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Catherine Bell Talks A Decade as Hallmark Channel’s Good Witch [Exclusive]

Photo: Shane Mahood/Crown Media United States LLC

[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]

The club of actresses who’ve had sequential longevity on multiple series is fairly small, and Catherine Bell is one such esteemed member, now on her third long-term role after nine seasons on JAG and seven on Army Wives. Good Witch began with a movie in January of 2008, and seven films later, a series was greenlit. That series is now filming its fourth season, and I caught up with Bell to talk about her near-decade playing Cassie Nightingale and Sunday’s new Halloween film, Spellbound.

Photo: Shane Mahood/Crown Media United States LLC

Cassie Nightingale is Hallmark Channel’s longest-running character, and Bell marvels that she has played her so long. “It’s crazy to think it’s been 10 years. I remember my daughter running around outside Grey House and now she’s 14. It was supposed to be one movie and it was super cute and sweet and we had a great time, and it did well and they said, ‘Let’s do it again,’ and then it did well [and here we are],” she says.

“The first one was kind of amazing. It was so special. I had never done anything like that or a character like that. I thought it was sweet with the kids and Grey House and the spookiness of that and, ‘Who was this mystical and magical person coming in here?'”

Photo: Shane Mahood/Crown Media United States LLC

One benefit of that longevity has been Bell’s innate familiarity with how Cassie would act. “You realize, after ten years, you do know a character so well. I don’t have to think about it so much,” she explains. “You don’t always have hours to prepare a scene like you do on a movie, but you know the character well, so it’s OK.”

The Good Witch movies were filmed around Bell’s Army Wives schedule, and when that series wrapped, the opportunity arose for Good Witch to get the series treatment. “It was something we had always talked about and it was a mentioned a few times with the last few movies we had done. It had [already] become a series, but we only did one or two episodes a year,” she says. “When Army Wives ended, it definitely became something we were all discussing. And then it was, ‘How do we make it a show you would watch weekly and make that interesting?'”

Photo: Shane Mahood/Crown Media United States LLC

“One of my feelings was that Cassie couldn’t or shouldn’t know everything all the time and fix every problem without batting an eyelash. That works in the movies because she’s magical mad witchy, but in a series, you want to have some obstacles to overcome.”

“We ended up fast forwarding in time and my daughter was a teenager, played by Bailee Madison, who is lovely, and that gives some complexity to their relationship. We couldn’t get Chris Potter back because he was on [Heartland] . We decided to have [Cassie] widowed, but it’s been long enough that [a new relationship] was a possibility [and James Denton was added].”

Photo: Shane Mahood/Crown Media United States LLC

With more episodes a year to tell her story, Bell has enjoyed figuring out who Cassie is. “Over the four seasons, [we are] constantly refining her and having conversations about [what she can or can’t know]. There’s a lot of collaboration. There’ a lot of respect between the producers, the network and the cast,” she says. It’s a work in progress with Cassie. She’s a tricky character. She may have a feeling about something that could happen but she doesn’t always know. [Sometimes] she sets a chain of events in motion.”

Photo: Shane Mahood/Crown Media United States LLC

Photo: Shane Mahood/Crown Media United States LLC

“They keep me hopping with the all the episodes and different things happening each time. I’m open to suggestions [for what’s next for Cassie]. The big question [in Season 4] is when do we tell the kids [that we’re engaged], because the season ended with them not getting along so well. We’re filming an episode now where we’re deciding on the [wedding] date. There are a lot of obstacles with the kids and all the problems they’re having and us trying to make sure that getting married isn’t going to make it worse.”

Bell mixed it up earlier this summer with UPTv’s High-Rise Rescue opposite Mary Kills People‘s Greg Bryk. The movie isn’t on the network’s schedule right now, but set your DVR to catch it the next time it rolls around. Bell was thrilled to jump into an action role. “That was amazing. That was a writer/director/producer I had worked with on Still Small Voices. He wrote this one, and he says he wrote it with me in mind,” she shares.

“It’s about a woman who is a mother and a professional and architect. She ends up becoming kind of an action hero because she’s forced to save her husband and son who are trapped at the top of this building she designed that’s now on fire. Man, I loved that. That was so much fun. It was exhausting. I had smoke inhalation and a sinus infection and cuts and bruises all over my body from crawling on the floor and explosions. It was intense and really fun. Rob Vaughn was so passionate. It was his passion project and he was right there with me and he’d throw his body on the floor and then I’d do it.”

Photo: Shane Mahood/Crown Media United States LLC

Photo: Shane Mahood/Crown Media United States LLC

Bell is active on social media and Good Witch is the first show to really have that as a component of her work. She loves participating in that aspect of TV. “I’ve always been a techie girl, I had a smart phone before the iPhone. I’ve been the girl that people will get to fix their computer. I got right into social media early on. I definitely love it. It’s great to connect with fans so personally. I’m on Twitter and Instagram all the time, posting pictures and talking with fans. I know they appreciate a personal connection. Live Tweeting is great,” she says.

The rise of streaming outlets has enabled new fans to find older shows, and it’s no different with Bell, who has fans discovering JAG and Army Wives. “Army Wives just went away from Netflix and my fans were not happy about that. They’ll be available somewhere else, and you can get the DVDs. I’m always amazed at how many people are still watching all those shows. A 20-year-old kid will [tell me] he watched JAG with his Dad,” she says.

“My son just joined Cub Scouts and he had his first parade and the marine recruitment center was ahead of them in the parade. I went up to a couple of marines…and put my hand out and said, ‘Thank you so much for your service. I have a soft spot for marines because I played one on a TV show for nine years. And they said, ‘Oh, yeah?’ I said, ‘You guys are pretty young, but have you heard of JAG?’ It was about three or four seconds of letting it sink in and then they said. ‘Oh my God!’ It was the cutest thing. They jumped and then they wanted a picture.”

While those shows were often what made Bell recognizable out in public, that has changed. “Right now, it’s Good Witch more than anything. In the first season it was still JAG, probably JAG more than Army Wives. They’ll tell me they love the marathons and it’s their guilty pleasure.”

Bell will also appear on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries in two Christmas films–Home for Christmas Day, which previewed in July, and Christmas in the Air. I will have the second part of our interview when it airs on November 5th.

Good Witch: Spellbound airs at 8/7c Sunday on Hallmark Channel. It’s a Halloween-themed prequel to the upcoming fourth season and counts as part of that episode order. In the film, Middleton is preparing for Halloween and is a bit rattled by a series of mishaps that were foretold in a century-old prophecy. Here’s a sneak peek.

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