[6 November 2007]
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
She may play one of the most determined bosses ever to orchestrate a staff meeting, but actress Melora Hardin hasn’t a clue how that would feel. She’s never had a boss.
Hardin, who plays Jan Levinson, the conflicted boss who has an off-and-on fling with Michael Scott on NBC’s “The Office,” has been an actress all her life.
When she auditioned for the part of Jan, it wasn’t just another dog-and-pony show, she says.
“I just GOT her. Sometimes characters you just get, they’re like a second skin, you put them on and they’re yours. Other times it’s a struggle and you’ve got to search for it and find it. But she was just a second skin to me. So I went in and could feel in the room, I could feel the energy.”
The energy worked all right. She started as a guest spot, which turned into a recurring character. Hardin describes Jan as “a woman with a hard exterior and a soft, gooey center. That soft, gooey center has so much potential and I think that’s why she’s inexplicably attracted to Michael.”
That could describe Hardin herself. The daughter of character actor Jerry Hardin and actress-teacher Diane Hill Hardin, Melora originally longed to be a ballet dancer. But she was bow-legged, a factor that prevented her from affecting the perfect form. She first thought of acting when she accompanied her father to drop off some pictures with a commercial agent.
“He said—I was about 5 or 6—he said, `You’re so cute, don’t you want to act?’ That put the bee in my bonnet and I tugged on their sleeves, `I want to act. I want to act’ till they agreed to let me go on 10 auditions. This was unknown to me. `We’ll let her go on 10 auditions and if she gets something – great, if not she’ll never know the difference.’
“Of course I got the first thing I went on, which was a Peak Toothpaste commercial. I got to dance in front of a mirror with a doll. I’ve been dancing all my life.”
When she was 13 she studied with the Joffrey Ballet, but wasn’t invited back the following year. “I walked around with a broken heart for two weeks,” she sighs, ordering breakfast at the Ritz Carlton Hotel here.
As an actress she constantly worked, though such shows as “Catalina Sea Lab,” “Second Family Tree,” “Two Marriages,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Cover Me” and “Making Out” didn’t make the TV Hall of Fame.
She finally landed a film, “Reckless Kelly,” when she was 27. “It was supposed to be a big movie; Warner Bros. spent $19 million, that was a lot. I was the female lead and it was going to be the thing that would make me a star,” she says.
“At that point I was ready to be more than a working actress. The thing that comes with getting a name is you have more options. As far as I’m concerned that’s the only reason to be famous,” she says, tapping ketchup on her potatoes.
But “Reckless Kelly” proved difficult and was not a success. “I said what’s the point of this and how do I keep this fun and joyful? So I thought maybe I would quit and remember almost making a prayer: `If I’m supposed to not be doing this, I’m happy to not be doing this.’ Then I got a three-part `Quantum Leap.’ I thought it would be just a job, but it was a wonderful character. I played three different women that were the same woman over and over. And Scott Bakula was such a healing person to work with, such a lovely, grounded person ... I made a deal with myself I was not going to work with jerks anymore, and I never have.”
Married for 10 years to actor Gildart Jackson, Hardin has two daughters, 5 and 2. The birth of her first daughter was pivotal. “As a little girl I wanted six children ... so she was like a dream manifesting within my body. Then I chose to have a home-birth. A lot about the whole pregnancy-home-birth experience was incredibly grounding for me, empowering for me because I made personal choices the way I was going to do it, the way that was right for me and my husband and my child,” she says.
“That required going in the face of a lot of societal beliefs and myths and what I consider to be cultural lies ... I breast fed for 2 ½ years. You get commentary when you choose to do something that’s out of the norm ... It was empowering to give birth at home with no drugs. A lot of women have a cultural belief we can’t do it, but we’ve been doing it since the beginning of time. I always said I want to feel a body come through me into this world. I don’t want to miss out on that.”
Alec Baldwin may have been a big star on the big screen, but he’s really found his niche on NBC’s hilarious “30 Rock,” in which he plays the egotistical network chief. Baldwin says he’s learned to concentrate his energy on projects like this.
“The longer you do this for a living and the older you get, the more tired you get. So you save your energy for your work only. I used to dissipate my energy, you know, playing Scrabble in my room and talking on the phone with my lawyer and all this other stuff. And now when I’m working, I tend to try to husband my energy just for the work that I do. And I think that that pays off, because when you’re young, your attention is elsewhere maybe. And I remember actors that I worked with when I was in my 20s, I would see them, and they had a very particular kind of focus to their work. And they would sit in a chair and they would read the paper and they really just kept their mind on what we’re doing today. And it can be tough because it `s a long day. And it’s only—it’s not like I don’t do other things. But I really try to give this everything I’ve got because we’re not going to come back and do it again.”
You’d think with all the guest stars that have scrambled to add their voices to Fox’s “The Simpsons,” there would be nobody left on the wish list. But Al Jean, the show’s executive producer, says they’re never been able to corral a former U.S. president. “The closest we got is we got Tony Blair when he was prime minister. I think there’s a little nerve in the American politician’s brain that says don’t go on `The Simpsons’ because we never have been able to quite get that. Whatever, it’s sort of like our great white whale, so maybe it’s good that we have this thing that we’re always hoping for, maybe in the next 20 years.”
The collectors’ edition of the entire scope of “The X-Files” arrives on DVD this month. The mega-disc set includes a Season 1 comic book, classic art cards, theatrical poster, the feature film, “The X-Files” Fight the Future” and much more. Gillian Anderson, who played the pragmatic Scully on the show for 11 years, remembers when it started.
“I’d hardly done anything and I had no money and I was living with a boyfriend at the time and had just received my last unemployment check. And, all of a sudden within a week, I was transported up to another country, paid money I’d never seen before. And that started the path of living in Canada, meeting my (first) husband, getting pregnant, being on a hit series, divorce, fame, everything. The receiving of that script was a turning point.”