Brooke Shields has joined the cast of the Hallmark Channel’s series, “When Calls the Heart,” as it nears the end of season 3, with the finale airing Sun., Apr. 10. She plays Charlotte, a tough and quite liberated frontier woman, who is the mother of Mountie Jack, played by Daniel Lissing. (See my recent interview with Daniel.)
Brooke has become a regular on Hallmark, as she also stars in and serves as an executive producer for the “Flower Shop Mystery” movie series. The first film, “Mum’s the Word,” aired in January, and two more are to follow – “Snipped in the Bud” on Apr. 24 and “Dearly Depotted” on June 5.
I spoke with Brooke on the phone about “When Calls the Heart” and some other aspects of her diverse career. Below are highlights from our conversation.
Prior to joining the cast, had you watched “When Calls the Heart” or read the book?
I had watched the show. I had not read the book. But that character [Charlotte] never existed. It’s not really talked about. So, it was while I was doing the mysteries and movies channel movie that they came up to me and said, “How would you feel about this?” And I said, “Absolutely!” Makes Annie Oakley look like Emily Post? I was like, “Sign me up!” She’s just a fun character.
I looked at your IMDB page. It doesn’t look like you’ve done a lot of period stuff, particularly frontier period stuff.
If I could, I would do all period stuff…. I started in a period movie when I was 11 [“Pretty Baby“] and, basically, didn’t get a chance to do anything since until the spoof on Jimmy Fallon. That was “Downton Abbey,” and I reveled in that. Yet, if I could, I would be doing all period pieces – early 1900’s. Even the 40’s. I love all that stuff. The minute you put on those costumes, the whole person changes.
I guess it’s as close to time travel as we can get.
Exactly. That’s what’s so luxurious about being an actress. When you do it, you have everybody that’s the best in their department helping you do it. The hair people have done all the research. The wardrobe people have reconstructed what they could. When I was in “Pretty Baby,” we used all authentic, early, early, early 1900’s costuming. I fit it then because I was a kid. Some of them don’t fit me now because we’re bigger now in this era….
[At “When Calls the Heart,”] we’ve got everybody from every department creating this entire world to step into. And it’s my job? It’s so much fun! When I used to do even like “Lipstick Jungle,” sometimes we would do flashbacks, dance sequences in pioneer days. We’d have these city halls and these saloons. It’s like playing dress-up, only it’s with the best of the best stuff.
I interviewed [your fellow cast members] Erin [Krakow] and Lori [Loughlin] during the first season, and Erin talked a lot about the discomfort of the clothing. As I was watching your first episode of “When Calls the Heart,” I thought, “Oh, she totally got away with not having to wear the corsets and the heavy skirts!” But then, I saw the pictures from the finale and saw that you definitely are in the skirts in the season’s last episode.
I’m in all of that. In fact, it was funny because I said, “Oh, I’m not going to wear any of the pretty skirts!” Then, they made me the gorgeous outfit. I got to wear these fabulous chaps, men’s clothing and vests and shirts. She’s a really cool woman! Then, to be able to dress up a little bit and get a little bit more feminine – the feminine side of her. I sort of got the best of both.
The thing is, it’s so cold there. We’re so freezing up there in Vancouver. The girls have it bad because they can’t put too much under their skirts, so they wear long underwear under their skirts. But it’s really, really cold.
Daniel [Lissing] was complaining about that when I interviewed him. He’s advocating for them to change the time of year they shoot the show.
Yeah, they were all saying to me, “Could you put in a good word?” I was like, “I’m only in two episodes. I don’t have a good word that anybody would listen to.”
I guess they figure you’re Brooke Shields!
It’s like, “You’re my mom!”
If you were living in the early 1900’s, what would you miss the most?
Oh, I think universally it’s plumbing. We’re all so lucky and happy that we have good plumbing. The sort of freezing basin bathing is not as charming as I think we all would like to think it was.
The beauty of us being this uncomfortable in our wardrobe is that we also get to put our jeans and our boots on after and go into our warm beds and our heating.
I was thinking about Charlotte and how humbled I think I would feel if I were playing her – all the things she’s accomplished and been through and to be so strong. Do you do a back story when you do a character like that?
Sometimes, I do. Sometimes, I don’t. It all happened rather quickly, and I was also given a certain back story. So, I took it for what it was.
Humbled is a good word because I realized the luxury of feeling sorry for yourself, the indulgence of that, and the luxury of complaining. We’re all so used to saying, “Oh, this isn’t good enough.” Nowadays, we can say, “We’re a company run by women.” We now say, “Good for you.” Back then, they’d say, “Well, good luck with that, Sweetheart. You’re not going to get any help here.”
Charlotte reminded me a little of my mom in a way just because my mom was a single mom and really had to do it all on her own to a certain extent. The grace that Charlotte has and that I saw at times with my mother when she wasn’t drinking was really something I aspire to. People always say they’ve read my book and, “Oh, you’re such a survivor!” And I just think, “That is a ridiculous thing to say because no, I’m not.”
Look at what real surviving was like. Look what it was like when you had life and death and you were really alone – the real version of pioneer women.… I learn from the characters I play.
When I do the mystery movies, [my character] is funny, and she’s quirky. But she also really trusts her instincts, and that’s something that I haven’t always been able to do so easily….
Are you thinking of doing something on stage soon? Raul Esparza is my favorite interview ever. I know you did the musical, “Leap of Faith,” with him in Los Angeles, and I saw it on Broadway three times.
It was very, very different out west. After it, I was like, “I’m not the person for this part.” It didn’t play into all my strengths….
First off, Raul is the best ever, and he’s his own worst enemy because he’s just such a perfectionist, which is great. I had an absolutely beautiful time with him…. It was a great experience working with Alan and Raul. Alan Menken is just a mensch, and Raul is a doll.
But I’ve been asked to go to the West End [in London] next summer (they wanted me to do it this summer) and do the new version of “Nine to Five” in the Allison Janney part. I said I would only do it if they increased the choreography for me so that I did all three [singing, acting, dancing] because that’s when the roles are better suited for me.
I’m never going to out-sing the best singer or out-dance the best dancer, but I will be able to do all three better than most can do all three in starring positions….
I think I might do that and show my kids what it’s like to live in another country. It’ll only be for three months.
But I’m writing a one-woman show for Broadway with Alan Zweibel. Did you see “700 Sundays?” He wrote that [with Billy Crystal]. We’re writing this show together. That’s probably going to be in a couple of years, but that’s in the works.
Is that autobiographical?
It is. It’s very much generated from my book [“There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me“] He had read my book, and I’ve performed with him. And he said, “There’s something here. Are you ready to go there?” It reminds me of the final step in this whole journey of losing a parent. In my life, it may need that last creative push to assimilate and move on.
Wow, that sounds very exciting and healing.
Yeah, I think it’s necessary. I thought I was done when the book came, and then realized a whole bunch of other stuff was just beginning. Maybe it’s forever. I don’t know if you [ever] get there.
Yeah, I think maybe it comes in waves.
[After being told by Brooke’s assistant that our time was up.] I hope we get to talk again maybe about my show, the [Flower Shop] mysteries.
Yes, I hope so!