Samantha Mathis: ’12 Desperate Hours’ character became ‘mommy bear’ to captor


Val (Samantha Mathis) waits while Denny (Harrison Thomas) holds her hostage in "12 Desperate Hours." Photo courtesy of Lifetime

Val (Samantha Mathis) waits while Denny (Harrison Thomas) holds her hostage in “12 Desperate Hours.” Photo courtesy of Lifetime

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Samantha Mathis said her character in 12 Desperate Hours, premiering Saturday at 8 p.m. EST on Lifetime, empathized with her captor, but did not condone his crime.

Denny (Harrison Thomas) breaks into Val’s (Mathis) home with a shotgun one morning, so Val agrees to drive him to keep him away from her two sons.

“There’s the mommy bear in her,” Mathis told UPI in a recent phone interview. “She doesn’t want him to be naughty, and she’s trying to keep him from getting himself into more trouble, but she can feel for him.”

Ripped from historic headlines

12 Desperate Hours is inspired by a true story that occurred in Washington State in 1963. Ann Rule wrote about Patricia Jean Jaque’s ordeal in the eighth volume of her Last Dance, Last Chance and Other True Cases: Crime Files true crime anthology.

Gary Lee Quinlivan was the man who took Jaque hostage while on the run for murder. Quinlivan died in 2011, according to records confirmed by Distractify.

12 Desperate Hours updates the story to the present day. Though some dramatic license was taken, Mathis said she was careful not to make Val too nurturing toward Denny because the real Quinlivan was convicted of murder.

“I did want to be cautious in our storytelling, for me, in being too empathetic toward Denny,” Mathis said. “Ultimately he did do these things.”

The film shows Denny attempt to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend, Cherie (Tali Rabinowitz). Val witnesses Cherie’s mother (Tina Alexis Allen) and Denny’s brother (Jesse C. Boyd) verbally abuse him, though they don’t know he’s holding Val hostage.

“[Val] was just this incredible nurturer,” Mathis said. “She’s trying to stay alive first and foremost, but also to keep him from killing anyone else.”

Mathis said Val comes to understand how Denny turned to violent crime.

“She becomes somewhat compassionate for how he’s treated,” Mathis said. “There’s no compassion for this young man.”

The challenge for Mathis, she said, was navigating Val’s emotional state. She said Val remains terrified during her day driving Denny around, but must keep him calm so he doesn’t commit any more violence in a panic.

“I was playing with how to remain in tension without conveying tension, which I thought was an interesting challenge as an actor,” Mathis said.

A history of true stories

12 Desperate Hours is not Mathis’ first role ripped from the headlines. On a 2014 Law & Order: SVU episode, she played a character inspired by Mia Farrow, in a story inspired by the allegations against Woody Allen.

Mathis also told an inspiring true story in the film Believe in Me. In the 2006 film, Mathis and Jeffrey Donovan played characters based on Jolene and Jim Keith.

Keith was the real life coach of an Oklahoma girls’ basketball team, and the Keiths were involved with the film. Mathis said 12 Desperate Hours allowed her to take more creative liberties than roles that are more specifically based on real people.

“She’s more of a quiet type,” Mathis said of Val. “She’s not an assertive woman in that way. This situation pushes her to some of her limits.”

’90s movies that live on

Mathis made her feature film debut after two years of television work in the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume. She portrayed a high school student who figures out the identity of a provocative ham radio broadcaster (Christian Slater).

Pump Up the Volume spoke to teens of a new decade who felt unheard and rebellious against authority. Mathis said she remains proud of the film, and often imagines a sequel revisiting the characters as adults.

“I like to muse about what it would be like to look at those two characters 30 years later and see the adults they might have become,” Mathis said. “Maybe the child of one of them would have a podcast.”

Before widespread Internet access, the students in Pump Up the Volume listened to Happy Harry Hard-on’s (Slater) broadcasts questioning the authority of their school. Mathis speculated that today, any teens can launch podcasts and connect with others on social media.

“What was so powerful about this radio station was how it really brought people together,” Mathis said. “Somehow, we just end up more and more isolated from each other with all the social media. That is not what Happy Hard-on was all about.”

Mathis said she is more surprised how many fans the live-action Super Mario Bros. still has, noting it is among the most popular films on her resume with fans.

The 1993 adaptation of the Nintendo video game starred Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as Mario and Luigi. Dennis Hopper played King Koopa and Mathis played Princess Daisy.

The film was not a box office success, and Hoskins once called it his worst job, biggest disappointment and the one part of his past he’d change in a 2007 interview with The Guardian. Mathis shared Hoskins’ critiques.

“Never did I think that what I would consider to be one of the worst movies I ever made would live on as this thing that’s near and dear to so many hearts,” Mathis said. “It’s not the movie we thought we were going to make.”

Mathis said she has no knowledge about the upcoming animated Super Mario Bros. Movie. but she hopes it represents the game well.

“I haven’t seen it, don’t know anything about it, hope they do it justice,” she said.

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