Friday, April 17, 2009

Interview: Melora Hardin Is a Jack-of-All-Trades

Fans know Melora Hardin as Jan Levinson, the strictly business/slightly kooky former love interest of “The Office” boss Michael Scott. This multifaceted actress — who has appeared on nighttime dramas (“Once and Again” and “Judging Amy”), classic family shows (“Little House on the Prairie” and “The Love Boat”) and feature films (“Thank You for Smoking” and “27 Dresses”) — has two surefire hit movies out this spring: “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and “17 Again.”

Has Melora prepared herself for the legions of screaming tweens that she is sure to run into? Melora explains: “There really is a national phenomenon with Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana. It’s so fabulous to be a part of a project that gets that much attention and is destined to be a blockbuster. My character, Lorelei, is the foreman of Hannah’s grandmother’s farm, where Hannah goes to find her roots when her father thinks she is getting too big for her britches.

“Billy Ray Cyrus’ character falls for Lorelei immediately, and we have a nice little romance that blossoms. It was nice to play somebody who is so salt of the earth, and what you see is what you get. She’s a country girl with no ulterior motives. When you know Jan (from ‘The Office’), it’s nice to see me, Melora, as someone different. That’s part of why I was so interested in the role. I can relate to her earthiness and her straightforward nature.”

All of these extracurricular projects were fun for Melora, giving her a chance to show different sides of herself as an actress. “I love Jan very much, but I don’t know how much we are alike, really. I guess in some ways we are. Whereas Lorelei and I are alike in a lot of ways. And the character I play in ‘17 Again,’ Principal Jane, I would say is virtually nothing like me, but she is adorable and such a great character. I love the story line that Tom Lennon (of ‘Reno 911’ and ‘The State’ fame) and I carry. It’s a very funny through line in the film.”

Melora is no stranger to funny, having played Jan Levinson on “The Office” since 2005. Regarding Jan: “She is just so wonderfully inappropriate, it’s just such a pleasure to do that all the time. I love the way her seams are always showing and unraveling before our very eyes. As an actor, you really have nothing if you don’t have flaws to play. She’s always surprising the audience, and thus, she is always surprising me.”

A classic Jan scene was during the dinner party, when she pops in Hunter’s (her former assistant) CD and dances inappropriately seductive to it, therefore encouraging Jim to steal the CD when he and Pam leave. I asked Melora what she thinks Jan’s reaction was when she discovered the missing CD. “That is a great observation! You know, she would have been upset, but she might just let it go, thinking that it would be nice for somebody else to enjoy the great music, to get Hunter’s music out to the people.”

For those of you going through Jan withdrawals, Melora assures me that “while I won’t be filming any more scenes this season, next season I will be there.”

Aside from being an actress, Melora is first and foremost a mother and wife. She was in New York City recently to help with the Mom’s Roundtable Discussion, which was sponsored by Splenda.

“We were discussing concerns and interests of moms, mostly related to the health and well-being of their families. We talked about how to do that through food, and just how to enjoy the simpler things in life in these crunched economic times: baking, cooking and eating family dinners together.”

For those interested, you can go to for more details, recipes and ideas for healthier living for you and your family. And don’t miss Melora in “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and “17 Again.”