Working with two sets of baby twin girls on the TNT drama "Baby" was both a heartwarming and challenging experience for the cast and crew.
"They have their own agenda," says Jean Stapleton. Stapleton plays a feisty grandmother in the adaptation of Patricia MacLachlan's novel, which tells the sad but ultimately heartwarming tale of an American family coming to terms with a tragedy, and the baby girl who helps them heal.
Premiering Sunday, "Baby" stars Farrah Fawcett as Lily Malone, a mother battling the guilt and depression she feels over the loss of an infant son. Keith Carradine plays Lily's husband, John, who escapes his pain through a quirky reliance on alcohol and tap dancing. Meanwhile their 12-year-old daughter, Larkin (Alison Pill), is left to deal with her brother's death on her own.
One day, a baby girl, Sophie, turns up on their doorstep with a note asking the family to care for her. Despite initial misgivings, the Malones take her in, and soon the blond, blue-eyed child brings happiness and normalcy back to their lives. Infant Sophie was played by Cheyenne and Kailee Heath, while Kassandra and Coreena Collins took over as Sophie turned into a toddler.
And, as with real babies, the cast members found they had to expect the unexpected.
Bringing Up Babies
Can Be Tricky
"If they are not going to do a scene, then the camera has to wait or you call on the other twin," says Stapleton.
For Carradine, at times, it was a little too close for comfort. "Three days before we finished shooting I was working with one of the younger twins," recalls Carradine, who plays Stapleton's son. "She happened to be sick with a cold. I was cuddling this little girl. . . . By the last day, I came down with the worst viral infection. I was sick for two weeks."
The 14-year-old Pill believes the Collins twins, who toddled their way through the shoot, manage to steal the movie from its award-winning adult stars. The girls also stole the heart of Pill.
"We had a great chemistry," she says enthusiastically. "They sort of became my adopted sisters. I have visited them a couple of times [since the film was completed], and they come over every so often. We had a great time together."
But the same wasn't true of the babies Heath, who played the younger Sophie. "They just hated me," Pill says. "They would not come near me without bawling. Most of the time they kept the little babies away from me, so I just kind of touched their backs or patted their hands [in the scenes]."
Pill admits these baby girls didn't understand what was going on. "There were all of these strange people trying to be their parents," she says. "We had some crying breaks."
Of the toddlers, Coreena was more outgoing than her sister, recalls Stapleton. "Do you know, we saw her mature to the point of speaking in all syllables," says the Emmy-winning actress of "All in the Family" fame.
"She started with one syllable, and in two weeks she was speaking in sentences. That was quite thrilling to see that happen. She learned all the names of our characters. She had such joy in calling us by our names. That lovely young Alison Pill, the babies were bonded to her. She had them in the palm of her hands."
All three actors were drawn to the project, because, as Stapleton explains it, "it's about people instead of special effects."
She loved her character, Byrd, because she lives in the present. "She doesn't regard herself as finished by any means," says Stapleton. "She is not folded up and dependent on anyone."
Carradine clicked into his character's whimsicality. "I thought this was not a down-the-middle sort of character," he says. "He was kind of an oddball. The fact that he's trying to learn to tap-dance and he's drinking a little too much at the same time, I just thought it was a great sort of off-center character."
When he wasn't in front of the cameras, Carradine was busy perfecting his dancing. "It was very challenging," says the actor. "There was a guy I worked with in L.A. and he came up [to the shooting location] in Halifax [Nova Scotia] for a few days and worked with me. Then he was gone. I had a board in my hotel room and I had my tap shoes and I put on this video [of tap dancing lessons] and tried to rehearse without disturbing the rest of the guests."
Getting the opportunity to play the troubled Larkin was a "magnificent" experience for Pill.
"She is such a layered character," says the young actress. "I find that most [juvenile characters] are very one-layered stereotypes of young people. Showing the intelligence behind her and all of this emotion and changes that are going on in her life--it was such a special part."
Pill, though, has little in common with Larkin. "We have grown up in very different atmospheres. I am much more outgoing. So it was really interesting to play this girl who tells everything with her face and is so introverted."
Directed by Robert Allan Ackerman, "Baby" was executive-produced by David Manson and actress Glenn Close, who starred in the three CBS dramas based on MacLachlan's "Sarah, Plain and Tall" novel. MacLachlan, Manson and Kerry Kennedy wrote the screenplay.
* "Baby" airs Sunday at 8 and 10 p.m. and midnight on TNT, repeating at various times through the month. The network has rated it TV-PG-S (may be unsuitable for young children with special advisories for sexual situations).