Kellie Martin is experiencing a full-circle moment.
The 43-year-old actress was only 17 years old when she played the killer in Lifetime’s 1994 cult classic TV film, Death of a Cheerleader (also known as A Friend to Die For), opposite a baby-faced Tori Spelling, who played the victim. The story was inspired by the real-life 1984 murder of affluent cheerleader Kirsten Costas by her classmate, Bernadette Protti, in Northern California. Twenty-five years later, Lifetime prepares to launch a remake of Death of a Cheerleader with Martin returning for a cameo, this time playing the investigator on the case. Aubrey Peeples plays Martin’s role, while Sarah Dugdale portrays the cheerleader.
“I was grateful I didn’t have to play that character again because you really have to go to some very dark places in order to put yourself in that girl’s shoes. When I made the movie, I think [Protti] was in prison,” Martin told ET of her character, Angela Delvecchio, in the original movie. “It was shocking to the community that her sentence was not that extensive. So when I was making it, my whole goal was I wanted to make sure that I created a sense of empathy. I wanted the viewers to see what happened, why this happened, why she had this moment where she decided to kill someone else. It’s crazy to put yourself in that mind frame and I did not want to have to revisit that part of it again at all.”
When executive producer Sheri Singer reached out to Martin, she gave the actress her pick of parts in the remake; Martin zeroed in on the FBI agent who cracks the case, even though the character is only in two scenes. “It was originally written for a man, and I love that I said, ‘No, I want her to be a woman and do this,'” Martin shared. “It’s fun to be on the complete other side of it. Not only was I not the killer, I was the person who got the killer to confess. It was the only way I felt like revisiting this story.”
Asked if her perspective on the Costas case changed after jumping back into the same story after 25 years, Martin admitted it was something she hadn’t thought about “in a really long time.”
“Except for the occasional person on Twitter who would say, ‘It’s my favorite television movie of all time,'” she noted. “People really liked that movie. To come back and have it be redone, I think it had to be done in the right way and I really loved what they did with this remake. It really feels retro. I think the actors are great. It offers a slightly new take on it and it’s very documentary style the way it was shot. There’s an opportunity for a new audience to discover it and I do think that the audience that loved it in its original form will see this as a fresh take. At least, I did.”
Martin recalled being “surprised” by the success of the original 1994 film, partly crediting the fascination surrounding it to where she and Spelling were in their respective careers. Martin had just finished a run on Life Goes On, while Spelling was just kick-starting her Beverly Hills, 90210 fame.
“If you think about the timing, it was right when 90210 was popular. I had just finished Life Goes On, which, not everyone but if you watched it, you loved Life Goes On. So, to see Becca, who was the girl next door, play someone who kills someone else and then the person she kills is Donna from 90210, I think people were excited to see that happen,” she said. “Becca killed Donna. It’s bizarre! The way the movie came together just worked.”
Another credit on Martin’s resume that’s also turning 25 this year is ER. Martin first appeared in the fifth season as intern Lucy Knight, whose death in the following season remains one of the seminal moments of the show’s 12-season run.
“I couldn’t believe that I was asked to join the cast. I was so honored because I was a huge fan of the show,” Martin, who will launch more Hailey Dean Mysteries movies for Hallmark Movies and Mysteries this June, reminisced. “I found the job to be very difficult. It was hard because of the way it was filmed. It was steady-cam and they would do a 12-page oner with all that medical jargon. I felt like I had never been on a set before. It was so hard to figure out how to do ER. I feel like I finally got it and then I got sacked. When they approached me with the demise for Lucy, I took it very personally because I felt like I had done something wrong.”
“Twenty-five years later, I can look back and say it’s fine, it was what was good for the show and what an amazing way to leave a show like that. So I’m grateful that I was able to be part of that fantastic moment of television,” she said, adding that she fell into a bit of a depression. “When I left ER, I went back to college and decided I wasn’t going to act anymore. I was just like, ‘I’m done.’ It was a really hard time in my life but I realized that I wasn’t going to be an art historian, which is what I went to college for. I was like, ‘I think I’ll probably go back to television.’ And I did. ER was a pretty amazing train to be on and I’m very, very grateful that I was able to do it. It probably was the best thing for me to have wrapped the show after two seasons.”
Death of a Cheerleader premieres Saturday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.