It takes more than just a pretty face to make it in Hollywood. When it comes to setting herself apart from the pack, Amber Coney has the recipe for success. A multi-faceted creative talent, she quickly established herself as an unstoppable force, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Her professional journey took shape when she spread her wings at the University of Southern California’s BFA Acting program, where she focused on acting, while dabbling in film and production. Her studies deepened her passion for film, television and theatre, as well as solidified her belief there was no other industry she would rather pursue. This summer, Amber is poised to make a huge impact on pop culture with her latest projects.
First up, for this star on the rise, is her role on Freeform’s highly anticipated new series, “Dead of Summer.” The series follows a group of camp counselors in the 1980s at Camp Stillwater. When Stillwater’s dark, ancient mythology awakens, a fun summer soon turns into unforgettable scares and evil at every turn. Coney plays Carolina “Cricket” Diaz, a warm, snarky camp counselor harboring deep-seated issues beneath her carefree, fun-loving exterior. Cricket is a former attendee turned counselor who returns to Camp Clearwater looking strikingly different from her younger self, set on garnering validation from her peers, especially her crush, Alex. Fans can catch “Dead Of Summer” when it premieres June 28, 2016 on Freeform.
Her second project is her most ambitious to date. A frequent collaborator with actor James Franco, Coney and Franco had worked together on numerous projects when he approached her to pen the script for Lifetime’s remake of the cult classic “Mother May I Sleep With Danger.” Coney wrote the script in five days, completely revamping the original story to fit Franco’s vision. Lifetime loved the script and Coney was kept on as the sole writer of the project. In addition, she appears in the film as part of the vampire pack. “Mother” premieres on Lifetime June 18, 2016. With more irons in the fire, there is no doubt we will see more of Amber Coney and her creative sides in years to come.
Jason Price of Icon vs. Icon recently caught up with Amber Coney to discuss her influences, the challenges she faced along the way, her upcoming role in Freeform’s “Dead of Summer” and collaboration with James Franco for his remake of the cult-classic 1996 Lifetime drama “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger.”
You have a ton of great things happening in your career but before we get to those, I want to go back to the beginning. What intrigued you about the arts early on in life and made a career in entertainment an obvious choice?
It all started for me as a kid, obviously. I had a very overactive imagination and would always imagine myself in new worlds or stories when I was alone. I had a lot of time to play pretend! When I got to elementary school, I was cast in my first play. I did “Alice In Wonderland” and I realized that playing pretend could be an actual thing and people were actually drawn to that! [laughs] I found that I could tell a compelling story that I loved and could share with people. I think that was my initial draw to it. After that, I realized I wanted to take it seriously and it was a very important thing to do. Storytelling has been around since the beginning of time and there was nothing else I felt I should be doing on this planet. So, I kind of felt like I had no other option really!
Who had a big impact on you early on, be it other creative types or even a mentor behind the scenes?
I would say that my first year acting teacher had a big impact on me. I went to USC to study at their BFA program. My first year acting teacher, her name was Zane, she was a huge influencer in terms of my artistic perspective and being that extra push of inspiration. I feel that is something a lot of young actors need because it can be very hard to break into the industry but if you have a strong creative conviction you will keep going past the point where a lot of people give up. She was always very process oriented, which I feel has served me up until this point and will serve me throughout my whole life because the entirety of someone’s artistic journey is a process where you never stop discovering or growing. You always have to continue to develop and refine your tools. The fact that she instilled in me this focus of process over product was so vital! She was very story oriented and a huge proponent of using the imagination and using empathy to connect and take on different lives. I had never really experienced that before, creating a life so vividly in your imagination that it may as well be yours. That was revolutionary for me in my acting work.
Where do you look for inspiration to keep the juices flowing creatively?
I just try to absorb anything I can! Anytime I have time off, I try to go to an art museum, see a movie or read a book. I always like to be ingesting material. It is a lot more fun when I have my friends, a lot of them are other artists, and I can share that with them because I feel art should be a communal experience. I just try to take in everything! I also feel that life is huge when it comes to keeping my creative juices flowing. Being a writer as well as an actor, I have to spend a lot of time in solitude but I make it a point to get out there so I can observe people and have different emotional experiences. Having experiences to feed off of is a huge driving force to keep you going. I think that is how poetic things are created, when it is rooted in truth and actual experience and emotion.
One of your most exciting projects this year is Freeform’s “Dead of Summer.” How did you get involved with the series?
Honestly, it is the best and is so exciting! I have been having so much fun filming it! It happened as most things happen in the acting world, where I got sent on an audition. It was at the beginning of pilot season, so it was one of my first auditions, so it was kind of good I got it out of the way and didn’t have to go through with the rest of pilot season! [laughs] It was kind of a stress reliever! I got sent the script for this and when I was reading it, it was so suspenseful, well-written and multi-layered. I love this genre but if I wanted to do a horror, slasher, thriller project, I am looking for different dimensions and a lot of grounded complex characters. That is exactly what I got when I read this script and I was totally blown away!
The show comes from the creators of “Once Upon A Time,” who were also in “Lost” and they are just masterful in their writing. I read it and it was immediately something I knew I would love to be a part of and I don’t have that gut reaction all that often! I knew it was something that mattered to me but I tried to go into the audition in my character. My character is kind of snarky, so it was a fun experience doing the audition. There are also some hidden layers in my character that I got to bring out in the scenes. I got a call back the next day and before I knew it I was testing. It all happened really fast! I went home from the test, which I got to do in front of the creators Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, and I felt really great about it. I was driving home and I was like, “I know that I have to do this!” [laughs] I had never had that experience before! I was like, “OK, Amber. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Just be patient and see what happens!” In the back of my mind, I was like, “This is it!” [laughs] Low and behold, my agent and manager called me and said, “We have some bad news.” I said, “Great. What is it?” They said, “You aren’t going to be in LA this summer … because you are going to Vancouver!” It felt like a game show or something! [laughs] I was so excited and it was amazing how it all unfolded. When I got to Vancouver, we had a few days.
We were all staying at the Sutton, the whole cast. We are all in a similar age range and we met for the first time. It was like falling in love with nine people! [laughs] We all got along so well! We all hung out everyday and did work together. I hosted a screening in my hotel apartment, so we watched all these ‘80s movies like “River’s Edge” and “Halloween.” We also watched some other horror movies that were horrifying, like “The Conjuring.” I was like, “OK, I guess we are going to watch this.” But after they left, I couldn’t sleep! It was fun and it served me the next day at work because it was a serious scene, so it all worked out! [laughs]
You mentioned the layers of the characters and how great the writing is for the series. What did you bring to the character that wasn’t on the written page?
The cool thing about my character is that what I am going through in this role is so universal, especially as a woman and young woman. A lot of the struggles are about body image, insecurity and trying to find validation and acceptance through relationships. I think that, no matter who you are, there will be a point in time where you will experience that or you have experienced that. Having that be kind of personal is something I could bring. The cool thing about this role is that it is an arc that grows and I discover things in myself as Cricket. It brings to light things as Amber as well. It is kind of like I am growing and developing alongside my character, which you don’t often get, especially if you are playing something really far from you and a stretch. I feel very connected and like I have to tell this story because it is very important to a lot of people and a lot of young women, especially. It is beautiful because, although the circumstances and conditions look different on the surface, some of the things that are at the heart of it I feel I have experienced or someone I love has experienced, so I feel like I have empathy or understanding of it. I think I definitely bring that element of truth. I also really care about it, so I want to do it justice. Any time I get a part where I feel I want to do it justice, I know it is a part that I have to play! Then it becomes a major challenge!
“Dead of Summer” is set in the 1980s. What was it like to revisit that very unique time period?
Honestly, it was so much fun to embrace the culture of the era. Like I said, my castmates and I were absorbing all of the content and media from back then. It’s funny because there are so many ‘80s influences in today’s culture, so it was really just seeing where a lot of our present day culture evolved from. It was a really fun experience. The costume designer and wardrobe team was so amazing in making us feel like we could really own these different looks. The ‘80s are very cool, especially for adolescents, because it is all about self-expression and being weird and quirky. We get to have all of these different strange aesthetics that are really fun to inhabit. Of course, we were listening to ‘80s music from David Bowie to Michael Jackson, so you can’t really complain when you get to do that! [laughs]
Your other big project is a bit of a throwback as well. What can you tell us about the remake of “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger” and all the roles you play in the process of bringing it to life?
I work with James [Franco] a lot as a writer. We kind of have this system going where he will come up with an idea for a story, he will send me an outline and I will come up with a screenplay in a few weeks. We started writing together about a year ago and I was working on an adaptation when he called me. He said, “Lifetime came to me with this project. It is a remake of a ‘90s movie with Tori Spelling but I’m adding lesbian vampires!” [laughs] I was like, “OK!” It was just so out of the blue! Basically, they gave him creative and artistic liberty to change the story but keep homages and certain character relationship dynamics. He could basically alter it to his imagination. When he said lesbian vampires, I was like, “OK. Keep going! I’m already sold! Let’s do it!” [laughs] He said, “I want to present my ideas to them. I want a script to send to the network but I need it by next week. Can you do it?” I was like, “Ah, yes,” hyperventilating on the phone. [laughs] I hung up and he sent me the outline. It was a pretty involved outline and he had all of the plot points and major character dynamics there, so I had a lot to go on there. It was really fun to write. I did have to be completely solitary for five days. I only got up to eat and that was about it. I sat down, read the outline and I immediately thought, “I would love to watch this movie. I’m just going to watch it in my head and write down what happens!” That is what I did! I wrote the first draft in four days and spent the fifth day revising and editing before sending it over to James. A few weeks later, James texted me with, “Lifetime liked your script! Good job!” That was awesome and it was the first time a major network was reading my work, so it was very empowering as a young writer to hear that! Afterwards, when I was working more closely with the network, the studio and the producers, I was very much affirmed by their excitement, investment and involvement in the story. I felt like it was a very cohesive collaboration in that regard. The story took on so many different evolutions and permutations. As far as it went from what we ultimately ended up with, every single step in the process was vital in honing and shaping the story to make it the best, most clear and cohesive it could possibly be. It was the ideal situation in terms of a first time experience with a studio and network! The whole thing was such a whirlwind. In terms of my part, I wanted to experience being on the production side more, so I called James’ producer, Vince, who is also my friend. I said, “Please make me a vampire, OK?!” [laughs] He said, “Yeah, you can be a vampire.” I am part of the main vampire pack, so I got to be in the film too and it was really, really fun.
You clearly show interest in all sides of the entertainment business. Where do you see yourself headed in the future?
I am really open to creative opportunities in many forms. I wasn’t writing screenplays perpetually prior to a year ago but I did my first one, which was a book adaptation. I just jumped right in and I realized that is my approach! If someone gave me a creative challenge, I would want to try to tackle it no matter what. I would love to continue acting as my main focus. I also love screenwriting and I would also love to direct someday. I really look forward to being part of creative teams and to content create. I have so many people from my school that are amazing creators and collaborators. I envision all of us creating together in the future, as we have in the past. I want to continue on that path. My main goal is to stay active and be deeply involved in projects that I care about with people I care about and believe in and believe in me. I am just looking for that symbiotic, reciprocal path! In the short term, I will continue to act. I hope “Dead of Summer” continues on for many seasons! I also love doing film and I love cinema. I am very, very open to whatever possibilities come my way!
Many young creative people can look to you for inspiration. What is best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
I would say be patient but be relentless. This takes time to develop but as long as you are doing your work as an individual artist and continuing to feed that fire, the things that are meant to meet you will meet you in the time they are meant to. That doesn’t mean you can sit back and not pursue anything but if you are always working, improving yourself, getting better but also seeking and being open to the possibilities that are out there, then things will line up. It is just a matter of time. I had to keep saying to that myself before things kind of broke for me. It was just a matter of time. I was doing everything within my power and then it was just up to the circumstances to align themselves to what I envisioned. I kept that vision very clearly and it has really, honestly come to life, pretty close to what I had imagined. That is kind of amazing!
Thank you so much for your time today, Amber! I honestly can’t wait to see where your journey as an artist takes you! With so many irons in the fire, I’m sure we will be speaking again soon!
I know! We definitely will! Thank you very much, Jason!
Catch Amber Coney in Lifetime’s “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger” on June 18th and all summer long in Freeform’s “Dead of Summer” starting on June 28th, 2016. Follow the continuing adventures of Amber Coney on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!