‘Vanished: Searching for My Sister’ — Double challenge for Tatyana Ali

Actress plays identical twins

Justin Bruening and Tatyana Ali star in “Vanished: Searching for My Sister” Saturday on Lifetime.

Playing twin sisters in the Lifetime telepic “Vanished: Searching for My Sister” turned out to be quite the acting exercise for Tatyana Ali.

In the thriller, which is based on a true story and premieres Saturday, Jan. 22, Ali (“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “The Reason”) stars Jada and Kayla, identical twins who could not be more opposite. While Jada is a responsible, gainfully employed single mom, Kayla is the wild child, going in for drugs, clubbing and associating with dubious characters.

So when Kayla disappears, Jada pushes her way into the investigation to the consternation of two police detectives (Jasmine Guy, “The Vampire Diaries,” and Carolyn Hennesy, “Click”). At one point, Jada even poses as her sister to infiltrate her world hoping to find someone who knows something.

So the challenge for Ali was not only to play two characters, but also one character playing the other, sometimes in the same day, during the three-week spring shoot in Atlanta.

“It is a crazy challenge,” Ali says with a laugh. “It gets confusing. I think it even got confusing for the crew … I’m Jada now but I’m Jada as Kayla; I’m Jada now but I’m really Jada. I’m just Kayla now. Jada’s not involved. Yeah, it is challenging.

Tatyana Ali stars in “Vanished: Searching for My Sister” Saturday on Lifetime.

“I really, really relied heavily on the costumers, the hair and makeup team that I was able to work with,” she continues. “They were wonderful and I really relied on them to kind of help make it through kind of the maze of all of that. … So the makeup and hair trailer, that was really like my safe haven, like the place where I could kind of switch from one woman to the next.”

Ali was so unrecognizable as she switched characters that she even fooled the actor who played Kayla’s estranged husband Warren, Justin Bruening (“Grey’s Anatomy”).

“I didn’t get to meet Kayla until my last day of filming,” Bruening recalls. “And I didn’t even realize that we were moving on to the next scene where I would see Kayla … . So at one point, I come back and we’re like in our little holding area and I sit down. And we’ve got the PPE stuff on – the protection gear, masks and stuff – so that helped with the situation.

“But I sat there and there was a person sitting across from me on a couch,” he says with a laugh, “and I didn’t realize for the first 20 minutes that is was Tatyana, who I had been working with all day. … And I finally went, ‘Is that you? Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry. I haven’t been talking to you.’ “

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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