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How Roswell Changed Shiri Appleby's Life as an Actress and a Director

No one loves Jeanine Mason like Shiri Appleby loves Jeanine Mason

Lindsay MacDonald

Roswell, New Mexico is getting an out-of-this-world visit this week as Shiri Appleby stops by The CW series to direct a brand new episode, "Songs About Texas."

For those of you unaware -- and if you are, like, educate yourselves, you heathens -- Appleby played Liz in the original Roswellseries. While Roswell, New Mexico has taken a few familiar pages out of the same book, the rebooted series has also established quite a few new storylines, character dynamics, and mysterious additions to the alien mythology that have made it stand out as not just a reboot of an old classic, but a new imagining of a thoroughly addictive story.

TV Guide spoke to Appleby about the challenges and benefits of directing a series that's based on such familiar stomping ground, plus how it's opened doors for her in her directing career, just like the original Roswell did for her acting career.

What's it been like directing this new Roswell series and how did the opportunity fall into place?
Shiri Appleby:
It was really fun. I mean, I was directing a lot on UnReal. I had done four episodes, and when I was doing UnReal, that's when they started making the announcements that Roswell was going to be rebooted, so the press was always asking me about it, and my response was, "I can't wait to direct it!" So thankfully, the headlines and articles came out on like People and Us Weekly like, "Shiri Appleby Can't Wait to Direct the Show," and that's really how I got the job.

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And naturally, showrunner Carina MacKenzie called you right up to lock you in?
Appleby: Yeah, so then when it got picked up she called, and she was like, "OK, so I read these articles. Did you just say that to be nice, or do you actually want to do it? Because we'd love to have you." I was like, "No, no, no, I really want to do it!" So it's been wonderful because I had been making the transition into directing and getting a show that you're not acting in -- it's hard because it's sort of like they see it as almost like nepotism? You know, like, you're the actor on the show and they want to make you happy, and I'm sure there is some of that, but since I got this one it's sort of now becoming -- [I did] Pretty Little Liars [The Perfectionists] and now I'm doing Light as a Feather and Dynasty, so it's just kind of like one after the next, so this show has been meaningful to me for so many different reasons.

How was it different directing a sort of sci-fi heavy, effects-heavy CW series?
Appleby: I mean, I've done so much of it as an actress. I've really observed the different directors doing it, so it hasn't been that challenging in terms of what ... I have to learn. Thankfully when you're directing, you're surrounded by so many people that are experts in their field, so you work with the special effects, you work with them all, and if there's any questions, everyone's really there to help. So there was one thing like, Michael (Michael Vlamis) is looking at a test tube across the way, and he has to fly it over to Liz, and I'm like, "How do you do that?" And once they explain it to you in prep, by the time you come to shoot, you're the expert yourself. So I think that's one of the wonderful things about directing is you're not really doing it on your own. You really have wonderful teams around you.

Does it feel like familiar territory, returning to the town of Roswell to tell stories about aliens?
Appleby: Directing Liz (Jeanine Mason) and Max (Nathan Parsons), [...] it feels like I'm the expert at that, who else should be directing the episode? But this show is very much its own. The pilot they did, they had the gunshot in the waitress uniform, and there were like a few things that felt very iconic to the series that they recreated, which was like a nice nod, a tip of the hat. But then very quickly, I feel like this Roswell becomes its own show, and that is something that I really admire. They're tackling bigger issues and the characters are more open-minded in how they look at the world, which I think all people today are doing, so they've updated it really well.

Shiri Applebly and Jeanine Mason, Roswell, New Mexico

Shiri Applebly and Jeanine Mason, Roswell, New Mexico

Lewis Jacobs, Lewis Jacobs/The CW

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And how's it been working with Jeanine Mason to create this new version of Liz?
Appleby: It's just wild! She's just lovely. I emailed her right away. I was like, "If you need anything!" Not that she needs anything, she's like confident and beautiful and talented and a hard worker. She's just a wonderful example. When I really got to know her, it was fun acting with her and giving her direction and watching her kind of come alive in all these different ways. I can't really have picked somebody that would have been a better person to sort of take the role and make it their own. She's wonderful.

You mentioned the show has been updated a lot, and it's felt very timely considering what's going on in the world. Did the original Roswell feel timely to you guys when you were making it?
Appleby: Our show, you have to remember too, was set in high school. Our version of aliens was talking about the angst and how everyone feels sort of uncomfortable growing up, how you feel uncomfortable in your skin, and nobody really feels like they belong. So those issues and topics were relevant back then. It's not like our show is daring some big issues, but the world has changed, as it should, so the storytelling has changed with it. I think it's smart that they're bringing all these larger issues into a show that you're escaping into.

And is there anything about the original that feels a little dated going back and watching it?
Appleby: I mean the hairstyles and the outfits for sure. I mean, it was like a classic WB show. There was a lot of angst, a lot of sci-fi. It feels dated and nostalgic, you know. ... The interesting thing is, we made 61 episodes of Roswell. We had one female director, on the very last episode, and so when [they] are like, "Well, when did you know you wanted to direct?" I didn't grow up with an image of seeing a female director. I didn't know that that was an opportunity or that that was something I could do. I never even really started to think about it until I was well into my 30s. And then I did UnReal and our last season we only had one male director. You know, times are changing. I feel lucky that this show has come around This show, Roswell, has given me so much. It broke me as an actress, and it gave me a career. And now, again, it's helping break me as a director.

And it's got to feel good that you're directing these young actors who are going to see a female director.
Appleby: Yeah, exactly. They're going to see a female director, and, like, bringing my daughter on set -- I have two little kids, a son and a daughter, and I bring her around. I put her right on my hip, and we're by the monitor and we walk on set, and we're telling all these men, "Let's move the camera over there, here we go!" And to see that women can be the boss? That women can be in charge? And not to put the men down because there's lovely men. ... There's so many men I've worked with, but it's just wonderful that the way the stories are being told, that's now spread among so many different people.

Roswell, New Mexico premieres Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 9/8c on The CW.

(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of CBS Corporation.)

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Bob Mahoney, Bob Mahoney/The CW