Donna Mills Shifts Her Villainous Side into Overdrive for "V.C. Andrews' Dawn" on Lifetime

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
Cover image for  article: Donna Mills Shifts Her Villainous Side into Overdrive for "V.C. Andrews' Dawn" on Lifetime

Lifetime continues its partnership with the estate of the late writer V.C. Andrews this weekend with the premiere of the limited series Dawn. Told over four weekly installments, and spanning many decades, V.C. Andrews' Dawn follows the complex story of young Dawn Longchamp, whose idyllic life is uprooted after discovering her entire upbringing has been a lie. Presumed to have been stolen at birth, Dawn finds herself returned to her biological family, the Cutlers, and must adjust to a very different way of life, one in strong contrast to her humble upbringing. The Cutler family is rich, powerful and runs a successful hotel. Ruling over the family is Dawn's demonstrative grandmother Lillian -- played by Donna Mills (pictured at top) -- who has dark secrets of her own regarding her granddaughter's disappearance.

The cast also includes Fran Drescher, Jesse Metcalfe, Khobe Clarke, Joey McIntyre and, in the titular role of Dawn, Brec Bassinger, who was no stranger to the complex worlds of Andrews' books when she signed onto the project. "Getting Dawn was really a full circle moment for me," she explained while promoting the project. "The first time I went to L.A. was back in 2013. I was 13 years old and auditioned for the 2014 version of Flowers in the Attic. I went as far as to meet with the directors, so from a young age I was familiar with V.C. Andrews' work, specifically Flowers. Mason Dye, one of my childhood best friends, ended up booking a role in that, and I watched all the installments. So, when I got the audition for this, I was very familiar with it, and going back to my younger self, I think she'd say, 'You did it!' (Pictured below, left to right: Donna Mills, Jess Metcalfe, Brec Bassinger, Fran Drescher and Joey McIntyre.)

"One of my favorite parts about getting to play Dawn was getting to go through three decades of her life," she continued. "The story arc was very challenging but very rewarding. I think [there] was a seven-day [period] between getting the part and going to Vancouver to film, and I hadn't even read all the scripts. I was very nervous as I wasn't as prepared as how I usually go into a project. But I let go and learned to rely on the people around me. I can kind of be a control freak sometimes -- well, all the time -- but not having the [usual] preparation I relied [on my] scene partners, who I am so grateful for."

One of the more intense scene partners she had was television legend Donna Mills, who in the role of Lillian Cutler takes the bad-girl image she cultivated as Abby Cunningham on Knots Landing in the '80s into overdrive. While Abby was a masterful manipulator, Lillian is downright evil, and Mills relished the part. "Lillian was a lot of fun to play," she said of the character. "She drove the plot because she was responsible for a lot of things that happened in the story. There are all these things going on, and V.C. Andrews is really a good storyteller. So, to be an actor with that good of a storyteller is heaven."

To embody Lillian, Mills was fortunate that another book in Andrews' vast library, Darkest Hour, provided a blueprint to how, and why, Lillian was so evil. "Lillian is who she is," she reflected. "Having that other book about Lillian and why she is that way provided a background to draw from in creating [my] Lillian. The elements from that book of things she experienced in her childhood, and growing up to be a woman, were the things that informed her and made her as hard, as brittle, and as unforgiving as she was. Those childhood things shape everyone, and they shaped her in a way that just left her bereft. She wasn't and isn't a happy person.

"I've played villains before, which I love," she continued. "That's like my favorite thing, but generally you don't have that [backstory]. You have whatever is in the script, then whatever you make up you think may have happened. Having an actual blueprint was a big plus for me and I loved it."

After years of playing the sweet girl, Mills turned that around with her Knots Landing role, but even she was surprised to find herself having to rein in the level of evil when portraying Lillian. "I tried not to really rein her in as that's the beauty of the character," she said. "Still, there was one thing that I didn't like in the script, and they actually ended up cutting it. It was just too mean. There was a scene where Lillian kicks Dawn. I thought that was too much, so when they cut it, I was glad.

"I'm an actress, so that's what I do," she added. "Still, it always hurts a little bit to be that mean -- but you have put that away. Having the benefit of going back and seeing the mistreatment [Lillian] experienced when she was young, I knew where she was coming from. That made it a little easier to be able to portray that. But she was not nice to poor Dawn. I just know when the cameras are rolling is one world, when they're not, it's another world.

"Brec is the sweetest, nicest, girl in the world," she shared in closing. "You just have to turn on your acting hat and do it."

Part one of V.C. Andrews' Dawn will be telecast Saturday, July 8 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime with weekly installments premiering on Saturdays throughout July.

Click the social buttons to share this content with your friends and colleagues.

The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of, Inc. management or associated writers.

Copyright ©2023 MediaVillage, Inc. All rights reserved. By using this site you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.