Martha Williamson Talks Signed, Sealed, Delivered: “The Vows We Have Made”
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
It’s been almost eight years to the day since Signed, Sealed, Delivered began its run, first as a film, then as a one-season series, and then as a series of films–and almost three and a half years since the last installment, To the Altar, aired in the summer of 2018. This Sunday, it’s back on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries with its 13th film, The Vows We Have Made, which is as much a celebration of Shane and Oliver’s courtship and marriage as it is a love letter to the fans who have hung in there at every turn.
The nuptials are never, ever in danger, but as the day approaches, Oliver is still holding tightly to the childhood baggage that so wounded him, only to be repeated again as an adult. When the DLO takes on the case of a lost letter, a childhood drawing, and a young boy’s missing friend, those old wounds bubble up.
Surprisingly, it’s Shane’s mom (Sherry Miller), a very unique personality in her own right, who recognizes Oliver’s hesitation and starts to chip away at the unsaid thing that’s binding him. And when she finally breaks the seal on that, he sets the story straight and acknowledges his long held pain. It’s an extraordinary arc for the film, especially when viewed through the long lens of eight years and 36 hours of storytelling.
Norman and Rita are also on a path of their next thing, making the leap into a proper home and in that newlywed phase where everyone’s next question to them is about children. That’s not a straight path for them, and they embrace the winding road of it after special circumstances present themselves, which they rightly accept as a miracle.
It’s a rich episode of the franchise, and there’s no formal decision on whether this concludes the story of the POstables, but if this is where we leave them, it’s poignant, joyful, and so very full of love. This week, I spoke with series creator Martha Williamson about the film.
Firstly, it features a number of very fun callbacks, which are a treat for the longtime fans. “I always try to do a little something. When you make a standalone movie, you never quite know if you’re going to be coming back. So I thought with Shane and Oliver getting married, it just seemed like an ending of sorts, no matter what happens,” Williamson explains.
“They’ll never be flirting and dating again. So it’s an ending and a beginning. So [I thought], ‘What if we try to collect all the happy memories and happy little references and winks and put them into the wedding as sort of a fun little wedding gift to the audience?’”
One of the longstanding gifts of the show and films is that the core characters have a kindness and an innate innocence to them, but they’re never naive about anything. They’ve lived through the world, and have suffered through things that would break some people and could have made them hard or angry. And Williamson found a way to navigate that in her writing. They’ve retained their kindness and their humanity, and she says that’s how she has always been in her own life, which tracks back to her upbringing.
“One of my girlfriends, we were close enough that she was a bridesmaid in my wedding and I was in hers, once said, ‘Martha, you are either the most sophisticated innocent or the most innocent sophisticate I have ever known.’ And it was intended as a compliment, I hope,” she laughs.
“There was an article once in The LA Times and they interviewed Grant Tinker, who was the legendary President of NBC and head of MTM. He was my first boss as a producer. He was quoted as saying, ‘Martha is an old-fashioned girl in a modern world.’ And I think he said something to the effect of, ‘I have no idea how she has succeeded with that, but somehow, she has.’”
“And I think that’s true. My dad was born in 1901. And I was raised in a very traditional family. At the same time, they were also very, very encouraging to me in terms of getting out there into whatever the new world was and bringing the best of the old [and not being] afraid to embrace the new and learn how to leave behind what isn’t working.”
Williamson says that blend of the old and the new heavily informs Oliver, too. “That’s not unlike what Oliver is dealing with. There’s nothing wrong with rose-colored glasses, which is how he sees the world, except that he knows he’s wearing them and won’t acknowledge it. And in this film, he’s going to have to face that,” she says.
It’s Shane’s mom, Sharon (Sherry Miller), who unlocks that for him in a series of wonderful scenes Although Shane sees nothing of herself in Sharon, we know Shane was much like her when we first met her all those years ago, so it’s no surprise that Oliver’s love for the daughter binds him to the mother when he least expects it. She’s a safe space for him to let go of the things unsaid.
Williamson very specifically wanted Sharon to be that conduit. “One of the recurring themes in this show is a tribute to great women who have been in our lives and how they’ve affected us and touched us,” she points out. “[Oliver] becomes a child [when she unlocks it for him and] I think it is one of [Eric Mabius’s] finest acting moments. It consists of a single word. And it’s the word, ‘No.’”
“He makes this remarkable turn right on camera. And if you notice, we don’t have any sound behind it, we don’t have any music behind it. We don’t have anything to cue the audience. We just let it happen. And that moment chokes me up every time because you see him suddenly become a little boy.”
“I also think that Sherry was just a gift. I literally prayed for the right Sharon, because if we got the wrong one, the show would not have worked and she just knocked it out of the park. She was just terrific.”
Even more special for Williamson was getting the group back together after the COVID-19 hiatus. “Our four actors make it look so simple and you don’t realize how much goes into making [the films] and then watching those people become those characters and keep them consistent and funny and vulnerable…they hadn’t worked together for two and a half to three years, and then they walked in and in one instance, we all sat down at the table to read and it was as if no time had passed,” she recalls.
“I made it a point that we had our first table reading in the same place, in the same hotel, in the same room, with the table set up the same way, so it really did feel as if nothing had changed. Given the COVID restraints, it still felt as if we were going back into a very comfortable place.”
While SSD has had a bit of a stop-and-start winding run between the series and the films, Williamson shares that her long term vision for the POstables crystallized when she had all four actors–Mabius, Kristin Booth, Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe, and Geoff Gustafson–cast in the roles. “It just evolved and kept growing. Once we saw that these actors were so great together…when you get that lightning in a bottle, which happens so rarely that you can’t imagine anyone else in the role…then you know you have something special and it gives you the freedom to imagine new things for them,” she explains. “But from the pilot, I knew that if we had the opportunity, we would take both of [the couples] all the way to the altar.”
If we do get additional installments of the film series, Williamson already knows what she’d like to explore. “I’ve toyed with lots of ideas [like] Norman and Rita just opening up their house and becoming parents to 12 children, which I think would be hysterical,” she laughs. “And I think Oliver and Shane are the ones who’ve been damaged so much that things are going to come up for them that will be helpful to other people watching who say, ‘How do you get through this,’ whatever that is.”
“I would love to go deeper with those characters and have them facing some difficult challenges. In one way, this show is a fable in the real world, and of course not at all how the US postal system works and how real people do their work and do their jobs and yet we have dealt with very important issues [like] Hurricane Katrina.”
“People forget we had a show about rape. And yet we managed in so many ways to address those with love and forgiveness. Those things in the real world that would intrude on this sort of beautiful bubble that exists in the DLO give us an opportunity to address the same issues in ways that you don’t always see on television.”
Director Kevin Fair has helmed ten of the films and two episodes of the series, but scheduling precluded him returning for this one, so Linda-Lisa Hayter, who directed last Christmas’s Cranberry Christmas and the upcoming Five More Minutes, took over the director’s chair. Williamson loved having her on board.
“I can’t imagine another director who could have walked into this family and blended so quickly. When I think of Linda-Lisa, I think of the word ‘grace.’ She recognized the challenge of walking in after having only one director. We would have had a wonderful show with Kevin, but with Linda-Lisa, we had the opportunity to have fresh eyes,” she recalls.
“She was challenged with a short schedule and some very difficult locations and just kept her cool. I never saw a bead of sweat drop from her brow. She was like this sailboat in the middle of the storm.”
“She’s a remarkable, beautiful, beautiful lady with a beautiful heart. And so very kind to allow me to be part of that set. I had always been, but every director is different and I didn’t know how we would work together. And she made it clear from the very beginning. She said, ‘Martha, this is your show. And we’re going to give you what you want.’ And she gave me that and more.”
Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Vows We Have Made premieres Sunday at 9 pm/8c on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries following all-day movie marathons Saturday and Sunday beginning at 11 am/10c. Here are a few sneak peeks of Sunday’s premiere.
Photos courtesy of Crown Media and Martha Williamson and video courtesy of Crown Media.
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