Joey Lawrence, Samantha Cope Talk Working with 'Beacon of Light' Anne Heche on One of Her Last Films
Joey Lawrence is remembering Anne Heche as a "beacon of light" on the set of their upcoming film Frankie Meets Jack.
In an exclusive chat with PEOPLE, Joey, 46, and wife Samantha Cope — who stars as Joey's love interest and co-lead in Frankie Meets Jack — open up about how honored they felt to work alongside Heche, who died unexpectedly on Aug. 12, 2022, at the age of 53.
"Every person she made eye contact with, she made their day better," recalls Cope, 35, of Heche's presence on set of the romantic comedy. "She had so much energy and so much love and light."
Joey says Heche accepted the "small part" — as Katrina, the mom of Cope's character Frankie's friend, who serves as a mentor of sorts to both her daughter and Frankie — after reading the script and saying, " 'I really think I could have some fun with this.' "
The actress shot her scenes "in two or three days." And as Joey recalls, "She was so good that we really couldn't even edit too much around those scenes because she was just ad-libbing and making up stuff. She just brought so much to it."
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MarVista Entertainment Anne Heche and Samantha Cope in Frankie Meets Jack (2023)
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Joey goes on to praise Heche's "work ethic" and "level of professionalism" on set and says she was the "epitome" of having "no ego," despite having been in "massive movies" — and not only showed up for the job, but was completely committed to the project on the whole.
"She actually came to our wrap party [and] was there with the crew and us and was having fun and laughing, just totally invested," he tells PEOPLE. "There was nothing like, 'I'm Anne Heche. I'm better than this, but I'll come in because you guys have paid me to do it.' "
"She was really there for just, genuinely, all the right reasons. And she invested herself and really dedicated herself to it," the actor continues. "And that's all you can ask for when somebody comes in and does you a favor like that. It was really awesome."
Some of the pair's favorite memories with Heche on set involved their conversations about her sons Atlas, 13, and Homer Laffoon, 20, whom she would rave about. And as Cope says, "You just felt like family with her very quickly."
"It's so crazy because you never know what journey people are going through or what they're dealing with. And man, life is so short," Joey adds. "Her last [Instagram] post was a picture of us, on the set. That was her very last post, and just, you'd never think that. So yep, she was excited about doing press with us for the movie. She talked about that, and so it was just really wild."
MarVista Entertainment Anne Heche in Frankie Meets Jack (2023)
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Frankie Meets Jack follows the titular characters — Cope's Frankie and Joey's Jack — as they navigate their respective romantic lives and find an unexpected connection through their love of dogs.
"Frankie has given up on guys and gone all-in on 'dog mom' life. When she and her adopted dog, Tucker, cross paths with Jack and his dog, Dakota, sparks — and tensions — run high," reads an official synopsis for the film.
"In a string of coincidences, Frankie and Jack continue to cross paths: first when Jack becomes Tucker's veterinarian and later when Frankie is assigned to cover Jack's wedding announcement for the local paper," the synopsis continues. "With the guidance of their best friends — both canine and human — Frankie and Jack stumble their way toward finding and pursuing true love."
The couple co-wrote the script alongside Jen Bashian, and the film is directed by Joey's younger brother (and longtime onscreen collaborator) Andy Lawrence, who also has a hilarious cameo.
This isn't the first time Cope has worked with the brothers. All three of them starred in 2021's A Deadly Deed and Mistletoe Mixup, both directed by Andy, 35, and also starring the middle Lawrence brother, Matthew Lawrence. A sequel for the latter film is even on the way later this year, according to Joey.
MarVista Entertainment Samantha Cope and Joey Lawrence in Frankie Meets Jack (2023)
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Joey married Cope in May 2022, and the two welcomed daughter Dylan on Jan. 16. (Joey is also dad to daughters Liberty, 12, and Charleston, 16.)
Asked about the pros and cons of working together onscreen, Joey tells PEOPLE "it's been great" and that "there's aren't really any cons" — instead, "it's super comfortable."
"There's a second hand there that [means] you don't have to worry about anything," he explains. "There's a lot of trust there, obviously a familiarity there. We met doing a movie, which is weird, because that's never happened to me in my life, all the 41 years of doing this."
"It's really great being onset with somebody that you can be super honest with. We give each other creative ideas," Cope adds. "Like, 'That was really great, let's try this.' "
"And it's not coming from any other place than genuine love," she says. "And we know each other so well that we can get something from the other person."
Frankie Meets Jack is streaming Friday on Tubi.