Lifetime’s latest thriller, Murdered at 17, is a real nail-biter! The characters are looking for answers that the audience thinks it already knows, so the tension is heightened to almost unbearable amounts. The screenplay was written by Christine Conradt, who holds a Master of Criminal Justice with a focus on cybercrime and juvenile delinquency. Gemma Holdway (writer on Ghost Wars) and Cyndi Pass (writer on The Stepdaughter) also worked on the story with Christine. The premiere is Sunday, July 8 at 8/7c.
Brooke Emerson, played by Cristine Prosperi (Degrassi: The Next Generation), is a cheerleader who suffered a traumatic brain injury from a cheering mishap. Because of this, she experiences unexpected outbursts of uncontrollable anger and violence. After being exceptionally volatile at a party, she blacks out. When she comes to, she finds her friend beside her. Murdered.
Jake Campali, played by Blake Burt (Geostorm), is Brooke’s new boyfriend. Not only is he unbelievably rich, but he has similar anger control issues. He understands Brooke in a way that no one else can. Jake would do absolutely anything to prove he is perfect for her and that they should be together… forever!
A psycho boyfriend, murder, manipulation, a traumatic brain injury, and uncontrollable fits of rage. And, let’s not forget that ever present teen drama! Murdered at 17 has a whole lot of everything. It’s a maelstrom of emotional turmoil, violence, and betrayal. There are a lot of moving parts in this story. Luckily, there’s also a calm at the eye of the storm: Carley Emerson, Brooke’s mom, who is insightfully portrayed by veteran actor Susan Walters (The Fosters, Teen Wolf, The Vampire Diaries, The Young and the Restless).
“As a parent, what was interesting about playing this woman was that I know my daughter did not murder anybody… But she’s got this condition. So I think, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe she did?!’ You don’t even want to let that into your conscious thoughts. But if I was talking about somebody else’s kid who had IED, then I might think it’s possible that they did kill someone.”
IED, or intermittent explosive disorder, isn’t a plot device the writers created for this story, it is a real mental disorder. A person with IED exhibits impulsive aggression that is disproportionate to a situation. That aggression can be either verbal or physical in nature.
Ever since the cheerleading accident, Brooke has been pushing her friends farther and farther away. At this point in her story, she is trying to find the right balance of medication to stop the outbursts. When she has a few too many drinks at a party, the alcohol reacts with the medication and causes her to black out.
“I was just talking about this at lunch with somebody,” Susan recalled. “We were talking about running marathons, and I brought up the time when I was running the New York Marathon and I just hit the wall. I literally do not remember one bit of the marathon between 13 and 24 miles. It’s a weird thing that your brain can just mask off or shut off like that. Who knows what I really did? I might not have even done the marathon. I might’ve walked to Central Park and got an ice cream instead. I have no recollection.”
We might never know what Susan did for those 11 miles, but we do know exactly what she’s been doing this past year because we’ve seen her in so many roles.
“I did three episodes of The Fosters, an episode of NCIS, and I did a movie called Virginia Minnesota in 2017 that’s been doing great at festivals.
Doing great is an understatement. So far, Virginia Minnesota, a coming-of-age story about two friends, has won five awards: “Director of Programming” award at the Beloit International Film Festival, “Best MN-Made Narrative Feature” at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, and 2 “Best Hollywood Feature” awards along with an “Exceptional Emerging Artist Acting” award at the Hollywood Film Festival.
Additionally, in 2017, Susan was in Winter Wedding, a film written and directed by Jake Helgren. And, a little later this year, she’ll be in another Helgren film. The upcoming movie is called Do Not Be Deceived. It is a story about a handsome young parishioner with a deadly obsession.
Being relentlessly stalked, whether it’s by a hopeful lover or a distraught ex, is a situation that always gets the adrenaline pumping. Viewers never tire of stories that involve a heroine being watched, hunted, and manipulated by someone who was very desirable in the early stages of the relationship. In Murdered at 17, that someone is Jake Campali.
“You can totally see this guy is a jerk,” Susan agreed, “but you can also see why Brooke thought it was cool to be in a relationship with him. My character is divorced. She has a nice house, but she isn’t loaded. Brooke never had a chance to drive around in expensive cars. Now, here’s this guy opening up this whole new world for her. I’ve even seen some mothers get kind of excited when their daughter brings home a guy like this. It’s like, ‘Oh my.’ They are living vicariously through their daughters a little bit.”
“Cristine is such a good actress. I loved working with her,” Susan expressed. “It’s interesting because she is not at all like either of my daughters. A lot of times, I work with people and physically they remind me of Grace or maybe they act like Savannah. Cristine didn’t act like either one of my daughters, yet working with her was so easy. She has such an interesting point of view about things. She filled in all of these holes and made such awesome choices. She’s great! I’m a huge fan.”
Regarding her own choices, Susan approached her role from a powerfully real place. Carley can be tough, but her discipline stems from compassion and understanding. When her daughter is in trouble, she doesn’t freak out, she calmly guides her to the best course of action.
“When you play a mother, it’s pretty straightforward,” Susan pointed out. “For the little nuances, I definitely was playing off of and responding to Cristine. But as far as being a mom and saying, ‘No, you are not going out with this guy!’ That is a similar scene that you would have with any kid. I would be highly suspicious if my daughter all of a sudden started dating this guy who was really loaded. What does he want? Why is he dating her? The situation was very easy to identify with.”
Murdered at 17 was filmed in Ottawa, a city that can be rather chilly most of the year. It also rains there about every third day.
“I was there on the perfect two weeks! The people of Ottawa could not believe how lovely it was. It was just amazing. Then Linden [Susan’s husband, Linden Ashby (Teen Wolf, Resident Evil: Extinction, Mortal Kombat)] goes up there a month later and it was freezing the whole time. Freezing and raining!”
“Pierre David [Web Cam Girls, Scanners, Videodrome] was an executive producer on Murdered at 17. I loved working for him again. Linden has known Pierre for 20 or 30 years and I worked for him on Framed for Murder back in 2007. Our girls were in middle school and we were selling our house and moving to Georgia. Looking back, it was a very distracting time for me. I was happy for the chance to enjoy the crew and cast a bit more on this film.”
Lifetime’s Murdered at 17 is part of a day-long “At 17” movie marathon that begins at 10/9c in the morning on Sunday, July 8. Murdered at 17 premieres at 8/7c that night.
Additional, there are three YA novels based on the films: Missing at 17, Pregnant at 17, and Murdered at 17.
Related: “Linden Ashby: Fear and curiosity“