The new ABC Family series Melissa & Joey, which stars Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence, returns with all new episodes starting on Wednesday, July 29 at 8 PM ET. Melissa Joan Hart, recently participated in a conference call to discuss what's in store for the rest of the season. Here's what she had to say below.
At the end of the Halloween episode we saw a reference to Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. I was wondering will we see more of those as well as Blossom references in the future.
Melissa Joan Hart: Not really. I mean, we play towards it to let you know we know where we came from and what the audience knows of us. There will be one word out of Joey's mouth that will remind everybody of Blossom. But other than that, no, we just each made a little play towards our previous character and that's it.
How will the appearance with Joey's ex-wife alter the dynamic between Mel and Joe.
Melissa Joan Hart: In every episode, pretty much, Joey and I are always dating. There's a lot of-I date a younger man. I've got Scott Michael Foster from Greek to play my younger boyfriend and his ex-wife comes back. We fight over my trainer-whether not she's going just train me or date him. There's a lot of that in almost every episode and you'll see a lot of each of us getting jealous of the other with whoever they're dating at the time, but we question, should I be dating him or should I be dating her? But I think each time they realize that they have a relationship already in place sense and they can tread there. So, you'll see a little bit of that flirtation and a little bit of that curiosity that I think you get when you're single and have a person in your life of the opposite sex that's close to you. You always kind of question is this the right person for me, so you'll see a lot of that. But we don't really want to-we want to stay away from that, all of us I think, the network, the writers, Joey and I because unless we can do it in a really smart way, I think it's toxic to a show to actually get the lead characters together.
What was it about this character that interested you in portraying her?
Melissa Joan Hart: I got to basically help the writers develop the character. I told them exactly what I wanted to play. After doing Sabrina -well, Clarissa was like a really strong girl who was finding her way the world, and a nonconformist and quintessential, whereas, Sabrina was very much like she had special powers, but the character or Sabrina was always in the middle of the story trying to make everything right. She's sort of the kid acting as an adult, so I really wanted to play an adult acting as a kid. My first real sitcom adult role, I just wanted it to be something fun and cool and not to prove that I didn't have to be the straight man in order to be the lead of a show. I wanted to be able to be silly and wacky. I really admired Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character on The New Adventures of Old Christine. That was sort of a character that I wanted to watch, so that's sort of where it came from. With Jamie and I-my mother and I produced the show and when we cast Joey in that role and then Joey and I were cast together and came on board we all just realized it was a good chemistry all around that we wanted to keep it going. So we got a chance to do the show. So really, with us kind of creating the show, in a sense, with ABC Family, wecame with the idea that they wanted a show about a manny and the writers came in and sat with Joey and I, each separately and we each got to play what character we wanted to be. My big thing is I wanted a girl who was very silly and she thinks she has it all worked out, but she's just falling apart. And that's really what I wanted to play, so it's something that I get to do.
On Melissa & Joey, there's often a healthy and delicious meal being cooked or eaten in the kitchen. How important do you think it is to portray healthy eating habits on TV?
Melissa Joan Hart: Well, that's interesting that you noticed that because that's actually a big thing for Joey. He is a cook. He likes to cook. I'm lucky enough that my husband is from the south and a great cook and I don't cook that often. I think that's part of growing up on the set. There's certain things I never learned for myself was how to dress myself, how to do my own hair, makeup, or how to cook. Those were done, I came to set showered, in my pajamas, pretty much and someone would make me look good and someone would feed me. So those are the things that I never really learned, but Joey somehow has a real knack for it and he loves to make sure that when he's doing on the show he's always got a full meal worked out. He spends a lot of time with the prop people on the meals that they make and it's really nice to see. I think it is nice. I think it is interesting that you caught that because, obviously, it's not really something we meant for the audience to notice. It's more meant for Joey to have an easy time with it when we're shooting so he doesn't have to mess with the prop too much. But yes, it is great. I think it's great to show that on television. It's a difficult time right now. Also been working with Kellogg's on their Share Your Breakfast program because there's a big problem in the country right now where one in four children are waking up hungry and that's unacceptable in this country right now. But then you've also got, of course, is the child obesity rate. So on the one hand, you've got that and on the other hand, you've got the highest poverty level in children since The Depression. So a lot of these kids are waking up with empty bellies and it's kind of mind-boggling to think one in four children in our country is waking up hungry. So it's a really nice thing to focus on doing food right. It's always amazing to me. Like I can go and get a salad at the commissary at our work and I'll get a salad and I'll go get a bottle of water and out of the whole thing it's $6, but $4 of that is my bottle of water. So it can be reasonable to eat healthy. It can be economical and if you go to the Farmer's Market and whatnot. So I think it is good to show that sort of side of things as well. However, it's not the main focus of the show. Obviously, it's just sort of a side thing and that would actually be a really good question for Joey, I would say too what he thinks really thinks about that stuff.
So being a parent, how is it to take on a role of a legal guardian totally thrown into a sink or swim situation? Is it strange to leave the mom instinct behind?
Melissa Joan Hart: Oh well, what I do is I take my mom instincts that I've learned from being a parent-the hard thing about the show or what's interesting about the show is that these people are not parents. They're not even like-anyone that has a baby, adopts a baby, or whatever, they usually come into it at a very young age and they learn as the children grow. They learn each stage as it goes. Whereas, these people are being thrown into raising teenagers, which is the whole other world and ... having a relationship with these kids being the aunt has a hard time with separating aunt and parental figure now. So it's kind of interesting, though, because I take everything I know as being a mom of little ones and I turn it around. If we're on the show and something like eating healthy comes up, I'll just go against that and go, "Oh, here's some-here have some chocolate milk for breakfast. You're good." So we take everything we know as parents and just sort of do the opposite. We really like playing with that too and reminding the writers every once in a while that-every time we have a line that sounds a little too parental we're like, "We're not the parents. Let's change this, let's make this a little bit more inappropriate." So it's really fun. It's where, I think, a lot of this humor comes in. A lot of the humor comes from me and Joey fighting, but then a lot of other humor comes from us not knowing a thing about being parents.
Filming in front of a live audience, working with someone you know so well like Joey and then also having the rest of the cast that you've grown to know now, how do you keep composure? How do you not laugh when you're filming?
Melissa Joan Hart: I just think that comes with experience and practice-rehearsal because we've rehearsed it so many times and we have people laughing at us all week, we always have a small crew on the floor with us when we're rehearsing-the director, the AB's, the script advisor and the prop people. They're always there giggling with us. So you get used to hearing it. You're also kind of in your own head a little bit when you're in the show and the whole idea of acting is selling something, like really believing-your emotions manipulating it. That's what we're doing when we're out there is we're constantly trying to manipulate it so that it is authentic to us. So we are in this conversation. We are standing in the living room talking about whether or not Lennox can have a fake ID to go to a concert. So we leave breaks for the audience. The audience is almost like another character in it where we leave room for them, but sometimes it's fun too , to play along like if they laugh one of us will laugh with them and it kind of works, if it works for the scene then it's great. But we do have a lot of bloopers. You can see on the DVD-there's a lot of bloopers on the DVD that's out right now and we've got a lot more coming, but we've been having a blast and I think that comes across too.
Are there any other actors you would like to have his guest stars with you on Melissa & Joey?
Melissa Joan Hart: Yes. There's a ton, but we're making a campaign to try to get Danny DeVito on because his beloved little girl, Lucy, is on there playing Stephanie. We'd love to have Danny come on at some point. I would love to see some athletes like Michael Strahan who's proved himself on comedy numerous of times and I think is a great guy and he's a good friend. I would love to have him on. I think I've promised Curtis Granderson, one of the Yankees, a role, so I've got a make that happen. I'd love to have some of my girlfriends on like Soleil Moon Frye and Kellie Martin show some of their acting chops, some of their comedy. Then, of course, some really big names would be great to come on if we could get some good ratings and prove ourselves as a little show that could.
Is there any hilarious story lines that you would love for your character to be involved in?
Melissa Joan Hart: I'm waiting for the moment when Lennox and I are walking down the hall with each of us is sneaking in late from a date and kind of both of us going "Shh" .... That's sort of a moment I'm waiting for, but we have a few of those similarities but not quite that scene yet but that's something I'd like. Actually, back to your other question. A friend of mine that I would love to have on the show but I don't know if he would ever do it is Bill Murray. I would absolutely love to have Bill Murray on the show.
You've mentioned before that there was a really great to crew camaraderie on Sabrina. Everybody did things together, you guys hung out off the set. I was wondering if that is developing on Melissa & Joey?
Melissa Joan Hart: It is, it absolutely is. My sister's graduating high school today and at the graduation our script supervisor will be there, one of our grips will be there. I'm actually going to his wedding later on this year. We are hanging out outside of work and we are becoming quick friends. It's great. The difference is when I started Sabrina was in my early 20s, a lot of the crew was kind of in their 20s, early 30s. Everyone was pretty much single. We all got married on that show. We all started having babies on that show. So we had a lot in common. It was almost like college, times three. But now, on this show, everybody seems to be a bit older, everyone's got their own family. So it's a lot of like "Hey, do you want to go out tonight?" "Oh, I can't. The kids have blah, blah, blah in the morning. My wife blah, blah," you know that kind of thing. So there's a lot of people with families now so it's a little bit more difficult. But if we keep going with the show, I think absolutely, our families will become friends. We actually have a softball team. I think we kicked butt pretty well this year on the softball team. And they wouldn't let me play, but this year I'm definitely playing. I don't care if I get a ball for the face. I'm playing softball.
I just wanted to know a little bit about what we can expect from this season as far as the development of the relationship between Melissa and Joey and the kids and you guys. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Melissa Joan Hart: Yes. I mean the thing with any show if you watch Friends or Seinfeld, Cheers, any of these shows, at the beginning, they take a little while to get going. While the writers are figuring it out and the actors are figuring it out and the whole show is getting the wheels greased. Of course, by the end of the first season beginning of the second season usually you have it down. If you're going to have a hit usually that's when you start to see it. I really think in the beginning-we had the first 12, we were very, very lucky. I think with Joey and I having the experience that we have, and also having done the movie, and having chemistry, and just being able to click like we did. The crew and everything could fall into place, the rest of the cast could kind of fall into place around us. So we had it pretty smooth in the beginning, but now the next 18 that are coming up are, of course, we really got the ball rolling by then and we got into a great groove and we've got some really excellent episodes out there that you'll see where the characters are really coming into their own. You see more of the kids and of their struggles and you'll learn more. I think the more you learn-like one of the great things about Friends, I'm such a big Friends fan. One of the great things is in the beginning they have these stereotypes. Jennifer Aniston was the rich bride, was going to be a bride, so her storyline always centered around the fact that she was the spoiled brat that with bride. Courteney Cox with the ex-used to be overweight that didn't like Jennifer Aniston. So you see these things and the start off as these little nuggets of characters, but then grow as you get to know them and you get to know more of their background and you get to love them. You see them really flower and that's what I hope you'll see here is that these characters are really growing. Joey and I, our storylines get interesting because we do sort of a flirt but also avoid each other and have our bickering moments, constantly. You'll see the relationship develop with our kids and then with each other and them and their high school. The show really comes into its own in the second half of the season.
Are there any similar qualities or characteristics to you?
Melissa Joan Hart: I think that Mel is an exaggerated version of lots of little parts of my personality. I think I'm a very adventurous girl. I'm very-let's see, how would I explain this. I'm silly. I love to have a good time. I'm an event girl. I always call myself an event girl. I like going and making the most of something. If I'm going to a football game, I am going to go to a football game! I'm going to have face paint and pom poms and all the gear and be ready to go. I'm a planner. I like to have things scheduled out, but I also like to get really into things. I think that's a lot like Mel. She doesn't do anything half way. She goes all the way with something even if it's not right. But I think that there's also other sides. I know my family always calls me scattered brain and silly and that I have a big heart, and stuff like that. I think that a lot of that is sort of similar in Mel. But, of course, she's kind of a glamour girl. She wants to look the best and be sassy and very flirtatious and she's very boy crazy, which I used to be before I got married. So there's definitely some similarities there, but they're very exaggerated from me.
The banter between you and Joey just seems so natural and it's so funny. Do you guys ad lib much?
Melissa Joan Hart: No. We're both by the book kind of people. We take what's on the page. We try to make it work. If it doesn't, we'll talk to the writers and say, "You know what this joke isn't working for me. Can we rearrange this and this?" But really, what we say is pretty much there on the page. The great thing about doing the audience show-and Danny DeVito just wrote about this in ... Magazine the other day. He said he came to our set to visit his daughter and he was very nostalgic about his Taxi days of having a live audience show because it is kind of magical. You have a script set in stone Friday morning. You have a script and Thursday night I will memorize the crap out of that script. I'll stay up two or three hours at night just trying to memorize that script. Then we get to do it in front of a live audience but the second you do it, the writers are all side of the stage talking and whispering and the network will come in once in a while with their notes and we change it. We change it right there and then. We'll do one take for the audience the way it's written and then they'll all come running in and they'll give us all different changes. They'll change 3, 4, 5 lines in the scene and we'll do it again. Then they'll come back with three or four changes, we'll do it again with those changes. So we have to keep our brains locked down but also leave space for these little alterations they bring in, constantly. We call them alts, they bring in their alts. After one take then it's like the alts start flying in and it gets complicated, but also makes it silly as you're playing and you can see which one the audience reacts to the best. Then to watch the show back it's always kind of exciting, I think especially for the audience because they may have seen it one-way but you don't know which way it's going to end up. You may have your favorite picked out in your head which one you want it to be. For example, there was an episode that already aired in the fall that I did a spit take and in the preview-ABC Family ran the preview where I did spit take. I actually spit the wine across the room, but then in the show, they didn't use that clip. They just did it where I just kind of choked on my wine. So it's interesting. They have all these different versions and it's interesting which ones they pick. Also, I just wanted to add my Twitter name @MellyJHart. I'm fascinated with Twitter, so I'm all over it.