In 1994, when NBC still aired movies of the week, A Friend to Die For starring Tori Spelling and Kellie Martin revealed the true story of how Bernadette Protti murdered cheerleader Kirsten Costas. 25 years later, Lifetime is retelling the story for a new generation in Death of a Cheerleader starring Sarah Dugdale and Aubrey Peeples.
Like the NBC version, Death of a Cheerleader changes the names. Peeples plays Bridget, the eventual murderer. Dugdale plays Kelly, the eventual victim. We Live Entertainment spoke to the stars of Death of a Cheerleader, which airs Saturday, February 2 at 8PM on Lifetime.
Aubrey Peeples: No, not at all.
Sarah Dugdale: No, not at all.
WLE: How much research did you do?
Sarah Dugdale: Well, I feel like the jumping off point at least was the Rolling Stone article that the first movie was based on and then ours is obviously a remake, but that was the jumping off point and then any articles we could find out there and little documentaries.
Aubrey Peeples: As much as we could, reading any reporting that came out at the time of the murder.
WLE: Were any of the real people from the families available to you?
Aubrey Peeples: No.
Sarah Dugdale: No.
WLE: Would you even want to speak with them this many years after?
Sarah Dugdale: I feel like it would be interesting to get that perspective, but at the same time, I feel like it might be hard for them to dredge that all up again. And, I do hope if they were to see the movie in any way that I did Kiersten’s spirit justice and her drive and her passion justice.
WLE: Did you ever think how social media exacerbates this high school society?
Aubrey Peeples: I mean, honestly a lot of the pressure could have been alleviated potentially. Of course there’s a lot of cyber bullying that happens now but honestly a lot of people are able to find a community online. So I don’t know. It’s possible that someone like Bernadette could’ve found a friendship group online or someone that she could relate with what was going on inside her head but who’s to really know?
Sarah Dugdale: Yeah, I also feel that mental health, people are more open about discussing it now and there’s much less of a stigma, so I do feel like phones might make it worse or better but in the times that we’re in now, I feel like people are less ashamed of seeking help.
WLE: It’s also a lot to ask other teenagers to help other teenagers so it needs to come from the adults.
Aubrey Peeples: I think socially, I hope that our society can become more aware and understanding of our differences.
WLE: How much time did you have to practice and film cheerleading?
Aubrey Peeples: Oh, like four days.
Sarah Dugdale: We had like two rehearsals and then the very first day of shooting, the very first scene on the very first day was me doing the routine alone in a gym. And I was like I have to do this whether I’m ready or not, so just kind of jumped off the edge.
WLE: Did you feel like stepping back in time to the ‘80s?
Sarah Dugdale: It was cool. I feel like we had a really amazing costume designer, this woman Val, and amazing hair and makeup so we felt like we were really transported back into the time and Val called me the unicorn. So I had all the really bright, out there clothes which was really fun and I actually took home a lot of them.
Aubrey Peeples: Yeah, me as well. It was a very fun aspect of it.
WLE: Was playing the colorful unicorn a big change of pace?
Sarah Dugdale: It was. It was fun to push myself out of my comfort zone and be that confident center of attention girl, because I feel like I’m not really that. But I did feel like I related to her in the ways that she puts pressure on herself and is like a perfectionist.
WLE: Do you have to be comfortable being the center of attention as an actor?
Sarah Dugdale: I feel like you do because that’s kind of part of the job.
Aubrey Peeples: But you learn how to manage it at least.
Sarah Dugdale: That’s a better way to put it. You learn how to manage it.
WLE: Is that another aspect if Bridget understood she wouldn’t criticize herself?
Sarah Dugdale: I feel like there’s a lot of misunderstanding when things aren’t discussed and people just feel like they’re alone. If people could be more open and honest with stuff, I feel like life would be a little bit easier.
Aubrey Peeples: And I tried to play Bridget in a way where her desire to be this popular girl was coming from a lot of anxiety and pressure from the town and her parents and herself to be perfect and loved. I think there were a lot of psychological factors to why that was so hard for her to feel loved.
WLE: What were the most challenging or intense scenes?
Aubrey Peeples: The stabbing scene was very intense for both of us and something that we really wanted to carry with a lot of respect and try to handle it lightly and do the best we could to not make it something glamorized or anything like that. It was definitely very emotional.
Sarah Dugdale: I feel like for me, the most challenging parts were the scenes where my character was maybe outright being mean or cruel to another character because yes, maybe she did come across as that popular mean girl but she was so much more than that. It came from a place of insecurity and all the pressure around her. And I feel like because we were playing real people, you have to tread lightly and really take care of this life that you are playing.
Aubrey Peeples: It was interesting because over the course of developing Bridget based on Bernadette, I really had to try and understand to the best that I could what was going on with her mentally and sympathize with her because of that. And I think you really have to sympathize with your characters as an actor, obviously not to say that anything justifies a murder but I definitely wanted to figure out what was going on with her mentally and carry that in the most respectful way. So filming the murder scene, I was like oh no, don’t do it. You just need to seek help or something. It was definitely really interesting going there.
Sarah Dugdale: Even shooting that felt really safe because we had already worked together for at least a couple weeks and clicked really instantly so there was already a lot of love and respect and we both were very much on the same page about wanting to really do honest performances. So I felt really safe, even though you were stabbing me in the back.
Aubrey Peeples: Yeah, we would hug each other in between and be like, “Are you okay? Are you okay? Okay.”
WLE: Do you watch a lot of TV?
Aubrey Peeples: I used to watch a lot of television and I do really like television. I feel like right now there’s so much content and television is getting better and better, but I honestly have not been watching much lately. I’ve been just reading a lot this year.
Sarah Dugdale: Yeah, I’ve been trying to do the same, trying to sit down and read when I feel like just turning on the TV.
Aubrey Peeples: Trying to unplug a little bit.
WLE: WHat have you been reading?
Aubrey Peeples: I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction about different things like the environment and feminism and social justice. A lot of different things relating to politics in the U.S. but then a lot of stuff about veganism because I’m vegan. A lot of things about animal rights. All kinds of things like that, a lot of philosophy.
WLE: Are there organizations you’re involved with?
Aubrey Peeples: Sort of kind of, yeah. I actually volunteer every week at a barn that’s an animal sanctuary that rescues a lot of animals from slaughter. So I do that. That’s definitely a big passion of mine and then I would really like to get involved more in social justice so we’ll see.
WLE: And Sarah?
Sarah Dugdale: Currently I’m reading Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. Actually my costar, Preston Vanderslice on Mystery 101 lent it to me. I’m adoring it so far.