Friday, April 18, 2014

Interview: Eric Mabius Delivers in New Hallmark Channel Series

Since the end of “Ugly Betty” in 2010, series star Eric Mabius has been everywhere. He’s starred or co-starred in numerous series, like “Outcasts,” “The Client List,” “Scandal,” “Blue Bloods,” and many others. He’s also starred in a few Hallmark Channel movies — and it’s this partnership with the cable network, known for its wholesome family programming, that has lured Eric back to series television. Eric stars in the upcoming prime-time Hallmark series called “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” as Oliver, a U.S. Postal detective who hunts down the recipients and sources of letters that end up in the dead-letter office (the series premieres Easter Sunday, April 20 at 8/7c). Oliver’s job isn’t as clear-cut as it would seem; it draws him into mysteries and intrigue that you wouldn’t expect from a postal worker. I spoke with Eric recently, and he told me how excited he is for viewers to experience this interesting and fun drama, which is brought to us by “Touched By an Angel” executive producer Martha Williamson.

Celebrity Extra: Tell me about your decision to work with Hallmark again, this time in a regular capacity by starring in a series.

Eric Mabius: As you said, I’d worked with Hallmark before on a couple of movies, and I thought: ”Why not? Why not Hallmark? Why not do an original series?” I firmly believe, and I think Hallmark shares the same belief, that this show is going to change everyone’s opinion of Hallmark. It’s not your mother’s Hallmark anymore. It’s really taking on issues in a way that’s still family-friendly, but much more; it’s not just escapism.

I was blessed enough to have a great family of actors on “Ugly Betty” and a significant amount of success. Actors wait their whole careers to have one of those, and I didn’t have to wait that long. And I just didn’t think I’d necessarily find the same thing again. But I found something better now. Because I feel more in a place to appreciate there’s an evolution going on. Being an actor with two children now and finally in my 40s, I just feel like everything lined up in such a wonderful way.

CE: Tell me about Oliver.

EM: Oliver has a very strong moral compass. He has a belief system, but he doesn’t shove it down people’s throats. He sees the greatness in people and tries to inspire them in the workplace. At different times, the audience gets to view this world through each of the character’s eyes, rather than just choosing one viewpoint as the audience filter. Martha keeps turning the content in on itself, so just when you think you know the road the show’s going to go down, it changes. She challenges us as actors, and I think the audience members as well.

CE: I know it’s early, but are you looking forward to a second season?

EM: I don’t think there are many forces on Earth that could stop this show from coming back next season. But networks have to go through their process. There’s already talk of a Christmas film for the show, just so the audience doesn’t have to go a whole year waiting for the second season. I am not trying to be boastful, I just mean that we’re aiming toward many seasons.

CE: Can you give me any clues as to what to expect this season?

EM: We’re moving toward a very big finale, and that is not set in stone yet. But we want to get it right. And we aren’t pouring everything into the finale. There are some episodes coming up that will feel like a type of finale, and that’s what’s great. Martha has so much left in her repertoire, there’s no end to how long this show could run. As these characters evolve and become more fully human, they help each other. There’s sort of a steady state that has been achieved when you start the series, in that Oliver has created this world of his own invention, and he fills it with people he can help mold. That falls by the wayside as we learn more about him, and Shane (McInerney, Oliver's newest protege, played by Kristin Booth) exposes his vulnerabilities. He addresses what will come to a head as this issue with his wife, and his belief that she’ll return one day. Shane challenges him on a daily basis with regard to his faith, and even though you can’t shake it, he’s learning how to justify it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Interview: Whoopi Goldberg on A Day Late and a Dollar Short

Academy Award-, Golden Globe-, Tony-, Grammy Award- and Emmy-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg chats it up daily with Barbara Walters, Sherri Shepherd and Jenny McCarthy on “The View.” And recently I had the chance to chat it up with this accomplished and multitalented woman about her latest project, Lifetime Television’s original movie “A Day Late and a Dollar Short,” based on the book by bestselling author Terry McMillan (of “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” fame). The movie, which also stars Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer, Anika Noni Rose and many more, premieres Saturday, April 19 at 8/7c. Whoopi plays matriarch Viola Price, a woman who learns that her next asthma attack likely will kill her, so she is determined to fix her fractured family before she leaves this world.

Whoopi told me they didn’t have to ask her twice to play the part of Viola, revealing: “The executive producer called me and said, ‘I have this property, and I would like you to do it.’ So I asked, ‘What is it?’ and he said, ‘It’s by Terry McMillan —’ and I said, ‘I’m in.’ He didn’t even need to tell me the name of the piece. Then I read it and I thought, ‘OK, this will be fun.’ And the caution in this tale is, ‘You’d better pay attention to your life, because you never know when it’s going to go away from you.’”

In Whoopi’s words, Viola is a bit of a “drama queen” who was a lot of fun to play: “She was fun. There were a lot of scenes where she should not have been so sassy, but she was. Oh, she was.”

For Whoopi, one of the film’s main through-lines is that when you find out you’re dying, like Viola does, you start to think about the things you haven’t had the chance to do. “There’s nothing like a time frame to make you get your crap together,” she told me. “And your dreams — everybody has dreams. Sometimes people get hardened because they don’t get to live their dream.”

While some of the movie’s subject matter may have been not so fun, the mood on the set was the opposite. And, according to Whoopi, the entire cast was a pleasure to work with. “Everyone was wonderful. You know, it’s like it was a party, the biggest party. When you have this opportunity, which you don’t get very often, you just have a good time. It was nice to spend some time with Mekhi Phifer because I love his work. It was about seeing old friends and making new ones.”

As for a cast reunion on “The View,” Whoopi is all for it, as are the producers of the hit daytime talk show. Whoopi told me: “We’re going to try to get the whole cast. This was something that ‘The View’ asked for, which I thought was kind of nifty. It’ll be a nice reunion.”

Aside from making another guest appearance on “Glee” this spring, Whoopi isn’t spending her downtime from “The View” being idle. She’s got lots of projects coming up, including feature films like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Big Stone Gap” and “Christmas Parole in August.” And, as she told me: “Hopefully I’ll get to do a horror movie this year. I’ve got a couple of things coming down the pike.”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Q and A: Week of April 7

Katherine Heigl
Q: I haven’t seen my favorite actress, Katherine Heigl, in a while. Will she be back on TV soon, or is she a full-fledged movie star now? — Penny T., via email

A: While Katherine is still a big-screen draw — she has four movies coming out within a year of each other — she hasn’t forgotten her small-screen roots. Katherine — who got her big break on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” — is set to return to series television to star in NBC’s “State of Affairs,” a drama about a CIA attache (Katherine) who advises the president on “high-stakes incidents around the world” while trying to manage her complicated personal life. The pilot has been shot, and things are looking good for a series pickup.

Speaking of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Isaiah Washington is set to return to the series as Dr. Preston Burke for an episode in May. The show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, told “The Wrap” that Isaiah’s character is vital to wrapping up the story of Sandra Oh’s character, Cristina Yang. Shonda revealed: “It's important to me that Cristinas journey unfolds exactly as it should. Burke is vital to that journey — he gives her story that full-circle moment we need to properly say goodbye to our beloved Cristina Yang.”

Q: Please tell me that the rumors of a Journey reunion with Steve Perry are true! — Samuel D., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

A: Not yet … but word is that they are closer than ever to working things out. In a recent interview, Steve said: “We're trying. It’s tough. I’m doing my best in that area, and I can only do so much. The older I get, the more I do realize how important what we all had together and how it worked. … I brought things out of them, and they certainly brought a lot of my vocal stuff out of me — just [lifting] each other to this place that you can’t get to alone. I think that’s probably the biggest chemistry thing I recognize now.”

And Journey’s founder, Neal Schon, wrote on his Facebook page recently: “I hope we can reach out to each other and connect once again. We had amazing chemistry together. I love him with all the love and admiration you could even have. Steve, let’s talk soon.” I have all of my fingers and toes crossed for a reunion!

Q: Can you tell me when “Falling Skies” will return? I can’t wait! — Jimmy F., via email

A: The fourth season of TNT’s hit series “Falling Skies,” which stars Noah Wylie and Will Patton, premieres Sunday, June 22 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The series is about life and survival in the wake of a catastrophic alien invasion. Before that at 9 p.m., check out the new action series “The Last Ship,” from executive producer Michael Bay and starring Eric Dane. The series is about a Navy vessel that may be humanity’s last hope in the wake of a worldwide catastrophe.

Q: With “Games of Thrones” returning for its fourth season this past Sunday, it got me wondering what Sean Bean is up to. Can you tell me what he’ll be in next? — Alicia W., via email

Sean Bean in TNT's Legends
A: Beginning in August, Sean stars in the new TNT action-thriller series called “Legends,” which is set to premiere Wednesday, Aug. 20, at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The story centers on Sean’s character, Martin Odum, who plays a deep-undercover FBI agent who may be losing his grip on reality. Martin has the ability to transform himself into a completely different person for each job, but he begins to question his own identity when a mysterious stranger suggests that Martin isn’t the man he believes himself to be. The series comes from “Homeland” executive producers Howard Gordon and Alexander Cary, and “Fringe” co-executive producer David Wilcox, and co-stars Ali Carter, Morris Chestnut, Amber Valletta, Steve Harris, and Tina Majorino.

Q: I was happy to read in your column that Kiss will be inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame tonight. Will they be touring to support their induction? — Gary T., Cleveland, Ohio

A: Kiss will indeed be embarking on a joint project this summer, co-headlining with hard-rock superstars Def Leppard in a 42-city summer stadium tour, which will run from June 23 to Aug. 31. Def Leppard’s lead singer, Joe Elliott, said that he and Kiss bassist, Gene Simmons, first discussed the idea of the two bands touring together when he and Gene played some South American dates two years ago as part of a rock-and-roll all-stars tour. It’s finally happened, which is fantastic, Joe said. Also, a dollar from each ticket sold on the tour will go to the Wounded Warrior Project and other military nonprofits. (Go to livenation.com for ticket info.)

Q: Starz canceled “Magic City” just as season two ended. What a disappointment. The show was never given much publicity, but it was wonderfully done. I love it and miss it so much, and so do my friends. Is there any chance of “Magic City” going to another cable network? — Dale P., Fort Worth, Texas

A: While I never say never (see “Scrubs” and “Cougar Town” for examples), there hasn’t been much talk about the series continuing. Set in 1959 in Miami shortly after the Cuban Revolution, “Magic City” centered on the story of Ike Evans, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who owned Miami’s most glamorous hotel, the Miramar Playa. I do have slightly good news for you, though: The entire 16-episode “Magic City” series will be released by Starz and Anchor Bay on Blu-ray and DVD on May 13, 2014.

Q: Can you tell me if “Unforgettable” will be back? — Tom V., The Villages, Fla.

A: The CBS drama series starring Poppy Montgomery as Carrie Wells, a woman with hyperthymesia — a rare medical condition that gives her the ability to visually remember everything — will return with a 13-episode third season beginning in June.

Interview: Marshall Hilliard Gets to the Hart of the Matter

Marshall Hilliard
If you’ve tuned in to “General Hospital,” “Days of Our Lives” or “The Young and the Restless” recently, then you’ve seen a familiar face carting people off to jail as Officer Marshall, Dylan and George, respectively. Marshall Hilliard — who’s probably best known as Hart Jessup No. 4 on “Guiding Light” — has been getting plenty of work on all of your favorite soaps these past few years as everyone’s favorite (or not favorite, if you’re the bad guy) police officer. And lately, he’s been making the prime-time rounds and hanging out with Beckett, Castle, Esposito and Ryan down at the station on “Castle.” I caught up with Marshall recently, and we spoke about his time on “Guiding Light,” his present-day gigs and the friendship he’s formed with his Hart predecessor, Leonard Stabb.

Celebrity Extra: How did you get your start in acting? Was it something that you had always wanted to do?

Marshall Hilliard: I realize now that I’ve always wanted to be an actor, because I used to play — you know, when kids play, they normally play what they want to do, and we would always do acting. We’d do plays and stuff in the tree house, and we’d create dramatic events. I knew I wanted to be an actor at that point. At 19 I moved to New York and lived there for almost a year. I did some off-Broadway theater, got signed with Elite and modeled. And then they sent me to Chicago from ’87 to ’88. And then in January ’88, I moved to L.A., and that’s where everything started happening. So, I went from Elite New York to Elite Chicago, and then I came out here and I just started acting.

I was a co-host on Fox Television’s “Malibu Beach Party.” I did a couple of movies for USA Network, but soaps are where I’ve always wanted to be. And I know that sounds weird, but I used to watch “Guiding Light.” I used to watch “The Young and the Restless,” and I used to envision myself being a soap-opera actor. I know that sounds strange, because most people see themselves as a big, huge movie star. But I think I knew where I wanted to be.

Marshall as Hart
CE: What led up to your getting the role of Hart Jessup?

MH: It’s ironic how I got the part in the first place: I campaigned for it myself. I don’t know if you knew that. They were screen-testing guys, so I kept trying to squeeze in for an audition. Betty Rea, the casting director at the time, evidently didn’t see what I thought I had. So I called up production, and I said, “I heard you guys have screen-tested four or five groups already, and you haven’t found anybody you want.” And he said, “It’s true.” And I said: “Will you please fax me the script? I’ll memorize it tonight, and I’ll get my friend to film me, and I’ll overnight it to you for tomorrow morning. Will that be OK?” And they said, “Sure.” So (casting director) Melanie Haseltine is watching my video, and the head writer walks by and says, “Let’s bring this to (producer) Michael Laibson.” So they brought the VHS to Michael, and he said, “Let’s screen-test the guy.” So, that’s how I got it. I negotiated the contract myself.

CE: For me, the heyday of “Guiding Light” was during the late ’80s and into the ’90s — what was it like being on the show during that time?

MH: Yeah, and I would say the heyday for all soaps was when Luke and Laura got married on “General Hospital.” About 30 million people watched that. It’s pretty crazy. But I think in the soaps in the ’90s, they were trying to make them a little more like prime time, which was nice. I really loved “Guiding Light.” I thought it was great. Being on the show in ’95 and ’96 was like a dream. It was really more than a dream; it was more than I could ask for.

Hart and Dina
CE: For me, one of the best things about working on “Guiding Light” when you did would have to be getting the chance to work with the late, great Michael Zaslow. Tell me what it was like playing his son.

MH: Working with Michael was probably like how it would be to work with Drew Brees or Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, because you knew he was going to be prepared. You knew that you had to be prepared. So, therefore, you’re going to have a great father/son scene. What I liked about him was his professionalism and his ability to really, really find this relationship at the priority of what he’d been waiting for for well over two years. He dug into it from day one. He was the captain, and he made sure the ship was going to run smoothly.

CE: When you look back on your time there, what are some of your favorite story lines?

MH: Let’s see. I really only had a couple of story lines, which were finding out that Peter was my son with Bridget, having a relationship with my dad’s wife, and the third story line — which they pulled me out in the middle of — was gas-lighting Roger. I wasn’t crazy about that, because, in my opinion, knowing who Roger Thorpe was, it would be really hard to outsmart that guy. I wasn’t crazy about that. I’m not a writer, so I don’t give opinions on that. But my favorite story line was finding out that I had a son and my relationship with Peter. That was my favorite hands-down. That’s what I would rather do than seduce my father’s wife. I’d rather do that than gas-light my dad. I would rather just stick with really true, wonderful, loving nonvindictive stories.

CE: That was the time when Hart started becoming pretty bad, almost evil.

MH: That was another problem I had. It was like, Hart’s a good guy. How evil is he going to become? How bad is he going to become? That’s what I always wanted to know. And I didn’t like that. I didn’t want it, to be honest with you. I wanted Hart to be a good father. I wanted him to do the right thing. But they wanted him darker, and I wanted him nicer. Of course, what the fans want is more important than what I want or what the writers and producers want.

The arresting Officer Hilliard
CE: You’ve been hopping around different shows lately, playing a cop on “General Hospital,” “Days of Our Lives,”  “The Young and the Restless” and now “Castle.” What’s that been like?

MH: Oh, I love it. It’s funny because I’ve arrested somebody in Salem, I’ve arrested somebody in Genoa City, and I’ve arrested somebody in Port Charles. You can’t outrun my long arm of the law.

CE: I started watching “Guiding Light” in the early ’80s, and I just had the biggest crush on Leonard Stabb and had always wondered how he’s been doing since his hang-gliding accident back in the early ’90s. (For more on Leonard's tragic accident, read this.)

MH: I know. I’m straight, and I’ll say it: He’s a good-looking dude. I look back and I’m like, “Holy crap. Just look at this dude.” I’ve been watching some of his episodes, and he had that cool and brooding thing down really good.

Leonard Stabb (circa 1990)
CE: Back when he got hurt, we didn’t have the Internet giving us constant updates on his condition, so we just did not know what was going on when he had his accident. We had to wait weeks or months for Soap Opera Digest to give us a little blip of any kind of news.

MH: Yeah, and now we would know within a matter of seconds.

CE: Tell me about how you met Leonard and why you decided to help raise money for his ongoing medical care.

MH: When I got “Guiding Light,” I could never think about Hart without thinking of Leonard. Every time since when I would think about “Guiding Light,” I’d wonder how Leonard was doing. Every day I think about him. In April 2012, I met my now-publicist Mike Iannarelli, and the first thing he wanted to know was how Leonard was doing.

I told him I didn’t know, and he said that he knew Leonard was out in California. We decided to do some investigating. I called telephone operators for different area codes across California. On the last area code I was going to try, I asked if they had any Leonard Stabbs, and they told me they had 100. So I asked about a Leonard Stabb Jr., and they had one. Boom! That was it. So, I called his grandfather, his grandfather gave me the number, and I talked to Judy (his caretaker). I explained who I was and what I wanted to do, that I wanted to help raise money for Leonard. 

Marshall (left) and Leonard (center) celebrate
the California Tide's victory, 2012.
So she asked if she could come to a football game — I play for a triple-A football team, the California Tide — and that Leonard wanted to see me play. So they came out, and we won 56-12. It’s just laughable how good we were that day. We brought him out onto the field and made him an honorary California Tide member.
When you’re in a hang-gliding accident, and your head hits a tree — wow. To be quite honest with you, we’re really lucky just to have him here with us and alive and healthy. And most important, he’s happy. You should see the smile on his face when he’s with my football team.

CE: So if people want to know more about Leonard and how they can help, where should they go?

Len Stabb with college friends, circa 1982 (picture courtesy Lynette Britt)
MH: The first thing to do is to like my Facebook fan page, www.facebook.com/pages/Marshall-Hilliard/371768209542181. That’s where I’ll have info on auctions, how you can bid, how you can donate — everything you need to help. We’re in the beginning stages now, but I hope to have more stuff ready soon, like auctions for soap memorabilia, signed head shots, and the like. And everything we make will go straight to the medical expenses and daily care of Len. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Q and A: Week of March 24

Q: Do you have any news on the reincarnation of NBC’s “Heroes”? — Daniel G., Birmingham, Ala.

A: NBC has confirmed that it will air a 13-episode “miniseries event” of the show, which is called “Heroes Reborn,” to air in 2015. It is being billed as a stand-alone series, and there is no word yet on which, if any, characters from the original series will be resurrected for the new series. According to the show’s website: “NBC will launch a digital series prior to the 2015 premiere that will introduce the characters and new storylines. This leveraging of social media is a way for fans to re-engage with what was one [of] the true pioneers in multiplatform storytelling.”

Q: What are Michael J. Fox’s plans now that his sitcom has been canceled? — Kathy I., via email

A: Michael will return later this season to “The Good Wife” as Louis Canning for a multi-episode, season-ending story arc. As for “The Michael J. Fox Show,” a representative at NBC says that the network will air the remaining episodes at some point this season. Also pulled from NBC’s Thursday night lineup, freshman comedy “Sean Saves the World,” starring “Will and Grace” favorite, Sean Hayes.

Q: One of my favorite shows is TNT’s “Cold Justice.” Can you tell me if there will be a third season? — Justin R., via email

A: Unless something incredibly crazy happens between now and renewal time, “Cold Justice” is a shoo-in for a season-three pickup. The network recently announced that the show’s second season, which is currently airing, has been extended by six episodes to air this summer.

“Cold Justice,” which airs on Fridays at 8 p.m. (ET/PT), follows former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and former crime-scene investigator Yolanda McClary as they dig into murder cases that have gone unsolved for years. Working with local law enforcement, Kelly and Yolanda help bring about real results in real time for the police, investigators, district attorneys and families who have worked tirelessly on these cold cases for years.

Q: Can you tell me what happened to Golden Boy? I never saw a finale episode for it. Is it gone for good? — Diane B., via email

A: “Golden Boy” — which aired on CBS for one season — followed the meteoric rise of Walter Clark, an ambitious cop who became the youngest police commissioner in New York City’s history. The show starred Theo James, Chi McBride, Kevin Alejandro and Bonnie Somerville, and was received to very positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. However, the show fell victim to the old “mediocre ratings” syndrome, and was canceled after its freshman season.

Q: I was glad to read in your column that “Game of Thrones” is returning to HBO on April 6. Does that mean season 3 will be out on DVD soon? — Doug C., via email

A: Season three of the adventure-fantasy series was released on DVD on Feb. 18. So now you can now catch up on what you’ve been missing, just in time for season four. But keep all spoilers, including The Rains of Castamere — aka “The Red Wedding” — close to the vest.

Interview: Jon Lindstrom's Passion for Mystery

Jon Lindstrom — best known to his fans as Dr. Kevin Collins on “General Hospital,” and who’s also been on “NCIS,” “Drop Dead Diva” and “Blue Bloods” — has been playing hooky. Not only did he wed longtime love Cady McClain in a hush-hush courthouse ceremony this past Valentine’s Day, but he also co-wrote, directed, co-produced and co-stars in “How We Got Away With It” — an indie mystery/thriller that has been taking the film-festival circuit by storm in recent months. Available now via your cable provider’s VOD (video on demand), distribution opens wider on May 13 to cover the digital markets, like iTunes, and will have select showings in L.A. beginning May 16. I spoke with Jon recently, and he told me all about the movie … well, as much as he could without giving away anything important.

Celebrity Extra: Tell me about “How We Got Away With It.”

Jon Lindstrom: It’s a mystery thriller about a young man and his friends who react very violently to an unexpected tragedy during their annual weekend reunion. They are all coming into their early 30s, with a sense that some are getting a little dissatisfied, thinking that maybe these kinds of reunions are for people younger than them. You have a sense that they are about to blow apart anyway, or at least just away from each other. And then this terrible thing happens and other things start to come up. You find out that the tragedy is a result of something else.

CE: I know how hard it is to get a film put together, financed and distributed. How did you make this happen?

JL: I met the guy who ended up playing the lead role, McCaleb Burnett, at a wedding of mutual friends of ours in Las Vegas, of all places. And we were both living in Los Angeles at the time. He knew that I had written a movie that had been made a couple of years earlier called “The Hard Easy.” That was made with Bruce Dern and Vera Farmiga and Peter Weller. It was a wonderful cast. So, I guess he just kind of presumed that I knew what I was doing. I don’t — really, nobody does. But I had a fairly good idea of what makes a good movie.

He came to me with a screenplay that he and the fellow that plays the other lead, Jeff Barry, had written together. I liked it, but I felt that there was a better opportunity for a more highly structured kind of mystery noir, which is really a reflection of my own sensibility. It gave us a chance to talk about subjects that were important to all of us, such as what secrets can do to people. So, I got involved, and McCaleb and I did a rewrite. I’m a big fan of the European crime films from the ’60s and ’70s, and I felt we had a good opportunity to play with that creatively.

CE: Because of time and budget constraints of producing your own feature film, I’ll bet your background in daytime helped in that regard, since you’re used to knowing what you want and working quickly to get it.

JL: It did. There’s no way that my time in daytime couldn’t inform my work discipline. I’m really thankful for it now. I did do some directing in daytime. I certainly learned how to move fast as an actor in daytime. One of the reasons why that helps you, at least as an actor, is you develop a pretty strong sense of when you’ve got what you’re looking for. You know when to say: “OK, that’s great. Let’s reset at the top and do another take,” or “We’ve got it. Let’s move on.” I surprised myself in that I have a pretty finely tuned sense of that now.

The other thing I was able to draw from was that I direct short films. I’ve made several of them, and I’ve done a lot of my friends’ acting demo reels and things. Filmmaking has been in my life for some time. With a short film, you usually do it out of your own pocket, and you’ve got maybe one day to shoot it. I’ve been able to draw upon that as well, which helps a lot. I wouldn’t recommend anybody going into this untested. Practice. Do something before you go out and do it.

CE: The setting for this movie is really gorgeous. You filmed in Rochester, N.Y., correct? Tell me about the shoot.

JL: Yes, we filmed in Rochester. Jeff Barry (one of the stars of the film) is from Rochester; we got a lot of free things from his family. His father is a restaurateur, so that is how we were able to get two restaurant locations and feed the crew at cost. Jeff’s grandfather also owns a cabin outside of town. Since the film is a reunion where everybody stays in a big house, I was able to put all the actors into this cabin, and they could stay there for the three weeks or so that we were on location. They all got to know each other and learn how to play that way, and get on each other’s nerves and all those things that happen.

In the case of the two leading men, who kind of operate separately from the rest of the ensemble, I had them sleep in the big house that we shot in. They were always kind of separated from the main group. I think it worked very well.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Interview: Mark Steines' Perfect App for Your Life

For 17 years, families all over America invited Mark Steines into their homes each evening as he hosted “Entertainment Tonight.” Mark was our go-to guy for all things celebrity, and we trusted him for his down-to-earth personality, boy-next-door good looks and an intelligence that was evident among all the celebrity news and gossip.

Now we get to see Mark in an environment that suits him for his — and his fans’ — changing life. Since October 2012, Mark has co-hosted, along with Cristina Ferrare, the Hallmark Channel’s hit daytime talk show “Home and Family.” I spoke with Mark recently, and he told me all about his new job at Hallmark, which, he says, truly is like family.

Celebrity Extra: You were a mainstay on “Entertainment Tonight” for 17 years; what made you decide to leave?

Mark Steines: I think it had to do with a variety of things, but mostly it was personal. Just to spend time with my family — my kids were growing, and I was gone so much on the road several times a week. I have over 3 million miles just on American Airlines alone. And when I was present, I was either tired or recuperating from things. Almost every vacation I took I was called away from early or was delayed taking off because of something that I felt was consequential. The older I got I went, “Really? My family is much more important to me than some of these things.”

But pop culture has to thrive, and you have to continue to stay on top of it. It’s ever-changing. And with TMZ and the Internet — I don’t want to give all the credit to TMZ, but they really came in and made a big splash with their website — things were breaking constantly. Trying to keep up with them and ahead of them doing a show every night at 7 or 7:30 — they’re breaking news around the clock on their website — was hard.

CE: What’s a big difference between working on “ET” versus “Home and Family”?

MS: The big difference is I used to have to go to the stars, now they come to me. And our show isn’t really “star” based in that regard. Typically when they come on, we try to unmask that celebrity, and we take them into the kitchen with us or we’ll do a DIY project with them. We’ll build something. We’ll make something. We’ll do a catch-water system. We’ll talk about gardening, if they are into that. What I always really wanted to do with celebrities is to see the other side of them. What really makes them tick? That’s what I like about this show. Plus I don’t have to go anywhere. Granted, it’s about an hour commute for me every day each way. So, that’s a pain in the butt, but it’s a lot better than having to go to LAX, sit at the terminal and wait for my plane.

CE: Was it difficult to adjust to your new work schedule and pace?

MS: It took a while for me to do a couple of things: With “ET,” the style of hosting — and this is an editorial on my part — it’s very sort of superficial, high energy, almost yelling, trying to make it look like you’re not. Just really ramped up. With “Home and Family,” I had to shed that skin, and know that taking the beats and letting them play was enough. We have a two-hour show. We have a lot of real estate to cover.

And the other thing was with “ET” it was very hard to show personality because there just wasn’t time for it. You could find a couple of moments here and there maybe, but it was just so edited. So, here, when it came time to really be me, I didn’t know which end was up. I thought, “Well, do I say that? Should I say that? We don’t have time for that. Does anybody really care about my opinion or my insights or my thoughts on this and how I feel about it?” But I learned to talk a little bit more and share a little bit more of my personal life on camera. It was tough at first. Cristina, my co-host, is very good at that. So, that part was quite a transition.

Mark and Cristina at "Home"

CE: What are some of the things you really like about hosting “Home and Family”?

MS: There are so many, but I think what I enjoy most about the show is when people come on, there’s the same reaction — it doesn’t matter if they are a big celebrity or a doctor who’s come on to talk — they comment about how different this show feels from any other that they’ve been on. And it’s because we are in a real house. This isn’t a fake set with flaps and you think: “Oh, I see. That’s where the host goes, behind that flap.” This is a real house with real, working appliances, bathrooms, everything. It disarms people, because we don’t have high-end furniture, and it’s flatly lit. So, you come on and you feel like you’re just hanging at somebody’s house. Our guests become very comfortable very quickly.

Some people, when their segment is up, they don’t want to leave. We had singer Edwin McCain on the show, and it turned out that he and his wife had adopted a baby, and we were doing a segment with this doctor about swaddling babies. He was like, “Can I be in that? I’ve always wanted to know, because I have my little one, and I’m trying to learn to do this, and I’m not quite getting it right.” It was a very organic thing that happened, and people enjoy that.

CE: I love seeing celebrities just doing normal things like that: learning to swaddle, to garden, to cook.

MS: Yeah, people come on our show, and they’ll get a chance to go in the kitchen, if we are doing cooking, or are working on a grill. They share with us the things that they are into, and we try to incorporate that into the show. That is what I really like about it. There’s no other show like it on television, and that’s what made me want to be a part of it. This is something that I want to do. It’s home and it’s family. And that’s what I’m into.

This weekend at the Television Critics Association’s press tour, Cristina and I were reflecting on our show, and I said, “You know, you can’t have a home and a family, and not really be a family in a home and make it work.” The same thing is, you can’t fake two hours a day — pretend to be somebody you’re not two hours a day, five days a week. Over a period of time, the real jerk will come out if that is who you are. So, you have to be who you are and just trust that the audience is going to like it. You have to be authentic. And our viewers, I think, get a good dose of that.

CE: It sounds like you all really have become a family on the show.

MS: I worked with “ET” for 17 years, and I was never this close to people there; it’s just such a big operation, and you feel like you get lost in it. This is a small show with a big heart. And Hallmark believes in us. We’re the cornerstone of their daytime programming, and I love it. I watched the Golden Globes, and I was thinking that I just didn’t miss it at all. The red carpet is one of the worst assignments, in my opinion, that you can get because there’s so much pressure to get something, and you typically fall flat.

CE: What can we expect from “Home and Family” to come?

MS: We typically look at the different seasons like everybody. We want to live our lives, and we teach you how to live your life better. So, as we go through the different seasons — right now we are heading out of the holiday season, and we’re moving into Valentine’s Day and the Super Bowl stuff. I know we are going to have relationship experts on. I always find those segments fascinating, because we talk about body language, sleep positions that people are in. What does it say about your relationship?

We’re also moving into spring, so I know we’ll start doing more and more stuff with Shirley Bovshow, our gardening expert. How to take care of a good lawn to moving more outdoors, so we’ll have that sort of thing. And then we’ll move into cooking and barbecuing. I’m sure we’ll start moving into that direction once things start thawing out. Our show is the perfect app for your life.

Speaking of guests, I have to tell you about this. We had “The Amazing Kreskin,” the world-famous mentalist, on the show recently. That guy blew me away. I have no idea how he did his stuff. It was ridiculous. He put a locked container in our house and told us, “I’ll be back here next year, and we’ll open it.” He predicted what was going to happen in 2014 and wrote it down, and he put it inside the container. So, I think that’s a good sign because that means we’ll get picked up for season three if he knows he’s coming back next year.