Jennifer Grey plays diet guru in true Lifetime movie
For proof of how far Jennifer Grey has come since "Dirty Dancing," just check her latest role.
The actress stars in the true story of a diet coach who tied the encouragement of weight loss to the commitment to religion in "Gwen Shamblin: Starving for Salvation," a new Lifetime movie that debuts Saturday, Feb. 4, as the last entry in the network's latest wave of "Ripped From the Headlines" films. Gwen Shamblin Lara exerted a huge amount of power over her followers, forcing their estrangement from nonbelievers and also accruing considerable wealth along the way ... ended by the tragic crash of a plane she was aboard, piloted by her husband Joe (played by Vincent Walsh), in the spring of 2021.
"It was like Christmas morning getting that script," the lively Grey maintains, "then Googling who this person was, and then watching the HBO documentary about her. I became fascinated with her, and I was completely hooked by her story. To have the trajectory that she had is one of the more dramatic stories I've ever seen. It was ridiculous how much material she made sure there was, documenting every chapter of her life."
Partially via the subject's physical appearance, Grey believes, "You really could see (her) rise and the decline, and the altruism and the shift into total power. She started out like, 'Oh, this worked for me. I lost weight with this faith-based program, using God and prayer.' She really married the two ideas, which have been very powerful in our culture, particularly in America. People were vulnerable to it, because they're so consumed with the thought that they have to be good and God-fearing."
Still, Grey notes, "I'm not somebody who becomes the person" in playing a part. "I'm always me, but I understand what it is to want to help people, and to feel like you're being of service. That's probably how it started out with Gwen. When I look at this as an actor, what she was selling, people were buying. She came to them as if she was their best friend, but this was extremely manipulative and disturbing."
As she has tackled other challenges that also encompassed her winning Season 11 of "Dancing With the Stars," Grey (the daughter of award-winning "Cabaret" actor Joel Grey) hasn't left the part of Frances "Baby" Houseman completely behind: She confirms that a "Dirty Dancing" sequel is still in the works, with the filming projected to begin this spring.
"It's more than 30 years later, and (Baby is) a different person, so it has to be its own thing," Grey reasons. "You just take the leap, and you don't think about anything except what's in front of you."