Playing a teenager left for dead in the woods required more than a few acting exercises. For Anwen O’Driscoll, it involved working with an occupational therapist, a vocal coach and a physical therapist. The goal: To portray someone who was paralyzed and unable to speak.
In the based-in-fact drama, “Left For Dead,” she plays 17-year-old Ashley Reeves, a girl who was tossed in a cold grave and left there for 30 hours.
“I watched as many videos as I could and would take little videos and clips of my voice and send them to (the director) to be consistent and accurate,” O’Driscoll says. “I was afraid to make it kind of like a caricature thing.”
Considered a story of resilience, the Lifetime production tracks Ashley Reeves through physical rehabilitation, memory loss and, ultimately, a quest for justice.
For director Gloria Ui Young Kim, the headline grabber needed to be told so that viewers would understand Ashley’s determination and ability to overcome obstacles. “Given the time we’re living in, it’s really, really, really important that women’s stories are in the forefront,” she says. “Her actual story of survival was the story rather than the mystery.”
The “whodunnit” didn’t take long to solve. “The person who attacked her was the one who led police to her body,” Kim says.
Because the perpetrator tried to twist the story, friends questioned Reeves’ take on the situation.
“One of the things that drew me (to the story) was I could connect with the feeling of not being believed by people,” O’Driscoll says. “That was one of her huge struggles – not being heard and not being supported by a lot of people who were close to her.”
One who did stand by her was her mother, played in the film by “Beverly Hills 90210’s” Jennie Garth. “Real-life experience," she says, helped her understand that loyalty. “Being the mother of three young girls, this movie really tapped into a lot of very deep, true emotions for me.”
While O’Driscoll wrote to the real Ashley, she didn’t want to dredge up painful memories. “I wouldn’t want to come at her with this super heavy subject matter,” she says. “It’s her story and I feel like maybe she’s done talking about that and done having people come at her about it. I just did a lot of ‘self’ stuff and tried to connect with her bravery and her heart and make that the focal point.”
Having that freedom, O’Driscoll says, afforded her the ability to add a bit of herself in the story. “I liked do that.”
O’Driscoll says she has felt frustration when others didn’t believe her, “which is unfortunate, and it happens all the time. Playing that truth of her really inspired me as a person and encouraged me to be braver.”
To help the cast through some of the more harrowing moments, Garth brought her dog to the set for emotional support. “Everybody was spread so thin emotionally, we all just sort of took turns clutching onto him,” she says.
While “Left for Dead” twists and turns (just as the real story did), it does have a happy ending. Reeves regained her ability to speak, eat and drink. She graduated from high school and began volunteering at a violence prevention center.