Arianne “Ari” Zucker is a strong, confident woman. She’s also warm, easygoing, open, and friendly. Perhaps that is why she is so adept at playing such a wide range of characters, infusing each with an intriguing combination of individuality and authenticity. Whether she’s a small-town waitress who falls in love with the saintly Eric Brady (Jensen Ackles and Greg Vaughan) in Days of Our Lives or a high profile editor who is struggling to keep her life together under extreme situations (that go far beyond deadline stress) in Killer Assistant, Ari always delivers a wonderful, multifaceted performance that adds an additional layer to the story.
On Saturday, December 30 at 8/7c on Lifetime, Ari plays Rachel Hilers, a loving mother who is distanced from her daughter, Alex, by her career. When she fears her daughter might get into trouble searching for her missing cousin, Rachel is forced to make a potentially life altering decision. Web Cam Girls, written by Stephen Romano (Masters of Horror: “Incident on and Off a Mountain Road,” You Killed My Mother), is one of Lifetime’s best edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting thrillers yet.
“I was fortunate enough to get the offer for the film,” Ari told Entertaining Options. “It’s nice, but it’s also rare when it happens like that. I read the script and thought it was good and spooky. Then I found out, this kind of thing actually happens!”
The plot follows two cousins who get involved with something that puts both their lives in jeopardy. Carolyn (played by Lorynn York) is trying to find a way to escape her less than ideal living conditions when she discovers she can make a great deal of money by being a cam girl. Alex (played by Sedona Legge) tries to talk some sense into Carolyn before something horrible happens to her. When Carolyn goes missing, Alex realizes the only chance she has of finding her cousin is by becoming a cam girl herself in an attempt to get the predator to come after her.
The cam world elements in this film are incredibly detailed and have a ring of authenticity to them. When asked about the extent of his research, Stephen replied, “I have written a number of novels, short stories and screenplays that deal with various aspects of the underworld, on which I often do a fair amount of research. I’ve interviewed homeless people, sex workers, burlesque performers, cam girls, and many other ‘fringe’ types. A lot of times, the characters I create in my stories are composites of these people I talk to. The stories they tell are endless and fascinating.”
“While Web Cam Girls is not based on anything I personally experienced,” Stephen continued, “the inspiration for the story very much comes from the real world, in terms of the type of… shall we say, opportunities that are put in front of ladies who engage in this type of online work. They are often approached by their clients to meet in person. There have been many documented cases of online ‘Johns’ stalking these cam girls, too. It gets pretty scary, the deeper into it you look. Also, sickos like the baddie in our film really do exist, living double lives as upstanding community members by day, while doing despicable, unforgivable things at night.”
“It’s heart-wrenching,” Ari expressed. “Another thing that we have to protect our kids from. When I see or hear about things like this, I get really sad. Then I have to jump out of that space because I’m not going to fix anything by feeling sad. I have to think about what we can do. It starts by talking about it and then maybe we can find people who can help.”
Besides being highly addictive thrillers, Lifetime’s movies also help people become aware of real-life horrors. Just because a situation has been dramatized, it doesn’t mean it’s not real. Lifetime’s films entertain, but they also get people thinking and talking. The network has proven time and again that it is absolutely fearless when it comes to tackling any topic.
Entertaining Options wondered if Ari ever ran into any dangerous situations as a teen model traveling the world.
“I graduated high school, and, three months later, I was on my way to Paris,” Ari recalled. “My mom is a very strong woman, she’s not afraid to lay things out. She told me, ‘You make sure that if you go out and drink or do whatever you are going to do, even if it’s just soda, you watch your drink. If not, something could wind up in your drink and you’ll be gone forever.’ And then she explained things that could happen to young girls who get picked up while they are traveling.”
“When you take a self-defense class, they say as long as you’re always looking around, you’ll be safer. You always have to be watching your back,” Ari educated. “If you’re walking to your car and paying attention, it’s less likely that you’ll be attacked. No one wants to put up a fight with you, they want it easy.”
Because of her mother’s cautions, Ari learned to carry herself in a way that kept trouble at bay. And, if she found herself feeling uneasy, she would immediately remove herself from the situation.
“I never allowed anything to go far enough to put me in a bad situation. But it’s not always easy to do that,” she confessed. “You start thinking, ‘This is my career, what will happen if I say no?’ You have to always remember the value of yourself and your body because that is way more important than your career.”
Rachel is a character who is very close to who Ari is at this stage of her life.
“Rachel’s not trying to keep distance between her and her daughter, but she’s at a place in her life where she is about to become a captain. It’s a really difficult place to be because she’s torn between being a mom and making an important career move. But her daughter is getting older and she’s getting to a place in her life where she can take care of herself. But Rachel still wants to be there emotionally. She calls and she does everything she can. Alex is a really good kid — she might dress darker and have a more subtle way of expressing herself, but she’s still a good kid — and she tries to help her cousin make the right choices. It’s awesome to see Alex trying to teach Carolyn what Rachel has taught her about making good choices. It’s a good reflection on her mom.”
“To be honest, understanding how the modern teenage mindset is organized was a much bigger challenge than the camming stuff,” Stephen admitted. “Getting inside the heads of teenagers was a bit intimidating at first. I used to be one, but you know, that was a long time ago!”
“As we were developing the screenplay, I realized that the generation gap was an important dramatic element. What ended up fascinating me the most, and what I hope people will take away from this film, is the central theme of how children struggle to find themselves, and how far away their parents often are when they finally grow up. This is dealt with, both literally and thematically, in the film, and Ari Zucker really becomes the driving soul of that theme.”
Stephen has done a masterful job of intertwining various aspects of family together to create a potent story that is impactful on many levels. Ari and the other actors have done a phenomenal job bringing his words to life.
“I was so impressed with Lorynn’s work, and Sedona did a really great job of carrying her scenes, too. Jon Briddell (Criminal Minds, Secrets and Lies, A Girl Is a Gun) also did a great job — he played my brother, Scott. Jon is such a nice guy, but in the movie, he plays someone who really needs to get it together.” Ari laughed. “The casting for this movie was really well done. I’m so happy to see that because you want people to see the movie and say, ‘Wow, the whole production was really great!’ And I thought it was.”
Speaking of family, playing Nicole Walker on Days of Our Lives since 1998, Ari developed quite a loyal fanbase, the core of which was like an extended family. That’s why leaving the soap was such a tough decision for her to make.
“I have such lovely fans,” she expressed. “There’s a big circle of them who are always commenting on my Twitter site. It’s so lovely. I really appreciate it. You don’t realize how much you affect people.”
Entertaining Options asked, “Is there anyone who has the same impact on you that you have on your fans?”
“I love Meryl Streep! Her adjustment in her characters is unbelievable. She’s just been a classic, solid actress for her entire career. And it’s still going! Helen Mirren is the same way. I love that these women are working so much and they have a story to tell and they don’t have to be 25 or 30 to tell it. I want to get to that point where I can deep dive into a character. On a soap, you work so fast that a lot of it is really about the dialogue. There’s a story to tell, but it’s not about you, you just have to get the episodes up and on the air. You don’t get to do that deep work, so I am slowly figuring out how to do that. I just finished another film and for that one, I changed my walk. I’m trying to find those little things that make the characters different and it’s so much fun.”
One of the little luxuries Ari can enjoy now that she’s not on a soap is experimenting with her hair color.
“When I first started doing all of these TV movies, I couldn’t change my hair color too much because I’d have to go back to Days of Our Lives,” Ari pointed out. “You can see towards the end of my episodes of Days that my hair color kept changing because I went dark for a thriller I did with Bruce Davidson [We Still Say Grace] and then I had to get it back to blonde. It was really difficult. Now, however, I can do what I want because I don’t have a character that I’m playing five days a week.”
“It’s interesting,” Ari noted, “whether you’re changing your hair for character work or just for a different transition in your life, you feel different. If I have hair extensions in, or I’m wearing a pony tail, or if my hair is longer, or darker, I feel a different energy when I walk into a room as opposed to being platinum blonde. It’s a persona that your body takes on. You just feel different every time you change your hair.”
Earlier this year, Ari wrote a blog about some of her favorite makeup products such as Mega Effects Mascara, Desert Sunset – True Color Eyeshadow, and True Color Blush Nude Lipstick. When she started talking about what she wears onscreen, however, she had an interesting confession: “Because I’ve had horses my whole life, I never wore a lick of makeup unless I was modeling or doing a show. Consequently, I’m really bad at hair and makeup,” she laughed. “But for my blog I thought, ‘Let me see if I can pay attention to this for all of the other women who don’t pay attention to it either.'” [You can read about these products, why they are her favorites, and more on Ari’s blog.]
As the interview came to a close, Ari talked off the record about the Access Hollywood bus tape from 2005 that surfaced in October 2016. She had such a beautifully empowering perspective that Entertaining Options asked if any of what she said could be included in the article. She responded, “Please do. It’s part of my life now, so I’m okay with it being in the article.”
“I’ve been through so much in my life that my first reaction was I couldn’t believe how big of a deal this was. But when I started thinking about it, I realized that this should be a big deal. You shouldn’t just have to accept that things like this happen. Then, he became president and it became an even bigger deal. I’m not going to fix anything by just getting upset. How can I keep the conversation going and say, ‘That’s not okay?’ How can I turn this into something positive? How do we teach our kids to be better than this? How can we become better as individuals and not speak poorly of other people? How do we teach our young adults to stay positive? It’s hard. That’s why I am taking this experience and using it to be a light rather than adding to the darkness in our world.”
This remarkable outlook isn’t something that happened because of this unfortunate situation, it’s just who Ari is. It’s who she’s always been. Ten years ago, the actress founded Arrow-Heart Adventure Camps with her brother, Todd. The purpose of this 501 (c)(3) is to “give young teens a chance to live to their fullest potential” by inspiring them to “want to make better choices, build character, confidence, credibility, and critical thinking skills.”
Web Cam Girls is a thriller. It will whip you along on an incredible ride. As Stephen points out, “The film is filled with amazing performances by these incredibly talented women, and also by Jon Bridell as Alex’s drunken uncle Scott. All the adults have basically failed their children in this film and there are terrible consequences. But that’s why we tell these stories and ask these questions: To find our way back from the dark. I’m very proud of Web Cam Girls. It’s actually the first film I wrote for Lifetime, and everyone did such an incredible job of bringing the story to life.”
Lifetime’s Web Cam Girls premieres on Saturday, December 30 at 8/7c. This is one you do not want to miss!
“Art imitates life: An interview with Carlena Britch, star of Lifetime’s ‘You Killed My Mother’”
“Interview with Ashley Jones, star of Lifetime’s newest thriller, ‘You Killed My Mother’”
“Nikki Leigh: America’s next sweetheart”