Looking for a good cry? In Hallmark Channel's A Stranger's Heart (premiering Saturday at 9 pm/ET), Samantha Mathis plays Callie, an all-business magazine reporter who in the wake of a heart transplant comes to embrace life and love anew, while finding herself feeling a strange connection to both a little girl and a cute guy she doesn’t know. What ultimately comes to light... well, that's Hallmark's tale to tell. TVGuide.com spoke with Mathis about this real heart-tugger, as well as pumped her for details on what may be the sexiest and steamiest ABC sudser you will never get the chance to see.
TVGuide.com: OK, let's get this over and done with: I understand that one reason you took on this Hallmark project is because the script had a lot of "heart" in it?
Samantha Mathis: Ohhh... ba-dum-bum! Where did I say that?
TVGuide.com: It's here in the press notes, I think....
Mathis: Oh god, did I really? What a silly thing to say. I'm sure I said it with quotation marks around it. I mean, the thing that really attracted me to the project more than anything was the fact that this young woman had spent much of her life shut down and closed off to the idea of love and intimacy in her life. She was so fearful of hurting other people with her illness or getting close to things that can be disappointing because she's lived her life with this sort of pending death sentence. But when she has the transplant, she's awakened to feeling emotions, and, literally, stopping and smelling the roses, in a way she never has before. As an actress, that's a great arc to play. I also thought that overall it's a wonderful allegory for those of us who at one time or another shut ourselves off from living, taking risks and being vulnerable. The gifts that one receives by being vulnerable are far greater than closing off oneself to what life has to offer. You don't get anything unless you risk something.
TVGuide.com: My sister-in-law had a transplant when she was just a baby, and her husband, in fact, is going in for his second next month....
Mathis: A second heart transplant? Wow.
TVGuide.com: Have you ever known anybody who has received one? Did you meet anybody in preparing for the role?
Mathis: You know, I don't know anybody and I didn't meet anybody, because I didn't have that much time to prepare for the role. But I did spend some time with a nurse who works with heart-transplant patients. She was on set to make sure we were authentically portraying the various characteristics, so we got to spend some time talking about that.
TVGuide.com: I find it daunting that in this age of technological and medical innovations, it's still a major thing to undergo.
Mathis: Oh my god, they're cracking your chest open! They break your breastplate.... The heart is an incredibly intricate and vulnerable organ.
TVGuide.com: How many Kleenex-brand facial tissues are you recommending to viewers?
Mathis: Oh, probably half a box.
TVGuide.com: The importance of organ donation is another important takeaway from this movie.
Mathis: Yes, and I certainly support that. We have between eight and 10 organs that could potentially be given to someone in need. What are you going to do with them after you're dead? Why not give that gift to someone when you die?
TVGuide.com: It's certainly better than a Gap gift card.
Mathis: Exactly! [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: A year ago now, you were awaiting word on the much-buzzed-about ABC pilot Secrets of a Small Town, from Desperate Housewives producer Charles Pratt Jr. That presented you as what, a Glock-toting lady sheriff hot to solve a double murder?
Mathis: It did, it did. Alas, it never came to pass. It died a slow death.
TVGuide.com: From what I heard, ABC loved the script — and it starred such pretty people as yourself, Denise Richards, Angie Harmon and Tyler Christopher — but there was something about the way it was brought to the screen that just didn't quite measure up.
Mathis: It tested better than any other pilot they made last year, so audiences seemed to love the final product.... I think it came down to us and October Road, and suddenly we went from being the No. 1 pilot to not even getting picked up. At the end of the day, there are just so many people who get involved and have an opinion in making a pilot; I think that can dilute the final product, so... it was not meant to be.
TVGuide.com: Did the experience sour you on series-regular gigs at all?
Mathis: No. Of course I'm still open to it. I've done several pilots over the past few years, and it's a crapshoot — even more so now with the staggering success of reality television. You take a shot. But overall, consistently, there's much more interesting work being done in television than there is being done in film these days.
TVGuide.com: Last year you also played the trailer-park wife of a convict in TNT's Nightmares & Dreamscapes anthology series....
Mathis: I had a great time playing that character. I've had the great fortune to work on a couple of Stephen King adaptations. This was one of those things where they offered it to me and said [my leading man] would be Jeremy Sisto, and I'm a huge fan of his work from Six Feet Under. So I jumped at the chance. It's fun playing trailer trash! Good times.
TVGuide.com: Leave me with a fun anecdote from either Broken Arrow or The American President.
Mathis: Hmm.... On Broken Arrow, I tell you, John Travolta is such a gentleman, a consummately gracious actor. I went up to him the first day and said, "I saw Grease 23 times in the theater when I was 8." Later, we were on location in Arizona doing the train sequence and he led me into a duet of "You're the One that I Want." People were looking at me funny and I turned around and John was on his knees, singing the song to me, and we wound up acting the whole thing out! That was my life coming full circle, a childhood dream.
TVGuide.com: And The American President [starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening and Martin Sheen], that's one of those movies my wife and I will watch any time we stumble across it on cable. Such a feel-good film.
Mathis: Yeah, it's got that wonderful Capra-esque feel to it. I loved being a part of it, being so young at the time and surrounded by so many Hollywood heavyweights. I got to spend a day at the White House for research, trailing President Clinton for a day.
TVGuide.com: You were the precursor to West Wing's Mrs. Landingham.
Mathis: Exactly, yes!
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