Mercy: Can you share a little of what you've been up to since we last spoke?Nikki: Well, since Reunited At Christmas aired I did 3 movies for Hallmark. I did Love To The Rescue and Love Takes Flight - both of which aired earlier this year. Love Takes Flight was a Hallmark Hall Of Fame movie, it was incredible to be able to be a part of that. Love To The Rescue was just...I've never had more fun inside of a character in my life. I just felt like Kate was so similar to who I am as a person and she was so fun. I really got to do a lot of comedy with that role and that whole project AND work with someone - well, two people - who would end up becoming 2 of my favorite that I've worked with in my entire life! One of them being Michael Rady and the other being Michaela Russell who played my daughter in that movie. Such tremendous human beings and actors. All of which takes me to Two Turtle Doves because the gang was reunited! The only difference in this one is that Michaela plays Michael's daughter. It was just SO nice to be able to work with them again. I mean, honestly, I would do every movie with the two of them if I could.
Mercy: In Reunited At Christmas, in addition to acting in it, you also developed and executive-produced it. Was it difficult balancing the two?
Nikki: You know, it actually wasn't that difficult. I feel like everything in my life has prepared me to be able to take on the role of both producer and actor. Meaning - on The Mickey Mouse Club starting from the very beginning, we did everything. We did music videos, singing, dancing, skits, a teenage soap opera - we did all of the things and we wore different hats. At a young age, I got very used to having to switch gears and then later in life I worked as a creative executive at production company for awhile. I've taught actors for ten years and teaching actors is a lot about really being able to dissect a script, really knowing how to fix a scene and adjust, how to creatively get the most out of each moment. Also throughout all of that, I've had to learn how to really be able to work with people. All kinds of people, you know?
On Reunited At Christmas, I was more of a creative producer so it was really about developing the idea, getting the script in the right place, and putting together the cast. That's all stuff that I felt like I had already been doing in a different capacity in my life; I was just now able to have the title. Also, like I said, I had already worked as a producer before. To be honest, I would much rather be a part of the creative process from the very beginning so that I can help shape the character and shape the story so that whenever I do get on set, it's already there. I don't even have to really answer a lot of questions. As an actor coming into a movie that I didn't produce or develop, there are a lot of questions. "Why is she this way, why didn't she want to be in a relationship, or what happened to the mother/dad?" There are just a lot of different questions that you as an actor have to put together stories. And sometimes the script is amazing and the answers are there and sometimes the script is underdeveloped and you really have to fix it and work hard to fix it as an actor. Being able to be involved with the process from the very start allows me the opportunity to fix that stuff from the beginning, so by the time we get on set all we have to do is learn our lines and show up. So I prefer being a part of it from the start.
Mercy: Could you share a little bit about your son Bennett and how's he's doing since he had his open heart surgery?
Nikki: Of course, I'd be happy to. Thank you so much for asking about Benny! Since we talked last year, he had just had his second open heart surgery when we spoke. In July, we had to have another heart surgery. As of now, his heart looks really good and he's doing great!
Mercy: You're a spokesperson for the Alzheimers Association, can you share a little about that?
Nikki: Absolutely. My grandfather actually had Alzheimers; he had vascular dementia and so Alzheimers had become part of my life with my grandfather. Then when my dad was diagnosed with Pick's disease, a very rare and aggressive form of dementia, I just really started digging into the research and how many people are being affected by this disease because when my dad was diagnosed, he was in his early 60's and at that point in time, the doctors traced it back to when he started having symptoms and it basically revealed that his symptoms started in his late 50's. I had so many questions about how and why this happened, especially with people so young. It's happening more and more with people at younger ages. For me, I'm all about taking your pain and turning it into purpose. What can I do, how can I help and be of service? Especially when my dad is 2,500 miles away from me. So there was a deep helplessness that I felt at being able to help him, even though I fly home and help out as much as I can. For me, it was really about being able to ask, what can I do from Los Angeles? So my team reached out to the Alzheimers Association and put me in touch with their people and that was it! I love what they are doing. Their role in this disease is absolutely critical because we have a governmental program called the NIH. With governmental programs theres a lot of red tape so if they have a certain amount of budget and theres a certain amount of research, testing, and stuff like that, that needs to be done- medications, potential, new research on the causes or prevention. At a place like NIH those tests and that research - it might not be done and if it was, it could take years. But at the Alzheimers Association, they are an independent organization so your money is going directly into the research and work. And that research is happening now. They don't have any red tape surrounding them. They can begin the new research or the new studies on a specific type of drug (or whatever it is) immediately. So for me, there was no other organization that I wanted to team up with. I have a lot of respect for everything that they are doing and we are really making important moves forward in terms of being able to get closer and find a cure but most importantly prevention.
Mercy: Can you share a little bit about the website/blog you co-founded What We Are and how we can find it?
Nikki: Yes! So go online and type in welcometowhatweare.com It was founded by me and one of best friends, Jen Dede. It came about in a very organic fashion. We wanted to create an online community that was reflective of our relationship. Meaning, the two of us became friends and decided that we were going to be the authentic versions of ourselves with each other. We were gong to show each other the messy parts of ourselves, the things we fear, the things that we're scared of, letting people see if you're having a bad day, situation or whatever it is. We said, "We're going to be honest about where we are in our lives and we're going to be very truthful about the experiences that we are going through." Jen and I have both been through a lot. She has had a really tough battle with infertility; trying to have a baby, and she recently lost her brother to cancer (this year). I had really severe postpartum depression after my first son and then obviously after my second son (he was born with a heart defect), we've had heart surgeries, and on top of that, everything that is going on with my dad. We've both been through a whole lot and what we both learned in all of this is we're not alone. So we talk about it. Especially with women but also men, we don't talk about what we're going through. What ends up happening is we're going through routine and isolation and that isolation causes depression, anxiety, fear... a whole host of other things. And so we decided to create this online community and bring other women in to it to share their stories, how they've moved through tough times in their lives; to advise on how they successfully move through their lives - being present, asking for help. It's just a real labor of love for the both of us. We've gotten to meet and get to know a lot of really, really sensational women along the way.
Mercy: What can you tell us about Two Turtle Doves premiering on Hallmark Movies And Mysteries November 1st?
|Courtesy of Crown Media/Hallmark Channel|
Nikki: The idea was born via our director Lesley Demetriades and it was put together and brought to life script-wise by Sarah Montana, who was the incredible writer of Love To The Rescue. The thing I love about this story is that the theme of it - of course, it's love, family, and the things that matter in life but also it's these two characters (my character, Dr. Sharon Harper and Michael Rady's character) they are both these two people moving through grief. I've lost my grandmother and he's lost his wife a couple years back. That's not often something that Hallmark does, which is to highlight these two characters that are going through a really tough time. It's really beautiful to be able to tell that kind of story because I think it's something that everybody can connect to. We've all lost something at some point and time, whether it be a beloved dog or someone in our family. We all know what that feels like. And it is especially hard around the holidays. So, Dr. Sharon Harper is a woman who studies specifically trauma on the brain and she has studied and researched a lot about grief, however, the human part of her doesn't actually know how to move through the grief of her grandmother's passing. So the doctor knows all the answers but the human finds it so painful and hard to do. That's when Michael Rady's character comes in. You get to see these two people heal each other in this really beautiful way. Michael's character has a daughter, obviously, and he also has a brother that's there that plays the uncle to Michaela. There's all the fun moments that you look forward to in Hallmark movies with the iceskating, community and lighting of the tree, hot cocoa, and there's all these incredible things that they do but at the heart of it is two people trying to move through something that is really big in their lives and along the way they end up finding love.
Mercy: What was your favorite part of filming Two Turtle Doves?
Nikki: Oh, that's so hard! I love these people so much. Let me try and think of my favorite, favorite part... I would just say that in general this is a really special group of people. Lesley Demetriades, this was her first time directing for Hallmark (I had worked with her as a producer on Love Takes Flight and Love To The Rescue), we had an incredible producer as our onset person - his name was Kevin - and then we had Michael, Michaela, me, and Zach, who played Michael's brother. We had an amazing crew up in Winnipeg, CA. Stan Spry was the main producer who put it all together and Ashley Squires was the Hallmark executive who's the brains behind the project and like I said, Sarah Montana wrote it. The fact that these are some of my favorite people that I've ever had the opportunity to work with and the fact that we all ended up on the same movie together...oh, also Stan Spry's wife, Heidi. Fun fact here, she plays my cousin in the movie. I had known Heidi and spent time with her and now I actually got to work with her as an actor. It was really and truly my favorite combination of human beings and we all got to do this together.
I will say probably one of my favorite funniest scenes to film - there was a lot of fun that was had with it - there was this scene where my character is putting together Santa's Sleigh with all the reindeer. I have to do it outside and it is 90 degrees out. I've got this huge sweater on, this huge wool coat, a scarf, gloves etc. so rivers of sweat are pouring down and I am lifting up a 150 lb Santa and all of his reindeer outside *laughs* and Michael comes into the picture and helps me, but there's a lot of comedy in it. It was tough to get through the scene because it was so hot outside and we were both sweating so much. Those are always the moments you end up remembering later when you look back. It was really a fun moment.
Mercy: Thus far in your acting career, who has been your favorite character that you've gotten to portray?
Nikki: I would have to say probably Lacey Hamilton on Awkward. She's probably #1. And then the character that I played in Love To The Rescue is #2 for sure and then #3 would possibly be the character that I played in A Dream Of Christmas.
Mercy: What is the most rewarding part of being an actor?
Nikki: Well, my answer to this is kind of a two-parter. Because there is the artist inside of me that has one experience whenever I'm bringing to life a character and I'm getting to tell a story and then there is the other pat of that, which is the experience of the audience and the person on the other side. Both of those matter equally to me. I have always wanted to be a storyteller from the time I was a child. One of the reasons I wanted to do that is I grew up in this really small town in south Georgia and I felt that these movies that I watched, they allowed me to imagine things that were not the experience I was in. It took me out of my life for a second. It took me on this journey. I think when you tell really important stories, it breeds empathy and compassion in people. We don't all get to experience everything in life. There are things that I haven't experienced as a human being but if I watch somebody experience that thing on TV or in a movie, I'm going to form compassion and empathy around it became I'm seeing these actors bring it to life. You connect with the story. It also makes you feel less alone and isolated in your own life and I think there's something special about that.
For me as the actor, it's such an amazing experience to bring a character to life in the most authentic way and do justice to that story. On the other side of that, one of the GREATEST feelings of being an actor is knowing that the person on the other side of that screen is feeling something because of that story. A big reason of why I love doing Hallmark movies is the reaction that I get from fans. Whenever I run into them, whether it be at the airport or my hometown with friends, they talk to me about how happy these movies make them. Or, "I lost my grandmother and can really relate to that", or, "I've had my heart broken." There's something really, really special about the content that Hallmark puts out that truly brings people so much happiness and so much joy. That is a huge part of the reason why I love doing this.
Mercy: Any upcoming projects that you can share about?
Nikki: Not really. I'm going to be going back on set pretty soon, I just don't know what that movie is going to be. I'm developing a couple of movies with Hallmark right now, so it will be one or both of those. Right now I'm doing a lot of writing, developing, a lot of stuff that will be shot and done in 2020, so I'll have to let you know!
Christmas Question Time!
|Courtesy of Hallmark Channel/Crown Media|
Mercy: What is your favorite Christmas song?
Nikki: Oh, Holy Night
Mercy: Your favorite Christmas food/snack?
Nikki: It would be my mom's sweet potato casserole.
Mercy: Your favorite Christmas movie?
Nikki: Oh, that's so hard! For comedy it would be National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation I think, and then for drama I'd have to say It's A Wonderful Life.
Mercy: White or Green Christmas?
Nikki: I love a white Christmas, I just don't get to experience it in California or South Georgia. *laughs*
Mercy: Favorite Christmas memory?
Nikki: One of my favorites is the Christmas right after my son Bennett had his first open heart surgery. We couldn't travel to Georgia because he was on oxygen so we were kind of stuck in California. It was the first time I had not been with my family in Georgia for Christmas. My whole family traveled to California to spend Christmas with us. I will just never forget that they did that for us.
Nikki's Social Media Links-
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