BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The general practice when it comes to movies based on a true story is for the production to either use information that is in the public domain – such as newspaper, online and TV accounts – or base it on a book.
The Lifetime movie “Girl in the Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez” that debuts at 8 p.m. Feb. 26 takes a very unique approach to this true story. The subject of the story, Abigail Hernandez, is one of the executive producers.
That means she had to watch as scenes were being filmed that depicted how as a 14-year-old freshman Abby Hernandez (Lindsay Navarro) vanished while walking home from school in North Conway, NH. Her disappearance launched the state’s largest search and left Abby’s family – especially her mother Zenya (Erica Durance) – mystified as to her whereabouts.
Hernandez had to relive how she was taken by Nathaniel Kibby (Ben Savage) and kept in a soundproof container where she was forced to wear a shock collar while enduring psychological, sexual and emotional abuse. Despite suffering daily torture, Abby kept hope alive that she would one day be able to see her family again.
Watching the production was tough for Hernandez but something she was determined to do to make people aware of the very real horrors that exist in the real world. She is convinced that those horrors have been amplified with the explosion of social media.
“Not everybody, but a lot of people have that voice in the back of their head. ‘If I disappeared it wouldn’t matter.’ And I learned that yeah, it does matter,” Hernandez says. “It affects a lot of people and it will forever.”
She was able to deal with the movie being made because she has been facing that horror for almost a decade. There have been enough years passing that Hernandez has started to feel numb to what happened to her.
Hernandez has grown from being a person who originally didn’t want to reveal the name of her kidnapper to being an executive producer on a film that examines every element of that life-changing event. The fact she now sees the world as a place where it is so important to tell the truth gave her the last bit of courage to face the events again.
“I don’t feel as scared anymore,” Hernandez says. “Obviously, it’s a weird experience to have this happen in the first place. And then to have it made into a movie is obviously like an even weirder experience.
“But ultimately, I did find it healing in a weird way just to have it out there.”
The task of playing Hernandez fell to Navarro whose previous acting credits include “iZombie,” “Haters Back Off!” and “Life XP.” The Canadian actress felt a deep responsibility in taking on the role because it was not only a true story but also because the subject of that true story was involved with the project.
Having Hernandez as an executive producer also was a reason Navarro wanted to star in the made-for-cable production.
“It was challenging in that way. And but it all made it easier knowing that I could get in touch with Abby and we could talk things through,” Navarro says. “I will be forever grateful having her there, accessible on What’s App getting to video chat with her.
“But, yeah, it made it heavier and it was challenging to walk through those scenes knowing that she had experienced this. And there was that weight that came with it.”
Working on the film presented a very different acting challenge for Ben Savage. The actor best known for his years on “Boy Meets World” tends to get cast as the good guy.
He was willing to move outside his acting comfort zone because what happened to Hernandez was such an important story that needed to be told. In the end, Savage found taking on the villain of the story to be “a very interesting role to play.”
He approached the role knowing it was a very difficult subject and complicated story. He worked closely with Navarro to make sure he was approaching the character and the working relationship as carefully as possible.
“I think when we first got started, I think Lindsay and I were both a little apprehensive about making sure that we did this properly. But I think we gelled together as well as we could,” Savage says. “I mean Lindsay is a total pro. And we had a wonderful crew, a wonderful cast, a terrific director with Jess Harmon.
“And I think we worked together as well as we could. It’s a tough subject and I think everyone wanted to be very sensitive to everything we were going through.”