Cheryl Pollack, the attractive young actress who plays the title character in tonight's "If Looks Could Kill: The Marla Hanson Story" (8 p.m., Ch. 2) found out what it's like not to be pretty anymore.
"Looks" is the true story of an aspiring New York model whose spurned suitor hires a pair of thugs to slash her face with razor blades. Hanson survived but with horrible scars."For me, it was just putting on makeup," Pollack said in a telephone interview. "But even that was a powerful experience. I learned a lot about the way people treat other people because of the way they look."
She found that passers-by as well as crew members treated her very differently when she was wearing the frighteningly realistic makeup.
"Their reactions were pretty intense," Pollack said. "I found that most people couldn't look me in the eye. They looked everywhere else.
Her makeup also affected the actors she worked with on the TV movie.
"It changed their performances," Pollack said. "When we went though scenes in rehearsals, they did them one way. But when I had the makeup on, the way people did the scenes was completely different."
The scars even affected the way Pollack felt about herself.
"I felt so vulnerable to people's eyes," she said.
One particularly difficult scene was completely factual - during the trial of the man who paid to have Hanson disfigured, she had to walk slowly in front of the jury box to show jury members her scars.
"Even though it was just acting, it was very difficult for me," Pollack said. "Having to walk in front of 12 people I didn't know and have them examine me was just terrifying. But I can only imagine what it must have been like for Marla."
In a way, that's the message Pollack said she hopes viewers take away from "If Looks Could Kill" - that the victims of violent crimes shouldn't have to be victimized all over again by the legal process.
In the trial, Hanson's life was minutely scrutinized. Her assailants' defense lawyers tried to portray her as a tramp.
The crime caught the imagination of the New York press, which initially expressed outrage at the slashing. But some elements of the media later turned on Hanson as the trial progressed.
"I really think that Marla was raped by the press and the public and the court system," Pollack said. "What they can do to a person is really brutal. I think it's absolutely ludicrous that people think bad things happen to you because you deserve it.
"In the interest of preserving the suspect's rights, victims tend to get lost in the shuffle. They need to be protected, too."
Making the movie was a bit frightening for the 23-year-old actress, whose credits include the short-lived TV series "Hull High" and the movie "Pump Up the Volume." After all, incidents like what happened to Hanson are not unique, and obsessed fans have been known to go as far as murder.
"It forced me to look at something I didn't want to look at," she admitted. "This could have happened to anybody, it just happened to be Marla.
"There's nothing you can really do except be careful. You can't live your whole life in fear."