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Director Melanie Aitkenhead Talks Lifetime’s Mother May I Sleep with Danger? 

Director Melanie Aitkenhead Talks Lifetime’s Mother May I Sleep with Danger?
Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television
Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television

In 1996, a little TV movie called Mother, May I Sleep with Danger debuted starring Tori Spelling as a teenager in love with her boyfriend, played by Ivan Sergei. Said boyfriend? He turned out to be a psychopath.

The title alone helped send this girl-in-peril story into camp-tastic classic territory.

Tonight on Lifetime, James Franco’s bringing the danger back in what’s turned out to be a whole new take on the original tale. For this preview, we emailed the movie’s director, Melanie Aitkenhead, who talked about working with Franco – the two have also teamed up on the movie based on his novel, Actors Anonymous.

Aitkenhead also shared her thoughts on the lesbian vampire angle of the 2016 version.

Melanie Aitkenhead MMISWD Screening and Panel

TV GOODNESS: Why did you want to become a director? Is that something you’ve always wanted to do?

MELANIE AITKENHEAD: From an early age, I’ve been in love with movies. I’ve always wanted to be a part of them. I love working with actors so I naturally gravitated towards directing.

TV GOODNESS: Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? is a bit of a cult classic, and it’s 20 years old. When did you first watch it, and what did you think about it?

MELANIE: I had heard about the original Mother but didn’t get a chance to see it until James [Franco] told me about this project. I’m biased, of course, but I think it was highly entertaining. Movies come in different shapes and sizes and I think the original Mother was a great story and was fun to watch. How else could we explain its cult following still present today?

TV GOODNESS: Why is Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? a project you wanted to be a part of?

MELANIE: I like to approach each project from different perspectives. Who is in the team involved? How am I responding to the material? With Mother, I loved the team and how could you beat lesbian vampires? I am drawn to tell female-driven stories and this was a great opportunity to do so.

TV GOODNESS: In a big picture way, set up what viewers are going to see when they tune into the premiere.

Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television
Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television

MELANIE: A complete remake from the original. A true lesbian vampire love story full of fun, gore and compelling relationships.

TV GOODNESS: I didn’t know what to expect from this movie. At its heart it’s a lesbian vampire love story. Why is this a story that’s so relevant?

MELANIE: First, I think we have to separate genre and style from content. That is to say that regardless of the tone of the movie, the depiction of homosexuality is extremely important today. I believe gay relationships need more support from the arts and cinema than ever. Mother also deals with issues of sexual assault and coming out to your family. Both of these are relevant topics that the movie addresses.

TV GOODNESS: You had so many elements to work with – the supernatural/horror element, the love story, and you even had to stage a production of Macbeth! What was the most challenging part of directing the movie?

MELANIE: The schedule in Mother was somewhat of a challenge in itself. We shot it in 16 days around the holidays in December. For the country club party, we had about 100 background actors, stunts, and a limited time to get everything. That meant we needed to limit the number of takes and be efficient with our shot selection. Luckily, I think we chose wisely and the scene came out well.

TV GOODNESS: Why is Lifetime the perfect home for Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?

Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television
Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television

MELANIE: I wouldn’t have imagined Mother being made by any other network than Lifetime. The creative team there knows how to weave the best of this genre. Mother serves to demonstrate Lifetime’s commitment to the “Fempire” movement. There’s something about Lifetime movies that sets them apart. Mother encompasses this magic which in this case revolves around mixing lesbian vampires with a female driven family drama.

TV GOODNESS: What do you hope viewers take away from this movie?

MELANIE: I want viewers to reflect deeply on existentialism. Just kidding! I would like for them to enjoy the movie and have fun.

TV GOODNESS: Talk about working with James Franco again. It was his story and it was definitely a different story than the original. What was it like working with him as a writer/producer of this movie? What was it like to direct him as an actor?

Photo Credit: Photo by Trae Patton/Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television
Photo Credit: Trae Patton/Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television

MELANIE: Every time I work with James I learn from him. He is the kind of person who is determined and makes decisions quickly. As an actor James is a blessing. You may have an idea for the scene but with an actor like James, you want to see what he will bring first before making any adjustments. He will give a phenomenal performance, that’s for sure. On the creative, not only does James have great ideas but he never imposes his ideas on anybody.

TV GOODNESS: How was working with Tori Spelling and Ivan Sergei who were both in the original TV movie?

MELANIE: It was great! Tori is such a kind hearted and dedicated actress. I loved working with her. Ivan is a professional. He has a lot of presence, both in front and behind the camera. I liked the chemistry they both brought to set. I’m so happy they acted in the movie – it links two generations of Lifetime viewers!

Photo Credit: John Fleenor/Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television
Photo Credit: John Fleenor/Lifetime/Sony Pictures Television

TV GOODNESS: With a few exceptions, Tori Spelling usually plays the damsel in distress like she did in the original. She’s very different in this movie, and even does a little stalking/spying on her daughter. Talk about her character, and was this motherly role something Tori really enjoyed playing?

MELANIE: The mother/daughter relationship we took from the original. Through Tori’s performance, Julie became a concerned mother that still had her daughter’s best interest at heart. I think Tori welcomed this new dynamic of being the mother in “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?”

TV GOODNESS: Who are you influenced by as a director and why?

MELANIE: I’m influenced by Derek Cianfrance I think he is one of the best directors out there today. I particularly love the way in which he tells his stories. He doesn’t seem to restrict his actors to the lighting or camera blocking. Rather, his stories seem to emerge from the actor’s performance. I’m also fascinated with Mariam Heller and Jill Solloway. I think they are two brave filmmakers who are taking the material to a whole new level.

TV GOODNESS: What’s next for you? Do you have a dream project?

MELANIE: I’m working on another movie that is set to begin principal photography soon. Other than that I am eager to find out what other awesome projects are out there. I would love to keep making more movies for Lifetime.

My dream project is to work with Oscar Isaac on a film that shows the strengths and beauty of my home country, Guatemala. There are many untold stories in Central America that are universal. I dream of telling one of them.

Mother, May I Sleep with Danger premieres tonight at 8/7c on Lifetime.

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