Two Lifetime movies based on dark real-life stories

Rick's Reviews

Julie Benz stars in the “Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer” on Lifetime. (Photo courtesy of Lifetime)

(KGET) — Something wicked this way comes on Lifetime as the cable channel is serving up two movies this weekend as part of it’s “Summer of Secrets” offerings. Both original movies are based on true stories.

“Left for Dead: The Ashley Reeves Story,” 8 p.m. June 12

“Left for Dead’ is based on the 2006 story of 17-year-old Ashley Reeves (Anwen O’Driscoll) who was brutally attacked and  left for dead in the woods. She spent 30 hours in the cold trying to survive her wounds until she was found.

Her injuries were so severe, Reeves had to re-learn how to walk and talk. She also has to deal with the painful recovery while searching her shattered memory to unlock the mystery of who did this to her. 

The fact the story got so much media attention determined the way director Gloria Ui Young Kim would structure the film. There is no mystery to what happened so she decided to make the focus a look at the strength and resilience a person can have even in the most dire of situations. It is a film about survival.

Jennie Garth, who plays Ashley’s mother, Michelle Reeves, found the project very heart wrenching.  

“Being the mother of three young girls, this movie really tapped into a lot of very deep, true emotions for me,” Garth says. “So it was important for us to have as much fun as we could on the set while working under crazy time constraints.”

A big help for Garth – and a lot of the other cast and crew – came from her dog, Buddy. She found that bringing the dog to the set proved a comfort when everyone was spread so emotionally thin.

The other thing that helped Garth handle the darkness of the story was all of the roles she has played in the past where characters had to deal with horrible events. Her character on “Beverly Hills 90210” faced a myriad of problems and dire situations. Garth also faced demanding roles in “A Loss on Innocence,” “Your Family or Your Life” and “The Eleventh Victim.”

Garth adds that just living life will help toughen up a person. In the case of this film, the fact she has daughters was the real key to understanding the role.

 “Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer”, 8 pm. June 13

There was at least one positive to come out of filming the new Lifetime movie, “Secrets of a Gold Digger,” during the pandemic. It gave Julie Benz extra time while she was waiting the 14 days for filming to start in Vancouver to research the role in the production based on a true story.

Celeste Beard is a Texas waitress who convinces a multimillionaire Steven Beard (Eli Gabay) to give her mounds of money and gifts. That’s not enough for the gold digger who convinces a fellow mental patient to kill Beard so they could have all his money.

“I spent a lot of time watching every video footage I could find of Celeste and going down every rabbit hole of the case and just really trying to wrap my head around this woman,” Benz says. “She was extremely outrageous and it was challenging for me.

“It allowed me basically to take the lid off of her. Most people live with a lid on to keep certain emotions in check. It was just being able to release the valve and let it all out and let it go.”

The research proved invaluable in Benz finding the way to portray the character. It also gave her so much insight into the role that she often found herself emotionally and physically exhausted at the end of a day of filming.

Benz has been diving into characters for years including her best known role as Darla on “Angel” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Her other credits include “Dexter,” “Desperate Housewives,” “No Ordinary Family” and “Defiance.”

The difference between this Lifetime movie and other projects for Benz is that this story is based on actual events. At the same time Benz was digging into how to play the character she was also having to look at whether Celeste Beard was guilty or innocent.

Benz went back and forth on her opinions regarding the case.

“You watch her in an interview and she still claims her innocence and she’s so believable,” Benz says. “I really tried not to pass any judgment on her. I think in her mind, she did it for her family, her children.

“I think at the end of the day she really just did it for herself. That’s speaking now that I’m removed from the project and she’s out of my system. But, while I was in it, I would have big arguments on set.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.