do," she told us. "And I love it. I always did."
What other roles still stand out for her? "I played a mom on a show called Make It or Break It. And I loved that, too, because that was a real quandary that family was in. They just had to pick up and follow this kid and do whatever it took," she continued. "This year, I was a hooker on Modern Family. And my kids haven't ever watched it, but there were kids at school that did, and I found out the head of our school watches it too. It cracked me up, because it was such a fun part to do. And Roz was a blast. I'm just so glad I got to do that for so long."
As a mother herself, Peri can identify with the journey her character takes in The Choking Game. "I think it's the first time I've ever played my own mother and myself, kind of," she reflected, "because I see the looks on my daughters' faces when I get too involved...It can be smothering when you want to be too much a part of your daughter's life. But at the same time, they need to know that's how you feel.
"My character, when all of a sudden her daughter starts talking to her in ways she's never talked to her before and behave in ways she's never seen before, there's a real hurt," she continued. "I think a lot of it is because it's well written, but Freya is also a wonderful actress. And then toward the end, I think the two of them get much closer, but they had to go on this little trip together - and I think Karen, the daughter, is ready to go on with the rest of her life."
The Choking Game airs Saturday, July 26 at 8 PM ET/PT on Lifetime. For more with Peri, follow her on Twitter (@GilpinPeri).