Melora Hardin is a veteran actress of theater (she recently starred in “Chicago” on Broadway), television (she’s known for her recurring role on NBC’s “The Office”), and film (she’s currently in the studio hit “17 Again”). With her husband, actor Gildart Jackson, she produced and directed the independent feature film, “You.” The film is the story of Miranda (Hardin) and Rawdon (Jackson), a couple happily married with a young daughter. But when Miranda dies suddenly, Rawdon is left to raise their daughter on his own, while keeping Miranda alive in his imagination. The film also stars Amy Pietz, Joely Fisher, Brenda Strong, and Allison Mack. Hardin talked to indieWIRE about the film, which Cinetic Rights Management has released on iTunes and Amazon VOD.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
I started acting professionally when I was 6 years old. Over the years I’ve gained interest, excitement, respect and knowledge from the numerous directors I’ve worked with. I’ve learned from the bad directors as I have the good. When I was about 25, I did a film with a lot of children in it and the director was very uncomfortable guiding the child actors. I stepped in and tried to help them along. At the end of the film the producer came up to me and told me I should direct because I had a unique quality he described as: “An iron fist and a velvet glove.” I think that planted the seed in my mind and, while I was not consciously searching for a project to direct from that moment on, I knew somewhere in the back of my mind I wanted to make a film of my own one day.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking (either on the creative side or industry side etc.) that you would still like to explore, besides acting?
Wearing all the different hats on “You” was very exciting to me. It was my very first time directing and producing and being a part of the editing process. I often have thought it would be wonderful to try on the hat of every person involved in making a film. To have compassion and understanding of specific challenges and victories.
Please discuss how the idea for “You” came about.
My husband, Gildart Jackson, and I were laying in bed with our newborn daughter, Rory, and in that blissful bubble of new parenthood I had a daydream about what it would be like to be making a speech at Rory’s wedding one day. That moment sparked in Gildart the realization of how in love we are, and the feat of what it would be like to live life without me. Out of that, “You” was born.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, including your influences (if any), as well as your overall goals for the project?
I’m very attracted to foreign, arty, and indie films. I see everything, but I find that I remember in more detail films like “Amelie,” “The Secret Roan Inish,” “The Cook the Thief his Wife and her Lover,” “The Piano,” “Delicatessen,” “Like Water for Chocolate,” and many others. These films have made a distinct impression on me with their unique visual storytelling. Mostly what I wanted to do with “You” was to get the emotion, sensitivity, love and depth that had leapt off the page up onto the screen.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making it?
It was very challenging to get to the point where we actually said: “We’re just going to do this.” There were plenty of people who had many reasonable and intelligent reasons why we shouldn’t do it and listening to them planted doubt in my mind. However with the support of my husband, my best friends and some amazing directors I’ve worked with who mentored me – Ken Kwapis, Michael Nankin, Mike Pavone, Dennie Gordon and Bob Young – I got up the courage to do it.
How did the financing and/or casting for the film come together?
My husband and I paid for it and we cast our friends and family! That’s not totally true, there were only two characters we had to cast. We are so lucky that we are surrounded by such a wealth of talent.
What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker? What is your next project?
So far I find that I’m attracted to stories with hope. I have been attempting to option a book for 8 years that I really want to get my hands on to direct. In addtion, Gildart and I are collaborating on a couple of story ideas for the next movie we want to make together, one is a very dramatic love story and the other is a magical musical.
What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?
To me an independent film is something made with complete autonomy. In our case we were answering to nobody but ourselves.
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers or actresses?
You learn by doing. Do anything and everything you can to be enrolled in your particular field. But also remember, that to be an artist, you must be enrolled in the school of life because that is the well from which you will draw water. So live large!
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.
That I have been able to successfully transition from a child actor to a teenage actor to a young woman, to a woman. And that I continue to remain joyful and curious about what I do and how to do it.