Exclusive Interview: ‘Revenge’s Josh Bowman on ‘Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story’

Escaping the Madhouse Josh Bowman and Christina Ricci
Christina Ricci and Josh Bowman star in ‘Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story’ (Photo by Courtesy of Lifetime)

Nellie Bly exposed the abuses perpetrated inside mental care asylums in the late 1800s. Christina Ricci plays Nellie in the Lifetime original movie Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story. In this dramatization, Nellie loses her memory due to electroshock treatments and has to piece together her own story. Inside, she runs afoul of Matron Grady (Judith Light) and psychiatrist Dr. Josiah (Josh Bowman).

Bowman, a fan favorite from ABC’s Revenge, spoke to Showbiz Junkies about his role in Escaping the Madhouse and working with Ricci and Light. Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story airs Saturday, January 19, 2019 at 8pm ET/PT on Lifetime.

What were the most intense or challenging scenes?

Josh Bowman: “I had about 23 pages to do my first three days and I had five days to prep. That was a challenge. That was for sure a challenge.”

Are you usually good at memorizing?

Josh Bowman: “No, no. No, I’m not.”

You’ve made it pretty far.

Josh Bowman: “Hopefully it’s not just learning lines, but you’re right. That’s kind of the job, isn’t it?”

Have you developed tricks?

Josh Bowman: “Cutting dialogue. ‘Can we change that? I think we don’t need to say that. I can do it with a look, a gesture, an action.'”

Did you do that a lot on Revenge?

Josh Bowman: “Oh God, yeah. Cut my lines.”

After those first three days and 23 pages did it get lighter for you?

Josh Bowman: “Yes, and it was a good jumping off point, literally, because it was just all right, buddy, you’ve got three or four days. Just go, go, go. It was nice after that. I had time for everything to come through osmosis and sit into who this guy is. It was good. I didn’t get a lot of time to think.

Sometimes the actor gets in their own way. It gets a bit up here when it should be a bit more down here. And again, I just had a ball working with these actors and a good filmmaker, Karen Moncrieff. As I said, it was me and the ladies for a month in Winnipeg.”

Did you get much input into your look?

Josh Bowman: “Yes, I had all the input. I collaborated with Karen, the director. I wanted him to have a mid-Atlantic accent voice but then she quite rightly said that he should be an immigrant, come from England. There were lots of people coming from all over Europe to America. And also, it gave him a different layer that maybe he’s fleeing something, maybe he’s escaped somewhere that he maybe should be put into, i.e. a jail. So yeah, it was good that she made that call, and they had beards. There was either beard, mustache or clean shaven. I felt a beard was a little bit more studious. I wanted him to be a little older than I am, so there was that.”

That’s the classic Sigmund Freud impression.

Josh Bowman: “Yes, beards or no beards and a mustache is a little pervy sometimes. I’ve had one so I know.”

What sort of relationship did you have with Christina Ricci?

Josh Bowman: “You know, it was a film where we didn’t have too much time to prepare. So I didn’t meet her before. We met on set and got to work. She was very well prepared. She was super professional, great actress to work with, as was Judith Light who is obviously the antagonist in the story. So me and her had a lot of fun playing against each other. She was a marvelous actress.”

Was there any parallel to Revenge which took many seasons to work out all these manipulations?

Josh Bowman: “Well, luckily with this we got the beginning, middle, and end in one script instead of being told a few days before. Those scripts changed so often, so yeah. I love both mediums, where you can develop a character over a long period of time and you can really see them grow and rise and fall. In film, you don’t obviously get that as much. You know the segments and it’s pretty mapped out once you get in there.”

Were there any big Revenge twists that blindsided you?

Josh Bowman: “Probably the fact that her father was alive. That was probably the biggest one because I didn’t think they’d actually go through with it.”

How early did you get to know that?

Josh Bowman: “They were pretty good at keeping these secret. They really were. It was usually the read through. Maybe a couple days, someone would have seen a script and said, ‘Oh, you’ll never guess what… no!'”

Have the Revenge fans followed you to subsequent projects?

Josh Bowman: “I think yeah, they have. We had the best fans. They loved the story and it was such a whirlwind, all of it. We had amazing fans of the show and people who followed it from the beginning and really related to the story and the themes. Yes, it got a bit mad in there and it got a little over the top, but I think with the production and the acting and some of the writing, we managed to keep it grounded somewhat in such a crazy world.”

Do you expect a little overlap between Revenge fans and Lifetime viewers?

Josh Bowman: “I don’t know. You’d have to tell me. I wouldn’t know. I hope people check the film out. I hope they enjoy it. I think they’ll be educated by it. They’ll learn about Nellie Bly and what she had to overcome. I know I did. I think there’s a great story of overcoming obstacles and perseverance and a strong female heroine who overcomes it all.”

Will you watch Nellie Bly live?

Josh Bowman: “Maybe I will. Maybe I will. I hesitate because I don’t like watching myself at all. But I’ll gladly watch the girls’ performances and see what they did. I’ll definitely watch it.”

Did they have you live tweeting Revenge?

Josh Bowman: “I’m not a Tweeter so I said, ‘See you later, guys. I’ll be doing my own thing.’ I think everyone else tweeted but I don’t know what a tweet is these days. Is it a bird or is it a thing that happens off your phone?”

Are you a big TV watcher?

Josh Bowman: “I’ve been watching Black Mirror. I’ve been watching You. I was watching a bit of that which was pretty good. I just got married so I actually haven’t been watching as much. I kinda put the TV and film stuff down. This weekend I’m going to binge. I’ve got a lot of films to watch. I’m going to check out a lot of films.”

What’s on your list?

Josh Bowman: “The list is The Favourite, Green Book, Cold War, Shoplifters… That’s a good starting point.”

How long did it take you to watch Bandersnatch?

Josh Bowman: “I still haven’t finished it because it kept repeating itself and I got fed up with it. I think it’s the worst one they’ve done. I thought the originals were just better. I love the freedom of choice, massive fan of it, but it’s not. It’s go back and re-choose what we want you to choose. Well, you’ve taken that away from me then. That’s why I enjoyed watching it.

It was like a video game that I’ve played before. I’ve seen this ending, I’ve seen this, I’ve seen this, so I gave up on it. It killed me. I felt Mosaic did it well. Did you see Mosaic, Soderbergh on HBO? They did a freedom of choice. They did it on an app and I was watching it on my phone, on my iPad. That was cool. Sharon Stone and Garrett Hedlund are in it. Soderbergh’s one of my favorite filmmakers. It was good. It was really good. It was different. I think people are probably going to start doing that more. People want choices now. It’s a transient world we live in, right? No, I don’t want that, I want the red one. It’s like all right, have the red one then. Put it on the video game.”