Q&A media session with Melissa Joan Hart: ABC Family’s “Melissa & Joey” (May 2012) (J!-ENT Interviews & Articles)

May 24, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Melissa Joan Hart plays the character of Melissa Burke on ABC Family’s “Melissa & Joey” (Image courtesy of ABC FAMILY)

Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence make their return in the third season of ABC Family’s “Melissa & Joey”!

For many of us who grew up watching Nickelodeon the early ’90s, actress Melissa Joan Hart was an actress that captured the attention of many viewers as the blonde, blue-eyed crafty Clarissa Darling. And when the series ended, needless to say, for many guys or fans of Melissa, many would go through “Clarissa withdrawal”.

But fortunately, in the mid-’90s, Melissa Joan Hart would return with a few “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” movies and it would eventually lead to the multi-award winning ABC comedy series “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” which lasted from 1996-2003.

And as many viewers have grown up watching Melissa Joan Hart  on television, many can now watch her on the hit ABC Family comedy series “Melissa & Joey”, a series which Melissa also stars alongside another actor which many have grown up watching on television, Joey Lawrence.

“Melissa & Joey” features Melissa Joan Hart as the character Melissa Burke.  Melissa Burke was a former wild child that came from a political family and now, having matured, she now has aspirations to become a politician.  But a scandal hits the family when her sister ends up in prison and her brother-in-law flees. So now, Melissa is forced to take care of her teenage niece Lennox and her nephew Ryder.

And its difficult enough to focus on politics and taking care of two teenagers, so in desperate need of help,  she hires Joey (played by Joey Lawrence), who moves in with the family to become the family’s nanny… or “manny”.

And now the third season of “Melissa & Joey” is set to premiere on Wednesday, May 30th and recently a Q&A media session was held with Melissa Joan Hart who talks about the third season of the ABC Family show and also directing episodes for this new season.

Here is a transcript from the media Q&A:

Moderator    In addition to being the star of the show, your Heartbreak Films also produces Melissa & Joey.  Could you tell us about your creative vision for this season?

M. J. Hart     That’s up to the writers.  We have a writing team, the executive producers/show runners, which is Bob and David, David Kendall and Bob Young, and they are, along with a team of really great writers, they sort of plot out the season along with the network.

This second season, it was just—you know what was nice about it—I think we started off really strong.  I think our first season, which consisted of 30 episodes, but I think our first few even just out of the gate were great.

I think that we had a really great crew.  We had really great writing staff.  We had a great cast.  It was able to all gel really well together, and I think that’s kind of rare.  If you watch a lot of shows, it takes a while to get the ball rolling.

But that being said, I think we came out of the gate pretty strong.  But at the same time the second season just gets better, and I think that happens with every show.  As the oil in the machine starts to really warm up, you just get the ball rolling and you get these stronger episodes.  So in the second season we just have funnier, more solid episodes.


Moderator     Is there anything you can tell us about any surprises we can look forward to this summer?

M. J. Hart    There are some surprises.  I don’t know how far I’m allowed to say.  Last season, season one, ended with a bathtub falling through the roof.  So the beginning of the show starts off with a few episodes about the construction and the family living on top of each other.

Mel has a little fling with the cabinetmaker, played by Bren Foster, but then there is some stuff that happens at the end where Joey falls in love with a Russian colleague and there’s quite a little romance that goes on there, and that’s an arc.  We have that for a few episodes.  So Mel has to put up with this Russian chick in her house.

But in between that, there are really just a lot of fun, standalone story lines that happen and some great guest stars.  This season it was really about keeping it light.  Not having that very special episode.  We don’t like to do those.  We just want to make people laugh.


Moderator    Could you  tease us some of the other guest stars we’ll be seeing this season?

M. J. Hart    Yes.  Bren Foster, I think he’s Australian and he’s in one of the episodes; one of the first few episodes, one of the one’s that will air next week.  Who else do we have?  All the 45 episodes we’ve done kind of run together.  So I’m having trouble remembering what people have seen and what they haven’t.

Who else do we have?  Christine Lakin comes back for a really funny episode.  She played my friend in one of the episodes last season.  This season she is looking for a sperm donor and happens to want some of Joey’s stuff.  That’s one of my favorite episodes; that is my favorite episode of this season coming up, the sperm donor episode.

But yes, that’s all I can think of right now.  But Debi Mazar plays a great character.  She’s like my—I’m thinking about reelection and she is my coach, my reelection campaign manager.  So she is—it’s an episode called “The Knockout” and it’s pretty funny.

There’s a guy in a movie theater who starts picking a fight with Ryder, my nephew, and I stand up to him after telling Joey not to.  I knock him out and it gets on video and it goes viral.  And then the whole campaign is around whether or not I should be promoting the fact that I knock him out kind of thing, whether or not that’s a good example for the kids.  It’s a really fun episode, and Debi Mazar does a great job in it.

And she and I met on the set of Dancing with the Stars.  I really like bringing in a lot of these people that I’ve worked with before.  That’s one of the fun parts about being Executive Producer is finding talented people all over the place and being able to work with them.


Moderator   What is it about being a part of Twitter that really helps you with the promotion and connecting with people who are fans of the show?

M. J. Hart    Well within two seconds I can correspond with 200,000 people, which is pretty incredible; across the world.  And what I really like about it is just seeing the immediate response of things.

Like the other night, “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” the first movie, the Showtime movie was on.  I don’t know what it was one, but it aired and my timeline was filled with people just talking about it.  Being shocked that Ryan Reynolds was in that movie.  It was just funny to see how many people were watching it.

I think it was actually maybe airing in the U.K. or the U.K. just got Netflix.  So they can now watch Melissa & Joey in the U.K., which they’re all very excited about because it’s not airing yet there on a network and they’re all mad at me about that.  But it’s fun.  It’s like that instant response to of like, you know, just driving people to try products that I like or to know a little something about my family or something that I find funny.

I try to be careful not to over use it too much, but to also give everyone like a flavor of everything.  Like what it’s like for me being a mom.  What it’s like for me being an actress.  What it’s like for me being a wife, you know.  So like little tidbits of what my inside life is like.

But of course it’s an amazing tool to use.  To be able to reach fans and get the audience to move, whether it’s for a certain charity reason or to watch the show, that kind of thing.  It’s really amazing too to see how many shows this season got picked up because there was a buzz even though the ratings weren’t there.  So you know that it can be used to help push different projects through.


Moderator  Both you and Joey Lawrence are directing this season.  How does that affect the way you prepare for the episode?

M. J. Hart   It’s just a lot more work.  It’s a lot of work.  I’m trying to remember what my episode was even about.  I’m having such a hard time with this season; getting it so confused with the other season.  It’s just so much prep because you’re involved in every step of it along the way, even more so than just being an executive producer.

You have the production meeting with the entire crew where you decide what prop will get used for this scene and what effect might be used for this scene or what camera might be used for this scene.  And then you’re working with the camera coordinator or DP on lightening and this and that staging.  And then you’ve got to get the actors to listen to you, which in this case is really difficult.

We all help each other out all the time anyways.  It’s a very collaborative effort always, but when you’re the director you get so nervous.  It’s like, “What if Joey doesn’t want to listen to me?  What if Taylor won’t go where I tell her to?  What if they don’t like my ideas?  What if they think I’m terrible?  What if I annoy them?  What if I don’t say enough?”

So it’s always hard being an actor and talking to other actors, but I think that other actors kind of respect an actor’s director more so than a camera director because you’ll get help with your acting.  You’ll get attention paid to your actual performance as opposed to just, “Go here.  Go there.  Stay in your light.  Get on camera,” because you have different kinds of directors.  You have ones that just care about the camera and the lighting and then you have ones that also care about the performance.

As an actor I’ve seen that, and it’s difficult sometimes to not have someone paying attention to your performance when you really want that guidance.  So luckily we all take great notes and we adjust and we’re very collaborative.  So it’s a really fun process, but you just get nervous like, “What if they don’t like my ideas.”  So it’s a lot of work.

And then you’ve got to do the editing once that episode is done.  When you’re acting, it’s Monday to Friday.  When you’re directing it’s like a three to four week process.


Moderator   Having a background as a teen actor, do you think that’s given you a better insight into working with Taylor and Nick on the show?

M. J. Hart    It’s funny.  Joey and I both—they both respect us a lot, which is really nice.  Teenagers, you never know if they’re going to totally rebel or be willing to learn, and they’re both really willing to learn.  They really want to be in this business for a long time and they see what we’ve been able to do and they have shown that they really respect us.  So it’s nice because we feel free to be able to tell them, “When you do this or you do that be careful,” or, “Watch out on social networks.”

They come to us sometimes with advice too, “What should we do with our career this way or that way?”  And Taylor and I have become very, very close.  She turns to me sometimes for boy advice and she baby-sits for me once in a while, which is really nice.  So it is, it’s a great little working relationship.

Joey and I are constantly rolling our eyes and having flashbacks to our own years on sitcoms when we had aunts and uncles and parents on the show, and now here we are basically the aunt and uncle of these teenagers.  On Sabrina I had two aunts.  So now I’m the aunt.  It’s weird.  I hear myself saying things that they would say to me like, “You need to wear a bra.”  I hear myself say it and I go, “Gosh, I remember rolling my eyes at Caroline Rhea when she said that to me.”

It’s funny; the tables have turned a bit.  But we’re really lucky that we have good kids that are willing to listen, learn and be a part of the cast, really be an active part.


Moderator  Have you guys ever shot a scene where you couldn’t stop laughing?  Like you just kept doing bloopers?

M. J. Hart    Yes.  We’ve had a few of those.  There have been a few.  We use iPhones on the set and sometimes we snap pictures with the iPhones.  And then other times we have to be pretending we’re looking at the phone and kind of turning it to each other and saying, “See look.  See the message,” or whatever, but there’ll be a stupid picture on the phone and it just makes us giggle and it’s always hard to pull it back.

I think there was an episode coming up where Nick had to eat a lot of junk food, junk food from the vending machines at school as a school project for Taylor to write about in her blog.  There were snowballs and all this stuff on the set.  He was trying to eat but he was just so disgusted by all the food he had to eat.  There was a lot spit takes in that one.


Moderator    What challenges will Mel be facing with the kids this season?

M.J. Hart    Well they’re getting older.  There’s an episode where Taylor tries to befriend the new girl that she sees at school because she was the new girl last year.  So she’s trying to be the good person by bringing this girl into her circle and trying to befriend her, but realizes that not everybody wants to be popular or liked or taken under someone’s wing.

There are a few episodes about relationships.  Nick has a little girlfriend who we adore on the show.  She’s been back and forth a little bit, Holly.  She pretty much tortures him.  So there are a few episodes with her involved.

And Taylor has a few episodes where she’s got a romantic guy with her.  The one I directed with her and—what was the actor’s name?  Anyway we’ve got these great little teen actors on the show and one of them plays her boyfriend for—for a few episodes—and there’s a nice little story line that happens with her and that relationship and us giving her relationship advice and stuff like that.

So the typical teen stuff, but they are getting older and they’re starting to teach us a few things as well.


Moderator       What do you admire most about Mel?

M.J. Hart    She’s really determined.  She sets her heart to something.  She thinks she’s got the—when she thinks she’s on the right path or she thinks there’s a mission to accomplish she will get to it.  She will finish that mission.  She is one of those women that is determined and has her convictions and sees things through, but she does it in a really silly, funny way.


Moderator   We know last season ended when you kissed Joe when you left his apartment and then you guys kind of didn’t really address it through the rest of the episode and then he moved back in.  Is that going to be something that is addresses this season?  I know you mentioned you guys both are going to have different love interests.

M. J. Hart  No, once we moved back in together I think the whole idea was that we realized we can’t have a working relationship and—I think the idea behind that was that when we were thinking about living separate lives we could maybe date, but the fact that we’re under the same roof kind of trying to raise these kids together, again, doesn’t leave much room for romance.  So that got left behind in season one.

So season two will pick up sort of the same way season one did, which is just that constant, “Is he the right guy for me?”  “Is she the right girl for me?”  “Am I missing the person that’s right under my nose,” and then that whole, “No, I don’t want to be with that person.”  So it’s that cat and dog, that constant flirting but never really getting together moonlighting kind of thing.


Moderator  It’s a fun story line to watch.  So I hope it kind of continues to weave in and out.

M. J. Hart     We both believe, and I think the network and the writers are behind us on it, we’re fine with hinting at it once in a while and winking at the audience a little bit like we know we should be together but it’s not going to happen.  But we don’t think that that relationship, unless we can come up with a really interesting new twist, the Ross/Rachel sort of thing.

When you get these characters together a lot of time it sort of kills the drive of the show.  It kills the funny.  And part of the funny part of this show is that they’re idiots that they’re not getting together, but at the same time it works for them.

So I think that maybe we’ll do a season finale at some point or do a show finale where they get together, but I don’t think—I’d rather them have a baby together than get together.  Have like a one-night fling kind of thing.  I think that would cause a lot more—you want that sexual tension, I think.  It really drives the show.


Moderator    Is there a particular scene that you had with Joey, as you think back over the past few episodes that really stand out as one of your favorite highlights since working on the show?

M. J. Hart   There have been a few.  I mean the season ender in season one was pretty great.  There’s a scene in his apartment and we’re eating Chinese food and there’s that moment where we could kiss.  We might not kiss.  We’re sharing Chinese.  It’s dark.  There was that—that was a nice moment.

But the ones we really like are the ones where we’re just bickering endlessly, and it’s that fast paced, quick, cutting humor.  There are a few scenes I can remember in the kitchen around the island, in the season coming up, where it’s just—I think one of the ones I’m thinking of is the sperm donor episode where we just are tearing into each other.  I’m picking on him.  He realizes he was wrong or vice versa a lot of the time, where one of us is just kind of poking at the other one.

And it’s that fun, fast comedy that you don’t really see that often anymore.  You see a lot of it in old movies like “His Girl Friday,” where it’s that fast paced humor going on, and we like to do that.  Those are the ones when we have a hard time not cracking up at each other.  But one of the more sentimental moments was definitely the end of season one.


Moderator    Another episode that our listeners at the radio station really love is the interaction between you and your kids, and one of them would be you going out with Lennox to a concert and getting kicked out of the club. How much of those particular episodes or how many of those moments do you actually get input on?  Is any of that based on true to life experiences of Melissa or Joey?

M. J. Hart     The structure of it’s always there from the writers, but then we like to tweak it within itself, like the episode with climbing out the window and stuff like that.

I like to constantly remind the writers, not that they need a lot of reminding, that I don’t know what I’m doing here, that I don’t want to know what I’m doing.  I want to make mistakes, as a parent.  That’s where a lot of the humor comes from, and that’s true to life, I think, too.  We’ve been thrown these teenagers.  It’s not like we raised them from scratch.  There’s a lot of room for error.

What I really like to do is go look at my natural parenting instincts and do the opposite.  So a lot of the time if I feel like there’s something that can be the opposite or there’s an episode where we’re kind of lecturing the kids too much we’ll go sit down with the writers and say, “We think it’d be really funny if the kids actually lectured us on this,” or if Lennox and I are both sneaking into the house late at night and have to shush each other because we don’t want to wake up Joey.  Both of us don’t want to get in trouble, inappropriate behavior as adults really.


Moderator     It seems like there are a lot of chances for improvisational on set with your cast.

M. J. Hart      We do.  That’s what’s great about doing the live show too.  We shoot live on Friday nights, which I’ve never really done before, but it does really help because you get to try out different jokes in front of the audience.  You do three or four takes and you try out a few different jokes and see which one gets the biggest laugh and then hopefully the editor will use that one.

It’s fun to be able to sort of improve that stuff.  And sometimes one thing will happen that’s totally authentic and natural and they’ll use it in the episode, which is wonderful.


Moderator    You were a child actress on Nickelodeon on the first series with a female lead.  And back then we all know the network had some doubts about whether teens would actually tune in.  So now that you’re on a network kind of known for this genre is that something that attracted you to ABC Family?

M. J. Hart     ABC Family has been doing great things for years now.  Well they had Sabrina on the air for many, many, many years and they also did my wedding as a reality show way back when, nine years ago.  They’re just one of those networks that has gotten stronger over the years.  They’re backed by Disney and Disney’s principals, but at the same time they’re much more grown up.  They’re able to take more risks probably even than ABC proper just because it is cable.

But yes, it’s female driven and I think that they’ve realized that females are the consumers.  Females are the ones that are watching more TV while the men are tuned into ESPN, yet another Disney channel.  The women and girls are watching ABC Family.

I love that they took a risk with this show, especially Melissa & Joey, just being that they don’t really have adult humor on the channel.  They don’t really have comedy.  So now they’re starting to build these comedy blocks and they’re realizing that they’re actually drawing in men with our show as well, I think.

I noticed a lot of men, a lot of men, coming up to me and saying, “I love your show.  My wife made me watch it and now I’m hooked.”  And a lot more men are being drawn, I think, to the network now because of our show, which is great to hear.  It’s just fun because I think it’s really a kind of comedy men can get behind.

I think people these days, the audience is really searching for shows like this because there’s just not that much left on network.  There are great shows on cable and whatnot, but I also think a lot of those are big time commitment.  They’re these shows that are episodic.  So if you miss one week you’ve missed a lot.  I’ve missed the last few weeks of House.  So I feel like I’m totally lost.

But then with a comedy there’s not really that many like Friends, like The Cosby Show shows on the air.  And that’s what we really wanted to do was put that back out there.  I think they’re finding that it’s a real draw and that when people are finding it they’re really sticking with it.


Moderator    From your experience with ABC Family thus far, what kind of character crossovers maybe from other ABC Family shows would you potentially like to see in some of the upcoming Melissa & Joey episodes?

M. J. Hart   The fact that they don’t really have any comedies it makes it tough for a crossover with our show.  But last season we had a guy play my love interest for three episodes who was from Greek.  So that was fun.  He had so many fans on the network of course that tuned in to see him on our show that we got new fans because of that.

But hopefully they’ll bring—they have these new comedies coming out, and hopefully we’ll be able to get some really great actors to kind of come in and cross over a little bit, but as of right now we haven’t really had that discussion yet.


Moderator    What would your dream casting be for Mel’s very infamous sister and brother-in-law?  Have you ever thought about that?  Who you’d like to play them?

M. J. Hart    We’ve actually already seen the brother-in-law in a Halloween episode last year.  This season you meet her mom. And Chris Rich plays my dad in a few episodes, which he’s fantastic, so much fun.  We love having him on.  He’s just kooky funny.  He fits right in with us.

We have not seen my sister yet though.  But it’s funny.  I don’t know.  I’ve thought about it a lot, and I just don’t know.  It would be so tricky because she has to be a little bit older than me.  She has to look like the family.  She has to look like the kids because they’re her kids.  So it would be really tricky.

We have actually thought of someone that we thought looked like Taylor older, but now I can’t think of who it was.  But there are so many phenomenal actors out there.  I think it would be fantastic to even go out and to a casting and find a new talent.  Not just stunt cast it, but to find someone really funny who could really fit in and become a part of the continuing guest cast and come back and do a recurring possibly.

But I don’t know.  I’ll have to give that more thought.  Sorry I can’t give you a name right now.


Moderator      You have been a successful teen/child actor with Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.  And you made the transition to being an adult actress, which a lot of teen stars find difficult.  What has been the secret to your success with that?

M. J. Hart      I’m actually in the process of possibly writing a book about that because I don’t really know what that recipe is.  I think that a lot of the balance and success in my life comes from my family.  It comes from my mom and my dad and my siblings growing up, and now from my husband and my children and putting that always as a priority.  Having that as my balance, as my sort of gage of where to go with my life.

But as far as my career, I think it’s just been that at a young age growing up on the East Coast in this business I did a lot of auditioning.  It was pretty cut throat.  There was a lot of competition, and if you weren’t the best one for the job there was someone right behind you to do it.  So you had to work really hard.  You had to know your lines.  You had to hit your mark.  You had to have the biggest smile and think those Fruit Loops were the best thing ever.

And I think that I learned that if I want longevity I’ve just got to stick it out.  I’ve got to work hard, and that’s—I’ve never given up.  No matter—this career, in this business you just go up and you go down.  There’s no finding that soaring star to hitch onto and carry you off into the galaxy.  It’s constant work to reinvent and figure out the next role and keep working upward.

I’ve just learned that if I want to stick with it that’s what I’ve got to do.  If I want a career in this business and I don’t want to transition and do something else, then I need to stick with it.  Keep auditioning.  Keep meeting people.  Keep reinventing myself, finding great characters to play.

And that’s where producing comes in as well.  I started producing at the age of 17 because I wanted to have some control over the projects I was putting out there and the characters I was playing.  So producing has definitely helped.

And then also transitioning to directing because I got a little bit bored with the acting.  I wanted to be more creative and found directing.  So that’s been a great outlet for me as well just to keep me in the business.  I just love being on a set.  I don’t necessarily always need to act.  I just love being on a set.


Moderator      Is there an aspect or a quality about your character on this show that you enjoy playing the most?

M. J. Hart   I love that she’s a mess.  She’s a big hot mess and I love that because every other show I’ve played the characters have sort of been really put together and, you know, they’ve been careful with their choices and sort of always been the grounded centered ones of the show.  And this one I like that my character gets to be an absolute disaster and has to get her way out of—It’s kind of like I Love Lucy.  She’s constantly getting herself in a mess and having to figure it out, and I love that.

I love being able to be selfish and silly and just a little exaggerated.  I love being able to wear really high heels and not be able to walk in them very well and use physical humor as well as the words on the page to make people laugh.


Moderator      If you could create any new kind of TV show that you’ve wanted what would it be like?

M. J. Hart    You know it’s about reinventing the wheel, but I would like to just go back to old family comedy, kind of like what we’re doing.  I miss shows like The Cosby Show and Family Ties.  These shows that we grew up on that kind of gave us an outlet, a place to be entertained.  A place to also feel like we were represented on television as far as kids or teenagers or seeing parents misbehave.  Knowing that if Bill Cosby does that then my dad’s not so weird I guess.

Comedy is just lacking on television right now, and I miss having shows to go to where you can just laugh and forget your troubles for a half an hour.  And if you miss one you didn’t miss the—you can skip season to season and still be entertained.  So that’s what I would want to see come back on—and I’ve been, myself, trying to develop a few different sitcoms as well to try and get something out there.

But I’ve been working in the race world for a little while.  I love racecar driving, and I’ve been out pitching an idea for a racecar driving sitcom that I think would be really funny.  Kind of in the vein of “Taxi” as an adult comedy, but I don’t know.  Everybody is so afraid of the racing world so I don’t know if it’s going to happen.


Moderator    When you watch TV with your husband or with your kids can you tell us any sort of shows that you like to watch together?

M. J. Hart   My husband and I like to go through seasons these days of shows.  We did Friday Night Lights together last summer, and it just was amazing for our marriage and for us at night to put the kids to bed and just stay up watching episode after episode of Friday Night Lights in order.  We watched them all in about three weeks and it just—it was such a nice escape for us.

But now we’ve just gone through all the seasons of How I Met Your Mother and we’re currently trying to figure out what our next series is going to be.  I would like it to be Dexter, but I think he wants to do another comedy.  So we’ll see who wins that battle for the next one.

But with the kids, they’re really growing up quick right now.  They’re into Transformers and Avengers and all these shows that are on The Hub right now, but we still try to keep them tuned to Disney Channel and do things like Little Einsteins. 

We’re trying to keep them young because I’m so sick of the blowing up things in the house and play fighting and that kind of thing.  So I’m trying to really keep them tuned into the baby shows, especially since we have a new baby coming.  I want to keep it soft and quiet around here.


Moderator   How do you balance your career and your family?

M. J. Hart    Well that’s the trick.  That’s what everyone, I think, is striving for these days.  I work in L.A. but we live on the East Coast.  We live in Connecticut.  So during the season when the show’s going on I travel back and forth.  This last season for these 15 episodes we shot these 15 in 18 weeks and I came home almost every weekend.  I didn’t go more than ten days without seeing my kids this time around.

But the first season was tough because I went sometimes 16 days without seeing my kids, which was really difficult on me.  You can see that in the first season, as I gained a lot of weight in the first season, as the season progressed.  I think because of a little bit of depression being away from my family and having to do both, work and try to be a full-time mom.

I’m really lucky and blessed that I have a wonderful husband who also has a career like mine where he can do his music at home or at his studio and have time to be at the kids’ hockey games or bath time.  He makes them breakfast every day.  He’s very hands on and I’m really lucky.  Without him I couldn’t do it.

We also have a great nanny who is always with the kids.  So I know we have someone we can count to sort of fill my shoes a little bit when I’m gone.  But it is—it’s a constant, everyday battle of what’s the schedule?  Who can get whom for which activity?

But I made sure that this year I was home—my son left for kindergarten and the show gave me the week off to be with him for his first week of kindergarten.  So I try to schedule in important dates like that and be around for them for those things.

But it’s nice.  My boys are very well adjusted, luckily, and they don’t have a problem with me leaving.  They don’t like it, but they’ve really adjusted well to it and their teachers have all kept a close on them to make sure that—if they have any issues, we’ll all move back to California if we have to.  But I really like that they’re here sleeping in their beds with their friends and neighbors and school teachers and having a normal life.

And so I come home—I’m home this whole year.  Especially because I’m pregnant now we can’t go back to work on the show anytime soon.  So I get 2012 to just be a mom.  So I’m really blessed in a way that I get to be a full-time actress and a full-time mom.  Where this fall basically I was an actress and now I’m a full-time mom.

And like I said, without my husband here all fall I couldn’t have done it.  I couldn’t have gone back and forth.  I would’ve had to bring my kids with me and enrolled them in school out there and tried to figure out our lives out there, but I was lucky enough to leave them here at home.


Moderator     If your kids showed an interest in the entertainment industry, would you encourage them to follow in your footsteps?

M. J. Hart    Mason, the oldest one, he’s starting to.  But first of all, I don’t have the time to be taking them to auditions and get photos done and get them a manager, all that nonsense that goes along with it, but if they should show an interest in it, absolutely.  I’ll put them in music classes.  I’ll send them to acting camp in the summer.


Catch “Melissa & Joey” on Wednesday nights (8/7c) on ABC Family! Second Season premiere is on May 30th!

Media Roundtable Q&A with Aaron McBride, Visual Effects Art Director (of Industrial Light & Magic) of “Pirates of the Caribbean” films (J!-ENT Interviews & Articles)

September 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Not long after Aaron McBride graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Film from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1996, McBride joined Industry Light & Magic’s Art Department back in 1999 and his work began as a matte painting artist for “Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace” followed by concept art for films such as “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”, “Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones”, “Men in Black 2”, “Minority Report” and “The Hulk”.

McBride then became Visual Effects Art Director in 2003 for films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” and the next two PoTC films “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”, also working on “Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, “Iron Man” and “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”.

In 2011, McBride worked as Art Director and Concept Artist for “Rango” and most recently, having served as Visual Effects Art Director for the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, his work is chronicled in the recent imprint “The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean”.

With “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on October 18, 2011, J!-ENT participated in a media Q&A roundtable with Visual Effects Art Director Aaron McBride. Here is a transcript from the round table:

What exactly is a visual effects art director?

AARON: A Visual Effects Art Director generates artwork to serve as a ‘look target’ or visual guide for the CG artists, modelers and viewpainters. Often times early in pre-production we will generate design concept art for characters, vehicles, environments or particular effects. Then, once a design has been approved by the Director we will do supporting artwork for the CG Artists, Technical Directors and Compositors of how a creature or vehicle will look in a shot or sequence of the final film once it is textured and lit.


Q.        Were there any specific achievements in the “look” and “style” that your team wanted to achieve above and beyond the first three films?

AARON: One of the challenges of designing a look for the mermaids was that, in the previous three Pirates of the Caribbean films, the supernatural creatures were, by design, monster-like and frightening. The Mermaids were these supernatural creatures that needed to be beautiful, seductive sirens which we hadn’t seen before in the previous Pirates films. They were not the rotting cursed skeletons or encrusted with the marine life like the creatures in the previous films had been…. but they needed to look like they belonged in that same world.


Q.        How do you think special effects should fit into a movie? Should they be impressive and attention-getting in their own right?

AARON: My favorite effects are the ones that service the story. Sometimes when there are so many amazing things to look at on-screen it can be like eye-candy overload and compete for your eye’s attention. It can make for a very busy frame of film. I like effects that make sense in the context of the story and really serve the narrative.


Q.        How are matte paintings used now? Are they actually painted or is it all done by computer?

AARON: Our matte paintings are all created digitally now, though by many of the same artists that used to work traditionally in oil on glass. Some ‘digimatte’ painting shots involve very elaborate camera moves so much that our teams create entire 3D environments.


Q.        How did you decide to go into film and specifically visual effects? Were there any particular films/people/events that inspired you?

AARON:  I was a big fan of effects films growing up. Star Wars, Alien, Bladerunner. I was a big fan of Ridley Scott and how he used so much atmosphere in his films. All the same aesthetics that he used in filming the sets and the actors were the same as the effects shots. There were areas of the frame that would fall to just a rimlight silhouette. Nowadays with visual effects being digital there is sometimes a tendency in the work to over light and show off all the detail and we’re always conscious of that.


Q.        What kind of research did you do for the mermaids? Did you go into mermaid myths throughout history? Were there any particular images that influenced the look of these mermaids?

AARON:  We looked at a lot of the traditional representations of mermaids in classic paintings and literature where they are often portrayed in a very romantic way. We also looked at some references of ballet dancers performing underwater. They would use these large pieces of translucent fabric in large sweeping gestural moves. It created this cool veiled look to the dancers, so we tried to find a way to incorporate this in our mermaids. We tried giving the mermaids drapery that could hang from them like strands or tendrils of translucent fish fin or jellyfish membrane or sheets of kelp. So while we stayed faithful to the classic folklore imagery of the mermaids, there were still elements that we added to give them a more graceful and dramatic appearance when they moved through the water.


Q.        I know a lot of design happens before filming, so how hands on where you on set?

AARON:  We started by meeting with Rob Marshall the director to get a sense of what he liked and how he wanted the mermaids to look and behave on film. He showed us a lot of reference of qualities he liked. So we did an initial rough design pass, casting the net wide and exploring a lot of different possibilities. We experimented with finding a good balance between the mermaids being very beautiful while also being these ferocious creatures that had very vicious predatory qualities as well. Then we presented some concept paintings to Rob based on what he liked and he responded positively too. So we then proceeded in that direction and did more, tighter iterations to refine the final details.
Q.        Were the mermaids fully CGI motion capture or actresses with an effects added tail?

AARON: The mermaids were a combination of a lot of those techniques. We ranged from completely digital mermaids to the actresses which were digitally augmented. Sometimes, as in the case with Gemma Ward’s character when we see the mermaids face close-up as she comes in for the kill, it was her on set but then we added some digital elements to her appearance…shaper teeth, and a slight sense of shimmery fish scale qualities to her skin. Rob really wanted to retain as much of the actresses true beauty appearances in their faces as possible. They needed to be these creatures that had evolved to be the perfect seductive predator. The idea was that they could appear very beautiful but that their actions should be very vicious like ferocious animals.

Q.        What challenges does water, or being underwater, bring to art direction in scenes like these? Are there aspects that give you more freedom to experiment? Are there more restrictions because of the properties of water?

AARON: In working on all the Pirates of the Caribbean films there’s almost always a scene or shot underwater. When you compose or design something for an underwater sequence it’s always fun because there’s always more atmospherics underwater. You get a lot of depth fall-off when forms become dark silhouettes quickly and when they moved away from you. Also you get a lot of light shards and caustics. It’s naturally a very haunting and dense environment to play with. Designing something like the mermaids was fun because you could play with various dramatic ways to compose them.


Q.        When did the change from matte paintings to digital matte art happen?

AARON:  For ILM it happened around the early-to-mid 90’s when Photoshop was becoming more of a standard tool in our visual effects work.


Q.        How often do you have to redo a sequence of effects, either because it doesn’t work as hoped or the director changes his mind or doesn’t like it?

AARON: Oftentimes a design or concept is revisited once principal photography starts and we start seeing the rushes or dailies and how the scenes play out as they are edited together. The filmmakers may decide to make changes or additions later on in post-production that work better in the context of the film. Fortunately, our pipeline is very flexible and accommodates changes that need to be made late in the process.


Q.        What initially brought you to ILM back in 1999? Was it a dream come true for you? Is it still as much fun 10 years+?

AARON: I’m a huge Star Wars fan and I grew up with all the movies that ILM worked on. So yes, it has definitely been a dream comes true.


Q.        Having contributed to all four films in the “Pirates” franchise, are there any characters or designs that really stand out for you?

AARON: The “cursed” pirate characters that served on Davy Jones crew were really fun and challenging to work on. I especially liked working on the hammerhead shark Pirate character, ‘Maccus’ from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Also the jellyfish Pirate, and Wyvern, the crusty Pirate embedded in the wall of the Flying Dutchman.


Q.        Can you tell us what makes a good storyboard for a film? Is it pre-visualizing a lot of detail? Pacing?

AARON: Storyboards are primarily a visual shorthand to communicate shot composition and how a design or effect will be featured in a shot. A good storyboard will provide enough visual information to serve as a blueprint for a shot.


Q.        Was the latest Pirates film filmed in 3-D or converted afterwards? What are the challenges in doing both/either from an FX point of view?

AARON:  It was filmed in 3D using the ‘Red’ camera system. There are a lot of technical reasons why stereoscopic films are more challenging to work on. Many of the VFX tricks that you can get away with on a 2D film don’t work in 3D.


Q.        Did you work with Jerry Bruckheimer in your role as VFX Art Director on this or in any of the other Pirates films? If so what is he like to work with? How important is art direction to him?

AARON:  Yes, we met with Rob Marshall and Jerry Bruckheimer early on and both were instrumental in defining the look of the mermaids.


Q.        Is it harder or easier to create whole imaginary beings and environments than real ones? Why?

AARON:  It’s always more challenging to create whole imaginary characters or creatures and environments but at the same time it’s a lot of fun. Even with the craziest creatures we still have to find ways to ground them in reality so they look believable on screen.


Q.        Was it ever considered or storyboarded that the mermaids might be more ‘fish’ or ‘monstrous looking’ or were they always supposed to be beautiful at least on the surface?

AARON:  We did a lot of concept art early on where the Mermaids were much more monstrous and creature looking and then trying to strike that balance between sea creature and the beautiful seductive siren. We played with adding more elements to them that would make them look more like predatory fish. Early concepts had serrated, razor-like piranha teeth….some had shark teeth and distended jaws like a shark. We explored giving them serrated dorsal ridges and very silvery skin like a swordfish. And those lifeless black eyes like a great white.


Q.        Can you give an example of a VFX trick that works in 2D but not in 3D?

AARON:  Sure. For instance with an animated character like the mermaids, a pose may look great from one camera view but off in the other. All the details that we resolve for one eye perspective we then need to resolve for the other eye as well.


Q.        Do you think 3-D is here to stay this time? Will it become the norm or used mostly in animated and special effects-heavy films?

AARON:  3D is simply another tool in a filmmaker’s arsenal. It may not be right for telling every story but it can be fun when it enhances a scene.


Q.        What projects are you currently working on?

AARON: Currently I’m working on Disney/Marvel’s “The Avengers”.


Q.        Any final thoughts on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides?

AARON: I’ve really enjoyed working on all of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. It’s always a really great opportunity to play in that world and especially rewarding to see it on screen. Thank you all for your time!

Pirates of the Last Caribbean: On Stranger Tides will be released on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD on Oct. 18, 2011

Q&A Interview with Bernie Taupin for “Gnomeo & Juliet” (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

May 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 


With the upcoming release of “Gnomeo & Juliet” on Bli-ray and DVD on May 24th, J!-ENT will be featuring Q&A interviews with a few of the talent who lent their voices or music to the animated film.

In this fifth Q&A, we feature Bernie Taupin.

Bernie Taupin is arguably the most relevant and important lyricist of our age.  He celebrates 45 years with Elton John this year.  In 2001, Taupin and Elton John marked their 35th anniversary with the release of their 27th studio album, “Songs from the West Coast” featuring the hit singles “I Want Love” and “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore.” In 2006 the duo received rave reviews for “The Captain & The Kid,” the much-anticipated sequel to “Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy.”

The recipient of countless Grammy nominations and British Music Awards, Taupin’s lyrical accomplishments have resulted in six Ivor Novello awards, induction into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and 1994 ASCAP Songwriter of the Year honor. He’s an INA International Award of Excellence recipient and an American Academy of Achievement inductee, and only the second lyricist in history to receive the ASCAP Golden Word award (the other is Sammy Cahn).  John and Taupin are behind classic recordings like “Rocket Man,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “I Want Love,” and albums like “Elton John,” “Tumbleweed Connection,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “The One” and “Made In England.” Hit singles include “Your Song,” “Daniel,” “That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” “I’m Still Standing.” Between 1972-1975, Taupin and John enjoyed seven consecutive #1 pop LP’s, in addition to countless chart-topping singles. The duo’s “Captain Fantastic” was the first album in history to enter Billboard’s album chart at #1. For “Gnomeo & Juliet,” Taupin and John contributed classic songs, as well as new music.

Describe the music you wrote for “Gnomeo & Juliet.”

I had to reevaluate myself with any pop sensibilities still lurking in my decidedly un-pop brain. Cue some old Beatles circa “Magical Mystery Tour” and voila that sounded like a good starting point. Gnomes are very poppy wouldn’t you agree? Colorful, energetic and ABBAesque so it seemed only natural that the songs suit the characters. Guess I just put my pointy hat on and went out into the garden.

What kind of direction did you get from the filmmakers?

Any direction came simply from sitting around a table with the creative team and listening to their enthusiasm. I’m pretty immediate in these things so just describe what you want from me, what the scene is where you want it and leave me alone, I’ll handle the rest.

Why does this music (new & library) work so well for this story?

From what I’ve seen certain elements of our catalogue lend themselves to the technicolor carnage and unrequited love present in this production. Gnomes like a good tune.

GNOMEO & JULIET on Blu-ray™, Blu-ray 3D™ and DVD May 24, 2011

The greatest love story ever told, starring…garden gnomes? In the upcoming “Gnomeo & Juliet,” Shakespeare’s revered tale gets a comical, off-the-wall makeover. Directed by Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”) and showcasing both classic and original songs by Elton John, the film features the voices of James McAvoy and Emily Blunt as Gnomeo and Juliet, who have as many obstacles to overcome as their quasi namesakes when they are caught up in a feud between neighbors. But with plastic pink flamingos and thrilling lawnmower races in the mix, can this young couple find lasting happiness?

Q&A Interview with Matt Lucas for “Gnomeo & Juliet” (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

May 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 


With the upcoming release of “Gnomeo & Juliet” on Bli-ray and DVD on May 24th, J!-ENT will be featuring Q&A interviews with a few of the talent who lent their voices or music to the animated film.

In this fourth Q&A, we feature Matt Lucas, an actor, writer and comedian best known for his BAFTA award-winning series “Little Britain.”  Lucas and comedic partner David Walliams have been awarded multiple BAFTA Awards, and the two have been voted GQ Comedians of the Year.  They wrote and starred in “Little Britain USA” for HBO in 2008. Lucas lent his voice to Summit’s animated feature “Astroboy,” and portrayed the Tweedles in “Alice in Wonderland” for director Tim Burton. In “Gnomeo & Juliet,” Lucas lends his voice to Gnomeo’s impetuous best friend Benny.

Who do you portray in “Gnomeo & Juliet”?

I do the voice of Benny, who’s Gnomeo’s right-hand man.  He’s a small character that doesn’t feel small—in his mind he’s big. He’s a very good-hearted character, but he’s quite impetuous.  He’s quite childlike in a way.  He doesn’t always think before he acts.  But he’s very spirited, very warm and funny.  Just not quite as intelligent as he would like to think.

Are you a fan of the garden gnome?

My mother and stepfather have a couple gnomes.  I don’t mind the gnome. They’re kind of fun. People have them in their gardens, so it’s almost a ‘what if these gnomes could talk?’

What did you think of the animation process?

In animation, you don’t record with the other actors.  It’s really the job of the director to have the great overview.  In some ways it means you can be a bit more indulged in a vocal session because you are on your own.  You can be a bit more experimental.  I think it would be nice to be able to do a few sessions with other actors.  But the caliber of talent in this film—they’re such big stars—you probably can’t get them altogether in one room.  I don’t include myself in that.  I’m available.  Give me a bell, I’m around.  Trust me.

I was excited to hear I was working with Kelly [Asbury]; he’s directed things like “Shrek 2.”  He’s great, because he knows what he wants, but he allows you a lot of freedom to improvise and have fun.  Then they go away and rewrite the film a little bit based on the way we performed, which is a very organic way of working.  When the gestation of the film is so long you do have time to keep shaping it, keep changing it, keep building it.

GNOMEO & JULIET on Blu-ray™, Blu-ray 3D™ and DVD May 24, 2011

The greatest love story ever told, starring…garden gnomes? In the upcoming “Gnomeo & Juliet,” Shakespeare’s revered tale gets a comical, off-the-wall makeover. Directed by Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”) and showcasing both classic and original songs by Elton John, the film features the voices of James McAvoy and Emily Blunt as Gnomeo and Juliet, who have as many obstacles to overcome as their quasi namesakes when they are caught up in a feud between neighbors. But with plastic pink flamingos and thrilling lawnmower races in the mix, can this young couple find lasting happiness?

Q&A Interview with Elton John for “Gnomeo & Juliet” (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

May 20, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 


With the upcoming release of “Gnomeo & Juliet” on Bli-ray and DVD on May 24th, J!-ENT will be featuring Q&A interviews with a few of the talent who lent their voices or music to the animated film.

In this second Q&A, Multiple Tony®, Grammy® and Oscar®-winning singer, songwriter, musician and humanitarian Sir Elton John SIR ELTON JOHN is one of pop music’s living legends. Over his five-decade career, he has sold more than a quarter of a billion records, and enjoyed more than 50 Top 40 hits. His success runs the gamut, from recorded music and the concert hall, to film and Broadway triumphs like “Aida,” “Lestat” and “Billy Elliot the Musical.”  Billboard Magazine has ranked him the most successful male solo artist in history.  His first effort writing music for a Disney animated film was “The Lion King,” a 1994 box-office hit that spawned the Tony®-award-winning Broadway show.
John has collaborated with Bernie Taupin for 45 years. Together, they’ve created numerous hit albums, including “Elton John,” “Madman Across The Water,” “Honky Chateau,” “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “21 At 33,” “Too Low for Zero,” “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” its sequel “The Captain & The Kid,” “Rocket Man – The Definitive Hits” and 2010’s “The Union,” among many others.  For “Gnomeo & Juliet,” John serves as executive producer and provides the music.

What attracted you to taking part in “Gnomeo & Juliet”?

“Romeo and Juliet” is one of the greatest love stories of all time.  And garden gnomes are huge in many countries throughout the world.  We thought this would be a really good idea.

It’s very accessible and funny.  And there’s a message in this film—the two gnome families, the Reds and the Blues, are diametrically opposed and are always at war with each other  And in the end, peace is better than war.  Two people fall in love and it brings about harmony and peace in the two warring factions.

Who will most appreciate “Gnomeo & Juliet”?

I don’t think you make this kind of movie for just a certain kind of audience.  You make it for everybody.  There are adult jokes in it; there are things kids will love.  They will love the characters.  They will love the gnomes, they will love the flamingo, they will love the frog. There are so many little things in it that kids will love.  And it’s got very, very witty visual things in it.

What music did you contribute to the production?

There’s a lot of music from our catalog that’s being used—songs like “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” which is crucial in the lawn mower race along the back alley with Tybalt and Gnomeo.  Plus, two brand new songs, including “Hello, Hello”—it’s the first time Gnomeo and Juliet get together. But

I think “Love Builds a Garden” is the best song in the movie. The flamingo explains to them that even though his garden is overgrown, it once flourished because the two people that lived there loved each other. Once they stopped loving each other, the garden died. But love can bring the garden back to life.

How did you approach the music for “Gnomeo & Juliet”?

It’s a collaborative experience.  It’s one that I really like.  I’ve always been a team player, I’ve always written with Bernie [Taupin]—he writes the lyrics and I write the melody—I like it that way.  You get a good reaction and everyone’s happy and we can celebrate together.

How do you feel about the cast of “Gnomeo & Juliet”?

James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are two of the finest young actors out there. We were so lucky to get them, and they fit in perfectly.  Michael Caine is a great friend of mine, one of the greatest actors out there, and I adore him—as Juliet’s father, he is perfect.  We have a who’s who of actors and actresses in this movie: Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas—everyone.

Who is your favorite character?

I think Featherstone the flamingo and Nanette the frog could really steal the film.  They’re really, really excellent characters played by great actors.


What can audiences expect from “Gnomeo & Juliet”?

We are so proud of the film.  It’s been a labor of love, it’s full of Elton John/Bernie Taupin new music and old music, and I think it’s a really brilliant, funny movie.  I hope it’s a big smash.  I hope it will give people pleasure for the rest of their lives.  We want to make a movie that people can look on in 12 years time and say, “Well that still holds up.”  If we can do as good as Will [Shakespeare], we’ll be all right.

GNOMEO & JULIET on Blu-ray™, Blu-ray 3D™ and DVD May 24, 2011

The greatest love story ever told, starring…garden gnomes? In the upcoming “Gnomeo & Juliet,” Shakespeare’s revered tale gets a comical, off-the-wall makeover. Directed by Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”) and showcasing both classic and original songs by Elton John, the film features the voices of James McAvoy and Emily Blunt as Gnomeo and Juliet, who have as many obstacles to overcome as their quasi namesakes when they are caught up in a feud between neighbors. But with plastic pink flamingos and thrilling lawnmower races in the mix, can this young couple find lasting happiness?