THE WATCHFUL EYE has its Season 1 finale Monday, March 27, on Freeform. The episode will stream the following day on Hulu, where the rest of the season is already available.
In THE WATCHFUL EYE, Mariel Molino plays Elena Santos, a young woman who takes a job as a nanny in an upscale Manhattan apartment building. Her wealthy employer Matthew (Warren Christie) needs someone to look after his little boy after his wife commits suicide.
Amy Acker plays Matthew’s even richer sister-in-law Tory, who is suspicious of Elena from the outside. Tory and Matthew have a volatile relationship and a complicated back story.
Originally from Dallas, Texas, Acker is a prolific actress, having starred or having recurring roles in a number of TV series, including ANGEL, ALIAS, DOLLHOUSE, HAPPY TOWN, PERSON OF INTEREST, CON MAN, THE GIFTED, SUITS, and 9-1-1: LONE STAR.
Acker’s feature film credits include GROOM LAKE, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, and AMANDA AND JACK GO GLAMPING.
Speaking by phone, Acker discusses THE WATCHFUL EYE and other projects.
ASSIGNMENT X: How did you get involved in THE WATCHFUL EYE?
AMY ACKER: I was just sent it as an audition, [which] I put on tape. It actually was one of those ones where I think I had some other stuff that day, and I was like, “Oh, I’m not really right for this one, so I’ll do it really quick.” It seems like those are always the ones that end up working out [laughs].
AX: When you auditioned, did you know that Tory would turn out to have so many different sides to her personality?
ACKER: No, I didn’t know a lot, because they didn’t really have a lot of answers. After my tape, I had a meeting with the producers and Julie Durk, who had written the pilot, over Zoom. I think the first thing I said was, “What happens next?” At that point, they were like, “Yeah, we want to know, too.” [laughs]
So, there wasn’t a whole lot of information from the get-go, but they seemed very passionate about the character, and they said, “It’s going to be really complicated, and have a really interesting storyline.” All of the references for what they wanted the show to feel like seemed exciting and different than something I’d done in the past. And Nina Wass and Andrea Shay, who are [executive] producers with Ryan Seacrest’s company, they are the kind of women you want to be. They are super-smart and funny and creative, and they just seem like they weren’t going to let it be bad [laughs]. So, I was like, “Okay. I like these ladies. I want to do something with them.”
AX: How is it playing someone as uptight as Tory?
ACKER: [laughs] It’s very much not my personality, so it was really a fun character. After takes, when I would just get to do things that are very out of character for myself, we would all laugh. She was just a fun person to play around with, and to find the reasons why it felt like that was right for her, and who she wanted to be. I was excited to pull from different people who I had met. That whole New York vibe that they wanted on the show is just something that I’m not super-familiar with, but it intrigued me.
AX: By the time you started shooting, did you know Tory’s personal history, or was that something you found out and went, “Hmm, would I have played this differently if I had known this at the start?”
ACKER: Well, because we shot a pilot, and then we came back, and had recast the lead, and moved [production] from Chicago to Vancouver, so we had a pretty long period of time between when we shot the original pilot and then when we reshot it entirely. Elena was originally played by a different actress, and then they went in a different direction than they had gone initially.
And just with a first-year show, there was a lot of stuff happening, moving it, and redoing it, and making little changes. So, when there wasn’t a ton of information at the beginning, I just wrote out my own back story for Tory. I was just like, “I need something to go off of.”
I ended up sending that to Jeffrey [Reiner], the director, and to some of the producers, as we were trying to figure out who she was. I was like, “This is what I’m just going with to start, so I have something, and if there’s something that feels totally wrong here, let me know, and if there’s something that you want to tell me, I’d love to hear any real information” [laughs].
A lot of it wasn’t true, but there were bits and pieces that ended up in the story. It ended up being pretty useful to have that for myself. I feel like it gave me a place to make her a more complete character from the beginning, when I didn’t have much information. I think with a show like this, we were really discovering who everybody was as it went along.
AX: In one episode, there’s a fundraising event where Tory dresses up in what looks like a 1920s-style dress, with a hairstyle to match. How was that?
ACKER: Everyone was really excited for that episode. It’s always fun to get to play dress-up, and when I found out who this woman was, and the world that she came from, one of the first things that I was excited about was, “Oh, I’m going to get to wear such nice clothes, I can’t wait.” [laughs] And we had a really wonderful costume designer, Andrea Des Roches, who really created a character. Some of Kelly Bishop’s [who plays Tory’s super-rich aunt, Mrs. Ivey] clothes she had gotten from some woman’s closet in upstate New York or something. She was renting these designer vintage clothes.
For the gala, in the script, it said I was wearing this vintage lavender dress, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with,” and [Des Roches] had a picture of one that I was like, “I love that,” and ended up finding the one from the picture, and then she brought in this amazing feathered number, and I was like, “That feels very Tory.” [laughs] I feel like she would choose the one that’s going to stand out the most.
AX: What about the hair?
ACKER: Everyone on the creative production side of the show was really fantastic. The hair department [supervised in Vancouver by Debra Johnson and in New York by Nora Martin] spent weeks. Most people had wigs. [The hairdresser] was like, “No, I’m going to try it with your real hair.” I love that finger-wave look, and always try to do it on myself, and it never really works how I think it’s going to. But we didn’t even practice, she made this hairstyle. Not only did we have to do this multiple days in a row, but we were able to recreate it, and it was really fun.
AX: Have you worked in Vancouver before?
ACKER: Yes, I have. I love it there.
AX: Is there any difference between working there and working in Los Angeles?
ACKER: Yeah. It’s always different when you’re not at home. There are definitely positives and negatives. You’re not going to see your family all the time, and you’re missing a lot of the day to day, but at the same time, you’re not folding three people’s laundry and making breakfast before you go to work for somebody in London [laughs]. It’s always different, being out of town, and the freedom and guilt that comes with that.
AX: You and your husband, James Carpinello, wrote and directed and produced and starred in a short film together, OUTSIDE, which is available for viewing on YouTube …
ACKER: James and I made a movie during quarantine with our cell phones. We had a great time. It was literally the second day of shutdown in March, 2020, and I said to James, “Oh, we might be at home for two whole weeks.” [laughs] “And we should do something with that time.”
And so, we made a movie in three days on our iPhones with just the two of us, and then two years passed, and we didn’t make another film, but it was great, and I really enjoyed the process. I love just actually making something happen, and we didn’t have money, we didn’t have lights, and we didn’t have cameras, and so we were just doing it to do it, and I love that feeling of just making something. I think that’s why I like cooking and crafting. “I have an idea, and here’s the finished project.”
AX: Are you and/or James Carpinello still working on producing things?
ACKER: He is. James is producing things, exciting things that I’m not allowed to talk about, but will be really cool [laughs]. I’m here to support and help in any way I can.
I’ve been trying to do a little bit more directing. I just was able to shadow a director, Bradley Buecker on 9-1-1: LONE STAR, and I’m trying to direct another short, and wanting to maybe be able to start hopefully directing TV at some point myself. Tim Minear runs the show, who I’ve known from ANGEL days, So, I had just reached out, and everyone said that if you can shadow anyone, Brad’s the guy. And Jeffrey Reiner, who [directed three episodes of] THE WATCHFUL EYE, let me shadow over the summer as well.
It’s so interesting, after [acting] for twenty-five years or whatever, to see the other side of it. With Jeffrey, it was nice, because being in Vancouver when I couldn’t go home and I wasn’t working, I got to be on set with him, and he was just so generous with sharing information and insight. He was really specific about shots. I feel like that show has a very distinct look that he wanted to create, with and the camera movements, and everything else. So, he was really great about saying, “This is how I’m doing this, and in other projects, I would do something totally different.”
I would just see how he creates a specific feeling for each show, and I was with the process from start to finish, and there for every scene, [even when] not acting in it, so I got to really see it from a whole other perspective, what it would be like to go into a place where everybody knows each other, and you’re just there as a visitor, and having to step in and guide an episode in a way that makes everyone feel confident that you know what their show is, and what you’re trying to create.
AX: 9-1-1: LONE STAR is a big action show. Are you shadowing a director on that because you want to direct action?
ACKER: I feel somewhat comfortable in that realm, just from what I’ve done in the past [as an actor]. But acting is by far my first passion. Initially, I thought about directing as a lot of actors do, as an opportunity to tell stories that I’d like to be in. As you get older, as a woman, and I guess all actors, is the parts become different and maybe less, I’ve heard [laughs]. I love being on set, and I love telling stories, and I love collaborating with people and solving problems, and just want to make sure that that’s something that I am able to do for as long as I can, and as long as I want to.
AX: You were also on 9-1-1: LONE STAR last season, in a recurring role as Rob Lowe’s love interest, who was a political aide. How was that?
ACKER: I had a great time. I loved that show. It’s such a fun show, I think, because Tim [Minear] and Rashad [Raisani], who run it – Rashad was on THE GIFTED, and is an amazing writer – they really pushed the boundaries of that kind of show, what you think that’s going to be. It reminds me of ANGEL in the sense of, there’s an episode where you think you’re dying from an anthrax threat, and then the next episode, you’re dealing with your ex-husband’s hairless cat. So, you never know what it was going to be, and it did go in so many different ways, and somehow still fit in the world of what the show was. And I really liked working with Rob as well. He’s a really nice guy.
AX: Are you looking at the way film narratives have been going recently, and seeing that older women are much more prominent in stories? There seems to be a lot more opportunity for women who are not in their twenties.
ACKER: Yeah. Which is great. I think it’s always exciting to see the kinds of roles that are being recognized, and these women who are doing such extraordinary work, that have been working for so long, and finally getting to step into characters that are colorful and engaging and award-winning, so I think it’s looking at all of that, and wanting to create opportunity just be busy.
AX: With THE GIFTED, Stephen Moyer played your husband, who went supernova at the end of Season 2. Do you know if he would have come back if there’d been a third season?
ACKER: I feel like he would have, but I don’t know what their plan was. We would have been sad to not have him [laughs He did. He’s such a talented guy. He’s directing a lot, and we always wanted him to be there as our director, so maybe it would’ve gone that route. Again, a show like that – as I know from experience, you can always come back from the dead [laughs].
AX: You may be blue, but you’ll be back.
AX: Speaking of people who played characters of unusual colors on ANGEL, do you have any recollections of the late Andy Hallett, who played the green demon Lorne?
ACKER: I don’t think there’s a bad story of Andy. He was always such a great guy, and so much fun.
AX: You have two new films coming up, ORDINARY ANGELS and THE UNBREAKABLE BOY. What can you say about those?
ACKER: I have little parts in those, but they’re both really beautiful movies, based on true stories. My friend Jon Gunn wrote and directed both of them. UNBREAKABLE BOY [stars] Zachary Levi and Meghann Fahy, who was just in WHITE LOTUS, and Drew Powell, and Peter Facinelli. It’s a special story, shot during COVID, on location. It’s something I think people will like. And ORDINARY ANGELS [stars] Hilary Swank and Alan Ritchson. That one’s great, too.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about THE WATCHFUL EYE?
ACKER: It’s a fun, exciting thriller that has lots of twists and turns that hopefully make you want to come back and watch more.
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Article: Exclusive Interview: Actress Amy Acker on Season 1 of her new Freeform series THE WATCHFUL EYE