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Zuniga plays 'Nurse Ratched on steroids' in V.C. Andrews adaptation

By
Karen Butler
Actress Daphne Zuniga stars in Saturday's Lifetime adaptation of V.C. Andrews' novel, Gates of Paradise. Photo by Christina Trayfors
Actress Daphne Zuniga stars in Saturday's Lifetime adaptation of V.C. Andrews' novel, "Gates of Paradise." Photo by Christina Trayfors

Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Spaceballs and Melrose Place icon Daphne Zuniga enters the twisted world of V.C. Andrews this weekend in the Lifetime movie, Gates of Paradise.

The network already has aired adaptations of the Casteel family novels Heaven, Dark Angel and Fallen Hearts.

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Set to debut Saturday, Gates of Paradise casts Zuniga as the brutal Nurse Broadfield, an employee of the wealthy, disturbed Tony Tatterton (Jason Priestley.) Her job is to care for Annie Stonewall (Lizzie Boys,) the disabled, orphaned, distant relative Tony holds captive in his isolated country home.

"It was irresistible," Zuniga told UPI in a recent phone interview, describing the juicy character role as "Nurse Ratched on steroids," a reference to the tyrannical caregiver Louise Fletcher played in the 1975 film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

"Nurse Broadfield takes her job and her expertise at being a nurse very seriously and, even if things are borderline questionable on the abusive side, she does it all in the name of healing," Zuniga said.

What makes the character complicated -- and all the more fun to play -- is that she's smart enough to put on a welcoming face and hide her harsh techniques when outsiders come drop by.

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"Her methods for getting Annie to heal are not for everyone to see," Zuniga acknowledged.

The stunning 56-year-old underwent an extensive aging process to achieve Nurse Broadfield's severe look.

"You go in the makeup room in the morning and they are literally enhancing the circles under your eyes and drawing out the lines on your forehead and they are adding wrinkles to your neck. I was like, 'I hope this was the right decision,'" she laughed.

It took even longer for 49-year-old, Beverly Hills, 90210 alum Priestley to transform into a man in his 60s or 70s for Gates of Paradise after he played Tony as a younger man in Dark Angel and Fallen Hearts.

"Every time I'd go into the makeup trailer, he was there already," Zuniga said. "I don't think I ever saw him without the makeup on and prosthetics. He was playing older than my character, so he took a little longer there. Those piercing blue eyes would come out and I'd go, 'OK, that is you!'"

Although their nighttime soaps Melrose Place and 90210 aired together in the 1990s, Gates of Paradise marks the first time Zuniga and Priestley have worked together.

"I had just seen Jason over the years at events and charity things, but it was really great to work with him; just being with a peer who has been around as long as I have and we both were on those shows back in the 1990s," she said.

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Zuniga also was thrilled to collaborate on Gates of Paradise with Gail Harvey, an accomplished, energetic and likable director whom the actress said brought nuance and emotional accessibility to the project.

"The first time I met her, I said: 'I just directed my first movie. Can I come and watch you when I'm not working?' And she was, like: 'Yeah, absolutely.' It was a great time all the way around."

Zuniga, who is gearing up to direct her second independent film, The Waiting Room, said she is seeing more women behind the camera, but the entertainment industry still is one in which men outnumber women exponentially.

"We have a long way to go," she said. "But I'm just starting [as a director] and I'm excited and optimistic."

To illustrate how times have changed in the past few decades, she recalled that during her five years on Melrose Place, only two women directors helmed episodes.

"Two! And we shot minimum 22 episodes a year and they'd bring in men," she said. "You know that saying? Once you know better, you do better. This business is a little behind in that kind of thinking. But, yes, I do feel like the opportunities are happening. It, obviously, has to happen more."

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The actress remembered fondly her breakthrough role in the 1987 Mel Brooks classic, Spaceballs.

"I just love how long its lasted and the humor and the laughter it brought to people and still does," she said. "I never get tired of people coming up and whispering something funny -- 'She doesn't look Druish,' or whatever. To have had something like that in my career is fantastic."

Zuniga's other credits include Vision Quest, The Sure Thing, Modern Girls, American Dreams, Beautiful People and One Tree Hill.

Web of Dreams -- the final chapter in the V.C. Andrews movie event -- is scheduled to air Aug. 24.

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