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Interview: Eric Mabius

There is no doubt that Signed, Sealed, Delivered has become one of the most successful franchises in Hallmark Channel’s history. With one season and nine movies under its belt, Signed, Sealed, Delivered has not only touched the hearts of the cast and crew but its viewers as well.

The series is back for its tenth movie Signed, Sealed, Delivered: To The Altar which will premiere on July 15th at 9/8c on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. One of the reasons for the success of the franchise is the wonderful work of actor Eric Mabius.

Eric continues to breathe new life into the character of Oliver O'Toole and with Signed, Sealed, Delivered: To The Altar, the stakes for not only Oliver, but the rest of the gang have been raised like never before! So, we chat with Eric about the journey of Oliver O'Toole, what it was like to have the gang back and what he knows or doesn't know about more movies in the future.

Pop Culture Principle – What was it like being back on set with the cast and crew to film To The Altar?

Eric Mabius – I’m so happy in the end that Hallmark has had the foresight to shift from the single, hour format to the two-hour format because Martha’s writing lends itself to exploration and exposition that really fits the two-hour format. When we convene to make one of these movies, we are invested in a way that I think shifted us and would shift the average person. >We go away, we get to be with our families, then we come back and we completely immerse ourselves in this world, so each one is a separate universe unto itself and yet, it’s part of this continuum.

To The Altar has such great returning characters and the amount that we have invested personally and professionally in these characters, it builds with each movie and this one is no exception. The people that we pick up along the way that we don’t want to leave, like Barry Bostwick and Keb Mo, we want them to be with us all the time and if we have a way to do that Martha always tries to find a way to make it happen and squeeze as much in as possible. It’s not for novelty sake, but because all these people are satellites to the central universe of these four characters.

People tend to throw this word around, but I feel so blessed to inhabited Oliver O’Toole all of these years. It’s so exciting to hold my head high and I feel like Martha has brought everything together. Although, there is a funny element to the movies, but we take this responsibility seriously. Family programming used to be an insult somehow and now in the current television landscape, other people and networks are scrambling to have this kind of content and Hallmark has had the fortitude and the steady hand all this time to program these types of shows.

Pop Culture Principle – As an actor, how protective have you become of the Oliver O’Toole character?

Eric Mabius – I’ve become the opposite of protective. I think one becomes scared and protective when you don’t have confidence in a lot of things. Fear breeds that kind of attitude. I am fiercely proud of Oliver, but I feel like he’s on this journey of peeling back the onion. He’s really become a more three-dimensional person in his life and his interactions with the people around him and his ability to show love and receive love from family and friends.

His relationship with his father and defining who he is as a man, as a friend, and a person in a relationship. Like so many of us, we aren’t fully evolved when we get married. We fall into relationships and we try and pretend that what we think should be a three-dimensional relationship and we learn the hard way and I feel that Oliver was the same way. Oliver had a type of innocent arrogance early on that has fallen away and I think I’m less protective of that as an actor as Oliver has become more comfortable with who he is.

Pop Culture Principle – If the Oliver O’Toole from today could go back in time and say anything to the Oliver O’Toole from the pilot, what would he say?

Eric Mabius – He would say that I’m not even going to try so say anything to you because you won’t listen and you believe you have everything figured out. Martha has taken these characters on such incredible journeys in such a short amount of time if you think about it. I’m excited about where we are because we have infinite directions to go in.

Obviously, everyone wants to see what is going to happen with Shane and Oliver down the road. Also, with the title of this movie being To The Altar, obviously someone is getting married. There are some funny circumstances that we find all four of them in and it’s something I can’t wait for people to see. Everyone thinks they are waiting for Oliver and Shane to get married, but that just opens up the characters to an entirely new universe of storytelling.

Pop Culture Principle – Oliver and Norman’s friendship has definitely grown over the years. Do you think Oliver sees himself as a big brother to Norman?

Eric Mabius – I’ve become really close with Geoff over the years. Our working relationship has always been one of the most rewarding for me. As we are figuring these characters out, we are relating to one another in different ways and learning to trust one another in different ways. Our characters become what we’ve been lacking. So, Oliver has filled this fatherly role because he didn’t really have a father, but he based a lot of his essence on his grandfather, even though it ended up not being by blood.

Norman has so many cousins and has had insecurity issues about being raised with a lot of cousins. As he doesn’t hide from those issues because of the love he receives from Rita, it fortifies his belief in himself and when he goes into those deep, dark corners, he realizes they are not so deep and dark and he’s filling himself out as a complete human being.

At times Oliver is a big brother, at times he is fatherly and at times, the reverse happens. Martha is smart enough to trust these characters, because on another show, if you wanted a fatherly kind of vibe, you have to introduce a new character, but we are trusted to be able to pull off that aspect as well.

Martha is also smart enough to put people of many generations into these movies, and people can see themselves in these characters and see past this kind of ageist construct. We keep shifting so everyone can project themselves onto maybe someone they wouldn’t think they could and it’s just a testament to Martha.

Pop Culture Principle – We also see Shane open up to Oliver like never before when she told him about her sister in The Road Less Travelled. It was a very powerful scene. Can you talk about shooting that scene with Kristin?

Eric Mabius – Without giving too much away, I can speak in the general by saying, not every single aspect of every movie, but Martha tends to pull us aside and what we realize in hindsight isn’t just a casual conversation. Martha is always mining for useful bits in just getting to know us as people over the last five years. If there is a story or an anecdote or a familial problem or something that colors who we are, we are going to be much more fiercely committed to playing the part.

Obviously, I’m to privy to the conversations she’s had with the other cast members, but I come from a very contentious relationship with one of my very close family members and if feels as if Martha may have based this upon someone or something else that she knows or may have based it upon one of those family members of mine, but she’s so good, I really don’t know for sure and I never asked her and it doesn’t matter. She just injects real pain and real forgiveness and real understanding and real obstacles in these characters. One way or another, they are based in someone’s experience, it’s not just in the theoretical. Without giving too much of it away, I was committed to that for really personal reasons as some of the other cast members were.

Pop Culture Principle – You have the ability to say a lot with your expressions without having to say a word. Is that something you are conscious of when doing a scene?

Eric Mabius – The director that we’ve used for the lion’s share of these movies is Kevin Fair, who has become a good friend of mine. He’s a brilliant director and one of the most ego-free directors that I’ve ever known. I literally take my hands off the wheel. I don’t really know what I’m doing in the moment that I’m doing it because I trust him and because it’s a judgment-free universe to inhabit.

I don’t really watch myself that often, but I’m surprised at choices I make because I don’t remember making them. So, that’s a gift about playing the same character for a long period of time, you don’t have to over analyze a thing. I am guilty of wanting to create a perfect moment. Cast, crew and writers all come together to try and create a perfect moment, but if you can understand the intricacies of a scene and then throw it all away and go to work with these people and play with such talented actors, you can come up with lightning in a bottle.

Pop Culture Principle – The latest Signed, Sealed, Delivered movie is called To The Altar. What can you tell us about this movie?

Eric Mabius – I can say that Keb’ Mo’ and Barry Bostwick are back. I haven’t seen it yet, so I will definitely watch and live tweet with the fans. At the risk of repeating myself, there is a wedding that happens and not all the guests are human. 😊 I can also say the Oliver might miss the opportunity of a lifetime. I can’t wait to for the fans to see the movie.

Pop Culture Principle – Do you think one of the reasons the show resonates so much with its fans is that people can see themselves in each character?

Eric Mabius – Absolutely and that’s what I was trying to define earlier which was that Martha surprises you and takes each character and turns them around. She puts them under duress and challenges and you can still project onto that character even though it might be a trait you may not possess. You see them try and overcome that challenge and you may see yourself trying to do the same if in the same situation.

There is a way in which you can identify and attach your filter to almost every character at a different point in time in the show. I think that’s what has helped keep this show a dramedy in so many ways. We are still laughing and crying, and we are still invested, and we are still learning about ourselves through these characters.

Pop Culture Principle – Do you know if this will be the final Signed, Sealed, Delivered movie?

Eric Mabius – I can tell you everything that I know points to that a decision hasn’t been made yet and that’s all that I know. I know that Hallmark has a massive amount of programming to put out, but they also have a bottom line to feed. If a show does well, chances are it’s going to come back. You can catch a lot more flies with sugar than vinegar and if people get the word out about the show, it may come back.

It’s about ratings and the network has a business to run and that’s how it works. I think a lot of the decisions have been based on how the show has done. Sometimes we don’t get pickups for the next movie until that show airs and it’s what any good businessman or businesswoman does. The answer is, I don’t believe anyone knows and if they do, we haven’t been told yet. Everyone is hoping and really, it’s about getting the word out any way we can.

Pop Culture Principle – Is there a moment, scene or episode that stands out to you as to what Signed, Sealed, Delivered is all about?

Eric Mabius – I find that there are very few scenes written for men the way Martha has written for men. Many of the scenes between Norman and Oliver are absolutely unique in that they show vulnerability and they show love towards one another and they do it in a way that’s not sappy and I think it’s hard earned and the audience deserves those moments. Also, the same for the moments between Oliver and his father. This is not generally how relationships are shown because it’s about point of conflict, let’s resolve it, move on and everyone’s happy. It’s a work in progress, like life, that things are grey and they just are.

Sometimes, people like to try and reduce Hallmark to a show that just women like to watch with a box of tissues and I really bristle when I hear that because of the reasons I just discussed. To play those moments as an actor, to be a part of a show that includes moments like that and to work with a director who can handle that, it’s amazing. Director Kevin Fair is so good at that. He will never go for the cheap or easy way out in a scene. Everyone works in such concert together, it’s just remarkable. And of course, we check all the boxes. We have had this wonderful journey that hasn’t been easy between Oliver and Shane and I think there has been a deepening of their appreciation and affection towards one another.

Pop Culture Principle – If this is indeed the final Signed, Sealed, Delivered movie, what would you like to say to the fans who have watched and supported this show from the beginning?

Eric Mabius – Well, just that even in those late hour nights, when we’ve been on set or the 60th hour that week, that fact that our work inspires and helps our fans, it means everything to us and inspires us to do even more and try harder at what we do. If they can get the word out and help secure ratings, we will have more of Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

We would like to thank Eric Mabius for taking time out of his schedule to chat with us. Don't forget, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: To The Altar will premiere on July 15th at 9/8c on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel.

**All photos copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Sergei Bachlakov**

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