Lifetime Regular Keshia Knight Pulliam Steps into the Thriller Genre with "The Hillsdale Adoption Scam"

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
Cover image for  article: Lifetime Regular Keshia Knight Pulliam Steps into the Thriller Genre with "The Hillsdale Adoption Scam"

Keshia Knight Pulliam steps out of her comfort zone this weekend with the premiere of her new Lifetime thriller The Hillsdale Adoption Scam. While Knight Pulliam is no stranger to the network, having appeared in a string of holiday themed movies, the thriller genre is not usually a space she inhabits. "My husband Brad and anyone will tell you I am not a thriller girl," she laughed while recently promoting the project. "I am not a scary movie girl. It's not like a comedy romcom or a happy fun Christmas movie. It's just not the genre I am drawn to.

"But it was such a great script," she continued. Working with Danika (Frederick) and the whole crew ... I've worked with all of them on other movies like Radio Christmas and Tempted by Danger, another Lifetime movie I did. It was great, and so easy, especially when you're surrounded by such a great cast and a great crew."

Inspired by true events, the film follows the story of Bethany (Knight Pulliam) and her husband Terrence (Michael Strickland), who after having one adoption fall through, are still anxious to expand their family. When desperate mother-to-be Georgia (Frederick) shows up on their doorstep, trying to escape a destructive relationship, the benevolent couple takes her in. Terrance has suspicions about the expectant mother, while Bethany, engrossed in the idea of adopting her baby, doesn't see the mounting warning signs surrounding Georgia's real motives -- until things spiral out of control.

Behind the scenes, it was a real case of role reversals for the films leads. "Danika had the prosthetic belly, and I had the real belly," Knight Pulliam laughed. "I was, and still am pregnant. We're almost done, but I was very pregnant while we were doing this. So, while they're accentuating Danika's fake belly, they were trying to hide [mine]."

"It was so interesting," added Frederick. "I don't have children, but it felt really sore on my hips, and I found other people would notice. I kind of found myself touching it, like instinctively, and it was very, very interesting and so cool to play something that I've physically never been able to experience. Oh, and having to research that was very cool, and weird."

According to Knight Pulliam, finding the desire of wanting a child so badly for the role was easy. "When you're in that space of truly desiring a child, and are having trouble having one, you want to find the ray of hope in anything that happens," she explained. "I did a documentary called Eggs Over Easy: Black Women & Fertility that aired last year on OWN, and it was all about that. From IVF to adoption, to choosing not to have children, and when you've gone down this road, or through the journey, when you're in that space, you want to cling to any glimmer of hope. Outside of looking at it like an issue, you're going to look at [anything] as a blessing or a sign until you see otherwise -- and in this script, you see otherwise. As sweet as Danika is, she did a really good job of playing a real crazy -- let me tell you!"

"Bethany and I were at two such polar opposite ends," she added. "Where she's yearning to have this baby, I'm actually carrying this baby that we yearned for. So, it was interesting because I could definitely understand the range of emotions as it was a journey for us to get to where we are today. I understood the feelings Bethany was going through and desiring to expand her family but having trouble doing it. You do look for a blessing in any form, so I completely understood and connected with Bethany and the love that she felt."

Stepping into the thriller realm was something Knight Pulliam also had to give serious thought to, especially knowing that in her condition, a role would require a certain amount of physicality. "When this came through, I said to my husband, 'Well, if this was for me, it will all come together, and work out.' Being old and pregnant the way I am, certain things that were important had to happen. [For example] there is action in the movie. I was like, 'Do they know I'm pregnant? Like, I'm pregnant, pregnant!' They were willing to work with those things. During the whole first trimester of my pregnancy, I was one of those people who had all-day sickness. Not morning sickness, not sometimes sickness, me and the toilet were one for a few months and [this movie] literally came right at the cusp."

Diving into her emotional toolbox for the role, Knight Pulliam admits things got tricky because, she believed, whatever state she was internalizing as Bethany was sure to affect her baby. "There were moments where I had conversations with this belly baby," she recalled. "Like, 'Listen, this is Mommy doing her job.' I had to disconnect from an energy standpoint because when you're growing a life, you are so interconnected and so intertwined. It was really important for me to do my job and be like, 'Baby, this is Mommy doing what I love to do. These emotions aren't mine. I'm just doing a job.'

"This is a very big departure from a lot of the roles I normally play and what I've done with Lifetime in particular," she added in closing. "Lifetime has very much become a part of the family at this point, and I absolutely love working with them. This was my first real-deal thriller with a range of emotions. And it's a great story you can be drawn into. I really appreciated the opportunity to do it, and hope viewers see another dimension of who I am and what I can do as an actor."

The Hillsdale Adoption Scam will be telecast on Saturday, March 18 at 8:00 p.m. on Lifetime.

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