When Jennifer Love Hewitt signed on to play a mother-turned-erotic-masseuse in Lifetime's 2010 original movie "The Client List," she got far more than she bargained for: impressive ratings, a Golden Globe nomination and now, a TV show of the same name (premiering Sun., April 8 at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime).
Hewitt, who also serves executive producer on the "The Client List," has been on the small screen for more than two decades --from "Kids Incorporated" to "Party of Five" to "Time of Your Life" to "Ghost Whisperer." But her role as an erotic masseuse is easily her most risque to date. In the movie, Hewitt played Sam, an unemployed massage therapist and mother of three who becomes an erotic masseuse when her husband finds himself out of work and they face foreclosure, but in the TV series, Sam is now Riley and her life is a bit different, though her profession is the same. On "The Client List" show, Hewitt is single mom Riley who is struggling with financial debt after her husband abandons her and her children.
The actress opened up to HuffPost TV via phone about hanging up on her mom when she called to tell her about her Globe nomination, where the idea for that viral "Big Spender" promo came from, delving back into music (attention "Barenaked" fans and "Glee" viewers!) and much more.
When you signed on for the TV movie of "The Client List," did you ever think it would turn into a TV series?
We had sort of joked around about it when we were doing the movie that it would be cool to do it as a TV series, but I never really thought it would go anywhere at that point. And then after it came out and did so well and after the Golden Globe nomination and that sort of stuff, it sort of felt like something we maybe should take a little bit more seriously. So went into talks about it and came up with a pitch for Lifetime and here we are.
About that Golden Globe nomination, were you surprised?
Totally! [Laughs.] Totally! I definitely never expected a Golden Globe nomination anyway. You know, you never go into jobs ever thinking that that kind of stuff is going to happen. And I definitely didn't think it would happen for playing this part so I was shocked. In fact, I thought that my mom was kidding when she called me so I hung up on her. I was like, "That is so not a funny joke. This is mean. Goodbye." And I hung up. And she called me back and she said, "OK. You may want to be nicer to me 'cause it's real." And said, "What do you mean? For what?! For what did I get nominated for because there's nothing that I've done that would get a Golden Globe nomination!" And she goes, "Um. Yes, there is." And when she told me, I was like, "You've got to be kidding me!" It was so cool. It just never crossed my mind.
That's hilarious! When you were in talks for the series, did you have any hesitation about playing this character more permanently?
No. We just all wanted to be really clear about how far we were willing to take things in the series and collectively, thank goodness, we all decided that we wanted to definitely push the envelope in a provocative, unapologetic manner, but always retain the classiness of the character and the world that she's in and the fact that she's a mom and all of those things. So once that was settled, I felt really good about things.
And the character is bit different. Sam is now Riley and there's a new backstory, i.e. she's now a single mom. Were you involved in the decision to make those changes?
Yes, definitely. I've really been involved since the word "go." I went to everybody after the Golden Globes and said, "Yeah, maybe we should do it as a series" and since pitch one, I've been involved and had an opinion and a say in all the intricacies of the show and everything, which has just been really special and fun for me.
Are you at all worried about how fans of the movie would react to the changes?
No, I feel like we've done our jobs in that in the first episode, it will feel enough like the film that people who loved it will be like, "OK. I'm comfortable. I'm good. There's enough here that feels like what I wanted it to be." And there's enough that's different that it might excite them again. So I feel like it's going to be received well and then, you know, as the series unfolds, there's tons of stuff that they haven't seen or heard before. We have so many great new actors for them to feel excited about and get to know as well.
Well, one actor who's not new is Cybill Shepherd, who played your mom in the movie and is back for the series. What's it like working with her?
It's just amazing. I've loved her for a really, really long time. I felt so lucky when we got her for the movie to play my mom. I couldn't believe that she wanted to do the series as badly with me as I wanted to have her do it. And it's just awesome. We have a really good chemistry together. It's a natural chemistry. It's not forced. It's easy. I really respect her a lot; I think she respects me a lot. We always joke that we're old broads just having a good time in Hollywood, getting to play these parts. It's just great, I wouldn't trade it for anything.
It's funny that you joke about being an "old broad," which obviously, you're not. But you have been doing this for a long time. I mean, I used to have your Barbie workout video.
Oh, lord! [Laughs.] That was forever ago. That's so funny! Well, thank you.
So clearly, you've taken on a wide range of roles, but I think it's safe to say Riley is the most risque character you've ever played.
Did any of your family or friends have any trepidation about you playing this role originally and then going back to her again?
No. I think they really understand that the provocative, edgy stuff is for the provocative, edginess of it all and that the character really is just a single Texas mom trying to do the best that she can. I definitely think for my family, there will be some uncomfortable moments -- just in the subject matter that we're dealing with and what will be alluded to that I'm about to do in that room or whatever it is -- but never in a judgmental, sort of negative sense, just more in like in a, "Wow! I'm glad that scene's over!" kind of way. [Laughs.] I mean, we push in the series to the point where you might just start to get uncomfortable and then we cut out.
And it is Lifetime so luckily, there's not too much you can show.
Do you think this is a role you would have taken if it was on a cable network, like something like, "Secret Diary of a Call Girl"?
I mean, I can't say, but I definitely would have been more nervous about it for sure. There would have had to be definite deeper conversations and more restrictions in regards to what I was willing to do and not do if it somewhere else, if it was a male-driven network or really any other place. But because it was Lifetime -- and they've inspired and empowered females for so long and only want to continue to do that -- I do feel like I'm doing this in the safest place possible.
The movie was based on some real events that took place in Texas, where you're from. Had you known about them or do any research?
It's sort of loosely based on a lot of different things that we sort of compiled together. So I didn't really dig too deep into that. I kind of wanted to create my own thing. And research-wise, being from Texas and growing up in a house with a single Texas mom, who did everything for her children to make sure that we were happy and safe and taken care of, I've kind of been researching that for my whole life. And the other stuff I just didn't really want to do research on. I was like, "Nah, that's okay." [Laughs.] Some things can just be acting.
Since the movie has come out and with the upcoming show, have you been approached or contacted by any women who work in the sex industry? It's such a taboo topic.
No, I haven't. I mean, I'm sure maybe once the show starts airing a bit, I might be able to meet some of those women or they might feel more comfortable to come up and say hello and have open discussions about those things.
Does playing Riley change the way you've perceived the sex industry?
It's an easy industry to have a judgment on, but I feel like that judgement comes from lack of knowledge and fear and maybe not knowing the whole story. It's a real "don't judge a book by its cover" kind of thing because the more that you look into those industries, a lot of those women are single moms doing the best that they can or are someone's daughter who fell on hard times and hasn't been able to find another way. Of course, some of them are people who just chose it because that's what they wanted to do, but for the most part, there's a reason why somebody is somewhere. So it's definitely made me go, "You know what. I respect people doing what they have to do in order to try to live and be happy."
And I also wanted to ask about "Big Spender" music video promo. What was it like shooting that?
It was awesome! It was based on a dream that I had actually. And I woke up and wrote it down and pitched it to Lifetime and they said yes and it was just awesome. When we got to film it, it was pretty amazing.
Well, you do have a musical background with your early TV work on "Kids Incorporated" and I personally still have "BareNaked" on my iPod. I won't lie to you.
[Laughs.] Oh, thank you!
So do you have any interest in doing music again?
I would love to do music again at some point. It would be amazing. I just haven't had the chance to do it quite yet, but yeah!
With so much musical TV out there, like "Smash" and "Glee," would you want to do a guest stint?
Oh yeah! I would love to. I've wanted to be a guest star on "Glee" for forever! I think that would be really, really amazing.
Do you have any idea about what you would want to play?
I think it would be kind of fun to play like a nerd from another high school who sort of surprises people. [Laughs.] Or like a substitute teacher sort of storyline like the Gwyneth Paltrow thing. I think that'd be fun, too.
And I know a series is a huge commitment, but what else up next for you?
At the moment, I'm just getting ready to direct our season finale. I'm going to do that and there's a couple more things I'm working on with Lifetime [Lifetime has a development deal for both shows and movies with Hewitt's Fedora Films] that will be announced when they're ready. I may begin to direct a movie for them over the summer and I just got a movie offer yesterday so just still looking, not quite sure what I'm going to do next.