There was no lack of material for Agnes Bruckner to use in preparing to portray former Playboy Playmate of the Year and reality show star Anna Nicole Smith for the Lifetime movie "Anna Nicole."
"I thank God for that stuff," Bruckner says. "I was too young to follow her career, so I really had to depend on all of the research material."
Bruckner was born the same year, 1985, that Smith — whose real name was Vickie Lynn Hogan — dropped out of high school to get married. That was the start of a well-publicized life for Smith, which included being named Playmate of the Year in 1993, marrying an oil mogul who was 62 years older than her in 1994 and her death in 2007.
The role was a big task for Bruckner, who plays Smith from her early days as an energetic Texas stripper to her last days as a grieving mother who dies of an accidental overdose.
"There were so many different moments that we tried to capture," Bruckner says. "We really tried to show people what was going on behind the camera, when what she was doing wasn't for show. We really tried to show a lot more of that because when it comes to Anna Nicole, it's not so much of her normal life that we think about."
Bruckner was most concerned with playing the larger-than-life public side of Smith. She didn't want to go too far and turn the performance into a caricature.
Bruckner, 27, brings a lot of acting experience to the role. She began her career when she was 11, appearing in commercials, TV shows and the daytime drama "The Bold and the Beautiful." Her film credits include "Blue Car," "The Glass House" and "Murder by Numbers."
But nothing has pushed her as hard as the Lifetime movie, both in dealing with the emotional roller coaster of Smith's life and with the physicality of playing the part. Bruckner, a petite brunette, is the physical opposite of Smith. To play her, Bruckner had to dye her hair platinum blond, pile on makeup, wear a fat suit and even go through a long, daily process to wear prosthetic breasts.
"I remember first day — with the hair, the wig pieces, the prosthetic breasts, the high heels — looking in the mirror and thinking that I can't imagine getting any closer," Bruckner says. "The interesting thing was the look in people's eyes. It was amazing. And that's what helped me pull off the performance."
Bruckner and Smith also are opposites in the way they deal with the spotlight.
Smith was like a moth, attracted to any camera. Bruckner has always had a small degree of stage fright.
Bruckner's uneasiness made certain scenes difficult. She just kept telling herself it was a role and not her in front of the crowds acting overly sexy.
"At the end of the day," Bruckner says, "this was her life and she enjoyed all of the attention. I did the best that I could and finally got where I wasn't turning bright red in those scenes."
She also got help from the supporting cast, which includes Virginia Madsen as Smith's mother, Virgie, Adam Goldberg as Smith's lawyer, Howard K. Stern, and Martin Landau as Smith's elderly second husband.
Bruckner was amazed by how much research and preparation Landau did on the man who became the focus of Smith's legal battle for his money.
In the end, just as Smith transformed herself from a small-town Texas girl into one of the biggest celebrities in the world, it all came down to Bruckner making a journey. She changed from being a shy California girl to taking the national spotlight for the movie.
SHOW INFO "Anna Nicole": 8 p.m. Saturday, June 29, on Lifetime
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.