Lori Loughlin – When Calls the Heartfelt Role
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
Lori Loughlin stars in the Hallmark Channel series When Calls the Heart.
When Calls the Heartfelt Role
by Jay S. Jacobs
It’s not easy to find nice, wholesome family friendly fare in such a cynical age.
That was why Lori Loughlin signed on the dotted line to be a part of the new Hallmark Channel series When Calls the Heart, based on the popular books by Janette Oke about a big-city school teacher taking a job in a small mining community in the Canadian west of the early 1900s. That teacher, Elizabeth Thatcher (played by Erin Krakow) has to get used to the hard lifestyles of the frontier town.
Much of her introduction to the genteel ways of the old west is provided by Loughlin’s character of Abigail Stanton. Abigail, like many of the other women of the town, was recently left a widow due to a mining collapse. Now she must learn to survive and raise her children on her own.
The series is helmed by Michael Landon, Jr., which makes sense because it is rather reminiscent of his dad’s previous shows Little House on the Prairie and Bonanza. The show is also similar to the 70s hit The Waltons, so it is a sad coincidence that this interview took place on the same day as the death of the father from that series, Ralph Waite.
Loughlin has had a long and varied career, starting as a teen in the soap opera The Edge of Night. Soon she was playing lead roles in several popular me-generation hits including Secret Admirer (with C. Thomas Howell and Kelly Preston), Back to the Beach (as the daughter of a grown up Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon) and the motocross drama Rad.
Soon after that, Loughlin joined the cast of the hit TGIF sitcom Full House, with Bob Saget and John Stamos. (Stamos recently started a buzz referring to Loughlin as the woman who got away in his life.)
In the time since Full House left the air, Loughlin has juggled acting and motherhood, appearing in such diverse series as Seinfeld, Spin City, The Drew Carey Show, Ghost Whisperer, 90210, Psych and The Larry Sanders Show.
We recently took part in a conference call with Loughlin and a few other media outlets to discuss her new series and her career.
When you’re filming the show you immerse yourself so much in the lifestyle of the old west. If you were living back then what do you think you’d miss the most? And what do you think you’d miss the least?
I really would miss my washer and dryer. Hah! And my dishwasher. (laughs) We had to do a scene where we were washing the clothing. Michael Landon, Jr. was directing that episode and he really had me scrubbing. He’s like, “No, you have to scrub like they did years ago.” My hands were raw by the end of the afternoon. I’d miss just the simple things, like my washer and dryer.
Michael’s dad was obviously sort of synonymous with this type of family-friendly old west programming. What is it like working with Michael Jr.?
Michael Landon, Jr. is an absolute dream to work with. I can’t say enough nice things about the guy. He’s extremely talented. He’s very, very kind. He’s a great director, great with actors. Kind to the crew. Very soft–spoken. Loves to laugh. Loves to be funny on set and have laughs during the day. He’s fantastic.
I still remember first seeing you in a great old film comedy called Secret Admirer, which I was shocked to find while researching these questions that it is almost 30 years old.
Really? Is it really? (laughs) Wow.
Yeah. It came out in 1985. When you first got started in acting, did you ever imagine you’d still be working all these years later?
You know, I tend to live my life one day at a time. But I really am very blessed and thankful that I’ve been able to work all these years. I know that I am fortunate and I am among a small percentage. For me, I feel like I wasn’t trained to do anything else. I had nothing else to fall back on, so I had to make it work for myself. Thankfully I’ve been able to.
Your character Abigail, is she going to have a bit of a Norma Rae type moment with the mine? A rabble rouser as far as the safety of the women that are working in the mine? And I’m wondering if your character too will find love this season.
I think towards the end of the season there is potential for a love interest for Abigail. As far as the Norma Rae component, the going and working in the mine was one specific episode. After that episode was over, once they achieved their goal, which was to save their homes, they took us out of the mine. So I think it’s more about women coming together and community and helping each other. For me, what I like about Abigail is she is now on her own. She has to be independent. She doesn’t have a man to rely on. I really like that. She does open her own business halfway through the season to take care of herself and support herself. She definitely goes up against the character of Gowen, Martin Cummins’ character. He’s the guy that runs the company that basically, for lack of a better word, owns the town. He funds the town and the miners and pays the miners. She definitely stands up to him when nobody else in the town will do that. She’s afraid, but not enough where she won’t stand up for what she believes in.
Right. Just a touch of Norma.
Okay. A touch of Norma. (laughs)
I’d think it’s been very moving for all of you to inhabit these characters who’ve endured so much. Can you talk a little about what you’ve learned and how it’s affected you?
Well, I think what I’ve learned – and what I think I’ve always known in my own life – is that in life, we need other people. It’s hard to go it alone. It takes a village and you need a support system. What I love about When Calls the Heart is even though it’s set in 1910, it feels contemporary to me in the sense that these women really need each other. They rely on each other. Together they forge ahead and they triumph. I think that’s really indicative of society today. It’s interesting because I see we can be so isolated nowadays because of the computer and the phone. You see everyone looking down at their phone. But I do think that we really do need each other. I know for me, in my life with my friends, they’re very important to me. When times get tough, of course I rely on my husband but I really do rely on my girlfriends. That’s what I like about When Calls the Heart. It’s these women in this community that are coming together to make a better life for themselves and for their kids.
When you filmed the movie of When Comes the Heart did you know that it was going to be a series? Or did you just think you were doing a one–time shot?
Well, they told me because I actually came on just to do the very last scene of the actual movie. When the producers approached me they said, this is a potential backdoor pilot. So if it does goes to series, we'd like you to be a part of the series. So we would love to have you be in one scene at the very end, which sets up the character of Elizabeth coming to town to Cold Valley. So that’s how I ended up [in it]. Then through other circumstances the movie became very different from the series and they did a lot of re–casting. They re–casted two leads and it just shifted and it changed. But I did know that they were potentially trying to do it as a backdoor pilot for a series.
Perfect. Would you be interested in doing season two if that does come about?
Do your girls watch the show considering that it's such family–friendly series? Or are they like, "We don't want to watch mom on TV?"
No, no, no. They actually like the show. That's one of the things I like about the show is that they can watch it. Every family member can watch it. I think that a lot of the major networks and a lot of the cable stations, while there's great programs on television, not [much] scripted television is not geared for family viewing as much as it used to be.
Are you working on any other projects right now? Any new movies coming out? Anything else you have due?
Well I did another project for the Hallmark Channel called Garage Sale Mystery, which reminded me a lot of Murder She Wrote. It did very well. It's already aired. It did very well. So we're talking about potentially doing some more of those. Having that be not a series, but an ongoing series of movies.
Were you familiar with the books by Janette Oke from which the show is based?
I actually was not, but I had the pleasure of meeting Janette Oke. She came to set to visit us a few months back. I had dinner with her. She's a lovely, lovely woman. She's very funny, because she's so popular and these books are so popular. She made a comment [that] she's been trying to retire for years but they just won't let her. (laughs) But, yeah, I know she has a huge, huge following and the books have a huge following.
Can you talk about any of the challenging scenes perhaps that have been filmed so far?
We have one coming up this Saturday night, which is the birth of a baby. I am instrumental in delivering the child. Those are scenes are tricky to film because you want to be true, but you can't be too graphic. It's finding the balance of how to shoot that and make that scene as realistic as possible... again, within the confines of television.
By contrast are there any funny, behind-the-scenes stories that you might want to share with us today?
Funny behind-the-scenes stories? Gosh. I mean I can say that we always have fun all day long on the set. I can't think of anything off the top of my head. I'm so sorry. I can tell you that it's a joyous place to work. We laugh a lot. We have a good time, but I can't think of one thing. [It] doesn’t pop into my head.
What would you change about Abigail?
What I'd change about Abigail? Maybe, maybe, a nicer hairdo. (laughs) She's pretty simple right now. Towards the end [of the season] we start to evolve a little bit. I'd like her to a have a little... well we start going for just a softer look towards the end of the season. But other than that, I really love the character. And she's just being developed. I really like the direction that they're taking her. I like her strength. I can't think of anything I really would change about her.
You've worked on network series in the past and now on cable, how is working on a cable series different than network? And why do you think that many of the truly imaginative shows have been shifting to cable from the more traditional network model?
Well, I can't speak for cable across the board. I mean, I think I can answer the question why I think actors are gravitating towards cable. I think actually whether it's network or it's cable, I think it comes down to the writing. You definitely have more freedom on cable but I think it comes down to the writing and the project. There are a lot of good projects on cable. Just as there are a lot of good projects on network television. What I can say, what I can speak to, is working for the people at Hallmark. I can tell you that they are really some of the nicest people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. They're very much in contact with you. You really have a relationship with them. In the past while I've always definitely been on friendly terms or everyone is very nice at the different networks, I've never... I'm able to call Bill Abbott, the President of Hallmark, at the drop of a hat and he picks up the phone. He gives me his cell phone number. I have his direct e–mail. I have access to them and to all of the executives at Hallmark in a very different way. I have a relationship that feels more like a family than I've ever had before.
Like you said, the show is definitely more family–oriented than most on television. Why do you think there aren't more shows out there that you can sit down with your kids and watch?
You know, somewhere along the line something shifted. I'm not sure why, but somewhere somebody deemed that family programming wasn't popular. Everyone seemed to shift and walk away from it, which I find funny because years ago family programming was huge. Now I realize that you didn't have as many outlets. You didn't have all the cable stations. But I know for me as a child, when I was growing up, we didn't have a lot of money. Television was a big part of entertainment for us and how we viewed entertainment. We would sit down as a family. Loved those, Fantasy Island, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, The Brady Bunch, Partridge Family. I mean, I could go on and on. TV shows that we could watch together. I don't know how or why that shifted. I have to believe in my heart our country is made up of a lot of families. I have to believe that people want to watch television with their families. It's one of the reasons I think American Idol and The Voice and Dancing With The Stars are [popular]. Besides being very good reality shows and great shows and great competition shows, I think they're shows that you can watch with your family. But as far as scripted television, you're right, there's not that many out there for families anymore and I don't know why. I know Disney has carved out this whole niche for kids, but I don't think a lot of adults want to sit down and necessarily watch The Disney Channel. So it's trying to find the balance for everybody, which many years ago that was done very successfully.
Now how has the series sort of made you appreciate the hardships of mine working and frontier life?
Well the truth is we only did one episode where we were working in the mine even though we're set in a coal mining town. But you just realize – we try to be as authentic as we can. Even our lighting. Like, yeah, they bring in lights but you know a lot of the time as much as they can do like candle light and shoot that way, they try to. The funniest thing is the wall sconces with the candles in them. I can't tell you, countless times that we've all banged into them, hit our heads, knocked them down. So we have a lot of open flame on set because of that – so you know working in that kind of environment, which is great but you realize wow, electricity was a great thing. Then just the fact that you don't even have a washer and dryer. You know we've done scenes where we're outside doing the laundry and you realize, wow, what a great luxury to have a washer and dryer. (laughs) Or a dishwasher.
And also back on the family friendly things, there's a bunch of Full House reunions and buzz lately. How exciting is it for to know that that show is still so special to so many people? And would you like to get involved in some of those kind of nostalgic glances of the show?
It's really nice. It's very touching that the show has really stood the test of time. It's been so many years since we were in actual production. Yet, funny, last night I flipped the TV on and there we all were. They have marathons, one after the other. Sometimes occasionally because it's on so much, I'll watch. It makes me smile because I look and I think, you know what? I'm proud of that show. It really served a purpose and it's a feel good show. It makes people happy. As far as the reunions, I would love to be a part of whatever. I mean, if the cast is getting together and it's a good script, I'm up for anything. I love all those people and I love working with them.
Will there be anymore back story on Abigail and her late husband? Perhaps a flashback to their early days in Coal Valley?
I don't know. That’s a good question. They haven't done that so far, but I certainly don't see why they wouldn’t.
The writing on the show is really so well done. I'm wondering, do you have any input? Is there something that they write and you're like, I don't know if Abigail would do that or yeah, that’s great?
Yes. They're very collaborative and they do take our suggestions. Even, I don't know if we'll get to a second season, but I have a story that I've already pitched to one of the writers for my character next season that they really like. I'm going to sit down and pitch it to the other executive producers and possibly the people at the network. So they are very, very open to hearing ideas in the broad strokes of it all. Even if you're on set and you're struggling with some dialogue or saying it doesn't feel right that I would say that. They really take a look at it and go, "You know what? I agree." Or "You know what? This is why we wrote that," and they'll explain why. It's a very collaborative working environment.