Signed, Sealed, Delivered debuts its newest film, From the Heart,Â Sunday night on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and this week, we had the chance to chat with the Eric Mabius, who plays the DLO’s resident expert, Oliver O’Toole.
Mabius came to the role of Oliver after Ugly Betty ended its run on ABC and he’d shot a season ofÂ Outcasts in South Africa for the BBC.Â “I had finished Ugly Betty and was kind of disillusioned about the business in general. It was very close to my heart. I was going to the airport to fly to China for a film and my manager said there’s a script that theyÂ had beenÂ tracking for a while that had been written with me in mind and they wanted me to give it a read,” he recalls.
“I read it on the plane.Â I [had a middle-of-the-night] conference call with Martha [Williamson]Â from a Chinese hotel roomÂ while she was on a cruise, talking in a closet so she didn’t wake her daughters. We had our first conversation, a very good one, and I told her all the reasons why I liked the script and all the reasons I was afraid it might not work because things like that weren’t being writtenÂ anymore. I was very excited.”
Although Signed, Sealed, Delivered was initially a weekly series, Mabius is happy with the conversion to a recurring film series. “I really appreciate the two-hour format much more so than theÂ one hour. 42 minutes to tell a story is not enough time,” he explains. “In the two-hour format, you can really delve into the relationships. I’m biased, but I think that’s what people are craving to see, how the four POstables interact with one another, and that brings the greatest opportunity for funny things and we get the chance toÂ tell the B story line with the letter.”
“It’s really about our relationships and the mirroring that Martha does between the budding relationshipÂ between Rita and Norman and the budding relationship betweenÂ Shane and Oliver, and how sometimes they miss each other. Rita and Norman are seeing the satisfactions the audience wants to see for Shane and Oliver, but we have to work harder to achieve that with those characters.”
The pairing off of the POstables was a combination of planning and chemistry. “I think in general that’s what Martha had always planned,” he says. “The specifics were not planned,Â [but] how it played out evolved over the course of the films. As much as the audience wants to see Shane and Oliver together, it has to feel earned, otherwise it doesn’t feel valid.”
Mabius says Oliver was modeled after Williamson’s grandfather, but his look and cadences are a collaborative effort, as are all the characters. “I think in general the kind of man Oliver is…the template was and has been a version ofÂ [Martha’s] grandfather. One of the most collaborative,Â fulfilling, creative experiences I’ve had has been working with Martha,” he shares.
“[Our] input matters to her because we play these characters day after day.Â What she writes on the page and what we bring to life onscreenÂ informs each following script. It’s a building process that we’re all dedicated to. One person comes up with an idea, Martha adds to it. It’s a great ping-pong effect. Everyone’s caught up in it in wonderful way.”
Mabius says his favorite Oliver moment came in last fall’s The Impossible Dream. “I think that was the crescendo for my character. One of my favorite films is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I’m a huge Capra fan. I think Jimmy Stewart’s performance is one of the finest of that generation and it still stands up,” he says. “I think that moment of Oliver imploring the senate sub-committee toÂ [open] theirÂ eyes and ears for the chance to rescue one person…that’s what makes the show. The individual matters. Martha reminds us what’s important and she does it without preaching.”
“I love dissecting a script when I get one because it fills out my justifications as an actor and my choices. You could teach college courses on how [Martha] constructs these things and draw flow charts and diagrams on [her cross-references]. That’s what so brilliant about what she does. She doesn’t intend it to be something scholarly.Â It’s as entertaining as it is and that brilliant. We try to do that in such a way so that none of that stuff is overt. You feel something and you’re not sure why and that’s the best kind of television.”
MabiusÂ is active on Twitter and appreciates the online POstables fanbase. “It’s fun after we put something out in the world to see the subjective experience of the audience and [that] people are so stirred up by what we’re doing. There’s a greatÂ fan siteÂ called Alameda & Downing [that has]Â such a succinct, smart critique of our show,” he says. “It’s good writing, it’s good critique and criticism. It’s exciting because what we’re doing is inspiring people. That’s what television should be there. There’s a certain amount of escapism, but to go through a journey and be invested in characters is a really importantÂ therapeutic process.”
Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From the HeartÂ is the first ofÂ four new SSD films planned for 2016. It takes places in the days before and after Valentine’s Day as Norman receives a very old, very significant ValentineÂ and the POstables deal with the fallout from missteps and missed connections while trying to reconcile a letter writer and its intended recipient who had a few missteps and missed connections of their own. It airs at 9/8c Sunday on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and repeats through next month. Here’s a sneak peek.
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