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Amber Riley and Raven Goodwin are ready for the Internet to lose it over ‘Single Black Female’

Raven Goodwin, left, and Amber Riley in Lifetime's “Single Black Female.” (Donna Permell/Lifetime)

For more than a decade, Amber Riley and Raven Goodwin have heard how much they look alike. Riley is often approached by fans professing to love her work on “Good Luck Charlie.” But that was actually Goodwin, who hears from her fair share of strangers mistaking her for the actress behind “Glee” fan favorite Mercedes Jones. That was Riley’s breakout role.

But the actresses, who have known each other for years, are putting their resemblance to good, thrilling use in a Lifetime movie airing Saturday. “Single Black Female,” a twist on Barbet Schroeder’s classic starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh, is chaotic in the way the most memorable Lifetime movies tend to be. Goodwin plays Monica, a rising Houston TV host, who is abruptly assigned a new assistant, Simone (Riley), amid a tumultuous time in her personal life. Despite strange coincidences and warnings from her skeptical BFF Bebe (K. Michelle, of “Love and Hip-Hop” fame), Monica grows close to her eager new charge until, well, you know.

“When they told me they were considering me and Amber, I was like, ‘Well, that just makes sense — let’s do it,’” Goodwin said in a Zoom interview alongside Riley. “I thought it would be a lot of fun.”

Both Riley and Goodwin are fans of psychological thrillers. But despite an increasing number of thrillers starring Black women, the genre has remained overwhelmingly White. Rarer still is a movie led by two plus-size Black actresses whose size isn’t the point — or even a topic of discussion in the film. That’s in part thanks to an early note Goodwin passed along to the movie’s writers.

The script initially led with Monica, reeling from the death of her father and a traumatic breakup, rolling out of bed and poking at her stomach in the mirror. “I was like, ‘Absolutely not.’ That is not what we do when we need to feel powerful, that is not what we do when we need another reason to get on about life,” Goodwin said. “I think we take the opposite approach. We look in the mirror like, ‘Ooh, I’m fine, let me pump myself up to get back out here.’”

“Monica is such a powerful character, too,” Riley said. “You don’t get to where that character is — nor do you get to where myself or Raven is in this business — by getting up every morning and poking at your fat.”

Riley’s role requires her to come undone over the course of the feature-length film, surpassing the emotional instability of the heartbroken car vandal behind her pitch-perfect “Glee” cover of Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows.” A trailer for the movie drew mixed reactions on social media, with some users wary of the movie’s depiction of a Black woman as unhinged.

Scrutiny comes with the territory, Riley said, but she hopes viewers don’t overthink what’s meant to be a fun Saturday night feature. “Movies are made to be enjoyed, and it’s not a documentary,” Riley said. “It’s a scripted film, and a lot of things are exaggerated. It’s just pure entertainment.”

“Single Black Female” brought opportunities to work with a number of people Riley and Goodwin have admired throughout their careers, including director Shari L. Carpenter. “I was so excited when I found out that she was attached. I loved her work on ‘Queen Sugar,’” Riley said. “She was just she was lovely to work with and we had awesome conversations. And I think she really helped me find the heart and the arc of my character.”

“Single Black Female” also features Janet Hubert, who — thanks to her role as the original Aunt Viv on “The Fresh Prince” — was exactly the type of “iconic” actress Goodwin hoped would be brought on to play Monica’s mother. Though filmmakers initially planned to hire a local actor, Goodwin suggested her “Christmas Belles” co-star for the role, and executive producers Monique Nash and Korine Williams took the note.

Riley and Goodwin were equally impressed by Michelle’s performance. “She did such a great job. She’s such a serious actor,” Riley said, with a thespian’s emphasis. “We had a lot of fun on set. I told her I hope that she continues to pursue acting because she can only get better and better, as we all do. … She was the perfect Bebe.”

“She’s the heart of the film,” added Goodwin. “She keeps it all tied in … and flowing, and she definitely kept it fun.”

Both actresses hope to step into the director’s chair in the near future, and “Single Black Female” felt like a step in that direction, particularly for Goodwin, whose growing Lifetime slate also includes the hit Clark Sisters biopic that aired in 2020.

“I really love the technical side. I always have,” Goodwin said. “So I’m definitely ready to put that hat on. It’s about time.”

But the draw of being on-screen is still strong for both actresses, who have fond memories of watching Lifetime movies on marathon loops with their respective sisters. “Even the ones that I wasn’t supposed to be watching when I was a kid,” Riley said with a laugh.

Especially the ones that we weren’t supposed to be watching,” Goodwin added. She said she looks forward to the day her young daughter (whose name, incidentally, is Riley) will join the storied tradition, perhaps even taking in her mom’s thriller. “I’m just excited for it to be a part of that Lifetime legacy.”

“I feel like it has to be a staple in most actors’ careers to do a Lifetime project. And you know that it’s going to be good and it really is good,” Riley said. “And I actually enjoy it. So I can’t wait for the world to see all the work that the incredible cast and crew put into it.”

Goodwin has seen the movie twice — once with her husband and again at the premiere, where the audience reaction served as “confirmation that it was the right project.”

She usually avoids social media when viewing her work, she says, but “I kind of want to be a part of the conversation because it’s such a fun film. I’ll probably hop … on Twitter and talk trash with the rest of the people.”

“Black Twitter is going to do what Black Twitter does,” Riley said.

“They’re going to call me all kinds of stupid,” Goodwin said, predicting threads of commentary. “'What she doing? You letting that girl into your house?’”

The actresses’ resemblance will no doubt be part of those conversations. Even on set, the two say, they got mistaken for each other, with Goodwin’s wardrobe once ending up in Riley’s trailer and a crew member telling Goodwin about how much their kids love “Amber.”

Their likeness, rendered downright eerie in “Single Black Female,” will lead many viewers to do a double-take Saturday night.

Maybe finally, Riley joked, everyone “will know at least we’re two different people now.”

Single Black Female (2 hours) airs Saturday at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.

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