Italia Ricci can’t help it. Sometimes she feels like such a fraud.
The Canadian actress stars in Chasing Life, a unique new series premiering at 8 p.m. Tuesday on ABC Family.
Ricci plays April Carver, a sunny 24-year-old whose life is turned upside-down when she’s diagnosed with leukemia.
April’s initial responses to the bombshell news are denial, shock and fear, but ultimately she will soldier through the crisis with courage and humor.
“I’m already hearing some amazing stories from some extremely brave people about their battles with cancer,” Ricci says. “Sometimes I feel guilty that, after a day of playing a character with cancer, I get to go home and be healthy while they don’t.”
Ricci has no reason to feel that way, of course. Her charming performance, peppered with a handful of raw and fragile moments, should be enough. As April undergoes treatment throughout the 20-episode season, she is almost certain to become a hero to viewers who have shared her experience.
Rare are television shows that realistically depict the journey that a cancer patient must take en route to recovery. That’s what attracted Ricci to Chasing Life.
“It’s the kind of story that exists in real life,” she says. “It’s inspiring, but there’s nothing fantastical about it. It can be happening to anybody, and it has and it is and it will. I wanted to be part of telling an honest story like that.”
Better yet, April’s story is uplifting, even jaunty at times, without being annoyingly Pollyanna.
“The show is about living your life as fully as you can and celebrating what you have,” Ricci says. “I feel so lucky to be part of it.”
Things are looking up for April when she receives the life-changing news. She’s a wannabe journalist working as an intern at the Boston Post, just beginning to do work that’s catching her editor’s eye. She has also started a promising relationship with a handsome fellow reporter.
At first, April doesn’t understand the gravity of her situation. She drags her feet about getting treatment because she has an important story assignment. She thinks of her leukemia as a mere inconvenience until her oncologist uncle (Steven Weber) urges her to shift her priorities immediately.
In subsequent episodes, she’ll have trouble working up the nerve to tell her best friend and members of her family. She especially doesn’t want to tell the new man she’s seeing (Richard Brancatisano), who has declared his preference for women without “drama” in their lives.
“What the cancer patient must go through is much more involved than a lot of people realize,” Ricci says. “It’s not just, ‘You have cancer, go into chemo, get better.’ ”
That’s why the show won’t make it easy for April.
Ricci is currently wearing a wig while filming the latter episodes of the season, which suggests hair loss that often accompanies chemotherapy. In other words, the actress isn’t going to look her best in many of these episodes as the treatment (as much as the disease) beats her up physically and emotionally.
“There is nothing sexy about April’s cancer when it’s at its worst,” she says.
Curiously, Ricci admits she is often so focused on her work that, in similar circumstances, she might be tempted to repeat one of April’s early missteps.
“When we were shooting in Boston a couple of months ago, I had a little medical emergency and had to go to the ER,” she recalls. “My executive producer was there with me and I was saying, ‘Just give me something for the pain and I will go and finish my scene and then I’ll come back and we can deal with this.’
“They were like, ‘You’re not the quarterback in a football game! You’re not going back to work!’ It was nothing tragic. It’s all better now. Everybody had a good laugh about it.
“And if it were something as serious as cancer, especially after having gone through it on April’s behalf, I would be like, ‘OK, we’re going to halt production for however long I need to get better.’
“At least I think I would be that way.”