If you saw M. Night Shyamalan’s brilliant 1999 The Sixth Sense, you got a glimpse of the mental disorder Munchausen by proxy syndrome – in which a child’s parent or other caregiver secretly creates an illness in the child in a twisted effort to get attention, sympathy and respect. And you may have thought to yourself, “Gosh, this would make a great Lifetime movie.” Right? I know I did.
Well, I’m here to tell you, come Saturday, June 8, Lifetime unveils that movie. It’s The Good Mother starring Helen Slater. Slater, whose work we’ve enjoyed from Supergirl through The Legend of Billie Jean and The Secret of My Success, has been toiling away of late on ABC Family’s The Lying Game. Playing the woman afflicted with the rare and bizarre ailment known as MBPS gave her much more to do.
“There was something so satisfying about playing something with that emotional range. I would have to say it’s the most satisfying role I’ve had on film or television,” Slater told us. “She’s really hiding who she is. That was what made it such an interesting role; wanting to appear a certain way, then when the stress gets too much, just losing it, emphatically and explosively, in an operatic way, when she can no longer keep up the veneer of perfection.”
Slater, who cofounded the New York theater group The Naked Angels with Gina Gershon, is the genuine article as an actress. She loves stage work and does improv regularly. She approached The Good Mother with care. “I did coach for the part,” said Slater, who has a teenaged daughter in her off-screen life. “But once I was getting to set, it was kind of ‘Let go, let go, let go.’ I mean, you have to reach a point where you let go when doing something like this. I would talk to my husband as I was about to leave and he’d say, ‘What’s today?’ and I’d say, ‘Oh, I’m killing the children.’ ”
The Good Mother has been fashioned more as a thriller than a docu-drama, and Slater says she’s glad about that. “It’s obviously very dark subject matter. This mother who really loves her children but is making the children feel sick because she wants to feel needed and loved. I think the way it’s couched for this movie, where you really don’t know what is going to happen and there are so many interesting twists and turns, makes it really an incredible ride.”