It wasn't hard for Laura Slade Wiggins to understand the motivation of her character's battle with eating disorders in the new Lifetime movie "Starving in Suburbia." The actress battled anorexia during the early stages of her acting career and knows what it feels like to be a 90-pound person who sees only a fat person staring back from the mirror.
Unlike the character in her cable film, Wiggins got the strong support from her parents she needed to save her from what could have been deadly consequences.
"I am the kind of person who will take things to the extreme. I scared myself," Wiggins says. "My parents helped me get treatment. For a lot of girls, it's not that easy. They are having such a problem with self-confidence and the fear of failing that they keep the problem hidden."
In the movie, Wiggins plays Hannah, a high school senior and aspiring dancer who is shown a website called "Thinspiration." She is convinced by the site's leader that the only way to happiness is being perfectly thin and that means starving away the pounds. Hannah sets a deadly goal of losing 20 pounds in 20 days.
Callie Thorne, Emma Dumont, Sharon Lawrence, Izabella Miko, Marcus Giamatti and Paula Newsome also star.
What the film reveals is that one of the estimated 11 million people in America dealing with eating disorders could be anyone you know.
"I love the way the film is written because this is the kind of family that you have probably invited over for dinner. You like this family," Wiggins says.
When she was battling the eating problems, Wiggins hid behind a happy face and straight A's. No one knew she was being self-destructive because of the insecurities she had over not being accepted by her peers. It surprised Wiggins when a former classmate told her that she seemed so confident when they were in school together.
All Wiggins remembers is the nervousness she felt, which only got worse with each passing school year.
She felt pressure through high school because the decisions she made would affect the rest of her life. She also had started working on her acting career and faced one casting director who suggested the petite blonde remember the TV camera "adds 5 pounds."
She learned that high school wasn't the final turning point of her life, and while acting has had its ups and downs, being in TV shows and films has given her a broader perspective on life. A lot of that vision has come from her roles on the Showtime series "Shameless" and the CW series "The Tomorrow People."
"For a while, I thought acting would be this magical potion where I could be someone else. I learned that you have to put a lot of yourself in every role you play. You add your strengths and your shortcomings. Acting's not a magic potion, but in the right context it's wonderful," Wiggins says.
The work on "Starving in Suburbia" also proved draining.
"When I would get home, I was exhausted," Wiggins says. "But I never tried to make the role anything else than what it was. I wasn't going to come up with ways of relapsing just because I was in this film."
She hopes the film shines a bright light on eating disorders.
"It might not be right for some people to tell their parents because they are terrified as to how they will act," Wiggins says. "You should tell a best friend. Not someone who's sick with you but someone that really likes you and you can talk to them. Find someone you trust."
"Starving in Suburbia": 8 p.m. Saturday, April 26, on Lifetime