Actress Jenna Dewan-Tatum, a North Texan in the title role of She Made Them Do It, honestly can't figure out whether the character she's playing is the villain or the victim.
The Grapevine High School grad (and wife of actor and People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" Channing Tatum) stars in the Lifetime biopic as Sarah Pender, a charismatic and manipulative woman who's currently in an Indiana prison for her involvement in two murders in 2000.
Pender insists to this day that she's innocent, that she was set up by faked evidence and railroaded by the justice system.
Dewan-Tatum isn't certain what's the truth -- and that's why she finds this role and this movie, which premieres at 7 p.m. Saturday, so fascinating.
"I went back and forth between whether I thought she was guilty or not," Dewan-Tatum says. "I do believe she had a part in the killings, but the details we will never know. She really captivated and manipulated everyone she met [including the guard who aided in her short-lived prison break in 2008].
"I think everyone will walk away from this movie with a different opinion. But hopefully they will feel a bit of empathy for her."
We chatted last week with the actress, who's expecting her first child with her husband of three years, about the movie and about her life in show business.
Is there a story behind your landing the role of Sarah Pender?
I was sent the script as an offer and I thought it was a really interesting and compelling story. I was intrigued by Sarah's motivation and charismatic personality and I knew it would be a challenge to play her multi-dimensionally. It is also a very different character from anything I have done before, and I always like to push myself to step outside the box a bit and stretch.
Any possibility that you got to meet this woman face to face?
I wasn't able to meet her or shadow her in any way, because she is still in solitary confinement. But I did a ton of research. I spent a ton of time looking up every article, interview and blog about Sarah online. I actually found a blog she had started herself, claiming her innocence, and a few blogs from people trying to get another appeal for her.
I was fascinated how divided people's opinions of her were: either completely guilty or completely innocent. I tried to cast away any judgments of her I might have and play a truthful character who I felt was lonely and a natural manipulator due to the life experiences she has endured.
Sarah is a [survivor] and that was what I tried to tap into when playing her.
As a result, the character is compellingly ambiguous. One viewer might watch and decide she planned the killings. Another might think she's a patsy.
I would love if that happened!
It has been awhile since you lived in North Texas. How Texan do you consider yourself to be now?
I always say I'm Texan at heart. My mom and stepdad still live in Colleyville, where I grew up and went to high school. I don't get to come back very often, because I'm so busy. But when I do, I make sure to get some Tex-Mex, stop by Sonic for a Limeade and Tater Tots, and order an i Fratelli pizza.
I love Texas and I miss the friendly people and laid-back ease of my hometown. I also miss parking lots!
Was there a pivotal moment in your life that compelled you to become an actress?
I actually pretty much fell into acting. I was always so determined to make it as a professional dancer that acting was never on my radar. But after a manager discovered me and sent me on my first audition, I began to book some great jobs and slowly dance began to take a backseat.
I had already accomplished so many of my dance dreams, that I was feeling like "What's next?" and along came acting. I'm so grateful, though, because I truly love acting. It challenges me every day and I feel as if I'm still learning and striving to become better.
I still feel the same nervous insecurity on the first day of every job. "Am I going to do this character well? Will I be fired?" But that nervous energy fades away, and I'm just so stimulated and excited to be on set and working.
It's really been such an amazing journey that I never guessed would look like this.