Friday, September 16, 2011

Interview: Catching Up With Nancy McKeon

Nancy McKeon, while best known for her role of Jo Polniaczek on “The Facts of Life,” actually got her start on daytime television. She appeared on the now-defunct “The Secret Storm” and “Another World” before donning a ponytail and plenty of attitude on the hit ’80s sitcom. Now soap fans and “Facts” fans can watch Nancy this weekend on “Love Begins” on the Hallmark Channel (premieres Sat. Sept. 17 at 9/8c; see local listings for more days and times). I spoke with Nancy about her new movie, as well as her “Facts” family.

Daytime Dial: What was it about the movie and the role of Millie that caught your fancy and made you want to be a part of the production?

Nancy McKeon: I have two little girls, and my primary job is here with them, so when I choose to step away, the timing has to be right, and this was. It was summer, so they could come with me. They don’t really know Mom’s “other” job. They just know my cooking, cleaning and carpooling.

And I love the Hallmark Channel. I’ve done some other things for them, too. I love the stories they tell and this group of people; they were pretty terrific. Right now it is more important, because this way my girls can actually watch the work. There have been some things that I have done that are just too grown up for them to see for a while. So this was a chance for them to make fun of me in funny costumes and funny shoes and funny hair.

DD: There was a real chance that the role of Millie could be seen as a busybody instead of helpful, but she really is a kind and generous soul. Was it written like that, or was it something you brought to the role?

NM: I think a lot of it was there. You could very easily become Mrs. Kravitz if you want to, but it really wasn’t that kind of movie. In my life, I’ve had some really lovely people — teachers, my own mom — who I was able to go to and talk to if I needed a sounding board of any kind. Seeing that and being able to come be in that particular role is just really lovely.

It’s different when you go back and do a period piece. You are able to remember times when people really talked instead of texted or emailed real quickly. You really kind of got to sit down and have a cup of coffee or tea, and talk about life and your desires or expectations and fears. It was interesting being around that group of people, because all of a sudden I find myself the older one on the set. I’ve always been usually the younger one on the set, but now I’ve transitioned into having been around so long.

DD: How was everyone to work with?

NM: They all were great. We had lots of chats about work and school and things that they are interested in. Everybody was just fantastic.

DD: What do you hope viewers take away from the movie?

NM: It’s just nice to be able to sit with the family and watch a story, and maybe remember that talking is worthwhile and sometimes taking a chance is worth it. You do have to be a little fearless, a little vulnerable, but it’s worth it in the end.

DD: Do you still keep in touch with the gals from “The Facts of Life”?

NM: I talk with Lisa (Whelchel, “Blair”) and Charlotte (Rae, “Mrs. Garrett) all the time. Lisa doesn’t live too far from me, so she comes down to the ranch all the time and hangs out. Charlotte has been here. Her sister lives in Dallas, so Texas is a middle point for us all. The others are usually working here, there and everywhere. We just got the award from TV Land, and we all got together for Charlotte because she is an incredible lady. She was an incredible teacher, and I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to work with and learn from her.

I’m privileged and proud to call them my friends. We had a great time when doing that show. It was really great for all of us. We’ve been very lucky and very blessed. It’s nice to be able to be adult friends and enjoy each other’s company.