Born in Houston, Texas on June 29, 1967, Melora Hardin is the daughter of actor Jerry Hardin and retired actress/acting coach Diane Hill Hardin. She is probably best known to millions of television viewers as Michael Scott’s boss, Jan Levinson on NBC’s comedy series The Office and also as Monk’s deceased wife, Trudy, on USA’s comedy-drama Monk.
Hardin began her acting career as the young star of Thunder (1977-1978), which aired on Saturday mornings and featured a black stallion that was always there to rescue members of the family in times of trouble.
Since 1978, the actress has guest-starred on The Love Boat, Little House on the Prairie, Quincy M.E., Magnum P.I., Hotel, Murder She Wrote, Matlock, Lois and Clark, Touched by an Angel, Diagnosis Murder, Without a Trace, Gilmore Girls, and many others,
Hardin’s film credits include Thank You for Smoking in 2006, Seventeen Again, and Hannah Montana: The Movie (as Robby Ray’s love interest), which premiered on April 10, 2009.
The multi-talented performer played the role of Fantine in the Hollywood Bowl’s concert of Les Miserables in the summer of 2008 and made her Broadway debut in 2009 as Roxie Hart in the Tony-winning revival of Chicago.
Hardin is married to writer/actor/producer Gildart Jackson and they are the parents of two girls; Rory Melora and Piper Quincy.
On February 9, the artist releases her newest solo recording entitled “All the Way to Mars,” a diverse mix of Broadway, Standards, and a few songs written by Hardin herself.
Our Prattville spoke on Wednesday with Hardin about her career and new album.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Hi Melora, thanks for talking with me. Your publicist said you were traveling today.
Melora Hardin: Yes I am, I’m in the car on the way to the airport.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Hope you’re not driving.
Melora Hardin: I’m not driving, no … that’s the good news (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Before we discuss the CD, I’d like to talk some about your family. Is your dad (Jerry Hardin) still involved in acting?
Melora Hardin: Yes he is. He does a one-man show of Mark Twain that he takes around the country. When people call he’ll go and do it but he’s pretty happy traveling around the world with my mom.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Your mom was an actress also.
Melora Hardin: Yes she was. She’s an acting teacher now and she teaches eight times a year in New York.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): So, I assume you got the acting bug at an early age?
Melora Hardin: Yeah, from the time I was six. I sort of tugged on their sleeve and begged and begged until they said, “Well we’ll let her go on some things and if she doesn’t get anything we’ll ease her out of it and she’ll never know the difference.” Of course, I got the first thing I went on, so …
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Was that a commercial?
Melora Hardin: Yes, it was a commercial for a toothpaste called Peak which is no longer around … which reminds me I forgot my toothbrush, oh well (laughs), easily replaced.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Yes, things you can pick up at the airport (laughs). Did either of your parents give you any advice that has helped in your acting career?
Melora Hardin: I think, teaching me the craft at a young age, teaching me how to be professional, and mostly persistence, persistence, persistence.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Your husband is also in the entertainment business.
Melora Hardin: Yes, he’s a writer, actor, and producer.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): He wrote the film, You, that was released last year. You starred in it and directed it … and your parents were in it as well.
Melora Hardin: Yes that’s right.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): What was the idea behind the film?
Melora Hardin: Well, my husband wrote it based on a moment that we really had with our first daughter, Rory, where I actually did have a daydream about what I might say at her wedding and then he went away on location. Really it’s sort of a love letter to me and the girls, I think.
You know, it’s about what you would do if you lost your soulmate, and I think that it was just that beautiful moment of projecting ahead in time and then he was really missing us while on location and he thought, what if that time came and she wasn’t there …how sad that would be and he ended it with how somebody would go through that, how they would recover from that, and how they would find their way through the grief of that.
So, it’s really a love story about losing your soulmate and then he keeps her very alive in his imagination and raises their daughter on his own.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Is it on DVD now?
Melora Hardin: Yes it is. Also available on our website which is www.youthefilm.com and is available at Amazon or iTunes.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Did you audition for Jan, Michael Scott’s boss in The Office?
Melora Hardin: I did audition for the pilot for the role of Jan Levinson. She was a guest star, possible recurring character at the time of the pilot. And then I was made a regular in the second season.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Do you have plans to return to the show?
Melora Hardin: Yeah, I’ve talked to the producer about it and I’m sure that she will come back at some point. We don’t know quite how or why or when, but she will definitely be back.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I think Michael and Jan have great chemistry together and both of you are very funny.
Melora Hardin: Thank you.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Is Steve Carell hilarious off camera as well or just the opposite?
Melora Hardin: He’s funny … he’s not shy, you know, he’s just kind of a normal guy who likes going home to his kids, making dinner, things like that. But, he doesn’t crack jokes all day long.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Anyone in charge of practical jokes on the set?
Melora Hardin: I guess John Krasinski likes to do some practical joking, but there really isn’t that much practical joking. People are really pretty much doing the job.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): It looks like a fun job.
Melora Hardin: Yes, absolutely, definitely a lot of laughs.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Okay, on to music. You’ve released a new album called “All the Way to Mars.” The producers are Richard Jay-Alexander and Ben Toth – had you worked with them before?
Melora Hardin: I have. Richard and I found each other actually through my mother who called up an agent friend of hers in New York and told her that her daughter needed to do an act – and the agent said she called Nancy Carson who is really good friends with Richard and she said, “There is only one guy, Richard.” So, Richard and I met and really hit it off and he liked my music. I thought he was fun and we ended up collaborating on an act together, which I performed at the Catalina Jazz Club here two years ago. And it was a great collaboration – we had lots of fun together and worked really well together.
Then he hired me to be in Les Miserables at the Hollywood Bowl in the role of Fantine, which was really a dream come true for me. I had always wanted to do that since I saw it on Broadway in 1985 or 1986, or whenever that was when it came to Broadway. So, that was a pretty amazing moment for me to perform in one of the most beautiful outdoor amphitheaters we have in Los Angeles and get to wear some of those original costumes and work with some incredible talent like Brian Stokes Mitchell, Lea Michele, and John Lloyd Young … it was just some really amazing Broadway talent and it was fun.
And then we decided that we needed a record because the record I had was something I had done over ten years ago on my own and it just wasn’t representative of how my voice had grown. You know, singing every day for two years really strengthens that muscle and makes it really strong. So, with Richard’s coaching and Ben Toth, my musical director, we just built a really beautiful repertoire of music and we wanted to get it recorded so that we could have that to give people so they could sort of see what the journey has been like.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Richard Jay-Alexander has worked with Barbra Streisand. Is she one of your singing idols?
Melora Hardin: Oh absolutely, I’ve got every one of her records. When I was seven years old I learned how to sing “Evergreen,” and all of those songs from old records of hers … “The Main Event” and records from the 1970s.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Your song, “Raise the Roof,” reminded me of “Putting it Together,” a cut on Streisand’s “The Broadway Album.”
Melora Hardin: Oh, that’s a nice thing to say … put that in the article (laughs)! That works for me!
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): How does this CD differ from the others you’ve recorded?
Melora Hardin: Well, the other two that I made independently were all my original music and I was a lot younger. I think the first one was when I was 24 and then the second one I was in my early 30s. So I think that there’s a warmth and a maturity in me as a musician … certainly as a vocalist as well and as a writer. I think its just sort of where I am now musically.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): How did you choose the songs for this album?
Melora Hardin: We tried to pick things that worked for my personality and some of the songs are from the act that we did and also songs they did on Broadway last year. We wanted to get “Roxie” on there because of that. We wanted to do “I Dreamed a Dream” because of Les Miserables.
The reason it’s called “All the Way to Mars” is that it kind of is … musically and the choice of songs … a journey and it represents the kind of journey that we’re going on and that we started going on and that we’re still going on together as a collaborative team. So I think those songs were kind of choices based on that and based on what would sound good in my voice, what felt great to me, and what was a really great acting song.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I have to mention “A Boy and His Cat.”
Melora Hardin: Well, I’m glad you did (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): You wrote that song, correct?
Melora Hardin: Yes.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I assume you intended the double entendre from the very beginning?
Melora Hardin: Oh, of course!
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): And then there’s “Ride Your Rocket.” Am I sensing a theme there?
Melora Hardin: Yes (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): What was the inspiration for “A Boy and His Cat”?
Melora Hardin: Well, it’s actually a pretty great story. My husband is English and his mother is obviously English who lives in England and she’s quite older now (about 85). We used to have a couple of cats and she used to call all of the time and say, “How are you and how are the pussies?” And so I thought that was hilarious (laughs).
This is one of those great you say toe-may-toe and I say “toe-mah-toe” things. I’ve always been fascinated by that kind of songwriting, you know, like Cole Porter … during the time when they couldn’t say certain things so they said other things that meant those things that they wanted to say (laughs). So, I really love that. I think its surprising and humorous songwriting so that was really where it came from … my mother-in-law saying that on the phone.
And then one day I was driving and I realized that I had a lot of guy friends who had cats. You know, like quite a few guy friends who had cats, so I think I thought of the title first which was “A Boy and His Cat,” and I thought it would be hilarious fodder for a great song so that was where it all came from.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I know the males out there probably like the song.
Melora Hardin: Well, when I first performed the song I knew that men would like it, but I was really surprised when a whole bunch of women leapt to their feet – they thought it was just so empowering that a woman could be saying that word in a song (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Do you write both the lyrics and the music in the ones that you compose?
Melora Hardin: Yes on most of them I do. There is one on the album that I wrote with a friend – “All Messed Up.” I wrote the lyrics and my friend wrote the music.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): In your songwriting process, what comes first for you … the lyrics or the music?
Melora Hardin: You know, sometimes I’ll get a melodic idea and I’ll write words to it and other times I’ll get a conceptual idea, or I’ll get in a moody place that will ultimately draw out the song so it can come in either way – music first or words first. It kind of depends on what strikes me at the time.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables is a beautiful song.
Melora Hardin: Yes it is and it’s a song that I’ve loved ever since I saw Les Miserables on Broadway in the 1980s. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat and saying to myself, “I want to do that.” And the fact that I got to do that last year really was a dream come true for me. I know it’s a big hit for Susan Boyle, but it’s an amazing song … everybody should sing that song!
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Which do you prefer – singing or acting?
Melora Hardin: You know, I can’t really say that I prefer one or the other. It’s such a different expression. You know, like directing (You) was so unbelievable, especially the way we did it in eighteen days with our own money in our home with our family. It was really kind of demanding on everything I had to offer at any given moment, but that was really satisfying for the dancer in me, you know, the athlete in me really enjoyed it.
Music is just one of the things that sort of rolls through you. In the best moments it comes through you and out your voice to the audience and then it’s like a perfect circle because it goes out to them and they give it back to you and then you give it back to them. So I think in that regard it’s really quite inspiring to be able to sing the way that I can sing and be able to perform. To have that wonderful rapport with an audience is really quite exciting.
But then acting is really wonderful. You’re kind of getting inside of different people that aren’t you and you’re trying to discover characteristics and qualities and trying to get inside their skin and that’s fascinating also. So I really don’t think I can say I like one more than the other. I just want to always be expressing myself creatively in different ways. I’m sure there will be other ways I’ll try as time goes on.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Do you have any plans to continue on Broadway?
Melora Hardin: Oh yeah, I can’t wait to get back to Broadway. I definitely want to find a great musical to originate. I really want to get back there. The role of Roxie is such an amazing role for a woman because it’s sexy and funny, sort of naïve and sweet but also smart and conniving. You get to really dance and sing. It’s a rare role that lets you do all of that at one time.
That’s the actor in me … I really love to be used up in that way, in a good way. So, I feel like what I’ve worked for all of my life is actually getting worked out really good.
Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Okay, the last thing I must ask you is from The Office, Season Two (“The Fire”). If you were stuck on a desert island for the rest of your life, what would you want with you in each of these categories?
Music: I guess that would have to be my own, since I’ll have to listen to it forever (laughs)
Movies: Mary Poppins
Tool: I need something to cut with … maybe a saw or a machete
Bathroom Amenity: Guess that would be my toothbrush
Celebrity Visitor: Clint Eastwood because he’s my friend and I love him
Interview by Melissa Parker
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