SC: You have had the opportunity to work on a number of Hallmark programs. What draws you to take part in sharing these stories?
BN: I just recently added it up and I think I've been in 26 Hallmark movies now. I actually got my Screen Actors Guild card on a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie called Promise in 1986, which was with James Garner, James Woods, and Piper Laurie. It won the Emmy for the Best MOW of the year. How cool that it’s now come full circle and I’m still on Hallmark. I love being part of the Hallmark family because it’s really aligned with my basic values. I have Hallmark on in my own home too. In fact, I record and watch Golden Girls to sleep with every night because I remember watching that with my mother. Hallmark is about family, home, love, and kindness.
SC: Megan has changed so much over the seasons and as her story progressed, there has been more understanding and a new appreciation for this character. It also provides an opportunity to look around and see how many other people we might be misjudging or not supporting when they need it most.
BN: Thank you for saying that, from both me and Megan O’Brien. She is so much of me, because as an actor playing a character, all we have to bring to our work is our own life experience. From the moment Hallmark said, “take a look at this character in Chesapeake Shores by Sherryl Woods” I was intrigued by her depth. I thought, oh my gosh, I have to play her. Because somebody else is going to play her as a b*tch or as a victim, and she won’t be able to be redeemed. I understood her. Her strengths and her flaws. As a mother, I know that I would do anything for my children, and I feel that’s why Megan did all of this. When you’re in a bad marriage and going through depression, you know you need to get help and get healthy, to save yourself so you can save those around you. I know I went through this in my own life when I split up. I just felt so guilty about it. Plus I had no job, and I had a young child who was two years old. But I saw my daughter watching us be unhappy people, and I knew it wasn’t good for her. I divorced, and started over. My daughter and I were so poor back then, especially as I went after this crazy acting dream. But somehow, we survived and thrived and now I am living my dream. My daughter is living her dream too.
I feel Megan’s life was similar. Megan watched her kids be hurt by the fighting and not communicating, and she knew it wasn’t good for anybody in the family. In my mind, the reason, or the back story that I created for Megan O’Brien, is that she left thinking that she would always be coming back. She asked Mick to let her go for a while, to get her head right and create a new place for the kids to join her while she got help. She always wanted the kids to come and live with her. But I think Mick was such a hard-nosed tough guy then that he didn’t let it happen. Think about her situation. Megan had no money and had to start over in a new city. How could she take five kids with her until she got a new place for herself and them? She loved the kids enough to not uproot them without preparing a home for them first. Abby was in high school then, and the younger kids were in school, and they all had their friends and lived in that beautiful home. And then Nell comes in to take care of them, perfect Nell, and I mean, how do you compete against that? Megan must have been devastated to know the kids were better off staying with Mick, at least for a while.
So, if you love people enough, sometimes you have to let them go, for a while. But in my mind, Megan was at every school play and every school basketball game, sitting up in the back row so they didn’t see her, as that would have caused them stress. She had to know her kids were okay. 17 years is a long time. She didn’t lose contact with Abby, but the young ones didn’t really know her for all those years. I think it says a lot about Megan that when she came back, she sucked it up and just kept saying, “I’m sorry, I’m going to keep trying to make it right, and I’m not going to give up. I’m here now. Please just let me in.”
As an actress when I was filming it, especially that first season with Laci J Mailey (Jess O’Brien), oh my gosh, it was so hard because doing those scenes hurt me in my heart. But I did what I believe that Megan would have done. I would look for the wins. I would look for the time where she didn’t slam the door quite so fast, or maybe she didn’t yell at me this time. With Bree (Emilie Ullerup) and Connor (Andrew Francis), I looked for those little victories too, tried to build on those and celebrate those. And I (as Megan) kept coming back because that is what you do when you love somebody.
SC: How is returning to Chesapeake Shores and the character of Megan different, or what do you welcome about being able to have continuity in a role?
BN: I love learning more about Megan as I play her. As an actor, each character you play teaches you something about yourself, and I've learned a lot with Megan O'Brien about never giving up on family. I think we've all gone through so much these last couple of years. Families and friends were divided in so many ways, including a pandemic. So having a place like Hallmark to come to for quality entertainment, to celebrate family, is important. It reminds us of those things that are worth fighting for. Megan has taught me a lot about never giving up and that family is everything.
SC: With a two year hiatus since you last filmed Chesapeake Shores, was it an easy transition to return to your character, or did you find it took a little bit to get back into your groove of being Megan?
BN: No, she's there, she’s just there. It was hard filming this season though, because it was 3.5 months away from my home and family. With the quarantine protocols up there [in Canada] we couldn’t have visitors, and we couldn’t go home and visit either. I did a lot of FaceTime with my family and my grandkids. But we as a cast have become a family too, so you embrace one when you can’t have the other. We act as family and we ground each other, being far away from home together.
The job part is fun and being on set is fun. My boyfriend always says that “you would act for free” and that’s probably true, but don’t tell Hallmark. We actors love our job! But there’s a lot of down time too. That’s when it takes a toll on you, especially not being home. So you have to find ways to keep yourself from getting down about it. My way of doing that is doing something to better myself every day. It keeps me on track.
I am someone who thrives by having goals. Early during the pandemic lockdown, I decided that I was going to come out the other end of it better than when I came in, mentally, physically, and spiritually. I got a personal trainer (on Zoom) and started a fitness routine, working out with him three times a week. It kept me accountable and I loved feeling stronger and seeing the difference it made in my body. I also rode my bike 10 miles almost every day and I got into great shape again. I had forgotten how good it feels to be athletic. Now, even when I’m on location I still work out with my trainer (@JeffPhillipsFitness on Instagram). I always rent a treadmill in my hotel room too, and I make sure not to go to bed before I get 10,000 steps a day. I am a pescatarian and like eating healthy, but my trainer had me start eating at least 50 grams of protein each day. What a difference. I also take a brain health supplement. Those things in my fitness routine have kept me grounded and my brain clear. I feel like making my body stronger has really helped my energy and my spirit. It’s helped my acting too, because I can remember my lines easier now.
I’m really glad I set that goal for myself at the beginning of the pandemic. Because I know a lot of people didn’t. Once you start being a couch potato, it’s very easy to stay on the couch and binge watch another show. So, just get off the couch! Do something today that your future self will thank you for! Every moment is a choice to go toward your dream or away from it. If you mess up one moment, in the next moment simply make a decision to get back on track. Set a goal and make it happen.
SC: If you could give advice as Megan to any of the O’Brien children, who would you choose and what would you say?
BN: To Connor. Everyone is going to love his story arc this season and his development. He really comes into his own, but he’s working so hard that he’s hurting his health. There’s got to be balance in life for all of us. And love. And some way that you replenish your spirit. Andrew Francis in real life is so spiritual and he actually has a meditation center called Zen Den. He does crystals, singing bowls and leads yoga classes. So, in his own life he’s very centered and very grounded, but his character Connor goes through a real mix there. So, that’s what I would say, is to find balance. That goes for each member of the family. It can’t be all work, like with Mick. With Abby, it can’t be just work or just being a mother. You need to nurture all sides of yourself, including finding love again. Bree, I would say, “What do you want to do next? You’re so brilliant. We will support you in your dreams.” With Kevin, he is with Sarah now and they’re deciding the next steps about family. Jess of course gets married to David and it’s the most beautiful wedding ever. We were all crying for real, and Laci said that when she was there with Treat walking her down the aisle, she started tearing up. We all did. We especially loved filming the very last scene of the wedding, we all got goosebumps. It felt like a celebration of life and of this special Chesapeake Shores family we have created. We were all dancing outside the O’Brien house next to the ocean, with Irish music playing, and the scene ends with a drone shot revealing the magnificent view of the house and ocean. And the best part of filming that scene was Treat Williams got on the ground breakdancing during one take. (That didn’t make it into the final edit though.) It was hilarious!
SC: There have been a lot of changes with Chesapeake Shores this season. Can you share more about your thoughts on Season 5?
BN: We are lucky enough and blessed to be in our fifth season, and all of us are saying that it’s the best one yet. Not only for us to have fun as actors, but also for the development of each one of our characters. We have a new Showrunner this year named Phoef Sutton, and he just “got us” so much. I think my character Megan has been one of the most underdeveloped of the series, but she really comes into her own this year. I’m excited with the things that he, Mark Jordan Legan and Brian Ross wrote for me.
Everybody at Hallmark had to do a quick gear switch when Jesse decided he didn’t want to be part of the show and wanted to do other things. We were already on the island getting ready to film. But Phoef and Hallmark came up with a brilliant way to pivot on that. They created the character of Evan, who is a billionaire and potential love interest for Abby. But it starts as a love-hate relationship. There are definitely sparks between them and it’s fun to watch it develop. Some of the things this season are jaw dropping, so it’s a season where we all kind of got whiplash reading the scripts. We all knew that this would be an epic season of Chesapeake Shores.
There’s so much more about family, love and “life” this year. Every character has gone on to a next level. The dialogue is delicious, and it’s smarter and funnier now. It’s been an unexpected year and we had a blast. Treat Williams kept saying that he couldn’t wait to go to work every day. Me too. To finally feel like a true ensemble cast is a rare gift and we appreciate it so much. Of course, sharing it with the viewers is the ultimate perfect circle, and we love joining in to live tweet each time the show airs. I also do a Facebook Live as often as I can, which starts an hour before the show airs and ends 15 minutes before the show begins so everyone can go to the bathroom and get their snacks. Then we all come together to watch and live tweet during the show. It’s a blast to share the experience with the #Chessies.
SC: Of your Chesapeake co-stars, who would you say most resembles their character’s personality? Who would be most opposite to their character?
BN: Treat is pretty dead on. Actually, I think they’ve cast us really well, because as I’m sitting here thinking about each person, they kind of got us all. With Jess, I don’t know who else could play that part so well as Laci, she is so funny and can be so vulnerable, and she and Carlo have an amazing chemistry. Bree, that’s Emilie, that’s just who she is. She comes up with things out of her mouth that we go, “oh that’s brilliant, write it down, use it sometime.” Brandon who plays Kevin has the hugest heart and really cares about people. He’s a real hero, just like the guy he plays on screen. Andrew is smart and funny and such a love. Anytime there are kids around the set they find Andrew, and he’s the biggest one leading them all in mischief. He also does character voices and cartoon voices. Meghan Ory is thoughtful and intelligent and that beautiful in real life. She has a great giggle! Of course, Diane Ladd, who’s one of my best friends, is so like Nell. Wise, caring and a warrior. A lot of times they’ve written scenes for her using words and phrases I’ve heard Diane say in real life. So, I think they’ve “got” all of us and who we are, and by writing to our strengths as people and human beings, people will enjoy this season more than ever. It will also reveal more about our characters than ever before.
SC: Super Channel has aired all three seasons of Cedar Cove and they remain available On Demand . How was the role of Peggy Beldon similar or different to your role as Megan O’Brien? What do you remember most about your time on Cedar Cove?
BN: I loved doing that show. As a character, Peggy seemed less complicated, and ours was basically a love story with Peggy and Bob. It was Peggy baking Bob scones and all of that. I think Megan has been allowed to go deeper in this series. I think she’s been hurt more than Peggy. Although my favorite scene that I got to do as Peggy Beldon was when she confronted her rapist. Someone told me “It was the slap that was heard around the world.” In the scene I got to tell him off after 20 years of being silent about what he’d done to me, and slap him in the face to take my power back. As I did that, I felt like I was doing it for every woman in the world who’s ever been abused. So that was a pretty profound moment for me as an actor.
Andie MacDowell was incredible to work with and what a doll. She’s shy too, which you would never think, because she’s so beautiful, and she’s just intelligent and loving. She talks in that southern drawl so softly, and I just loved her to death.
Teryl Rothery and I met on that series and we’ve become great friends. Every time I come into Vancouver we visit, and her daughter comes too. I just love her so much and she’s an extraordinary actor. She works all the time. I’m glad that we met and that we’ve been able to keep it going.
SC: When we interviewed Teryl she had brought up the scene from Chesapeake Shores with you, Treat and Gregory eating pie at Sally’s, and how you and Treat were daintily eating the pie, whereas she and Gregory were needing to have theirs reset more often.
BN: They need to match continuity each time, so every time you pick up the fork and take a bite, you have to do it the same way every single time. A lot of times when you do multiple takes, you just get so full that they bring a spit bucket. So, you’ll be chewing on camera and then when they say “cut” it goes into the bucket. While they’re filming, if you take a bite and you’re still talking and the camera is still rolling, you have to swallow, and then match it again in the next take too.
My character that truly eats most of the props is Delores Swensen from Murder She Baked and now the Hannah Swensen Mysteries. She indulges her pain and her joy and every emotion with eating. So, having a daughter that owns a bakery is an issue. I gain five pounds every time I play Delores. There’s one scene in this latest movie Sweet Revenge (I posted a bunch of pictures of it) where I have to eat chocolate cookies. And more chocolate cookies. Ugh. I’m eating them throughout the scene, and swallowing each bite, because she never stops talking. Delores is a blast to play, but she’s my most fattening character.
SC: Years before Cedar Cove, you and Bruce Boxleitner were both on Mystery Woman: Wild West Mystery, currently available On Demand. How was the experience of being in a western, portraying the character of Annie, and do you have any memories that stand out from your time on this set?
BN: I love anything Western because I grew up in Oregon. I was in 4-H, rode in Western horse shows, and had a horse in the backyard. Then when I moved to LA and brought my daughter down, I made sure I got us two horses. So to get to actually do a Western was my dream come true. Bruce Boxleitner and I met on that movie, and Randy Pope (now an Executive VP at Hallmark) was the Executive Producer on that movie. Randy evidently liked our chemistry together, so when they were recasting the parts of Peggy and Bob on Cedar Cove, he asked Bruce and me if we wanted to do it. My best memory on that Western was that every day Bruce and I would get to set early just so that we could put our costumes on and hang out with the wranglers and horses.
SC: Based on your social media you have a huge love for animals, including donating your time to help organizations in need when you’re not on set. Are there any shows that you have done that stand out because of animal involvement? How is a set different for you when animals are involved?
BN: There was always a cat, for instance in Murder She Baked, as Hannah Swensen had a cat. You always know that the animal is the star, and you have to be ready to improvise with whatever they’re giving you. On a set the animal wrangler is so important to make sure the animals are happy and healthy. My passion is to promote the welfare of animals, like advocating to adopt senior pets, “adopt don’t shop” and raising awareness to stop the horrifying dog and cat meat trades.
One of my favorite events that I’ve been able to do is the American Hero Dogs Awards, where Hallmark has partnered with American Humane. That is my favorite event each year. The first year I was a presenter on that show I was introduced to American Humane. Then I became a National Ambassador for them. This year I also got to be a judge for the American Hero Dog semi-finals. American Humane is an amazing organization. It is usually the first disaster relief team to arrive on location for every kind of disaster. I also was able to go on a deployment with them one time. There was a puppy mill operation up in Washington and I’d been asking forever if I could participate in a rescue operation. I wanted to actually go and help, and not just be a figurehead in makeup standing on the stage at the awards show. They finally called me and the next day I got on a plane. As I pulled up to the rescue site, the most extraordinary thing was waiting for me. The American Humane disaster truck was the first thing I saw. And there on the side of the truck were the painted images of three of my fur babies (Lucy, Lola and Pepper) who are no longer here. It was like my angels were there waiting to help us bless all these little puppy mill dogs that we were rescuing.
SC: You have indicated that you have dual citizenship, so can you share more about your connection to Canada and your favorite locations or must see attractions?
BN: My father was born in Burnaby, British Columbia, a portion of Vancouver, and so before he passed away ten years ago, we decided that I was going to apply for dual citizenship. We hired a wonderful immigration attorney (Andy Simotiuk) and he walked us through it all and I became a Canadian citizen. I also have a BC Corporation. Part of the reason for doing so was that there’s so much production happening in Canada. Having Canadian citizenship makes a difference because I am actually a tax credit for any production that comes into British Columbia or Canada. I’ve shot a lot in Ottawa and Toronto too, and we did Crossword Mysteries in North Bay.
Every time I land in Vancouver, no matter what the weather is, there’s always a break in the clouds and sunlight comes through. I know it’s my dad saying “hi”, so I just look up and say, “thanks dad.” There’s something special about Vancouver and especially Vancouver Island, which is the most magical place I’ve ever been. I am told that there is a layer of crystals underneath the land on the island, which to me makes it feel like an energy center, very like Sedona. I think that’s partly why Chesapeake Shores has done so well, because it has a special energy and magic that comes through the TV screen. I think we’re meant to be here doing this series. I hope that the message that we put out as a cast, as a Hallmark Channel, as Super Channel, is that we are all meant to be coming together at this point in time, to promote kindness and remind us that the most important thing is family and how you make somebody else feel.
SC: What has acting taught you the most about yourself? What piece of advice would you give to someone just entering the industry?
BN: Good question. I think it's mostly taught me that it’s better if I don't try to be perfect. Because as viewers we're fascinated watching characters who don't have perfection, who are unpredictable, who have a light and a dark side, who have problems that we can identify with. When I was trying to be perfect and tried to guess what they wanted me to be when I went into casting session, instead of just being me and letting my foibles show and embracing my quirks, I wasn't as successful. So, my advice to an actor is to own who you are and allow each character to teach you more of who you are. Don’t be afraid to let that show because that is what’s really interesting. Think of an actor that you find compelling, someone that you can’t take your eyes off of. It is because they’re unpredictable and exciting. You don’t know what they’re going to do next. So, don’t be afraid to show who you really are. Don’t edit your impulses. Just have a ball and stop trying to be perfect and fit into someone else’s mold.
SC: Your social media is filled with positivity, love, and kindness. Your followers often share that they feel inspired by your uplifting messages. How did you become inspired to focus your energy in this way, and who are some of the people you look to for inspiration?
BN: Oh, another good question. One of the things that I wanted to do as an actor was to shine my light and help others turn on their light too. When I first started out acting it was more about getting a job and just loving the process of acting. But as I was at it longer, I guess I realized it’s not about me at all. It's more about me having a larger platform so I could reach more people with a positive message. And hopefully they can start paying it forward as well. Let me show you this [Small sign that reads: This Little Light Of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine]. When I first started acting, this to me is what it was all about. MY light shining. And then it began to be more about being a connector and bringing people together, because together we can create a bigger difference and shine even brighter, and that’s what it’s going to take.
My acting coach, Milton Katselas, used to say that art is the only thing that could really create change in the world, because it cuts across all cultures and languages. We see ourselves in the people we see on screen, we see our aunts, we see our grandmother, and we see our neighbor. I love the fact that there’s so much more diversity in entertainment now. More people are getting a shot at their dream, not just opportunities in entertainment, but in so many other careers. In the entertainment programming that we are creating now, if we can create empathy and understanding by showing that we’re more alike than we are different, then we’ve done our job. Hopefully that will seep into the lives of viewers and their families. Again, it’s the same theme of it’s never too late to say I’m sorry, it’s never too late to try again, and never too late to help each other.
One of the truths that I’ve come to find out is that if we don’t go through lessons and learn them, and we don’t have hard things happen to us, then we can never pass that lesson on to anyone else. One of my favorite lines that Megan O’Brien says to Sarah this season is, “While I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, going through something really crushing is the only thing that can truly teach you your own strength.”
I am also passionate about helping others get their message and “lessons learned” out to the world. I haven’t had much time lately, but I am also known as Hollywood’s Top Media Trainer, and have a video production studio in L.A. I created “Unleash Your Star Power” and “Show Business 101” as a way to help speakers, authors, and businesspeople become better at videos and public speaking. I have an entire online course on my website.
Each one of us is here for a reason and has something to share. But to do that, you have to be able to communicate it easily to someone else. If you’re holding on to that fear of “no, I’m not good enough,” or “what if I say the wrong thing?” or “I don’t like cameras looking at me” or “I hate being in front of a crowd,” you’re stuck and paralyzed. And… being stuck is actually a very selfish act. You’re worrying about yourself and what you look like, instead of the fact that what you have to say may change someone’s life or future. So, get out of your own way, quit thinking about yourself and just think about the gifts that you’re going to give to your audience or viewer. Look every single person in the eye (even through the camera lens) and just connect with them, heart to heart. Remember this. It’s never just about the words you’re saying, ever. It’s more important to concentrate on how you are making somebody feel. That’s how you will create change, by sharing emotions. Quit trying to be perfect and just get your message out there.
SC: With Super Channel airing Chesapeake Shores at the same time as Hallmark Channel, what does it mean to you to know that Chessies from North America are able to watch and tweet at the same time?
BN: Filming on Vancouver Island for 3 ½ months is such an isolating experience. Then we come home and maybe do ADR [Automated Dialogue Replacement], and maybe some interviews about the show. It’s kind of ancient history until it airs. But the best part of all, when it comes into its perfect circle, is when we get to share it with people who are watching. To know that there are so many people watching is both incredible and nerve-wracking. I’m nervous because I really want them to like Megan, and I want to do her justice, and I want them to like our show so much.
We would not be here without our dear #Chessies, and we are so grateful to them! I’ve been acting over 35 years now and I literally would not get the chance to do this, what I love, if people didn’t watch. I just hope that I can give that kind of support back. You guys have helped me live my dream, and I will do anything I can do to support you, uphold you, and encourage you to go after your own dreams too.
One thing I want to say is this. The saddest thing in life would be to wonder “what if” at the end of your life, because it’s too late then. Don’t live with regret. Take chances right now, dust off your dreams and add something to your life that makes you happy. And remember, you’re teaching your children by example. Teach them this: Don’t settle for less than wonderful in your life. Live your passion. Connect to your purpose, and make a difference. And… don’t give up five minutes before the miracle.
I’m living proof that it’s never too late to begin something new. I didn’t start acting until I was 30 years old in Portland, Oregon. I was a single mother, with very little options, no college, and no money. I always knew I wanted to be an actress, since I was 5 years old. One day as my 10-year high school reunion approached, I realized how fast time was going by. I decided that if I didn’t try now, I never will. So I made a list and wrote down my pros and cons, strengths and assets, and declared my acting dream. That was the first step to making it real. Then I knocked on doors, found a mentor, worked hard, and learned my craft. I didn’t give up, I kept at it no matter what. It wasn’t easy, but now as I look back, the journey has been incredible. And somehow, I’ve been able to make a living in this crazy business!
If I hadn’t taken that first leap of faith that day, declaring against all odds that I was going to be an actress, my dream would have been over before it even started. I would have lived all these years with regret. You have to take that first leap, and then keep leaping, to find out what you are truly capable of. That’s the only way to discover how high you can fly.
SC: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the Chessies?
BN: I just want people to find comfort and hope in our show.
SC: Do you have any upcoming projects that Chessies should keep an eye out for?
BN: Yes, a Christmas movie called “The Christmas Contest”. I play the mother of Candace Cameron Bure, and it will air Sunday night of American Thanksgiving weekend on Hallmark Channel.
SC: Barbara Niven is a joy to watch on screen and shows her kindness towards fans in every interaction. She truly believes in not giving up five minutes before the miracle and encourages others to believe in that too. Barbara’s talents on screen are only part of the reason why she is a guiding light, and her support of her costars, as well as fans, shows how she is always a beacon throughout life. To see where Barbara will be shining her light next, connect with her across her social platforms, as she might just inspire you like the light upon the water too.