Alison Sweeney Talks Chronicle Mysteries: Helped to Death [Exclusive]
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Chronicle Mysteries is back for its fifth film, 18 months after the last one aired in the fall of 2019. That wasn’t a planned interval, of course, and this installment, Helped to Death, filmed last fall while franchise star Alison Sweeney was already in Vancouver for her 2020 Christmas movie, Good Morning, Christmas. Earlier this month, I chatted with her about the new film, her active pandemic social feed-turned-cooking-show, and returning to Days of Our Lives.
In the new film, Alex attends a self-help retreat to conduct interviews for a potential podcast about its leader, Billy Garrett (Lochlyn Munro), who was previously charged with the death of a client. The new retreat is his comeback, and when Chuck’s nephew, Zach, who’s attending on his own, calls into work with an off-key voicemail, Alex goes out to do her interviews and find out whether he’s OK. Drew (Benjamin Ayres) soon follows. What starts out as a sort-of undercover mission is outed pretty quickly, and then when an attendee is murdered, their habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time escalates into an active murder mystery instead of a quasi cold case.
Sweeney was thrilled to get back to work, and to have her Days co-star, Kristian Alfonso, join her. “I listen to lots of podcasts and follow cases and try to find my inspiration based on real situations. I’ve just been really fascinated by the sort of self-help guru cult space. And I decided to base this episode on that,” she explains.
“[Before the pandemic], we happened to have already been developing the script. We actually had two that we were debating about and because of the situation and the weather, we decided to film Helped to Death. The outdoor climate [provided an] extra layer of comfort for our crew and the cast to be able to do that many scenes.”
“Thank goodness Vancouver, for the most part, gifted us with some beautiful weather and some days that allowed us to do that filming without extra headaches. It was just a lot of puzzle building figuring out [staging safely] and then trying to focus on my performance as an actor in between all that other stuff. It was a lot to take on.”
One puzzle piece that fell easily into place was casting Alfonso. “It was so fun. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that she came in. It was one of those wonderful lucky opportunities because of the pandemic, because of the quarantine in Canada. She was up there filming a different project and I was up there and yet we were so far apart. We had been talking about [trying] to have dinner or something one night,” she recalls.
“And then I thought,’Well, why don’t you come out?’ And my movie was shooting a little bit after hers so we found a fun cameo role so that she could come be on set with us. We renamed the character Sheriff Williams as a tribute shout out to all the Days fans. I was so lucky and grateful to have a talented actress like her play this role. And every inch of footage I saw of her, I [thought] she was amazing. And she just makes everything so much better when she’s a part of it. But also, just personally as a friend, I was so grateful to get to spend time with her.”
Sweeney was also grateful for the silver lining of the Canadian quarantine, which forced her into two weeks of isolation before she started two projects back to back, so she rented a house instead of staying in a hotel. “In some ways, I really benefited from having this quiet time in a house by myself and this beautiful garden. I put a lot of it up on Instagram because I was just sort of taking it all in,” she shares.
“[After so many months in lockdown in LA], it was kind of peaceful and healthy to take some alone time. And then of course it was really hard to be away from my family for so long. Thank goodness for modern technology. I couldn’t have done it without being able to FaceTime with them all the time. [And sometimes] I would just come home [after work] and not talk; just sit there and decompress. Sometimes you just feel like you’ve been hit by a truck and you just need to [rest].”
One small change astute Chronicle Mysteries viewers may notice is that this one is a bit lighter on the voiceovers, and Sweeney explains that was the nature of the story. “It is lesser in this one because Alex is out there figuring out whether or not she should do a podcast. So we weren’t able to justify having it as featured in this episode,” she says.
“And so we found ways to integrate it. She was thinking aloud as she goes, but this one’s more about the podcast being put together. We talked about how to roll it out. Hopefully that helps people understand that she’s building up the case for the podcast rather than filming it.”
Dependent on what happens this year with the vaccine rollout and pandemic protocols, Sweeney hopes to be back in Canada for more Chronicle Mysteries. With Dave Collette, who played Chuck in the first three films, bowing out to focus on a very successful non-showbiz career, the movie introduces his nephew, Zach, played by Ian Collins. “We absolutely loved having him. He was also in Snowpiercer, which I’m obsessed with, so I was harassing him on set,” she laughs.
“I hope he will do more with us. It was heartbreaking to [have Dave leave], but of course I wish him the best. He’s just so talented and so funny and charming. And so I know that whatever he does, he is going to be brilliant.”
Sweeney has regularly documented her home life on social media, and that continued during the pandemic, with her children joining her in the kitchen for impromptu IG live cooking shows. She credits her son with getting the ball rolling, and her daughter with keeping it going. “We really enjoy doing it. I love to cook and I always have for a long time and it sort of started a little more intensely [with] the lockdown,” she points out.
“But before that, even, I was really trying to sort of get the kids in the kitchen more. I think, as a parent, obviously, it’s also a safety issue. They need to understand how to be safe in the kitchen. It’s not just, ‘Oh, don’t go near it.’ [It’s], ‘Here are the things you can do to still be to get it done and be safe.’ With the lockdowns, at first, a lot of people felt [like I did] that I just made the same meals over and over again.”
“I started to miss the restaurants and all the places, and you start to feel like, ‘Okay, look, if I have nothing else to do, I guess I better start figuring out how to be creative. I have all day to sit here; let me pick out an interesting, adventurous recipe. And then I wanted the kids to get involved.”
“They got excited and my son actually wanted to learn to make Indian food. He missed his favorite Indian restaurant. We found this amazing recipe and he did the video with me making Indian food and it was so fun. And then Megan absolutely loved doing the videos. She’s so clever and has a good time and loves interacting with all the people on Instagram. And everyone gets a kick out of her. Sometimes she comes up with ideas of things she wants to make or what we should do next. We have a lot of fun, and then the response we got from people has been very positive.”
“That’s been my approach to social media and interacting with people my entire career. I remember when I was a kid, I first started interacting with the fans that would write into the show and when the Internet first sort of took off and people were in chat rooms, I found myself really engaging with people just as a young adult,” she shares.
“[I was going] through the same things they were, I just happened to be on camera. Sharing my journey felt natural. And I found myself bonding with so many young women who I identified with and they identified with me. So I felt like it was the right thing for me to do, to be honest about my journey of weight loss and health and becoming a mom and getting married. I felt like if all my stories [offered] some insights that can help someone, all the better, but also I felt that I was getting good tips and it helped me feel better knowing that other women feel the same way I do.”
Next up, you can catch Sweeney in a return to Days of Our Lives, her home territory since childhood. She says they’ve been extremely safe going back to work. “I’m having so much fun playing Sammy. I talked to the Days producers about this idea a while back and I’m so grateful to be here. It’s nice to be close to home with everything going on and still get a chance to [work],” she says.
“It’s pretty spectacular how they have managed to make it happen [during the pandemic]. It’s just crazy. There’s a lot of a lot. I feel safe there. They work really hard to make sure everyone follows the rules and everyone’s doing their best to be safe and and be careful and still do the work. Sammi starts airing at the end of February.”
Chronicle Mysteries: Helped to Death repeats Friday at 10 pm/9c and throughout March. Here are a couple of sneak peeks.
Photos and Video Courtesy of Crown Media.
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