ATLANTA — For Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, there were several uncomfortable moments watching actresses portray them in a new TLC biopic.
But it was especially strange to watch Lil Mama, who played the role of the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, the third member of the Grammy-winning R&B group who died in a car crash in Honduras in 2002.
“She totally came into character,” Chilli said of Lil Mama.
Alongside Lil Mama, Keke Palmer stars as Chilli and Drew Sidora as T-Boz in the film, “CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story,” which premieres at 9 tonight on VH1.
The two-hour movie chronicles the trio’s rise to fame, their drama-filled love lives, group spats and financial struggles, despite two multiplatinum albums.
This is VH1’s first biopic in nearly 10 years since Michael Jackson’s “Man In the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story” in 2004.
“When we looked at all the artists that would resonate with our audience, TLC was like on top of the list,” said Jill Holmes, the network’s senior vice president of West Coast production and development. A “Behind the Music” on the group and “The Last Days of Left Eye” were both highly rated.
TLC debuted more than 20 years ago and became one of the best-selling female groups of all time.
They addressed serious topics such as the dangers of AIDS in “Waterfalls” and the unrealistic expectations of beauty in “Unpretty” and had No. 1 smashes with “No Scrubs” and “Creep.”
And their 1994 album, “CrazySexyCool” is diamond-certified.
“They really put their whole lives out there,” Palmer said. “They did it fearlessly. I think it’ll be amazing to see how genuine their music was and how close it was to what they were going through.”
Chilli and T-Boz, who were executive producers of the film, were hands-on with its development.
They had several sleepovers with the leading actresses, and spent extra time coaching Lil Mama due to the absence of Left Eye.
Initially, Lil Mama said it was tough prepping to play Left Eye, the energetic and most outspoken member of the group.
“I looked at different interviews of Lisa, watching the way she speaks and her delivery,” said Lil Mama, who joined Chilli and T-Boz onstage, rapping Left Eye’s verse on “No Scrubs” at a concert this year.
Chilli hopes their movie can show how resilient TLC has been despite all the ups and downs.
The two surviving members continue to push forward as a group, releasing their greatest hits album, “20” last week.
Online: www.vh1.com/shows/crazysexycool_tlc_ story/series.jhtml