Jennifer Grey Shares Why Playing Gwen Shamblin Was the Role of a Lifetime

“It's one of the greatest jobs I've ever had in my life,” Jennifer Grey said of her role in the new Lifetime original movie, Gwen Shamblin: Starving for Salvation. Jennifer had back-to-back breakout roles in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Dirty Dancing, so that’s quite the statement. In the film, which premieres tonight at 8/7c, Jennifer brings to life the true story of a woman who constructed a faith-based diet with good intentions that quickly became overtaken by greed. “It became that idea of power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”



During a recent press conference, Jennifer Grey opened up about transforming herself into Gwen Shamblin. “I knew that I had to start with the wig. I'd never worn a wig before. My wigs are extraordinarily built by Rob Pickens, this incredible wig maker. I said to Tonya [Lopez, Lifetime Executive Vice President of Movies, Limited Series & Original Movie Acquisitions] ‘I will do this, but I need to have two first-rate wigs.’ And I even told the wig maker ‘I'll pay for it if my deal doesn't go through,’ And then I immediately started working with a dialect coach, because I've never done a dialect. And it was a very, very strong dialect. When you're playing someone who's a real human being, I experience enormous responsibility to be as true as I can to the person. And her vocal quality and her dialect, everything about it, was so foreign to me. And then I sometimes just started with the outside of the wig, the costumes, the dialect, and the script was perfect when it came to me. I had no notes. It was just fantastic. And what I did was it starts to work me, and I had to make myself talk with the accent all the time because I was so unused to doing a dialect and it was so scary to me.”

Jennifer Grey closely studied Gwen Shamblin’s story, including as many video interviews as she could find. “I immediately looked at the HBO documentary called The Way Down… I was stunned by the ferocity of this woman who grew up with the Church of Christ in Tennessee and in a world where the church and the church leaders are all men, very conservative, almost like The Handmaid's Tale, super disempowered. And this woman, obsessed with losing weight and unable to lose weight, decides to make this faith-based diet, which is interesting, because as we all know, there are lots of 12-step programs where you bring God in to help relieve you from what you're powerless over… This woman began to grow over 20 years with this bestselling book. There's more material. I couldn't get to the bottom of the amount of material that's available on the internet with three Larry Kings, The Tyra Banks Show, The View. She was everywhere, and she was touted as this incredible faith-based diet guru. And then she started her own church called the Remnant Fellowship. And then it got really dark.”

Dissecting how someone who seems so outwardly good could do such unspeakable acts was part of Jennifer Grey’s attraction to the role. “There's something when women act out, like what happened to them? Who hurt you? What happened to you to make you act out?.. There's so much why underneath it psychologically. There's so much more to mine about what you come from that has made you unable to understand that you're killing people and abusing children and telling people to lock their children in a room from Friday to Monday with nothing but a Bible in the room to get them to behave, to get them to be obedient. What kind of abuse did you suffer in order for you to justify that kind of teaching? That is basically what happens in Gwen Shamblin’s story. There is something so broken under that kind of misbehavior, if you will, and I'm just curious about what happened to get someone to a point where they have no empathy and compassion, because there is a brokenness that is beyond my comprehension.”

Don’t miss Jennifer Grey’s role of a lifetime in Gwen Shamblin: Starving for Salvation premiering tonight at 8/7c on Lifetime.

Lifetime is part of A+E Networks, a joint venture by Hearst Communications and The Walt Disney Company.