If you’re a fan of Claws, TNT’s hugely popular original series about five manicurists who work at South Florida’s Nail Artisan of Manatee County salon, then you already know the vibrant life that Jenn Lyon can breathe into a character. Her award-winning stage work translates to television with a remarkably vivacious effervescence.
On Saturday, February 8 at 9/8c, however, you will get to see a whole different, darker side of Jenn when she stars in Lifetime’s latest thriller The Neighbor in the Window, a riveting “Ripped From The Headlines” movie that pits the charming, elegant, and diabolically manipulative Lisa (played by Lyon) against her down-to-earth, upbeat, and trusting neighbor, Karen (played by Jamie-Lynn Sigler). The Neighbor in the Window is one of those perfect Lifetime movies that will have your heart hammering harder and longer than an extended spin class.
Even though Jenn was currently in New Orleans working on Claws, she graciously set time aside to answer a few questions for Entertaining Options about her new Lifetime movie.
What drew you to this role?
I had never really played a “villain” before on camera and I love Lifetime movies, so I screamed when I got the offer. I had gotten married like two days before, so I was exhausted, but I sucked it up and left my newlywed husband to go do it!
Was it fun to play Lisa?
It was so fun. I mean, it’s awful to be mean to Jamie-Lynn, but I liked the feeling of trying to figure out how to win (as the character) and how to make her likable (as the actress). I’ve always rooted for the Barbara Stanwyk or Lady Macbeth. They are bucking convention. They are femme fatales. It was like having a secret in my back pocket.
One of the most powerfully manipulative elements of this character is her voice. It is very different from Jennifer Husser, the character you play on Claws. Lisa speaks with such a warm confidence that even though you know you shouldn’t trust what she’s saying, you want to. Do you think about how a character will talk or does it just happen?
I definitely think about vocal qualities a lot. What is it that attracts us to other people in all the senses? What does this character want and how do they go about getting it? What’s the first thing they reach for in their toolbox? With Jen Husser, she is rough and scrappy and loud. She announces herself. Lisa makes a little nest for you to climb in instead.
You have a commanding presence. Your body language alone can steal a scene. Where does that come from?
Thanks for saying that. Coming from the theatre, you are super aware of yourself because every move could pull focus — you are directing the audience where to look with your body. In comedies especially, it is a science. If I walk or open a drawer on the set, the punchline will play completely differently than if I am still.
Do you see any similarities between Lisa and Jennifer? Which one is closer to who you are?
I think they are both similar in that they frequently feel trapped and are doing what they can to survive. The writers on Claws have allowed me to bring a lot of myself to the character in the humorous aspects, but I’m much quieter and less confrontational in real life. However, I do love to play like Jen Husser does. I’m like Lisa in that I love marshmallows and fear abandonment.
Does Jenn Lyon have a dark secret that she’d like to share?
Why on earth would I bring a good dark secret into the light like that? It will lose all its hold over me and we can’t have that.
The Neighbor in the Window deals with False Victim Syndrome. Had you ever heard of that syndrome before doing this movie?
What kind of research did you do to learn about it?
I read the book False Victim by Kathie Truitt that the script was based on and I found that super helpful. I also researched borderline personality and talked to my therapist about why this syndrome and behavior presents in this way.
Have you ever been on the receiving end, like Jamie-Lynn’s character, and had someone do something that crossed a comfort line? If so, what did you do?
I’ve had to block people or stop responding when they overstep a boundary. I have a tendency to want to help, especially around areas of addiction or mental health (as I am open about my own) and people reach out to me, but I’m not a professional and should not have gotten involved and that’s on me.
Was there a scene that was particularly tough for you in this movie?
The toughest scenes for me are always what I call “enforced joy,” which are group party scenes where you have to keep “having so much fun!” over and over and over.
How about a favorite scene?
My favorite scenes are usually two-handers with one other person where each has an objective to pursue and they are opposing, so the drama or laughs or whatever is baked in and you can ride on top of it; you don’t have to do a lot of manufacturing.
Was there an on-set moment or scene you’ll never forget?
I got to do a seductive scene with Geoff Gustafson who plays Jamie Lynn’s husband and he is one of the funniest people on the planet, so it was really hard to keep a straight face when both actors want the director to say cut so they can make the best and most realistic fart noises possible.
A number of successful actors and musicians are the son or daughter of a preacher. Do you think that is just coincidence or is there something about the life which encourages creativity to flourish?
I think you are onstage and being watched by a community from an early age and you are also watching your parent perform every week. You are surrounded by interesting characters and obstacles and participating in story telling constantly. That’s what Church is. That’s what theatre is. You’re going to watch someone tell you stories that highlight and unpack the mystery of being alive.
Your bio states that you worked extensively in theater and food service. In what capacity did you work in food service?
I’ve been a waitress, a barista, a caterer, a baker, a mobile pizza oven worker, an ice cream scooper, and worked in many grocery stores.
I’ve noticed the really good servers have a knack for getting to know people quickly. Do you have that ability? Does it help with acting?
I can tell you what a person will order before they know. It does help… I think? You watch and absorb so much behavior and are able to make quick choices and multitask, which is what acting is like. You are present but also planning the next thing.
I’ve spoken with actors who have described moving from stage to film and TV like moving from acoustic guitar to electric guitar – you can get so much more by actually doing less. Did you find this to be true?
It is so different and that’s a great analogy. Oh my god, I was a disaster when I first started doing camera work. I was playing to the check cashing place across the street.
Do you have any tricks or tips that might help someone back off if they ever start doing a scene and realize that they are playing to the back row?
I don’t know if there are any tricks, but definitely take down your volume and try and get a sense of what level the other actors are operating from. And definitely watch other great camera performances and then record yourself before your auditions or work so you can see what you’re doing and how you’re coming across.
In closing, do you have any final words or advice to share?
I’ve said this before, but I think being of service is so much more important than pursuing some nebulous idea of happiness. Go volunteer. Be kind. Make a difference. Do esteem-able acts. Help the world around you.
Jenn Lyon delivers a phenomenally chilling performance in Lifetime’s The Neighbor In The Window, bringing to mind talent such as Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, and Kathleen Turner. The movie is unsettlingly real and thoroughly satisfying. It might even make you pay a little more attention to that neighbor who always seems to be watching you and your family.
Lifetime’s The Neighbor In The Window premieres this Saturday, February 8 at 9/8c. The movie stars Jenn Lyon along with Jamie-Lynn Sigler (The Sopranos), Geoff Gustafson (Hot Tub Time Machine), and David Lewis (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency).