Cast and Director Talk Safe Room, Premiering Tonight on Lifetime

Safe RoomIf you’re looking for some great new dramas to add to your watchlist, Lifetime’s got you covered. The network has announced a slate of six original movies rolling out over the next few weeks. The diverse lineup includes plenty of suspense and surprises, so get comfy and grab your remote!

First up is Safe Room, premiering tonight at 8:00 Eastern/7:00 Central. The thriller stars Nicole Ari Parker (Chicago P.D., Empire) as Lila Jackson, a newly widowed mom raising her autistic son. When Ian (Nik Sanchez, The Rookie) witnesses a killing, Lila must protect him from two intruders looking to silence them. The thriller also stars Drea de Matteo (The Sopranos), Mackenzie Astin (The Magicians) and Boris Kodjoe (Station 19, Soul Food), who also makes his directorial debut.

The chemistry among the cast was apparent in a Zoom call with journalists. Kodjoe and Ari Parker have been married for 15 years, while de Mateo and Astin have known each other forever.

“I think the universe helped establish the chemistry,” Astin told SciFi Vision. “Drea and I have known each other for about twenty years,” he said. “I actually sort of got this job because Drea recommended me."

Safe Room is the first project they have done together. “[T]he opportunity to work together after being friends for so long absolutely destroyed our friendship,” joked Astin.

During the call, the cast talked about making the movie on a tight schedule in just four weeks. Kodjoe and Sanchez also spoke about portraying an autistic character in an accurate, authentic manner.  Read the transcript of the discussion below (it’s been lightly edited for clarity) and set your DVR!

Zoom Conference
Safe Room
Nicole Ari Parker, Boris Kodjoe, Drea De Matteo, Mackenzie Astin, Nik Sanchez

January 10, 2022


Safe RoomQUESTION:  Boris, when you’re doing something like this the space you have to work with is somewhat limited, obviously. Can you talk a little bit about the challenges and how you meet those to keep your camera moving within such a finite space and keep things active and just keep things in motion?

BORIS KODJOE:  That’s a great question. You know, one of the things that I discussed with my DP, Jay Feather, who’s a genius, who - We discussed expanding out of the room by way of creating visuals that pull you in and that create a different sort of angle and a different vision. And so we talked to Luie Garcia, who is our amazing production designer, and she really created magic in that room and every wall, if you noticed, every wall was different, and everything sort of looked different that gave us a different perspective. When the camera was where the front door was and looked into the room there was an amazing wallpaper, I don’t know if you remember, that sort of took us out of the room into nature, but it was definitely at the forefront of my mind, because I didn’t want the audience to feel like we were constricted, and then it’d turn into sort of like a boring thing every time they head into the space.

QUESTION:  Nicole, I have to imagine that the easiest part of doing this role was the motherly instinct to protect. Can you just talk about was that set, and you just had to work on all the other aspects?

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Well, when I met Nik Sanchez it was very easy to love him and want to protect him. So, yes, I am a mom, but also that does not always translate when you have to - when the movie’s cast, but Nik was so generous with me, because when you’re playing a parent it’s not just the title of mom. It’s the small things, the way you touch your son or your daughter, the way you hug them and talk to them, and I really wanted to respect Nik’s space, and he let me violate him with kisses and hugs.

[LAUGHTER]

So, yeah, it was a wonderful experience to work with such a talented young actor playing my son.

QUESTION:  If I can quickly ask Nik to respond.

NIK SANCHEZ:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  How was it working with Nicole?

NIK SANCHEZ:  Well, she was amazing. She felt like a real mom to me, and both Boris and Nicole knew that this was going to be their first movie project, so they made sure before, we had lunch together, and they made sure that I felt comfortable and knew what was going on and, immediately, I already knew that me and Nicole were going to get along, and it really felt like I had two moms on set because yeah, they were just amazing, and you and Nicole was amazing.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Shout out to your mom, Naomi, who is incredible and also very kind and patient with me because part of revealing a relationship is what happens in private and between a mother and a son or a mother and a daughter. How do you really be there for your kid in crisis? And then in the confines of shooting it what is the aspect that we can show in this moment? And Naomi, Nik’s mom, said these are the kind of things I do when I’m at home with Nik and Damaya (SP), and this is how I solve a crisis, and so I’m really grateful for her presence on set.

QUESTION:  So I really love this movie. It’s such an interesting idea and so many twists and turns. You didn’t know what was going to happen next. Boris, did you write the movie or just direct it, just to clarify for me real quick?

BORIS KODJOE:  No, I did not write the movie. The movie was written by the amazing - I keep pronouncing her name wrong. Help me. Her name is... sorry. I did not write the movie. I made some tweaks and changes to accommodate the location and some of the aspects we have to deal with. Also in terms of the characters I made some changes to accommodate all the amazing actors we have but, no, I did not write the movie and before you leave us I will have the name of the incredible writer who wrote this movie.

QUESTION:  All right. And what attracted you to the script?

BORIS KODJOE:  The mother/son relationship is what attracted me to the script. Obviously, there are circumstances that are high stakes and dangerous and suspenseful, which lent itself to heighten the stakes to the point where it’s life or death. But, to me, at the core was the mother and son relationship, because when you have a child on the spectrum, as a parent, you constantly put out fires. You deal with and you manage your child, and there’s a whole lot of things we project on our children, but throughout the movie the relationship between the mother and the son changes, and she really sees him in a different light, because he steps up and at the end, I can’t give it away, but really comes into his own.

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you so much.

BORIS KODJOE:  And her name is Nneka, by the way.  Nneka, Nneka - How do you pronounce it? Gerstle?

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  I think it’s Gerstle.

BORIS KODJOE:  Nneka Gerstle is her name.

QUESTION:  I have a question for Boris, and then I have a follow-up for Nicole. How was it stepping in behind the camera and directing the film? Did you find it challenging to direct and star in the film?

BORIS KODJOE:  The most challenging part for me was to get all my ideas and my vision into this very sort of constrained schedule. We didn’t have a lot of time, and it made it very challenging for me, and I had to be very creative with -

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Very quickly.

BORIS KODJOE:  - with Jay Feather, my DP. We had to figure out ways to tell the story and to respect my vision while not going over budget. That was the most challenging part to me.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  You were also really nervous to meet Drea.

BORIS KODJOE:  Yes, I was very nervous to meet Drea.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Because she’s the bomb.

BORIS KODJOE:  That was the second most challenging part of shooting this movie.

DREA DE MATTEO:  Oh, because I’m so scary.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  We did not know how sweet and kind and shy and delicate she was. You know, she has this massive presence and persona -

BORIS KODJOE:  Persona, yes. She’s a delicate flower.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  She’s totally a delicate flower.

BORIS KODJOE:  On a meadow, somewhere in a black forest. I had no idea.

DREA DE MATTEO:  It’s the eyebrows, the mean eyebrows.

BORIS KODJOE:  But we had a lot of challenges. We had flooding on the set. We had an active shooter in the neighborhood who made it really hard for us to continue.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  We had the cicadas, the 17-year, yeah.

BORIS KODJOE:  Cicadas came and descended down -

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Right on the house with the sound department, and we can’t shoot anything.

BORIS KODJOE:  And we had the camera truck stolen, so -

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Well, just the, the entire truck wasn’t stolen, just the cameras in the camera truck.

BORIS KODJOE:  In the camera truck.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Yeah.

BORIS KODJOE:  Yeah. So a lot of challenges but with these beautiful people here that you see, and the quarterback next to me, I was able to pull through; Jay Feather, the DP; obviously, Dominique Telson, our producer, and we got it done.

QUESTION:  Nicole, you’ve shared seamlessly, actually, shared the screen with Boris over a decade, but was it easy taking direction from him because he is your real husband? And do you feel like he made it a point to try and exceed your expectations?

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Well, I think that we have such a great rapport back and forth because we did meet on Soul Food twenty years ago in a TV setting, so we know how a set runs. My first impulse was to collaborate, so he would tell me something day one, and I would be like, “Well, actually, if you just push in and then da-da-da-da-da,” and I realized like halfway through the sentence, because everybody was silent - I think, Mack, you were there that day - I just, in that moment, I was like we’ve got one take, and we have to do it in four minutes, okay? And he is the captain of the ship, and I have to just let him do it. So I pushed back like day one, scene one.

BORIS KODJOE:  Yeah.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  And then after that I just did what he said.

BORIS KODJOE:  Well, she realized that a lot of preparation went into setting up these shots and, you know -

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Yes.

BORIS KODJOE:  - I had the confined space, time, a lot of things to deal with, and I think she realized that I had through those things numerous times, and I had plan A, B, C, D, E, F, G ready to go.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Yeah. And I looked Mack’s face. I was like, “Because you’re an actor, right? Mack, you get it. You get what I’m saying, that if you just run in and then fall he can just shoot it from...” and Mack just looked at me like (Makes face.)

MACKENZIE ASTIN:  Got to make this day, got to make this day -

BORIS KODJOE:  He pled the fifth, he pled the fifth.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  He totally pled the fifth.

BORIS KODJOE:  He pled the fifth. He was hiding behind his mask.

[LAUGHTER]

MODERATOR:  The next question is an email question for Drea. Drea, you have a huge fan following from “The Sopranos,” and in this movie you play the villain Rocco, who’s also a tough-talking type. Did you like playing Rocco?

DREA DE MATTEO:  I really, really did. I think, well, this has been the month of me playing psychopaths, just the beginning of it. So I think I’m used to playing a victim, so it was nice to victimize somebody else. There’s a real freedom that comes with being a psychopath. You’re just not careful about anything, nothing is calculated. Everything is just, you know, it just all hangs out. So, yes, I really enjoyed being able to be this awful human being. There’s no redeeming qualities here.

SCIFI VISION:  When I read about this movie, I thought Drea De Matteo and Mackenzie Astin as the heavies, that’s a little unexpected, and then halfway through the film I thought these two need a spinoff. I wonder if you could talk about where you guys found your chemistry for these two characters, and how you enjoyed playing them together.

DREA DE MATTEO:  Go Mack.

MACKENZIE ASTIN:  Well, I’ll go ahead and say that I think the universe helped establish the chemistry. Drea and I have known each other for about twenty years now. An old friend of mine that I worked with ended up working with her and connected us, and we became friends. So I actually sort of got this job because Drea recommended me, so there’s an instant chemistry boost right there, but we’ve known each other twenty some-odd years now, so that stuff’s sort of already in there, which is great, actually. And the opportunity to work together after being friends for so long absolutely destroyed our friendship.

[LAUGHTER]

BORIS KODJOE:  I want to jump in here real quick because, yes, it’s not true. He didn’t get the job because Drea recommended him. He got the job because -

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  He got the audition because Drea recommended him.

BORIS KODJOE:  Exactly. He got the audition because Drea recommended him.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  And then killed it.

BORIS KODJOE:  And he slaughtered and incinerated the audition.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  And I’m from Baltimore, and my mother and father still live in Baltimore, so I was like you got to give it to Baltimore, man. You got to give it to Baltimore.

BORIS KODJOE:  No, he came in and it was scorched earth.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Yeah. He shut it down.

BORIS KODJOE:  He took the role.

MACKENZIE ASTIN:  Well, a lot of stuff conspired to make it all come together for which I’m super grateful, because it’s not that often that a job comes to town, and it was good to get onboard.

QUESTION:  Boris…Congratulations on this being your directorial debut. It being with Lifetime, could you ever see yourself direct more movies with Lifetime down the road? Because this is such a fantastic film. So many are going to love Safe Room. It’s so intense.

BORIS KODJOE:  Wow. Thank you. Thank you.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Wow.

BORIS KODJOE:  Thank you for these kind words, and I was delighted to work with Lifetime. Tanya Lopez was amazing. She really supported the project. She loved it, as well as Mekita Faiye who was our executive over there. It was a delight. I’m forever grateful for them for thinking about me for this movie and, hopefully, yes, absolutely. I’d love to do more work with them.

QUESTION:  Now how was it like to not only direct but star in the movie with your wife and get to work together as partners on this, because you don’t see a lot of Hollywood stars get to work with their husband or wife in a movie, so how was that like?

BORIS KODJOE:  That’s true. Like my wife said earlier, we met on a set, so we were very much accustomed to the environment of a professional setting, and we thrive in that setting, and so working with her again was a dream because, first of all, she makes me better, and she is, you know, she was a top dog, and her energy and her professionalism sort of transcended the whole set. Everybody had to step it up a notch when she stepped on set, and I love to see that. And I’m forever grateful for these people here on our Zoom. They really came to play, which I loved. All I had to do was really set the stage and then get out the way. They were all phenomenal.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  I think Nik kind of stepped up everyone’s game.

BORIS KODJOE:  Yeah. Definitely.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Yeah.

BORIS KODJOE:  Nik’s energy -

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  He was like, “That’s not your line.”

BORIS KODJOE:  Yeah. He was very specific about everybody’s lines.

NIK SANCHEZ:  Thank you.

[LAUGHTER]

QUESTION:  I want to ask the rest of the cast that are on the Zoom chat, how is it like to take direction from Boris? Did you guys think he nailed down his first directorial debut?

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  No pressure.

MACKENZIE ASTIN:  Yeah.

DREA DE MATTEO:  Oh, yeah.  Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I -

MACKENZIE ASTIN:  Hundred percent.

NIK SANCHEZ:  Yeah.

MACKENZIE ASTIN:   I don’t want to take up too much space in this - and I definitely talk too much - but this guy, I don’t know, I absolutely loved it. This guy had a plan, and when stuff went wrong he had a way to counter it, and when stuff went wrong the second time he had a way to counter that. I don’t know where it comes from, but it was a treat to work with a guy who is such a natural at leading a team.

BORIS KODJOE:  Wow. Thank you.

DREA DE MATTEO:  Yeah. I mean, I’ve been on too many film sets, TV sets for sure, and I thought that Boris seemed like he had been doing this longer than all of the seasoned directors I’ve ever worked with.

BORIS KODJOE:  Oh, my goodness.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  And I knew like, and it was funny when you were talking about Nicole, like, “Well, I want to do it like this,” and I was just like, I’m just going to park and bark. I’m going to do whatever he says to do. I don’t know. Park and bark. Here I go. I’ll make anything fit into a tiny space, so it was easy. You really are awesome, Boris.

BORIS KODJOE:  Thank you so much.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  You really are. There’s a confidence that you have…there was no question. Okay, if he says do this then I’m going to do this. I don’t care.

[LAUGHTER]

QUESTION:  what was it like for you doing a character that’s on the spectrum? Did you study much about this in order to portray the character properly?

NIK SANCHEZ:  Since I am autistic, playing autistic just feels like, you know, a man playing a man. It’s part of who I am, but what I most like about playing Ian is the fact that it helps me learn more about myself and my own aspects of my own autism, and what other people on the spectrum go through, too. And Ian loves a lot of things like videogames, STEM, gadgets, cars, basically, you name it. He’s a big geek, but I love those similar things. Ian and I are very similar when it comes to our character and our traits, and I really enjoyed playing this role. It made me feel that if I was in a similar situation like he was, I would be able to be brave and confident just like he was.

QUESTION:  Do any of the writers or actors have experience dealing with children on the autistic spectrum, and how did you all ensure the authenticity of Ian’s character?

BORIS KODJOE:  Well, first of all, we did a lot of research and partnered with organizations who support children and young adults on the spectrum. We wanted to make sure, again, we wanted to make sure that this comes across with full authenticity and truth, and that’s why I fought to hire and actor who was on the spectrum. And Nik, he superseded any expectations that I had going into this project, and I was so delighted and grateful to have him onboard. He really, like Nicole said, he made everybody step up around him and not just in front of the camera, but also just the energy on set changed when he stepped on the set, which is amazing to watch. Representation is everything. It is truly important, because it creates normalcy around whatever we’re talking about, in this case, autism. And we wanted to shed a light, because we want to make sure that young actors on the spectrum are supported, and the opportunities increase in the industry. It’s much needed. It’s time, and it’s completely normal. The problem has been that we project too much on these performers, on these kids, young adults, and that’s our own problem, and this experience has been eye-opening for me in that we should talk less and listen more, and Nik has taught us a whole lot in those four weeks we spent together.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  And it also helped us understand, and you, as a director, you were saying how you would hire Nik for anything.

BORIS KODJOE:  Yeah.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  It wouldn’t have to be the narrative around a child or a teenager on the spectrum; that his talent and his work ethic were so tremendous that he could, you know, play any role in any film -

BORIS KODJOE:  Yeah. Hundred percent. So specific. So prepared. So professional. I aspire to be like Nik.

[LAUGHTER]

NIK SANCHEZ:  What?

BORIS KODJOE:  To be honest with you. And I thought I was prepared and disciplined being German.

NICOLE ARI PARKER:  Oh, man.

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