Recently actor Eric Mabius took part in a phone conference with the press to talk about his current Hallmark series Signed, Sealed, Delivered.
Below you can read the full transcription of the interview.
Hallmark Channel Conference Call
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
April 29, 2014
Bryan deCastro: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us this afternoon. Hallmark Channel is thrilled to bring viewers its new hit series, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, which for the second week in a row is in the top 10 of all shows on Sunday nights; the most competitive in the TV landscape.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered airs Sundays at 8:00 PM, and is Martha Williamson’s return to television, who was the creative force behind Touched by an Angel.
Joining us today is one of the show’s stars, Eric Mabius, who plays Oliver O’Toole, a genius postal detective and the leader of the POstables. Eric, welcome, and thank you so much from everyone at Hallmark Channel for joining us today.
Eric Mabius: Thank you for having me.
Bryan deCastro: With that, I will turn it over to the moderator to begin the interview.
Operator: The floor is now open for questions. If you do have a question, please press the number 7 on your telephone keypad. We do have a question on the line from Allison Koerner. Allison.
Allison Koerner: Hi, Eric. Thanks for taking the time today.
Eric Mabius: Absolutely. It’s nice to meet you.
Allison Koerner: It’s nice to meet you, too. Now, you’re wildly popular for your roll on Ugly Betty where you play Daniel Meade, and Oliver is quite different than Daniel. Is that something you were looking for; to play someone who is a wholesome and overall good guy?
Eric Mabius: You know, that’s — no, is the short answer. No, I wasn’t aiming for that. They sent me the script when I was taking off for China. I was working on a film in China and I read it on the airplane. And I remember watching Touched By an Angel when I was younger, and obviously being moved by it and remembering it as something that the whole family could sit down and watch.
And having done a show like Ugly Betty, which was — although the two seem completely mismatched, they are similar in that they’re trying to put something — they were both trying to put something positive out in the world, and they had messages they try impart to their audiences.
But I had a wonderful phone conversation with Martha upon landing, and I felt like we understood one another, and we had great sort of general conversations about the type of TV that we don’t see anymore. There are television events, and it sort of seems like TV’s goal is to shock as much as possible and to portray people suffering. Almost like there’s a type of sadistic undercurrent running.
I don’t know if it’s because not that many interesting films are being made, so it’s spilling over into TV, but I found most shows unwatchable nowadays, short of a few comedy things. And I don’t know if that’s because I’ve changed or because I have two children — I have two boys at home — or what. But there was something that really spoke to me about the show and what Martha was trying to do. And I find that she’s so expert at facilitating certain ways of addressing issues without an audience feeling preached to.
I know some people, even the wonderful reviews the show has, someone inevitably has to say something about, oh, it’s a sweet show. And it seems like in today’s landscape, that’s something of an anathema. It’s like it’s something, it’s almost like a dirty comment to be a show that’s sweet and trying to say something positive. But I’ll take that. I really will take that.
And I feel like I landed in great company and great hands. And I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a collaboration more in my entire career than what I’ve been experiencing with Martha over the last nine months or so. It really is a type of — forgive me if I’m answering the question in a long-winded way, but I guess I’ll stop talking now.
Allison Koerner: No, that’s a great answer. Thank you. And as a follow up, are any of the stories that we see based on true events?
Eric Mabius: Every episode that you see has some element of truth in them. Maybe the specifics have been changed, certain elements, but they’re — Martha is much more interested in weaving real life into these stories, because real life is oftentimes more captivating than anything you can make up. So every episode has some element of truth in them.
There was an episode, I think it was the first one or second one, I’ve lost track at this point, but there was a story about — oh right, Valerie Harper tells that story. Now I remember. My grandfather staying on Christmas Eve because a load of eggs were starting to hatch. That’s a true story. My grandfather worked for the post office I believe for something like 25 years. But there was one Christmas Even he didn’t make it home, and they started to get worried. And it turned out that someone had sent eggs through the mail, and the farmer’s eggs were starting to hatch. So, that’s just a small example, but obviously my mother’s side of the family is very excited to have a real life story make it in there.
But those little — the fact that we know that there are truths help us portray them with, I don’t know, more passion I guess you’d say than the average actor on an average show. But that’s a small example of what Martha does constantly. And so often times in an episode, there are many facts or truths that work their way into the story line. Even thematically, a lot of these stories are true as well.
And it makes it — we know we’re putting something good out in the world, but portraying something that really happened to someone makes us feel like we’re on to something that’s more authentic or we become more impassioned by what we’re portraying.
Allison Koerner: Great. Well, thank you so much.
Eric Mabius: Absolutely. My pleasure.
Operator: The next question comes from TL Foreman. TL.
TL Foreman: Hey, Eric. Great talking to you, man. Thanks for taking the call.
Eric Mabius: Absolutely. I recognize your name from Twitter.
TL Foreman: Talking about the sharp-dressed man.
Eric Mabius: Yeah, yeah.
TL Foreman: There’s a great dynamic between Oliver and Shane on the show. Can you talk to us about what it’s like working with Kristin Booth?
Eric Mabius: Kristin and I have a lot of fun. Before POstables, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed working with three other actors more than I do on this show. And again, it has to do with Martha’s writing.
But I think that we’ve been very careful. And again, that was one of the conversations I initially had with Martha. There are great romances in television history that we refer to on MASH, on Remington Steele, on many many shows that we watched when we were growing up.
And we’re constantly modulating. Oliver’s struggling with the vows he took with his wife. And at what point does his responsibility end because she left and I don’t know if she’s coming back. Although it’s obvious to Shane’s character that my wife is not coming back, it’s something that Oliver’s struggling with. And to try and honor the contract made and the covenant made in a marriage, at the same time what do we do when feelings arise?
And Shane and Oliver are in two very different places, and what we see constantly is that struggle and the push and pull. And we want to make sure that their relationship is as realistic as possible and to embody those struggle; Kristin from Shane’s perspective and me from Oliver, obviously.
But it’s something that we both are very careful, and certainly starting with Martha, that we don’t want to cheapen and that we want to honor. But it’s sort of a constantly unfolding thing where we’re sort of checking in with where have we progressed thus far, because we shoot two episodes at a time, so it’s something we really remain vigilant about.
And there’s sort of, there are tests that Shane and Oliver undergo in the course of their relationship, and some audiences obviously detect the tension right away. But to make sure that, like in real life, I often think that a relationship built on a friendship is always most powerful. That relationships like this develop in the workplace because you become — you go through constant daily struggles together, and as a result, you learn to like these people for different reasons other than a pure physical attraction.
And Shane and Oliver are very complex people. And I think that an audience is going to continue to be satisfied by that, as opposed to it just being, oh, they’re going to become boyfriend and girlfriend, which may or may not happen, but that’s definitely down the road. But the journey that it takes to get them to that place I think is what an audience will really be attracted to.
TL Foreman: Great. Thank you so much.
Eric Mabius: Absolutely. My pleasure.
Operator: The next question comes from Meg Mimura. Meg.
Meg Mimura: Yes, hi. Hi, Eric.
Eric Mabius: Hi there.
Meg Mimura: How are you?
Eric Mabius: I’m great, how are you?
Meg Mimura: I’m so thrilled to be able to do this, because I love this show. I was just bawling when I watched “To Whom it May Concern,” the second episode. That was so touching and so beautifully written, so beautifully executed. It’s just so — I’m just so so thrilled with this series.
Eric Mabius: Thank you so much. Honestly, it’s been one of my favorites, that episode. It was incredibly moving. And we had a screening for the crew about a month ago and it was the first time I had seen it all the way through, and I was — my wife was watching it with me in the audience and she had to comfort me, I was so — I was breaking down while I was watching it. It was kind of a surprise to me.
Meg Mimura: My question is, I thought it was very interesting that except for Shane, Oliver and the rest of the — the girl who remembers everything —
Eric Mabius: That’s Rita, yes.
Meg Mimura: Rita. And it seems like everybody has their own specialties. And it seems like they’re all nerds and kind of socially inept.
Eric Mabius: Yep.
Meg Mimura: Is that — I was wondering if that’s something that the creator wanted you to project. Or is that something that, because they work for the government, they —
Eric Mabius: Well, I think it’s neither. I think that these, well now it’s four, but initially the world that Oliver had created, it was very intentional. He had been working for the Post Office for many, many years. He could work in any office at any level he wanted to. His pay grade is incredibly high, but he chooses to stay there, and he chooses to assemble his world the way he has, and he chooses his employees the way he has for a specific reason.
I think it’s almost incidental that they come across in a nerdy way. That wasn’t necessarily intentional. But what was most important is that they’re highly functioning and very, very good at their jobs, and that that was really what we want people to notice.
Because over time, over the course of the series you’ll see that maybe they are overtly geeky or they don’t fit in or they’re socially awkward, but we all are, at any point in time. That’s sort of like saying, why was Ugly Betty so fumbling in what she did, and why was her name Ugly Betty?
It’s sort of like it’s really an arc type in some ways, because we want an audience to associate themselves with those aspects of their characters. Everyone feels out of place at one time or another. Everyone feels that they don’t belong. And everyone wants to feel that they’re good at what they do.
And that’s — what you see over time is that these are just appearances, and they are only on the surface. And that Norman is a very kind, sweet, caring, well-rounded, skilled at what he does person. He’s a good friend and he’s a good coworker. And likewise at everyone in the office.
So I think appearances may be a way to pull people in or make them feel like they can be vulnerable watching them. But I really don’t — I find that those assignations are only superficial, and that these are really wonderful people. Because as you inhabit these characters, and we spend 14 hours a day with one another, the lines blur. And inevitably, you treat one another like part of your character.
So I just think — I’m sorry these answers are long-winded. They’re just, they’re hard to answer with a one-word sentence. It has nothing to do with the fact that they’re government workers, and everything to do with the fact that Martha is trying to draw multi-dimensional characters up in a world that’s certainly fictional. The government can’t this spend amount of time and attention on a single letter.
But it’s her idealized world, and it’s her love letter to the post office. She is a wonderful, very personal story about the role the postal service played in her life when she was a girl. And it really — we went to the Postal Service last summer and presented the pilot and told them that we would like their blessing, and she had the room in tears. It was a wonderful experience. Only drawn to be a big love letter to the Postal Service, because I believe they are somewhat the unsung heroes. But you know how Oliver feels about these things.
Meg Mimura: May I ask one more question? I actually moved from Japan to the United States long time ago, and I packed all my favorite books in one box. And that’s the only one got lost. While I was watching your show, I was like, hmm, I wonder if I can find it somewhere.
Eric Mabius: Yes, I wonder. I don’t know what the answer would be.
Meg Mimura: Okay.
Eric Mabius: But in theory, one could. I was reading the news. It happened a couple weeks ago, a woman in Brooklyn, over the course of a week, received three letters from 1969 that her husband had sent her from Saigon when he was in Vietnam.
Meg Mimura: Really?
Eric Mabius: So this stuff happens every day. I don’t know where it was or how it was unearthed. That’s what that show kind of teaches you about. These things sometimes end up in someone’s — a letter stuck in someone’s book carried through a war, or just stuck in an attic somewhere, and then someone finds it and they stick it in the mail system and that’s sometimes what happens.
Meg Mimura: Wow, that’s interesting.
Eric Mabius: I think that’s part of the reason why the veteran episode this past weekend was so important, too. Because at a time when the Veteran’s Administration is coming under fire for not dealing with our vets, there are a lot of complex issues with serving. And that the one thing that we have to hang onto is that no matter what war is being fought or what conflict is occurring, that we cannot forget to thank those people that serve.
Meg Mimura: Well put. I mean, this is my favorite show, so I really appreciate what you’re doing. And thank you very much. Best of luck with the show.
Eric Mabius: Thank you so much for your kind words.
Operator: Next question comes from Beatrice Perry. Again, if you do have a question, please press 7. Beatrice.
Beatrice Perry: Hi, Eric. How are you?
Eric Mabius: I’m great. How are you?
Beatrice Perry: Good, thank you. First question is how much do you really like Yoo-hoo?
Eric Mabius: I used to love it when I was a kid.
Beatrice Perry: I watched it and just thought, oh my goodness, I’m hoping that he really genuinely loves this drink after the–.
Eric Mabius: I absolutely loved it when I was a kid. And that’s why it sort of fit with Oliver’s MO of being a bit of anachronism. That was sort of like Yoo-hoo, I have a lot of great memories of my Polish grandmother giving us that. Yoo-hoo and there was a drink in the Northeast called Moxie. Ever hear of that?
Beatrice Perry: Yes.
Eric Mabius: It was a soda that had like some strange root in it. So it was kind of an acquired taste, but Moxie was like one of those sort of internal tonics. It was a soda. But anyway, but it reminded me of that. So it was grape ne-hi like Radar used to drink in MASH.
Beatrice Perry: Yes. I love it, I love it. The real question — you’re so cute — is do you have a particular topic? Do you have something personal that you would hope to hopefully coincide with Martha that you could cover over a show? Do you have something special inside of you that you would like to cover on an episode?
Eric Mabius: You know, I haven’t really thought about it because we’ve been so completely immersed in the season. Probably over the break something will come to me. No, I have — I’m the first generation who hasn’t served in the military, and I know my great uncle was a POW in the South Pacific. I think there is, not to go back to another military-themed episode right away, but —
Beatrice Perry: Oh, my husband was the Air Force. We appreciate that more than you can — you can’t imagine.
Eric Mabius: Yeah, my Uncle Dickey was in the Air Force and he survived prison camp. I think he was there for nine months.
Beatrice Perry: Wow.
Eric Mabius: And I just thought it’d be great to sort of find a collection of letters of someone who survived.
Beatrice Perry: Wow, absolutely. That’s, yeah, that would be amazing.
Eric Mabius: But I hadn’t really thought about it. That’s an interesting question. Anything I can come up with wouldn’t — I guarantee wouldn’t be as good as what Martha could come up with.
Beatrice Perry: It really is. It’s truly, it’s an amazing show, and we appreciate all that you’re doing.
Eric Mabius: Thank you very much.
Operator: The next question comes from Jamie Steinberg. Again, if you do have a question, please press 7. Jamie.
Jamie Steinberg: Hi, it’s such a pleasure to speak with you. Thanks for taking your time, Eric.
Eric Mabius: Thank you, it’s my pleasure. Nice to meet you.
Jamie Steinberg: I was wondering, was there anything about Oliver that wasn’t originally scripted for you but you’ve added to him?
Eric Mabius: There are — everyone has elements. That’s what I was saying before about Martha that she comes to us and asks us questions and we have conversations, sometimes long ones, and then she goes off and writes. But she will always ask for input. So there’s — it’s kind of hard to put my finger on any one thing, because it is a real, like I was saying, she’s probably the most skilled collaborative writer I’ve ever worked with.
Usually writers want to try and maintain almost a mystical or mythical air about what they’re doing. Which is not to say that what Martha is doing is not both of those things and many more. But she assimilates and synthesizes things that you offer very well, and it just becomes part of the seamless hole that is the show that are personal elements, because she doesn’t know because we’re inhabiting these characters. There’s an upcoming episode, and she was asking Kristin today, at 10 years old, what would have been your — the posters you would have on the wall of your room, because it was relevant to the episode that she’s writing.
So those kinds of things — what do you think your character would do — those kind of interchanges happen all the time with Martha, which is just such great fun.
Jamie Steinberg: What do you think it is about the show, then, that — I’m sorry; did I interrupt you?
Eric Mabius: No, not at all. What do I think about the show that is what?
Jamie Steinberg: — that has captured so many viewers?
Eric Mabius: I think that in trying to tell a full story, Martha, as a result, finds something that every audience can attach themselves to. A person from every walk of life at any age, male/female, young/old, there’s something for everyone in the episodes. And there’s a universal theme of hope that I think everyone is really attracted to.
That’s the other thing about Martha and Hallmark coming together here that on another network, this show could have been written 10 or 15 or 20 years ago. But the landscape, like I said before, not to sound preachy, but it really seems to be about, whether it’s a show about someone getting kidnapped and tortured and killed, or a reality show about someone being mentally tortured, or there’s a type of joy, driving joy from watching other people suffer that seems to be pervasive in television.
And I feel that the people at Hallmark are such a great group of people. The executives at Hallmark are some of the most well-rounded, involved family people, real human beings instead of a lot of suits that are trying to impose their ego or their will on subject and storylines and writers.
The people at Hallmark are just, they’re just such great people. And I’m not doing — I don’t have to say that. My job is relatively secure, but I just –. We go to dinner with these people, and we are excited to see them when we come to town to do press, and they make a point of going out of the way to treat us well, everyone. No just –. They come up to Vancouver to visit.
It’s just, I’ve never had, I hate to gush, but there’s no way I can get around the kind of synthesis that goes on between what Martha is doing, what we’re doing as actors, and what Hallmark’s trying to do. This is only the third foray into scripted television, and I feel like this is a show that is going to rebrand the network. It is going to –. It is your mother’s Hallmark, but it’s also not. That’s sort of the thing that we say on set because the show is so well-rounded, it appeals to people at every age. And that there isn’t anything on television like that.
I think we’re getting back to a different kind of storytelling. And I don’t mean something that’s of a different era; I just mean something that people are longing for. That they feel and they want to see, but they don’t have an example of until our show came along. And I think that’s why people are responding the way they are.
Because there are — and I tweet live the show, and there are people from all over the world. There are people in England and Ireland and people in Asia that find ways to watch the show. And the comments are, even though people are from many different walks of life, the comments are similar about, oh, we need a show like this now. It only inspires us to work harder at what we’re doing.
Jamie Steinberg: Well, it’s wonderful. Thank you so much for your time.
Eric Mabius: Absolutely. Thank you.
Operator: We have another question on the line from TL Foreman. Go ahead.
TL Foreman: Hey, Eric. This kind of touches on what you were just talking about. With the success of the show so far, do you think or hope it will open doors for more positive shows like Signed, Sealed, Delivered on other networks? Or have others maybe just take a look at shows like that?
Eric Mabius: Absolutely. And that’s usually — imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And I will definitely take that. I would rather have a bunch of shows trying to be doing what we’re doing, because Martha is the best at it. So I think we’re fine with competition. That’s absolutely fine. But I would rather see a bunch of shows that are trying to put something good out in the world.
Because it’s inevitable. Children watch television, and kids growing up, and people of all ages are watching this, and I think it seeps in over time. If you’re putting a negative message out there, with reality shows, people trying to base their lives upon superficiality or gathering money or fighting with one another, kids grow up thinking that’s okay. And it’s not okay, especially as a parent.
I was raised by a certain amount of television. Like for instance, I use MASH because I think it’s one of the best examples. I feel like there is a type — a part of Hawkeye’s character in me that is part of my psyche. The anti-hero, the guy who no matter what the results would be, he always tried to do the right thing. And that’s the kind of television I think we need. I’m very passionate about it, especially because I have two young boys. So that’s a long answer to your question.
TL Foreman: Thank you so much, and I guess I’ll see in the next live tweet. Thank you.
Eric Mabius: Absolutely.
Operator: There are no other questions in the queue at this time.
Bryan deCastro: Thank you very much, Eric, for joining us, and thank you, everybody, who participated in the call. Just a reminder that Signed, Sealed, Delivered airs on Sundays at 8:00 PM on the Hallmark Channel. That concludes our call today.
Eric Mabius: Thanks again.
Bryan deCastro: Thank you.
Operator: This concludes today’s teleconference. You may now disconnect.