Melora Hardin Interview: "Office" Star on Michael & Jan's "Weird Spark"
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Actors
Image attributed to Charlie Nunn
Actress and singer Melora Hardin is known for portraying Jan Levinson on the mockumentary sitcom The Office, Trudy Monk on the drama-mystery TV series Monk and Tammy Cashman on Amazon’s Transparent. She also stars as Jacqueline Carlyle in the Freeform comedy-drama The Bold Type that aired from June 2017 until June 2021. She has numerous other television and film credits and has released three albums, The Meloradrama (1995), Purr (2000) and All the Way to Mars (2010).
In Love, Classified, Hardin plays romance novelist Emilia, and is described as a whirlwind who blows back into the lives of her adult children, Taylor (Katherine McNamara) and Zach (Max Lloyd-Jones) under the pretense of a book signing arranged by her hometown’s local book shop. The movie also stars Arienne Mandi (The L Word: Generation Q) and is set to premiere on April 16, 2022, on the Hallmark Channel.
"I think a lot of those things came from real life. For instance, I think Greg Daniels would tell you that a lot of the ideas that he came up with for my character came from me (laughs)."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Melora, let’s talk first about the Hallmark movie, Love, Classified. How did you get involved, and why were you attracted to the project?
Melora Hardin: They sent me the script and said they’d like me to do it, and I read it. It was actually written by Lynn Sternberger who was one of our first season writers onThe Bold Type, and I was really taken by just how well written the script was. It really read less than a traditional Hallmark movie that you might think of as a Hallmark movie and more like an indie romantic comedy. I really liked that about it, and I felt like it was really charming. I felt the character that I play, Emilia, was really fun and felt like I could really do something with her. So that’s what attracted me to it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is this your first time working with Hallmark?
Melora Hardin: It is.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are you a fan of the shows and movies?
Melora Hardin: I’ve certainly seen many Hallmark movies in my life. They’ve been around a super long time. They are so prolific. I don’t think there’s anybody out there who hasn’t seen a Hallmark movie (laughs). You know, they make such charming things. But at the same time, I have to say that I don’t think I would’ve really been attracted to it if they weren’t where they are right now as a company because one of the things they’re talking about is that the movie I did, Love, Classified, is really a little bit of an expansion. They’re trying to be not quite as formulaic. They’re trying to expand their brand and make it a little more modern, a little more inclusive, whilst keeping all the things that make Hallmark special. I was very attracted to that.
I think the formulaic aspect of Hallmark was something I wasn’t very attracted to. So I do think this movie has all the feel-good elements that make Hallmark appealing to everybody, but it has less of the formulaic structure, therefore, it became more appealing to me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Your character is described as a “whirlwind” who blows back into the lives of her adult children. “Whirlwind” can mean a violent or destructive force. (laughs) So do you play a meddling mom?
Melora Hardin: (laughs) No. Not at all. She’s a big personality. Let’s put it that way. She’s a big personality who has dealt with her pain by sort of abandoning the people that she loves most and not confronting the real problem, which was just that she was scared of how much pain she was in and how that pain has manifested itself into some physical manifestations that resulted in the wakeup call for her. It’s very exciting to play someone that has a wonderful way of spinning through the world with lots of charisma and success, so that we get to see her also take care of her heart, you know.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You filmed in snowy Vancouver?
Melora Hardin: We were actually on Victoria Island. It wasn’t snowing, but it sure was chilly (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The last time we spoke was back in 2010 when you released the album All the Way to Mars. We had fun talking about “A Boy and His Cat” and “Ride Your Rocket.”
Melora Hardin: (laughs) Those were some funny songs I wrote.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: (laughs) Oh, yes. What have you done musically since then?
Melora Hardin: I was just on Dancing with the Stars, and I did manage to sing one of the songs that I danced to, which was super fun because it was the first 10 that anyone earned over the whole season. I sang “Mother Knows Best” from Tangled, and I danced to it kind of portraying that character when we were doing Disney week. So that was super fun.
As far as my own music, I think that we’re moving back into the ability to do some live shows now. Michael Feinstein has a restaurant called Vitello’s. I’ll probably do a show there maybe at the beginning of the summer. I’m thinking about what my next record will be because it’s about time that I made another one.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Speaking of songs, I rewatched the fifth season of The Office and came across you singing “Son of a Preacher Man,” which was definitely an inappropriate song for a baby shower, I must say (laughs).
Melora Hardin: Oh, come on! You liked it!
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Okay. Okay. You got me. I thought it was hilarious (laughs). It was really scripted?
Melora Hardin: (laughs) Yes. It was scripted. We wanted it to be the most inappropriate song it could be. Mindy Kaling had known that I did Les Miz at the Hollywood Bowl, and she was like, “We have got to get you singing on the show,” and that was what she came up with (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Were you asked for input into the character of Jan Levinson and storyline ideas?
Melora Hardin: Oh, yeah. For sure. I think that the whole love affair that happened between Michael and Jan really was spun when Greg Daniels, Steve Carell and I were having lunch during the pilot, and we felt there was this very inappropriate, weird spark between Michael and Jan. We were all like, “You know what? If we get to go to series and actually do this, they should just hook up.” I think we were at a conference or whatever, and it just turned into what it turned into.
I think a lot of those things came from real life. For instance, I think Greg Daniels would tell you that a lot of the ideas that he came up with for my character came from me (laughs). I had Greg and his wife, Susanne, and Paul Lieberstein and his wife over for dinner one night. At that time, I had a big painting in my living room that is the cover of my record Purr. If you’ve seen the cover of that record, it’s basically a painting that is inspired by Gil Elvgren’s pinups. So I’m kind of the woman in this beautiful white dress with a whole bunch of kittens around me, and it’s this big painting. It was a beautiful painting that a friend of mine had painted. I loved it. It was funny and great.
I think I even said to Greg at dinner, “I hope people get that I get the comedy of that. I get the comedy of having a giant painting of myself in my living room. I don’t take that seriously." (laughs). I think there also was a boob job conversation that I had with Greg about something at some point, and we were laughing about that. Then he gave Jan the boob job. There were a lot of collaborations that happened that flowed naturally, you know.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: There has been some buzz about an Office reboot, and Greg Daniels said his idea involves new characters in the same universe of the original show. It would just be like an extension of the universe like the way The Mandalorian is like an extension of Star Wars. What do you think?
Melora Hardin: (laughs) Right. I think we should do a feature where we could get all the original characters back. It would make a very funny movie like the Sex and the City franchise.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I like that idea. I’m sure you were influenced by your parents who were both actors, but was it also your dream to pursue an acting career?
Melora Hardin: I started when I was six acting professionally, and it was something that started with my parents dropping off headshots at their commercial agents. One of the agents turned to me and said, “Aren’t you cute? Don’t you want to do what mommy and daddy do?” I lit up. I didn’t even know that was possible until he said that. Then I started tugging on their sleeves and saying, “I want to do it! I want to do it!” My parents sort of resisted getting me into it, but ultimately, they just went, “Oh, God, she’s being such a pest. We’ll let her go on 10 auditions. If she doesn’t get it, we’ll just ease her out of it, and she’ll never know the difference if she doesn’t get anything.” Of course, I got the first audition I went on, and it was a Peak toothpaste commercial, which is a toothpaste that’s not even around anymore. I was so happy, and I just loved it.
I loved acting. I was good at it. I kept working, and I thought of it as my hobby. I thought I was going to be a ballerina. I was a very serious ballerina from the time I was five. So I started dancing before I started acting. I really thought ballet was it. I was going to be a ballerina, and acting was just going to be the fun thing that I did (laughs). So it was definitely me. I wanted to do it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: It must’ve been interesting to work with Michael Landon on Little House on the Prairie when you were a young teen.
Melora Hardin: Oh, yes. He was such a sweet man. It was interesting because working with Michael Landon was quite similar to working with Clint Eastwood because they both had a whole bunch of the same people on their crews. They surrounded themselves with this family group that they counted on and who never really strayed. That was a really beautiful element of their work ethic. I’m a director now. I’m directing a lot more, and I always think, “God, I’d like to be that person who has that group of people that you just know you can count on, and they’re all just there to do the work.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Speaking of directing, I wanted to talk about Thunder, Hunter and Me. How did the docuseries come about, and how did you meet Hunter Austin?
Melora Hardin: It’s an interesting story because as a child, Hunter Austin’s favorite TV show was a show I was on called Thunder, which was about a black stallion that came when I whistled. Together, Thunder and I would go and save the day. Flash forward to 40 years later. I needed a horse for a music video I was directing for my friend, Paula Cole. She was doing a 20th anniversary music video for one of her big hits called “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone”? She asked me to direct it. I said that I would happily do that.
So I basically called my producer and said, “Do you know anyone who lives in town and has a horse?” He said, “Yeah. I know this one woman that I just met.” So I walked through Hunter’s door and she said, “Oh, my God! You played Cindy Prescott on Thunder! That was my favorite show when I was a little girl. I can’t even believe you’re standing my living room.” She said that she wrote me a fan letter when she was 11 and said that I wrote back and told her how to get into the business. She said that she did all the things I said, that she always wanted to be the little girl with the horse and that now she is. She has 47 actor animals, did over 105 commercials and guest-starred on a whole bunch of things. She said it was all because of me. It was just a wonderful moment.
I’ve been recognized for a lot of things, but I’d never been recognized for Thunder (laughs). So that was really fun that I was recognized for something I would say was a highlight of my career because I had just said to my mom before, “What I really want to do is a show about a horse.” Then two weeks later, I got Thunder. So for me, it was a highlight of my memory of my childhood acting career. So Hunter and I ended up having a wonderful working relationship. We made the video together. She was my production designer. I did use all of her animals.
One day, I just said, “Where’s your partner? You’re so cool. Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend or something?” She said, “No. I’ve never been on a date. I’ve never kissed anyone.” I was like, “What? How old are you?” She said, “I’m 50.” I said, “Okay. I fancy myself a matchmaker. I’d love to help you find someone.” We talked a little bit more about what she was looking for and all that. So she called me six weeks later and said, “What is spooning, and how long is too long of a hug?” There was just something about the conversation that inspired me to ask her a question I’ve never asked anyone in my life, which was, “Is there any chance you were raped?” Hunter said, “There was that time in the park with that weird guy.”
I think it’s just the actor in me. I can really feel when something is real and true. My heart was just racing, and I literally went and picked her up and took her straight to my coach who had experience with sexual trauma himself. I just took her under my wing. The story is that it took 40 years, but Cindy and Thunder finally came to help. It’s a story of friendship. It’s a story of healing and what it really takes to transform trauma. It’s an invitation for others to do their own healing.
It was all serendipity. It was not something I thought, “Oh, this is going to make a great documentary.” I just had the very wise and happy instinct to pick up the camera very early in the process. So 85% of it is self shot, and it’s really just me and Hunter with no crew. It’s like looking through a keyhole. So it’s an incredibly intimate picture of how two friends to this together, how they creatively, joyfully and emotionally traverse this healing ground together. It is quite powerful, and I can’t wait for the world to see it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I hope Hunter is healing. A trauma like that can take a lifetime to overcome.
Melora Hardin: Yeah. She’s amazing. She’s one of my best friends and is just like family now, of course. But also she’s incredibly smart and so ready to share with the world what she’s transforming herself internally is extraordinary. She’s going great.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Revelations Entertainment is releasing it?
Melora Hardin: Yeah. Morgan Freeman’s company, Revelations, and I are partners. Hunter and I are co-producing with them, and we’re all partners in it. We’re trying to find the right home for it. If we can’t find the right streamer, then we will probably find a way to release it ourselves.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I truly wish you luck bringing Thunder, Hunter and Me into the world. Are your daughters interested in music or acting?
Melora Hardin: They both are. Yep. My older daughter did a wonderful movie called I Kill Giantswhen she was 15. She’s now at NYU studying in Tisch School of the Arts, and acting is definitely in her crosshairs as the thing that she really wants to do. She’s a wonderful actress and also a fine artist. My younger daughter has also worked professionally. She’s done quite a few things. But she really is a budding singer-songwriter. She’s an amazing singer. I think she loves acting, too, but right now she’s just really focused on her songwriting.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And you have been married 25 years to another actor!
Melora Hardin: Yes. I sure have! It does work. My parents were both actors. They’ve been married for 65 years, 66 coming up this year. So it can work if you’re committed to the same things and have the same values and all those things that make a marriage work.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Any final words on the Hallmark movie, Love, Classified?
Melora Hardin: I’m excited for people to see it. I’m excited with what they’ve done with it. Hallmark’s a great company to work for. They’re really collaborative and very female centric. They’re great. They’re not just making movies that are about love and family. They really are about love and family over there. That’s a really cool thing to work with a company you feel like is walking the walk and not just talking the talk.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’ve been impressed that, especially in the last few years, they really are committed to diversity and inclusion.
Melora Hardin: Exactly, which is what we want everybody to do, right? We want people to be more inclusive. So it’s wonderful.
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