Humans have a knack for turning fun into competition and one-upsmanship.
Dancers compete. So do singers and cooks and more. Even cheerleaders can’t simply be cheery.
That emerges in “Dare Me,” an intense novel that’s now a drama series (shown here), starting Sunday (Dec. 29) on the USA Network. Teen cheerleaders struggle to be at the top of the pyramid, literally and figuratively.
Alison Thornton, 20, one of the co-stars, sees it that as logical. “I think I understand the competition, because of all the dancing I did,” she said.
She’s been dancing since she was 5 … and no, you can’t blame pushy parents.
“My parents were really taken aback” she said. “But I was like, ‘No, this is what I want!’ …. I was always moving around, so they said, ‘OK, we’d better get that girl into something.’”
She happened to be near a place (Vancouver) with plenty of arts opportunities. The “Dare Me” characters aren’t as lucky; in their Midwestern town, cheerleading is their one chance to stand out.
Then there’s a new cheerleading coach (Willa Fitzgerald, who was Meg in PBS’ “Little Women”), sleek and worldly. “They think she’s a goddess,” Thornton said, “and they all want her approval.”
It’s a character drama that becomes a murder mystery. And it’s the next logical step for Thornton.
At 5, she started studying dance, singing, piano and theater at a school near Vancouver. At 13 and 14, she was in TV movies, requiring a can-do spirit.
“The director said, ‘Do you know how to (ice) skate?’ Then he said, ‘Of course you do, you’re Canadian.’” She didn’t, but she managed to fake it..
And at 16, she landed a regular role in one series (Zooey in “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”) and a guest role that few acting schools would prepare you for: On “Dirk Gently,” she was Lydia Spring … and then was the dog that (due to soul-switching) inhabited Lydia’s body.
After that, she was ready for anything … including playing an intense cheerleader. “The first thing I did was read the book,” she said. She soon admired its “constantly shifting alliances …. There’s not really a good guy or a bad guy.”
Beth is the cheerleader queen and Addy is her longtime. Thornton plays Tacy, who is Beth’s half-sister – that’s a change from the novel – and a newcomer willing to take risks.
The biggest risks, Thornton said, went to pros who doubled during difficult scenes. “The real cheerleaders would sacrifice their bodies …. They were described as gladiators.”
As a sort of junior gladiator, she understands the adrenaline rush. “I grew up canoeing and kayaking …. I convinced half the cast to go skydiving with me.”
She pumped up her courage by listening to the “Mission Impossible” theme, then jumped. Maybe some day she’ll try to be the world’s best skydiver. People are competitive like that.
10 p.m. Sundays, USA, starting Dec. 29
Opener reruns at 11 p.m. on E and 1 a.m. on USA
Also, opener reruns at 11 p.m. Monday and Saturday (Dec. 30 and Jan.4) and 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Jan. 5