Interview With Actor Eric Mabius, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”

By Ruth on July 3, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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In many ways, I consider the Signed, Sealed, Delivered franchise my introduction to all things Hallmark. While I watched Cedar Cove, and of course, When Calls the Heart, I can still recall sitting in my chair and watching the pilot episode of this new series. I knew absolutely no one in the cast, and I had only heard of Martha Williamson. While I had to persuade my family to watch the series, this has become our favorite Hallmark series, and as a family, we never miss the premiere of the films. 

This series also holds a special place in my heart because Eric Mabius was the very first actor who ever responded to one of my tweets (I had no earthly idea what the heck I was doing), and in my household, I was hailed a “celebrity” as I exhibited his tweet response to my parents and to my daughter. For me, Oliver was the character that fascinated me on manifold levels. He was a man of faith who was facing a divorce and was potentially falling in love with a woman who had turned her back on God in some respects. His love of literature and the old-fashioned way of life resonated with me incredibly, and I dreamed of interviewing the man who brought him to life so impeccably. Well, sometimes, dreams do come true…

RH: Eric, thank you so much for being willing to do this.

 EM: Absolutely. We finally get to speak.

Yes, after all this time. Actually, I was thinking about this. You probably don’t even realize this, but in many ways, it was seeing you in Signed, Sealed, Delivered that kind of got me interested in interviewing actors. About three years ago, I saw you in the pilot episode, and you were like the first person I really wanted to interview. I can remember that was before I even thought I’d be doing it, and so in some ways, you’re fulfilling a dream for me. So. thank you.

 Oh, fantastic! That’s great to hear.

Well, I just wanted to let you know that.

 I am so excited to start work on the next couple movies too!

Yes, we fans are anxiously awaiting them. Definitely. I know that I’ve read several interviews with you, and I’ll try not to overlap, but I know some people may not know everything. What was it that originally caused you to want to become an actor?  

 I would say partly because my father was such a film lover. I remember as I was growing up at the time, it seemed most exciting when he was describing things about films and such.  I grew up as a little kid going to drive-ins. And what I remember is it was always something that was either hyper-real or magical feeling when we watched these films.  You know, film–and even television for that matter–lets you be able to be transported. I kind of grew up in the country and there was not a lot of money. In these films were magical things that were accessible to the average person. That combined with my mother taking my older brother and me to plays when we were growing up. The combination of of all those things. I also remember going to see a college or high school play or even a Broadway play, and when the actors were done, they would come back out on stage as themselves and bow. I remember how I couldn’t reconcile the fact that these actors who were now bowing on stage were the same actors who played the characters in the play I just saw. I didn’t understand the difference, and I always thought that was very mystical and very exciting. It’s something that, you know, depending on who you ask–you can ask a thousand different actors and they might have a thousand different reasons why they became an actor or what got them interested in acting. But, for me, the ability to transport others and be transported yourself–I think that’s the most exciting and powerful thing about acting.

Okay, that’s really great. I would say that you fulfill that quite well in your roles, at least from the viewer’s standpoint.

Well, that’s really all Martha {Williamson}. All Martha’s writing.

Yes, I will agree, I mean, being a writer myself. Yes, I always know that it begins with the writers. But I also know that without actors who can take the words and interpret them in such a way that it connects with the viewers, then their writing would never get out there and the stories would never be told. So I  do see it as somewhat an equal partnership. But yes, I know at the heart, I do know Martha Williamson’s writing is fantastic. I would agree. {pause} Now, I do know as I was reading that you actually started out on the stage. Isn’t that where you kind of began your acting career?

Yeah, that’s generally the route one takes. I went to Sarah Lawrence College and I started interning my freshman year. It was a really fantastic studio theater. And while I was answering phones and emptying garbage cans, I would be able to watch John Patrick Shanley work off his new play and watch Richard Dreyfuss and other actors rehearse. I got to watch all these amazing, emerging playwrights who at the moment are really renowned. But I got to see how they struggled and to see how these things would slowly take shape. They started out as anything but perfect, but through incredibly hard work and their determination, they would shape these things into something else that was amazing. I thought the process was fascinating. When you have actors of that caliber and you’re thinking of doing the same thing they were…I was hooked. I knew there was nothing else that could ever make me feel that way. But again, like so many other people, I was afraid of failing, so it was probably six or seven movies in before I even admitted what I did for a living.

 I do know that there are still a lot of fans of your show Ugly Betty. I admit I didn’t even watch really until I saw you on Signed, Sealed, Delivered, and then I started looking up all your other works.  It was then I went back and watched it, and I can see why there’s such a following.  The fans definitely wanted me to ask if there is any possibility that they’ll ever be a reboot or reunion to that show since that kind of seems to be the current trend.

from Ugly Betty

Oh, I know all the actors involved have pushed for it. We had a ten-year reunion at Austin Television Festival last summer, which was so much fun, and everyone really pushed for raising awareness. I know all the actors want to do it. I know Sylvio {Horta}, the writer, wants to do it, but I also know that there are things beyond our control in terms of who owns what rights. It seems like in many other cases, if people want something to come back, if the people that own the property are willing to work it out, then everything is possible. But I don’t know the specifics because I’m not a business affairs person. But with things like that where the conversation begins and ends, it’s just hard to know what the status is.  I do know that although everyone’s very busy, I know that they would make themselves available for even like a movie.  You know, our show ended, and a number of factors went into that and contributed to that. I feel like everyone really would like a chance to follow it further. In a lot of ways, the show ended as a new beginning for all the main characters, especially the relationship between Betty and Daniel.  It was finally a new beginning where I think they were truly regarding one another as equals, and it was a very exciting kind of jumping off point for what they could have done as the show concluded.

 I would agree. Well, at least it’s good to know that the possibility is there. It’s just getting everything lined up. It’s not necessarily in your hands or in the hands of the actors; it’s just seeing if everything can get worked out.  I know the fans will all keep hoping that it will happen eventually.

Well, like with anything I think if enough pressure is exerted, just about anything is possible. If someone can make money off it, then they’re gonna go, “Oh, yes, let’s do that!”

Martha Williamson, Eric Mabius Credit: Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Duane Prentice

Oh yeah, that’s so true. {pause} I know you’ve told somewhat how you got involved with Signed, Sealed, Delivered,  but some of the fans probably are not aware of how that actually came about. So how did you originally get involved with this series?

There’s that kind of funny place in our–at least in my yahoo account–where sometimes when I start an email and don’t finish it or it doesn’t send, it ends up in the drafts folder. I still look at that draft; I never erased it because it was something I started to send as the doors were closing on a flight to Shanghai on the film I was working on.  My manager said, “Oh, there’s a script that we’ve been following for a while, and it was written by the woman who wrote Touched By An Angel, and we thought you might like it.  Why don’t you give it a read on your flight–your long flight to China–and let us know. We can set up a phone call with you and the show creator. They’re very anxious to work with you.”

So I read it, and right away I saw what Martha was trying to do, and I thought, “There isn’t anything like this,” or “This feels like something we used to be able to watch.” Something that was very meaty, but nothing about kids in the backyard being kidnapped or anything horrible like that.  It was really substantial, and where you ended up was not anywhere you thought you might. But it was layered and I thought it was much more interesting than most television on the air.  And I also thought it was something that would stretch Hallmark as a network as well. All those elements I found interesting.

I landed at some gosh-awful hour. I remember getting to the hotel room and then patching a call through.  Martha was on a Disney cruise somewhere in the Northwest with her family. She was in a closet trying to make this phone call happen because it was like 3:00 in the morning for her. That’s when we first spoke and automatically and immediately I clicked with Martha on the phone. Her mind works in such a way and she makes references to things that most people in their forties don’t know. It’s usually something of an age gone by, particularly in the way she came up in the entertainment business. There’s a lot of specific references that only I get on set, which makes me feel like the old guy.  But her sense of humor and her turn of phrase is right in line with mine, and right away on the phone, I could feel us clicking and her sort of phrasing and her quick wit matched mine.  I’m glad that that was the feeling that I had because it’s only grown stronger over the years in our working relationship. I can’t really say enough nice things about her.

In a lot of ways, it’s hard to understand why television like that isn’t being made more, but I think it’s also just a sign of the times. The kind of escapism that people seem to want and what they’re being fed–that’s two different things.  At the time of the Vietnam War, in the seventies, there was a kind of explosion of television, and it was in seventies cinema as well.  There was this diversification that was going on that brought about shows like M.A.S.H.  And at the same time, there were still shows like The Waltons on, but you had socially-conscious, transformative television going on, and it didn’t need to be the kind of torture, disgusting, garish–like “gore porn”–that everyone’s into or whatever.  There can be something for everyone, but I’m glad that I’m on the positive end of things.

I’m right there with you on that.

Let me say that I’m not disparaging people’s tastes.  I wish there was more television like this.

I am with you on that a hundred percent because it’s something that my whole family watches together. We have everyone from a teenager all the way up to my parents, who are in their seventies. It’s something that all of us can enjoy together and there are not that many programs like that that we can sit down and enjoy and get very involved in the storyline and really feel a connection with the story and the characters. So yeah,  I’m right there with you.  

I know that removing the hard edge in TV doesn’t mean that you have to treat your audience like an idiot either.  You know what I mean?  It doesn’t seem like everything is perfect and everything works out in forty-eight minutes.  It’s more challenging in a lot of ways. Like in the way that Martha doesn’t allow any swearing on set. It forces you to choose different words. It’s just the way it is.  You know, there are ways to communicate sophisticated ideas and morally conscious ideas that don’t involve being unnecessarily overt like so many of the shows are today. That’s why I like working so much on Martha’s scripts.

I very much agree with you on all that. I do have to say it is amazing and unusual to have four actors that have such fantastic chemistry.  You might get that from two people, or maybe even if you’re lucky, three people, but to have four people who have such incredible chemistry from the beginning, and it continues to grow–that is amazing. Why do you think that the four of you were able to have this chemistry that we see?

 Again, I think it’s the desire on all the actors’ part to service the text and the fact that Martha quickly adapts what she writes about those characters according to what she knows. In some ways, she tries to connect certain things she learns about us as actors. As our relationship evolves, so do the characters’ relationships. It becomes like the way in which you fold some real-life things into these characters–even though we’re nothing like our characters–yet there are elements of our personalities that she folds into the fabric of those characters. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done so effectively. We all sense right away we’re a part of something exciting, and I think we share the amount of responsibility we feel in embracing these characters that Martha has created.

I know there are arguments for and against our shift from our one-hour time slot to two hours, but in a lot of ways,  we get to know these characters in a much deeper way in these two hours that would perhaps take several seasons if we were stuck in the one-hour format.

Kristin Booth, Eric Mabius Photo Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Bettina Strauss

Yeah, I agree on that because I was one of those early supporters who was working hard for a season two, but as we’ve seen, it does seem to work having that two-hour slot. You’re able to develop the stories a whole lot more than just the one hour. {pause} I realize, of course, you’re not necessarily like Oliver, but I’ve actually interviewed the other three members of the cast, and I think that at least what I understand from actors is that when you’ve portrayed a character for a number of years that you tend to affect the way that character’s portrayed and that character also affects you. My question is–how have you influenced the development of Oliver and has Oliver, in turn, had any influence on you personally?

Well, they say when you play a character, you can’t judge the character you’re playing in order to be wholly objective in that person. You do have an omniscient viewpoint, but you can’t judge their choices.  You have to embody those choices. So there is a greater suspension of typical beliefs that has to occur with me in playing other characters than Oliver as opposed to–if I were to step out and say there are certain questionable characteristics of Daniel Meade. Some people project what they want to on the characters. With Daniel, some people say, “Oh, you’re that great guy who was helping Betty along.  You guys were there to help one another along.”  Or depending on someone’s perspective,  “Oh, you were that jerk who didn’t treat Betty well.” These are all the perspectives people bring with them as they are watching, and I can’t tell someone if they’re wrong or right. It just is, right?

So with that in mind, even though, as an audience member, I would make qualitative judgments about the choices that Daniel Meade would make the same way, or maybe I would want to be considered more the positive than the negative aspects, with Oliver, there’s a lot of things where I don’t have to excuse him if I were to step out of myself and be purely subjective about judging Oliver. I think he’s striving toward the best thing and I think that those elements of Oliver are some nobler parts of ourselves at times. I know this character’s loosely based on Martha’s idea for her grandfather–whether it’s real or not, it’s her understanding or based upon her projections of what those things are.

Photo: Crystal Lowe, Kristin Booth, Geoff Gustafson, Eric Mabius,

And again, Oliver although he is incredibly flawed, there is enough good to outweigh that, and the good really is something of a nobler ilk and something that I think doesn’t feel anachronistic because of the things that he takes time to appreciate and to be a part of something that is not in the  general person’s purview nowadays. Today, it’s just about the common denominator. I don’t mean to sound like I’m proselytizing, but you know when reality TV and tabloids are always kind of in our view, to exist and survive in a world that he doesn’t understand and the bridge of that gap is the presence of Shane there and filling him out and making him a more complete person. And as a  human being,  trying to learn how to be a bit more integrated, for lack of a better word, into the world.

Well, my goodness, you gave me some really fantastic answers here, Eric. You’re making me think about the characters a little bit differently, so thank you for that.

There’s the day-to-day episode surface–the quirky scenes, the humor that’s there. Then we have these eruptions of emotional sharing, but there’s still this fabric that’s being woven that is deeper and deeper as we continue down this path. I’m so glad that Hallmark continues to give us the chance to tell these stories because as the audience invests more as the actors portray, we could have–I don’t know, I just don’t think there’s much like it on television. We’re not just retelling the same story; there’s us trying to go further down this road, trying to figure out who they are. We’re really on the edge of a whole new type of understanding.  As Rita and Norman go down their path together, as they become a unit together, a partnership is forming.  And the same thing with Shane and Oliver, but in a different way.

But there’s a deepening going on, and it’s so wonderful in so many ways.  But again, it’s not about the artifice; there’s so much more that Martha can tell now because of all of the work that’s been laid out. I don’t agree with some people feeling like, “Oh well, you know, once the characters fall in love, just face it. There’s a lot less interesting ground to cover.” I totally disagree with that because as we know, being in relationships or out of relationships, there’s turmoil that arises all the time that challenges what you mean to one another coupled with the movie-by-movie drama or mystery to overcome.  It’s like the roots of a tree that continue to spread further out and more deeply the more time it spends existing.

I know that you’re getting ready to film the next installment. When do you guys start filming again?

I think we’re supposed to start in less than two weeks. I never know exactly because–I don’t want to give anything away–but there will be some changes coming up because of certain developments. That’ll be fun to see how the audience responds.  I think we were supposed to start a little sooner, but we had to push a little. It took a few more days for them to secure a certain location.

Is there anything that you are hoping to see from Oliver in these next couple movies?

Eric Mabius as Oliver O’Toole

No, I mean honestly any semi-hashed-out answer that I could give wouldn’t compare to what Martha comes up with on her own. When we discuss things at length, we talk about the kinds of things that…Martha and I discussed the very thing you’re asking about now back in January. I can’t tell you what the answer was at this point, but then she goes away and creates this incredibly complex landscape and I just dive in.   But there’s an evolution occurring as Oliver’s starting to learn how to surrender his rigid way of being, realizing people are fastidious for a reason. People are obsessive-compulsive for their reasons. People create a very tight and ordered universe to help them cope with things that they don’t want to face. Everyone manifests themselves in these characters in different ways.  It’s a coping mechanism.  It’s how they trust one another, and how they surrender those controls is how the relationship is defined and explored.  I find that so interesting and Martha keeps finding new ways to do that with every movie she writes.

Not only is she allowing these people to become closer to one another, but she’s allowing the audience to go into the psyche, the inner workings of the characters so you feel like something is exchanged and through the course of that, the audience finds a way of possibly addressing things in themselves that they don’t want to face.  It’s a catharsis for everyone.  That’s what’s so powerful about Martha’s writing.

For example, how Oliver and Shane and their dedication to or their reticence to admit to a sense of spirituality and what faith means and what that means in the course of a relationship. And what is surrendered and what is gained and all that stuff that is infinitely complex is handled in such a unique way, I think.  Martha’s writing takes this on and doesn’t tell you what to think, but we’ll show you what these people think. The audience can either agree or disagree with what happened so–or at least think about these things in a unique way.

Are you going to be all healed up by that time, hopefully? Because I know that we fans have been concerned about you.

Some days are better than others. I’ve never broken a bone ever, and I don’t recommend it. The actual rib that I broke is really the one that controls laughing, coughing, and sneezing, breathing– it’s a higher up one on the left part of my back, so I guess they’re no ribs that are good to break, but there’s certain ones that are worse than others.

The fans were saying, “Be sure to tell him we hope he heals up fast and that we’re thinking about him.” We all are sending you healing thoughts.  

I got some wonderful “Get Well” cards that were so sweet. And some birthday cards too. It’s really nice.  

Eric Mabius Credit: Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Duane Prentice

Oh, that’s good. And the fans do want me to ask–you’ve done some other Hallmark films in the past, and the question is: While we know you’re tied up with Signed, Sealed Delivered, we were wondering, does the possibility exist that you might do another Hallmark movie that’s not a part of the Signed, Sealed, Delivered franchise?

I would say that there’s a hundred and ten percent chance of that happening.

Okay, all right, that sounds great, and I think we’ve covered everything.  I think you put things very beautifully, and it was nice to get to hear you talk about your character in the movies and so I really appreciate that. I feel like I learned a lot; it made me think about the character and the films a little bit differently.

Absolutely. Thank you for your time, Ruth, I really appreciate it.

Thank you as well, Eric. And we will look forward to seeing the new films this year. We’re all very excited about them. 

Photo: Eric Mabius

Chatting with Eric is an experience I shall always treasure. Rarely has an actor packed so much uncanny insight and diversified information into thirty minutes, and I found my head reeling and my heart enlivened as he shared from his innermost being. The passion and fire he engenders for this show and all connected with it (principally Martha Williamson) was readily apparent in every word he spoke and each inflection he injected.

I was most impressed with Eric’s signature humility and his ability to deflect all attention away from himself. It was never his talent nor his embodiment of the character that he illuminated for all to see. Instead, it was all about Martha and his companions who labor alongside him in this series. He didn’t give responses that were merely “off-the-cuff;” he considered each question meticulously and gave genuine, purposeful responses to every question I asked. In fact, at times, I found that I was interrupting his thoughts, and I regularly backed off and let him complete his observations as they were far superior to any query I could pose.

As a way of expressing gratitude, the fans and I have compiled a very special tribute video for Eric, and I would like to thank all the POstables for their tireless support and invaluable aid without which this video would never have been made.

Thank you again, Eric, for fulfilling a dream for this POstable, and on behalf of all the fans of Signed, Sealed, Delivered, may God richly bless you and your family in the coming years. We are ecstatic that you have since recuperated and traveled to Vancouver for the shooting of the next film. Thank you for your dedication to this family-friendly, uplifting, inspiring series. No one could play Oliver O’Toole like you. We greatly anticipate the next installment!

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FOR THOSE WHO HAVE EXPRESSED AN INTEREST IN WRITING TO THOSE INVOLVED WITH THE SIGNED, SEALED DELIVERED SERIES, HERE ARE THE ADDRESSES PROVIDED BY SOME GRACIOUS FANS.

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
42-year-old single mother of an active 13-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

3 Comments

  1. Donna Murphy July 10, 2017 Reply

    How do we send mail to the actors of SSD? Is there a PO Box? I would like them all to know how much the storylines have blessed me and my family. Thank you, Donna Murphy

    • Author
      Ruth July 10, 2017 Reply

      Donna, I will ask your question and get back to you.

    • Author
      Ruth July 10, 2017 Reply

      Donna, I have several ideas. You can write directly to Hallmark and send it C/O Signed Sealed Delivered or the Postables. You could also look up the information online and find fan mail addresses. I also do have some addresses that I can share. Please refer to the end of this interview post for that info.

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