BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Actors often will do research to better be able to play a role. But, there are times when parts of the character they are taking on come very naturally. That was the case with Nicole Ari Parker for the new Lifetime movie “Safe Room” that airs at 8 p.m. Jan. 15.
The mother of two immediately understood the tenacity her character would show in trying to protect her child from deadly intruders. The job got even easier when young actor Nik Sanchez was cast to play her son.
“Yes, I am a mom, but also that does not always translate when the movie’s cast. When I met Nik Sanchez, it was very easy to love him and want to protect him,” Parker says. “Nik was so generous with me.
“When you’re playing a parent, it’s not just the title of mom. It’s the small things. The way you touch your son or your daughter. The way you hug them and talk to them. I really wanted to respect Nik’s space and he let me violate him with kisses and hugs.”
The tale of mother and son centers on recently widowed Lila Jackson (Parker) and her 14- year-old autistic son Ian (Sanchez). After Ian accidentally witnesses a break-in in the house across the street and records the murder of the homeowner, Lila faces a deadly struggle to protect her son from intruders Dominic (Mackenzie Astin) and Rocco (Drea De Matteo), who will stop at nothing to retrieve the video evidence of the crime and silence them.
The mother-son bond Parker and Sanchez had to find was easy for both actors. Sanchez described working with Parker as feeling like she was a real mom to him. A lot of this familiarity came from the pair spending time together before the filming to get more comfortable with each other.
Sanchez adds, “It really felt like I had two moms on set because they were just amazing.”
Parker is quick to praise the real mom of her co-star who gave her insight into what it is like at home with Sanchez who is autistic.
Lifetime has worked with the organization RespectAbility in regards to the script to make sure as much authenticity as possible was maintained in the portrayal of Ian. As part of Lifetime’s advocacy efforts, resources to learn more about autism will be provided at the end of the film.
As for Sanchez, he found the role very comfortable to play.
“Since I am autistic, playing autistic just feels like a man playing a man. It’s part of who I am,” Sanchez says. “What I most like about playing Ian is the fact that it helps me learn more about myself, my own aspects of my own autism and what other people on the spectrum go through, too.
“Ian loves a lot of things like video games, gadgets, cars, you name it. He’s a big geek but I love those similar things.”
The biggest thing Sanchez got out of playing the role was that he is certain now that if put in a similar dangerous situation, he would be brave and confident just like his character.
Each role is part of the acting education for Sanchez as he is new to the profession. His credits include episodes of “The Rookie” and a few made-for-TV movies.
Parker brings a long list of credits to the project starting with the 1995 independent film “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love.” Since then, she has appeared in “Boogie Nights,” “Remember the Titans,” “Black Dynamite” and “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.” Her TV work includes “Soul Food,” “Second Time Around” and “Empire.”
Her work on “Soul Food” ended up also being a big help for Parker making “Safe Room.” That series is where she met her husband, Boris Kodjoe. The pair have worked together over the past two decades and Kodjoe made his directing debut with “Safe Room.”
Parker says, “We know how a set runs. My first impulse was to collaborate. So he would tell me something day one and I would be like ‘Well, actually, if you just push in and then da-da-da-da-da.
“I realized halfway through the sentence, because everybody was silent, we’ve got one take and we have to do it in four minutes. He is the captain of the ship and I have to just let him do it.”
Despite the early attempts to help him direct, Kodjoe was delighted that his wife was the star of his first directing project. He knew that she would bring years of experience to the project that would be extremely helpful because TV movies are shot on a very quick schedule.
He also says that Parker just makes him – and everyone around her – better.
“Her energy and her professionalism sort of transcended the whole set. Everybody had to step it up a notch when she stepped on set, and I love to see that,” Kodjoe says.