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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Lacey Chabert (“Scarecrow”)

Lacey Chabert got her start in acting before she was out of single digits, but her big break came just after crossing into double-digit territory, when she was cast as Claudia Salinger in FOX’s “Party of Five,” giving her a full-time gig for six seasons. Since the show’s cancellation in 2000, Chabert has continued to work regularly, sometimes as a voice actor – you may remember her as Eliza from “The Wild Thornberrys,” but she’s still in the studio on a regular basis for other series, most recently on The Hub’s “Transformers: Rescue Bots” – but definitely still in front of the camera on a regular basis, too. Chabert can be seen in the latest SyFy original movie, “Scarecrow,” which premieres tonight, and she chatted with Bullz-Eye about her experiences working on the film, reminisced about some of her other past projects, and explained how she’s belatedly found her way onto social media…but only on her terms.

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Bullz-Eye: So how did you enjoy doing “Scarecrow”? I’ve only seen the trailer so far, but it looks like it would’ve been fun to do…or, at least, I hope it was!

Lacey Chabert: It was a lot of fun! I’ve never done a horror film where I was… Well, I was in “Black Christmas,” but I got killed kind of early on in that film. [Laughs.] My character didn’t even know that the killer was there! But this was something where I’m actually running from the killer…you know, the predator, the scary monster. So we’re running from him for basically the entire film, so that was a whole new challenge, something that I’d never done before, and…it was fun. It’s a fun Halloween movie!

BE: You obviously filmed this before “Sharknado” actually became a thing, but certainly now these SyFy movies are becoming go-to projects for people.

LC: Yeah, and what’s so funny is that I actually read the “Sharknado” script…and I didn’t do it! [Laughs.] But I think it’s a lot of fun, y’know? I don’t take myself too seriously. Sometimes you’re doing a project and it’s a story you’re passionate about and is close to your heart, and sometimes you’re doing something that’s for entertainment. And this is definitely something that’s for fun…and for Halloween!

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BE: So how much of the “scarecrow” was CGI and green-screen, and how much was actually right in front of you?

LC: You know, almost all of it (was CGI and green-screen). I actually only just saw the movie a couple of days ago, but when we were filming, for most of the scenes, there was pretty much nothing to look at. It all would be put in later with CGI. So we were always just imagining and always having marks on the wall and trying to keep our eye-line in the same place. And to see the final product at the end and how good it looked… I was really impressed with the special effects. I thought they did a good job. But especially in a movie like this, you don’t want to be screaming and crying the whole time and have it get old. We all tried to measure it and temper it so that it was as exciting for the audience as possible…and as realistic as running from a scarecrow can be. [Laughs.]

BE: Are you a horror movie fan as a rule?

LC: I’m really not, to be honest with you. I don’t like to be scared! [Laughs.] I mean, I just…I don’t know, I guess around Halloween I usually see a scary movie. But other than that, I’m not a horror movie buff. But I enjoyed working on this one, and I’d love to do another one.

BE: If pressed, would you be able to say what horror movie you have seen that’s been the scariest?

LC: Oh, goodness. I’d have to say “The Strangers.” Isn’t that what it was called? With Liv Tyler? It came out about five years ago, and I pretty much watched the whole thing with my hands over my eyes! [Laughs.]

BE: Well, I wanted to ask you about a few other things from your career. First of all, I realize this isn’t the most popular opinion, but I actually really enjoyed “Lost in Space.”

LC: Thank you! Thank you so much, I appreciate that. Yeah, I was only 14 when I did that movie, and it was a pleasure to work on. And I got to go to London and be there for five months, working with Gary Oldman and William Hurt and Mimi Rogers. It was a pleasure and an honor. I loved being part of the film.

BE: Gary Oldman seems like he has the potential to be an intimidating presence.

LC: Oh, no, he was very kind! I mean, this was 16 years ago, but… [Laughs.] He was such a nice guy, and so supportive. He was very calming to be around. And just to watch him work was an honor. I mean, I have a greater appreciation for his work now, as an adult, but even then I knew he was a phenomenal actor, and I’d watched some of the things that he’d been in and was blown away by him. So, yeah, I feel very honored to be able to say that I’ve been in a movie with him.

BE: You’ve obviously been doing voice acting for more than a few years, but how did you first find your way into that aspect of the business?

LC: Well, when I was younger, my voice was really high-pitched. [Laughs.] I mean, I still have a girly voice, but when I was younger, it was really high-pitched, and I actually caught a lot of flack because of it. In reviews and things I’d read online, people would always put me down for my voice. Which is just so hurtful, because when you’re 12 years old, you can’t control the pitch of your voice, y’know? I was going through a change, going through adolescence, and all of that. So I got a voiceover agent. It was recommended to me that I do voiceover work, because I had a very unique voice, so I turned what I considered a negative thing at the time into a positive thing. And I loved doing voice work. Loved it! I was actually on “The Wild Thornberrys” for about…I think it was five or six years! And when the show started, I used my original voice, since it was still very high-pitched, but as the show went on, I matured and the pitch of my voice started to change, so I actually had to start pitching my voice up and start doing a voice rather than using my own voice. But I love doing voice work because you can play little kids, you can play boys, you can play people with accents…you can do lots of stuff that you can’t do on camera when you’re limited by your physical being.

BE: Is there a favorite animated series you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

LC: Hmmm. I don’t know. Oh, my gosh, it’s such a good question, though! I mean, I was really disappointed when “The Spectacular Spider-Man” got cancelled. I thought that was a good one. I enjoyed playing Gwen Stacy. Right now, I’m on one on The Hub called “Rescue Bots.” It’s a really, really well-done show. It’s basically “Transformers” for younger kids, but there’s always a great message, and I love the cast. Plus, we just got picked up for a third season, so I’ll be doing it again!

BE: You mentioned “Spectacular Spider-Man,” but in addition to the Marvel universe, you’ve also worked for DC as Zatanna on “Young Justice.”

LC: Yeah! That I really, really enjoyed, and I was really disappointed when that was cancelled, too. Especially when you work with people that you have a fun time with and get to know over the years, it’s always disappointing when a job ends, but I thought they put a lot of work into that show. The creators and writers of that show were so talented.

BE: This may have been tackled somewhere else, but I’ve never read it. You were the original voice of Meg on “Family Guy.”

LC: Yes.

BE: What was the reason for your departure? Was that your choice or theirs?

LC: Yeah, it was my choice. I was 15 years old, I was still on “Party of Five,” and I was going to school, and…it was just a bit too much. My parents are very, very protective, which I’m really grateful for now, and they felt like it just wasn’t the right place for me. So I quit. Little did I know it would still be on the air 15 years later. [Laughs.] But I live with no regrets. Hindsight is 20/20, and I think in life you just have to take the business that makes the most sense to you at the time.

BE: In regards to “Party of Five,” I’m sure that was a formative experience for you.

LC: Oh, yeah!

BE: How did you originally find your way onto the show? Was it just a standard audition situation?

LC: Yeah, it was just an audition. I was in New York, I was in “Les Miserables” and I was doing the soap opera “All My Children” on and off, and I auditioned on tape for this show called “Party of Five.” And I got a phone call that they were interested in response to the tape, so my mom and I flew out to California, and I met with the producers there and received a test offer. So I tested with the entire family that day at FOX, and after all of the auditions, they took us aside and told us that we were the Salingers. And from then on out… I mean, it was pretty much love at first sight. I really, really adored that cast. I actually just saw everyone last week for a bit of a reunion. That’s an experience that will always be very special to me. It’s very rare that you have a job in this town for six years, especially nowadays. It’s very hard for a show to stay on the air that long, I feel like, and we were just so blessed.

BE: Sarah obviously got her own spin-off from the show (“Time of Your Life”). Was there ever any talk of Claudia getting one?

LC: [Laughs.] I don’t think so. I actually have no idea what Claudia Salinger would be up to now. But, you know, that was just a wonderful group of people. I mean, growing up is awkward enough, but to have ages 11 through 16 documented on a television show…that was a little embarrassing at times, but it was an honor. I learned a lot about myself during that time.

BE: How was the experience of doing “Mean Girls” and getting to work with Tina Fey?

LC: Oh, Tina Fey is so talented. I just think she’s the greatest. “Mean Girls” was a blast. I turned 21 while it was filming. It was the first time I’d been away from home by myself. I had a little apartment in Toronto. I was really close with the cast, and we had a lot of fun together. But little did I know that that movie would have such an impact on pop culture. 10 years later, people are still quoting that movie to me on Twitter every single day!

BE: So how do you enjoy being on social media? I’d expect it would be rather touching to get comments from people all the time about how much your work means to them.

LC: Oh, that part is awesome. I mean, some people ask, “Well, don’t you get annoyed with people quoting your lines all the time and saying the same thing all the time?” But as an actor, I feel like I’m a storyteller, and I love to tell stories, so being part of telling a story that stays in people’s memories… How do you not love that? But as far as social media is concerned, I pretty much just wasn’t into it for a long time. I was really late to jump on the bandwagon with Twitter, and I just got an Instagram account last week! [Laughs.] Because I really like to take pictures, so everyone was, like, “Uh, well, that would make the most possible sense for you, then, to have an Instagram account!” But I just was nervous about opening up my personal life so much. I’m very, very private. Also, I don’t need to hear criticism all day long, y’know? I’m a very sensitive person. And as an actor, you’re constantly being critiqued. I accept that that’s part of my lifestyle, but sometimes you don’t really need to respond to it. So I’ve just kind of taken it all in stride and decided that I’m going to participate on my own terms. I love sharing certain parts of my life, so people know more about who I am as a person, because I think sometimes there’s a preconceived notion about who an actor is. And as far as the criticism goes, I just ignore it. My rule is, I just refuse to respond. I have not nor will I ever respond to a hateful Tweet. Ever.

BE: I try to be the same way. I’m sure you can imagine that critics don’t exactly find everyone agreeing with everything they have to say.

LC: [Laughs.] Oh, I’m sure! And it’s certainly tempting to want to respond and put them in their place, but, you know, I never know who’s on the other side of that computer screen. And if someone’s going to take the time to Tweet something out that’s that hateful, you have to think they’re hurting in their own way, and…I just don’t want to engage. Occasionally, I’ll make a blanket statement, but I never take anyone on one-on-one.

BE: I’ll go ahead and start wrapping up, but to throw a more expansive spin on that animation question I asked a few minutes ago, is there any other project in your back catalog that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

LC: Gosh, you’re making me think

BE: Sorry.

LC: [Laughs.] No, it’s actually good! I’ve certainly done some independents that I was proud of that didn’t get the recognition that I wish they had, but…I’m trying to think of one in particular.

BE: Well, I will say that, looking at your IMDb page, the one that I can actually say that I’ve seen is “A New Wave.” But I don’t know if that would qualify.

LC: Oh, yeah, it would, for sure! I got to work with John Krasinski and Andrew Keegan on that. They were so kind. I also did a movie about two years ago called “The Unmarried Friend.” Not the greatest title in the world. [Laughs.] But I was really proud of the work we did on that. I wish more people had seen that one.

BE: So what do you have on your plate for the future? I know you’ve done some work on ABC Family’s “Baby Daddy.” Are you on the lookout for a full-time series gig, or are you just enjoying the variety of bouncing around?

LC: Well, I am, but I’d love to do another series. I enjoy being with a group of people and working on a character week after week, and I lovey the consistency. So, yeah, I’d love to do another series if it was the right character and the right concept.

BE: Do you have a preference of comedy versus drama?

LC: No, y’know, I’ve been blessed to do both, and I can’t say that I like one over the other. They’re both challenging in different ways. But I’d love to do some dramedy. [Laughs.] Really, though, I’m just open to whatever the future holds.

  

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