Jennifer Love Hewitt is well aware of possible judgments about her character in the Lifetime film The Client List: a married mother of three turned prostitute.
Bring it on — that's part of the fun, she says.
"You do root for her and you do judge her, and you love that you judge her and by the end of it, you really forgive her for all that she's done," the 31-year-old Hewitt says. "Sometimes the best role models, and the people you should look up to the most, are the ones who actually do make mistakes because they show you how to overcome them."
The Client List, premiering Monday at 9/8c, is based on the true story of Samantha Horton, a woman who takes a position at a massage parlor only to find herself smack in the middle of a prostitution ring after she and her husband both lose their jobs.
"It really struck me, particularly where we are in the world economically. This is real stuff that people are dealing with," Hewitt says. "And I loved that, in this, it was about female empowerment. It was really her taking care of her family and I loved her struggle."
For the role, Hewitt trained by taking pole-dancing classes (she now has a pole in her house for her work-out regimen), but did little other research before filming began.
"I wanted to learn as Sam was learning it and I think it helped me in doing that," Hewitt says. "This project in particular, I really went on the journey with her because I didn't do any real research or any preparation. ... I really felt for Sam and her story and her struggle."
It was this emotional journey with Samantha that makes the character, and the film, one of Hewitt's favorite roles in her 20-plus-year acting career.
"Emotionally, this was one of the hardest things I ever had to do because it was work that I didn't understand. It was, quite honestly, a world that I was judgmental of before I did the part," she says. "It was difficult, but it would probably be a tie now between Sam and Audrey [Hepburn in The Audrey Hepburn Story]."
Besides showing her emotional range, the film is also a testament to Hewitt's personal growth and being "at the right place" in her life to take on this part.
"I've had these types of things come around a lot and I never did them because I was like, 'I couldn't even act that if I tried. I don't know that woman yet, I don't know that part.' And I do right now, where I am in my life," she says. "I was ready to be open to a new side of life and see why certain woman do things and find themselves in this situation."
Looking to the future, Hewitt says she's still figuring out what to tackle next. Despite Ghost Whisperer's surprise cancellation in May after five seasons on CBS, she's says she's looking at some TV projects as well as film roles. After showing a new side of herself in The Client List, she sounds ready to continue experimenting and jumping between genres.
"Some of the TV stuff I'm looking at is comedy stuff. I think maybe if I do jump in, I'd like to try something a little lighter and maybe not with the one-hour drama schedule," she says. "But I'm not in a rush to move back into TV right away, and if I do, it will probably be under different circumstances."