While Kellie Martin might be best known for her roles on "Life Goes On" and "ER," it is rare that fans get to see her in a lighthearted romantic comedy. Well, we will all get that chance tomorrow night when Kellie's original Hallmark Channel movie, "Smooch" premieres at 9/8c. I caught up with Kellie recently to talk about her role in her latest movie.
Celebrity Extra: What were some factors that drew you to this movie, and to the character of Gwen specifically?
Kellie Martin: I really don’t get to do too many romantic comedies, and I love romantic comedies. I feel that this script is as good as the (end-product) film. It really carried through. I just thought it was a little piece of candy when I read it. It made me laugh, it made me tear up a little bit. And I liked that Gwen had some very funny stuff to do. I don’t often get to do funny stuff, I’m just usually having to cry. So it was a nice opportunity for me to do a little comedy.
I just loved the relationship between Gwen and Zoe. I have a 4-year-old daughter, and it was so easy to slip into that role because I think I have a similar relationship with my daughter. Very, very close. Very good friends. And I also just liked the idea of getting to fall in love. I’ve been married almost 12 years now, so it’s kind of fun to pretend to fall in love.
CE: Are there ways that you and Gwen are similar, ways that you can empathize with her?
KM: I think we both push ourselves very hard. Gwen, having lost her husband, is trying to be the mom and the dad to her daughter. She’s the breadwinner, and I think she has a lot of guilt about not having to spend enough time with her daughter. I’m exactly the same way. I push myself much harder than I should. I often catch myself and go, "Wait a minute — try to appreciate these moments.” And I was away shooting this. I was away for almost a month. I came home twice to see my daughter. But I had a lot of guilt of being away from my daughter. So, it was very easy to relate Gwen. And to lose your soulmate so young too, I had such empathy for her. It was really easy to love her as a character before I started playing her.
CE: I think it’s good for your fans to see you in a new type of role. Because I don’t think we’ve gotten to see you that way. And being a mom in real life, was it fun to get to play that type of role?
KM: It was really fun because I am a mom now, and I find that I always put so much of myself into the parts I play. And I like being able to bring that part of me to it. Because I love being a mom, it certainly opened up a lot of new emotional passageways that didn’t exist before for me. I really feel like I appreciate life’s little moments so much more now that I’m a mother, and I don’t rush through things as quickly. And I think I bring that to my work now.
Also, playing Kiernan's (Shipka, who plays daughter Zoe) mom was the easiest thing in the world. She reminds me so much of my daughter, and I’m a huge fan of hers. I love watching her on "Mad Men." I got to be her mom for a whole month, and it was great.
CE: She is just excellent in this movie. I wouldn't even call her a "child actor" — she is an actor!
KM: Yeah, she’s an old soul. I’ve worked with some child actors, and you know the ones who are going to do really well, and she’s already done really well. But you know the ones who are going to last, because they are old souls, they take it in stride and they are not too impressed with themselves — and they have a really good Mom. Her mom is fantastic. Kiernan will be doing this until she’s 80, and she’ll be really, really good at it.
CE: Another thing I really liked is it was a really sweet throwback to movies from when you and I were little: the fairy tales with knights and princesses. Were you attracted to the sweetness and the innocence of this movie?
KM: Definitely, and one of my daughters favorite movies right now is the “Princess and the Frog.” So when I read the script I was like, “Oh my God!” First of all my kid is actually going to be able to watch this. Which is very exciting to me because I don’t usually get to show Maggie the things I do. And I get to play a Princess in the beginning (during a fantasy sequence), which was so cool. She gets to tell all her friends that her mom is a princess.
It was just really fun to play that little bit of whimsy and romance, and it made it fun to shoot. There was just no angst. It was really lighthearted, and it’s not always like that. I’m usually playing someone who’s had something horrible happen to her. And granted, Gwen has had something horrible happen to her, but it happened a few years ago and she’s moved on with her life. I just had a blast doing it.
CE: As a Mom you must really appreciate the family fare that the Hallmark Channel constantly churns out.
KM: I do appreciate that. But I’m always shocked at what does scare my daughter. The witch at the beginning of the movie who turns the knight into a frog — she found that witch terrifying!! She ran out of the room screaming, and I was like, “Oh my gosh. That’s scary?” So you never know what they are going to be scared about.
But it’s true, the Hallmark Channel does programming for everybody. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how young you are, you can pretty much watch anything on the channel, which is really, really nice. Even with the radio, I constantly find myself diving for the dial to turn it off because they’ve used an inappropriate word in a song. And she’s 4, so she picks up everything. She does not miss a thing right now.
CE: Being a graduate of Yale, so you must be thrilled that this film really promotes reading. I was like, “Yay! A child reading on TV!”
KM: You’re absolutely right. She’s reading. She’s not playing a video game. She’s not plugged into something. I totally love that. When I was Kiernan's age, I went through a Nancy Drew book a day. I hung out in my room and I ready my Nancy Drew. In the same way she’s obsessed with the Frog Prince, I was obsessed with Nancy Drew. And I feel like I don’t want to lose that. Parents need to make a choice when kids are little, that they are not going to let them plug into something — to the iPad or to a video game — I really feel it is so important that they go back to books. It forms the rest of their life. I am a lifelong lover of books.
Nothing against the iPad; I think all this technology is awesome, and it's making our world a pretty interesting place to live in. There is so much knowledge at our fingertips for research. That’s great. But to teach kids that books are important, that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
CE: How was Simon Kassianides to work with?
KM: He’s awesome! He’s from London and has done a ton of stage, so I feel that he brings a whole different aspect to it than I do, because I’ve just done television my whole life. I feel like I learned a lot from him. He really kept me on my toes as an actor. And he was just so willing to go there. He took risks, which was just so fun to work with. And he was very, very easy to fall in love with.
CE: I could tell he had done stage work especially how he works with props — twirling the umbrella and flipping the hat on his head …
KM: I’m so glad that they hired someone like Simon to do this part, because so often in these movies they just get “namey” people — you know, people whose names you’ve seen before or someone who was on your favorite old series. But Simon has done a bunch of features, but he’s not someone who people in America have been really exposed to. I love that they cast him in this. The guy that cast this is actually John Jackson, who cast all of Alexander Payne's ("Sideways") movies. We had the most amazing casting director.
CE: In your own words, what is the central message of the movie?
KM: I think for me the overall message is that you should always allow yourself to wait for the unexpected. Be ready for anything unexpected to come your way, because you never know what life is going to bring you, and you should keep an open heart.