Heather Locklear Is Now 'Best Friends' with Kristine Carlson, Who She Plays in Lifetime Movie
Kristine Carlson is used to being in the spotlight, but not like this.
On Saturday, Lifetime will premiere a biopic about Carlson and her late husband Dr. Richard Carlson's deep love for one another — and how she navigated life without him after his tragic death in 2006.
Starring Heather Locklear, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff: The Kristine Carlson Story, shows Kristine's grief and strength after she became the leader of the Don't Sweat the Small Stuff brand following Richard's death.
In an interview with PEOPLE, Kristine opens up about how the film honors her late husband's legacy, lessons she's learned about navigating life and loss — and her deep friendship with Locklear, who is returning to acting for the first time in five years.
"I think, 'Well, nobody wants to be known for being a famous widow.' That's not the story that you want to be really known for," says Kristine, 58, of being portrayed in a movie. "On the other hand, what has always been paramount for me is to continue the legacy of my late husband's work. Also, to inspire hope in people that are going through loss as well."
Richard rose to fame for his series of books, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff, which made him one of the most prominent experts in happiness and life balance. But he was also an amazing partner and father, says Kristine.
"Of all the things that happened in the movie, Richard and I did have a great, great love," she says. "It was a beautiful friendship, partnership, but it had passion and all the right makings of a really wonderful marriage."
Kristine co-authored two books with Richard before he died of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 45. Their daughters, Jasmine and Kenna, were still teenagers at the time.
Despite her all-consuming heartbreak, which is captured in the film, Kristine says she'll be "forever grateful for having had that kind of great love in my life." (Don't Sweat the Small Stuff is an adaptation of Kristine's memoir, Heartbroken Open.)
So far, Kristine has only watched the first five minutes of the film, but "love[s]" what she's seen. (She plans on watching a screener with friends and family.)
The opening scene, featuring Locklear as Kristine, revisits the devastating phone call Kristine got in a parking lot, which is how she learned of Richard's passing.
"I feel bad, because I only had to live through that once, and poor Heather had to do that like 20 times," says Kristine. "That was very emotional when I saw that. And I think that they wanted me to see that, just so I would be prepared for it."
"It's really weird to watch a movie that's about your life," she continues. "But it's beautiful, too, because, in a way, it gives me a chance to revisit... the happiest years of my entire life."
Despite his physical absence, Kristine says she still feels connected to Richard. She wants to pass that message on to others whose loved ones have passed.
"We have the ability to continue our relationship with that person by just keeping them on our minds, and on our lips, and in our conversations daily," she says. "Let's face it: I was with Richard 25 years... If I sat down, I could still have a conversation with him, because I could complete both of our sentences. And sometimes, jokingly, I'll buy myself a birthday gift and I'll say, 'Oh, this is from Richard.' "
Her family has also maintained ties to Richard, including her oldest grandson, Caden, even though he never got to meet his grandfather.
"He used to just look at objects around house. And he would say, 'That's Pop-Pop's,' " Kristine remembers. Caden used that name, even though neither his mom Jasmine or grandmother referred to Richard as "Pop-Pop."
"But he knew his grandfather," says Kristine. "I feel like Richard… That would totally be a name that Richard would come up with, would be Pop-Pop."
Surprisingly, Richard also has ties to the film through Locklear. Kristine explains that Locklear's former roommate and her best friend, Janie Sinclair, was one of Richard's first loves.
"She happens to have been Richard's very first crush in this entire world," says Kristine. "I remember her name because Richard only talked about three women in his whole life. And this woman was one of them."
Once Kristine learned of Locklear's connection to Richard, she remembers thinking, "Oh, this is so divine that Heather's been selected for this role."
In a separate interview with PEOPLE, Locklear also talked about the magical connection.
"There was so much synchronicity," Locklear, 60, told PEOPLE in this week's issue of her ties to the film. "[Kristine's] husband, Richard — his first love was a woman named Janie Sinclair. She was my roommate in college [at UCLA]. I'm like, 'This is crazy.' "
The special connection deepened as Locklear and Kristine became friends.
"The first time I met Kristine, we spent the night at her home," Locklear explained. "And then she came for my 60th birthday and stayed with me. She's now one of my best friends."
Kristine explains that she and Locklear have "a very similar personality."
"When I met her, I was like, 'Oh, this is going to be easy for you to play me,' " she says. "She has a really, really quick wit, that woman. She is a really funny gal... She could do standup comedy, seriously."
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Kristine continues: "I'm not that funny, and I'm not that quick witted, but I love to laugh. So we have that in common, that love of laughter. Also, what I really saw about Heather, which is very much like me, is she wears her heart completely open."
The author was surprised by Locklear's down-to-earth demeanor, despite her celebrity status. Kristine also says Locklear is "a lot more introverted than I would've suspected."
"She has a lot of light," says Kristine. "She's a very, very light, empathic, openhearted woman. I really have come to really respect, admire and adore her."
For Locklear, Kristine's story is "about love and loss."
"They're just simple ideas," Locklear told PEOPLE. "And I think maybe during the pandemic we got simplified. It's about living in the moment. And really it's all about love."
Kristine's example of resilience resonated deeply for Locklear, who recently marked two and a half years of sobriety. These days, the actress said she's "in a great place" as she enjoys life with daughter Ava, 24, and fiancé Chris Heisser, her high school boyfriend.
One of the biggest similarities between the two women is apparent after comparing their comments about life, which mirror each other, despite the separate interviews.
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Last month, Locklear and Heisser both celebrated their 60th birthdays, a milestone Locklear said she doesn't "give a hoot" about.
"I've always loved getting older because it means I'm alive," she told PEOPLE. "I'm so grateful. I don't really give a hoot. I don't give a hoot about how I look. My parents still love me. My daughter loves me."
"[Heisser], because his birthday is two days before mine, said, 'Can you believe we're turning 60?' And I said, 'I can't wait,' " she added. "I feel young. I'm a young 60. It's all about perspective."
Kristine has learned the same lesson.
"We were born in this world and then we leave this world," she explains. "Even if you have people around you, it's still a passage you have to do on your own. So love life, and be in love with life, and share all that love of life with as many people as you can while you're here. I think then we'll all feel like we had a really fulfilled life."
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff: The Kristine Carlson Story premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime.
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