If you hope for true romance, keeping an imaginary love interest might not be the best move.
The lesson is a hard one for the heroine of "Everything You Want," a gentle, charming romantic comedy premiering at 8 tonight on ABC Family.
Played by former "Roswell" star Shiri Appleby, Abby struggles to resist Quinn (Nick Zano), the cousin of her roommate, Jessica (Alexandra Holden). To keep him at bay, she makes frequent mention of "Sy" (Orlando Seale, "Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story"), who has long existed only in her mind as the image of the ideal boyfriend.
As art student Abby reluctantly tutors fellow pupil Quinn, she gradually falls for him, but she's hesitant to give up Sy . . . who Quinn believes is real. Ultimately, Abby has to make a choice between the suitor residing in her imagination and the one facing her. Will Friedle ("Boy Meets World") and Edie McClurg co-star.
Adapted from Natalie Prado's play "Sy's Girl," "Everything You Want" was made as an independent feature, then ABC Family acquired it.
"After I decided to do it, I was shown the play," Appleby says. "When we were working with the script, (the filmmakers) were pretty open to ideas and weren't sticklers about staying with the exact content of the play. It was more about the overall concept."
Appleby enjoyed playing out Abby's internal flights of fancy, but she also is glad the tale stays largely reality-based.
"The Sy stuff is interjected only intermittently, so that you don't feel you're stuck in her imagination all the time," she says. "In those moments where things get tough for her, they allowed her to go into that other world. Orlando Seale and I really wanted to make that relationship real, so that it seemed she was actually involved with someone, instead of just escaping into nothing."
Part of Appleby's role called for having a paintbrush in her hand and a canvas in front of her.
"I paint a little bit, but nothing that I would ever show anybody," she says. "There are some things in the back of my closet . . . but as far as people looking at them, it's like, 'Don't even!' "
As for the presumed authenticity of her on-screen painting, Appleby says, "It's the magic of film."
In the aftermath of her three-season run as alien-befriending Liz Parker on the series "Roswell," Appleby regularly gets science-fiction and fantasy offers. She occasionally accepts one, as with last year's Sci-Fi Channel movie "Darklight," but she's intent on keeping her career varied.
"It's definitely about finding strong female characters," she says. "That's the point for me, regardless of the genre. Being offered a role like the one in this movie, which has comedic elements and romance, just helps me find a balance."
Still, Appleby appreciates the fans she retains from "Roswell," which can be found on DVD and from time to time as Sci-Fi Channel repeats. "They're still on the Internet and still very supportive. To be a young actress still trying to make her way in this business, and to know there's a group of people out there that will support and watch you in whatever you do, it's so comforting."
Another project that gained Appleby attention was "Swimfan," the 2002 movie thriller dubbed a teen "Fatal Attraction" by many critics. "It's on cable all the time," she says, "which is both wonderful and quite surprising. We had a great time making it, but that it's always on TV somewhere is just crazy."
Appleby has another ABC Family movie slated to air in July: "Pizza My Heart," which she terms "a 'Romeo and Juliet' story set in the world of pizza." And she'll soon learn if ABC picks up her pilot for another series. She's in the ensemble cast of " 1/4 Life," a post-college drama from "Once and Again" and "My So-Called Life" producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz.
"We're just sort of keeping our fingers crossed on that," Appleby says, "and looking for other interesting things to do. I want to work with people who are inspiring, and just look for good stories."