INTERVIEW: Lindsay Hartley dishes on directing Romeo and Juliet Killers, a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller that'll make your jaw drop

Posted Monday, February 28, 2022 7:48:56 AM
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Lindsay Hartley (ex-Cara Castillo, All My Children; ex-Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald, Passions; ex-Sam McCall, General Hospital) gives the scoop on her new Tubi film, Romeo and Juliet Killers, based on a true crime story so shocking, soaps probably wouldn't even go there.

Daytime alum Lindsay Hartley knows a thing or two about really twisted stories, having played quite a few shocking soap opera tales during her two decades in the genre. When she was All My Children's Cara Castillo, she was in a storyline in which the character committed immigration fraud by marrying someone solely for a green card, and who can forget the time that her Passions' alter ego, Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald, raped Ethan and stole his wife's embryos?

Fast-forward many years later, and Hartley is now in the middle of a story that may be one of the darkest of her career: the Tubi Original film Romeo and Juliet Killers. The California native is the director of the intense thriller, which is a dramatic interpretation of the 2009 true-crime story involving 14-year-old Tylar Witt and her boyfriend, 19-year-old Steven "Boston" Colver. The pair notoriously murdered Tylar's mother after she forbade them from seeing each other, and they were later dubbed a modern-day Romeo and Juliet because they ran away and attempted suicide after their crime.

Hartley's film brings the twisted true-crime story to life with the help of Leigha Sinnott as Tylar; Zachary Roozen as her partner in crime, Boston; and Kelly Sullivan (ex-Kate Howard/Connie Falconeri, General Hospital; ex-Sage Warner, The Young and the Restless) as Tylar's mother, JoAnne. But the film doesn't just include stellar talent and a can't-look-away premise; it also includes some pretty intense sex scenes, such as the one in which Tylar and Boston make animalistic love after the murder, covered in JoAnne's blood.

Soap Central caught up with Hartley to find out how she went about directing such a dark tale and why she was attracted to helming the project for Tubi. Check out our interview with the actress below, and be sure to check out Romeo and Juliet Killers, now available for free streaming on Tubi.

Soap Central: Wow, Lindsay! I can't believe how dark your new film is -- what a wild ride that must have been to film!

Lindsay Hartley: Yeah, it's pretty crazy, isn't it, that it's a real story? The most interesting part is that Tylar was really fourteen in real life. We had to age her up in the film for certain reasons -- technical aspects, nudity, and all of that kind of stuff -- so, we alluded to the fact that she was underage, but we didn't actually talk about her age so I could do the more explicit goodies for Tubi.

Soap Central: Obviously it's interesting subject material, but what made you want to say yes to directing this film?

Hartley: I love thrillers, and I've been very fortunate because I've done quite a few of them now for Lifetime. But with this one, I was allowed to push the envelope a little bit more, and I liked that the story was real -- or, at least, it was inspired by true events. I thought it would be amazing to be able to direct something that is grounded in reality and to see how it changes the vibe for the actors, and it did! I came in, and they had researched their different characters, and they were really, really pumped that they had this extra layer to present to the world. I also got to do different things as a director, like, I got to use anamorphic lenses, which is something completely different than what we use for Lifetime, so, things looked a little bit different, and it was just a different opportunity. So, I said, "Yeah, absolutely, I'll jump in and do this." I loved the script, I loved the story. It was twisted; she's so upset with her mom that she asks her boyfriend to kill her mom, and he loved her so much that he was like, "Yeah, I'm going to do it." And then they have sex after? It's kind of crazy.

Soap Central: The sexual scenes pushed the envelope a lot more than what soap fans would normally see on their daytime screens. How did you go about filming those?

Hartley: We had an intimacy coordinator, of course, but I did try to explain from the beginning before Leigha even signed on, I explained that I had this idea of how I wanted each sex scene to feel. It wasn't gratuitous. For example, she is super naked in the drug scene but you're not really looking at her body; you're more looking at the vibe, and that was what I was trying to explain to her. Then for the sex scene after they kill the mom, that one had to be a little bit more animalistic, because they had just murdered the mom. And then with the bathtub scene, she was also naked, but I hoped that you weren't staring at her boobs -- you were staring at the fact that he was cleaning her, like an animal would clean another animal after it had been in a fight. I wanted to set tones for each moment, and I wanted her to understand the vision, rather than just, "Take your top off. I'm going to film you!" As the director, I tried to make Leigha feel comfortable, but also Zach, as well. He showed his butt, and he also had some fun stuff to do that was unique and different. But they were great. They knew what they were getting into, they were very passionate about their characters, and they wanted to make it the best movie, and that made my life a lot easier!

Soap Central: It says a lot about you as a director that they were comfortable with you and they went with it and trusted your vision.

Hartley: Thank you. I got lucky!

Soap Central: The whole film covered such dark subject material. Was it difficult for you to stay in that mood and set that tone for everybody on set?

Hartley: Not at all! I think it was great. The house that we shot in was perfect. When we were location scouting, I fell in love with that home because it just felt heavy when you were inside of it. In real life, there is so much history in that home, and I feel like it helped set the mood. People felt that when they walked in there, too. Locations are really important, and sometimes we just don't get that much time [to find perfect locations] because these are quick shoots. But I feel like we did a good job with the locations in this film, and the actors came so prepared with their work.

Soap Central: As the director, were you a big influence in getting Kelly Sullivan cast in the role as the mother?

Hartley: I was, but I had never worked with Kelly, and she was extraordinary in this role. I was blown away, and I am so, so grateful that she was the mom. She came ready to play, one hundred percent super invested, and I rarely gave her a note. She was just so good, and she totally understood the character. She was wearing a microphone, and during one of the scenes in the bedroom, she pressed a picture frame against her chest, and I could hear her heartbeat because I had the headphones on, and afterwards I was like, "I've never heard a heartbeat through headphones! My God, you're amazing!" You could just feel how much she was in it. I also want to thank [producer] Eric Woods [ex-Evan Frame, Another World]; he gave me my first shot at directing when he brought me on for... Mommy Is a Murderer, which aired on Lifetime a few years back. From there, I've been very fortunate to direct quite a few films, and he brought me back for this, so I have to give him a shoutout.

Soap Central: What did you find to be the most challenging thing about directing this film?

Hartley: Just the time, really. You always want more time. I haven't done anything more than fourteen days -- my shoots are small -- but I imagine that even if you were doing this major motion picture for two years, I bet you the director is still like, "I need more time!" Because you can always refine and do more and do it better and go back and say, "Oh, I could have done this, or I should have done that one more time." You always have these thoughts, but when you're moving so quickly, you have to let go. It's a unique balance -- you have to get what you have to get, but the clock is constantly ticking. But I think that's just something about being a director in general -- you're always moving the train forward because it cannot stop or the day crumbles. [Laughs] But that's why I like it! It's very high stress, but I enjoy it. I love writing and I love acting, and obviously I started out as an actress, but I think directing fulfills me so much more. I get to talk to so many more people about the project -- in the moment, before the moment, after the moment; it's a constant collaborative experience, and I really, really love that. I also love talking to actors, because I totally understand them. And I love working with different departments and hearing what they think and how they want to make the film good. So, to me, I just love directing.

Soap Central: But speaking of acting, your fans were so excited to see you back on General Hospital, even if it was brief! Did you have a good experience filling in for Kelly Monaco as Sam?

Hartley: Oh, thank you! I'm glad they enjoyed it. It's always a little nerve-wracking to fill in for somebody, especially her because she's fantastic and iconic and we all love her, but I appreciated them trusting me to step in. Everybody at General Hospital is so amazing. The cast is so supportive, and they're so cool. It's a well-oiled machine. I know a lot of the crew from Passions -- so many people from Passions are now over there, from producers to camera operators, just so many people. So, that was nice. And it was really nice to walk out on a stage, because that is where I spent so much of my life; it feels very familiar and is very comforting. It was fun; I really enjoyed it.

Soap Central: Did you have to audition for that originally, or did they know your work and just trusted that you could fill in?

Hartley: The first time I stepped in, like a year a half ago, I just got called out of nowhere, and they said, "Are you available to do this? It'll be super quick. You'll have to come in in a day and a half," and I had to learn all this stuff, but I was like, "Sure, let's do it!" Like I said, I thrive on pressure! [Laughs]

Soap Central: How did you get to know Sam and become her on such short notice?

Hartley: Well, I don't know if I ever became her, but I tried my best! I tried not to think about it too much... I had so much dialogue, and I just asked people. I talked to a producer who gave me all this information about backstory, because the first time I went in, Sam was walking right into a storm, and I needed to know everything! [Laughs] And up until I landed on set, I actually thought one of Sam's children was the opposite sex because of the name, and then I realized and I was like, "Oh, my gosh, this is terrible! Oh, my God, how am I gonna get through this? I don't even know her kids' genders!" But with the cast, also, they shared information, and I got that download of information right before I walked on set, so I just kind of went for it. And this time around, same thing, I kind of got [what was going on] from the script, because everything was explained in the script, so I felt a little more comfortable knowing what I was walking into this time.

Soap Central: Well, you did a fantastic job, and as I said, the fans were very happy to see you on-screen again.

Hartley: Thank you!! I love soaps, and my heart goes out to all soaps because it's a special place. I don't ever want daytime to go away!

Soap Central: You've worked with quite a few soap stars as a director, most recently with Kelly Sullivan, obviously. Are there any other soap stars that you would love to direct in the future?

Hartley: I'm open to whoever I can get for the roles. I brought Dana Sparks [ex-Grace Bennet, Passions; ex-Lena Cavette, The Young and the Restless] on for this, and I brought James Hyde [ex-Sam Bennett, Passions; ex-Neil Johansson, Another World] on [for Prisoner of Love]. I try! I really want to find a spot for Eric Martsolf [Brady Black, Days of our Lives]. We tried on a different project that I just worked on, but it was non-union, and he can't do non-union. There are things like that, and I can't always get what I want! There are lots of factors at play. But yeah, of course, any time I can help out soap actors and support the genre, I am all for it. I spent so much of my life in soaps -- I love daytime!

Soap Central: You were briefly a part of All My Children, and there is a primetime spinoff that is possibly in the works. How do you feel about that, and would you be open to reprising the role of Cara Castillo if the opportunity arose?

Hartley: Absolutely! I loved Cara Castillo! I think my favorite part was that she was a cancer survivor, and I loved that she came from Doctors Without Borders. I thought she was just an amazing human, and it was fun to play somebody that had all those qualities. She was a super fighter against this deadly disease. My mom has cancer, and now I found out that my dad has cancer, too.

Soap Central: Oh, my gosh, how awful. I'm so sorry to hear that!

Hartley: We're all good. But it's crazy, cancer. So, playing a cancer survivor and then someone who cares so much about people and who goes out in the field, that was a great character to be able to play. I'd love to be able to step into that again, absolutely. Hopefully [the spinoff] happens, that the show comes back. It would be great.

Soap Central: The last time I spoke with you, you gave a really lovely quote about what you hoped Cara was up to today, as well as what Passions' Theresa is up to today. This time, I'd love to ask about DAYS' Arianna. I know she's dead, but nobody ever stays dead on DAYS!

Hartley: I know! Why hasn't Arianna come back from the dead yet?! I'd love to see her come back and just be pissed. I mean, the whole thing about that setup [with Arianna knowing that Sami shot E.J. before she died], she's got to come back and prove her innocence with a vengeance!

Soap Central: Has DAYS ever asked you to return?

Hartley: No. But if they did, I'd absolutely be up for a return.

Soap Central: Would you like to keep directing TV movies, or would you like to branch out and try directing other things?

Hartley: Like I said, I love directing and I'm definitely open to direct other things. I've been really fortunate -- I've really been busy these [past years], and I just keep learning and learning and learning. So, yeah, absolutely. I would love to eventually direct television; that would be fun. I love thrillers, I love sci-fi, and I love romance, too. So, I don't know -- I'm kind of all over the place! [Laughs] But I like things that are very committed, and I think that's why I was so inspired by this true event story; you can't really be uncommitted to a story that was real. You've got to go there, you know? You've got to go there so you can keep the integrity of the story.

Soap Central: What was your experience like working with Tubi?

Hartley: They were awesome! It was my first film where I had to do a tone meeting, which is basically just where you describe the tone of the film. They were very interested in my creative vision, and it really felt lovely to have that, to have that open communication and have their care into what they were putting out and having them make the decision to support what I was hoping to achieve. They specifically asked and were curious about how I was going to go about the scenes, and the sex scenes, as well, and that makes you feel good. It's a little scary to put yourself out there, but then again, not really. If you talk about it and you agree [on a vision], then when you go on set, you can dive in, knowing that you've got the support, and hopefully you can live up to what they're hoping you're going to do! Laughs]

Soap Central: After having watched the film, I'm certain you did! And I think your soap fans will love the work you've done.

Hartley: Thank you! I hope so. And I want to tell them all how much I appreciate their support. We're coming up on over 20 years since I've been involved with daytime, and I still have people talking about Passions -- every day! So, it's important for me to say thank you again, always!

Check out the teaser trailer for Romeo and Juliet Killers below, and be sure to head to Tubi to watch the film in its entirety.

What do you think of the premise of Tubi's Romeo and Juliet Killers? What are your thoughts on Lindsay Hartley's skills as a director? Would you like to see her continue her career as a soap actor, and if so, on what show and as what character? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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