Actress and musician Haylie Duff joins a distinguished group of actors and actresses who have been part of the Love Comes Softly series. The Hallmark Channel recently broadcast the two latest films, Love Takes Wing (now out on DVD) and Love Finds a Home (to be released later this year on DVD), in which Haylie plays Annie, best friend to Belinda Simpson.
We recently talked with Haylie about the release of the DVD, her career as an actress and musician, and friendship.
How familiar were you with the stories and other films before you got the role of Annie?
Haylie: I actually wasn't that familiar with the material when I first read the script, but after I read it and knew I wanted to be a part of it, then I tried to familiarize myself with the previous stories and movies.
What was it about the script that captured your attention and made you want to be part of it?
Haylie: I had wanted to do a period piece for a really long time, and I also fell in love with Annie. I thought that she was smart and such a solid friend and she had all these characteristics that I hadn't really been able to play in my last couple of jobs.
I wanted to spend a few months in her world, and I thought the stories were so good. They made me feel good when I read them.
How did you prepare for the role, besides watching the other films and reading the stories?
Haylie: To be honest, I didn't do too much preparation for the first film (Love Takes Wing). Performance-wise, I did more preparation on the second one (Love Finds a Home) than I did on this one. The character changes a lot in the upcoming movie.
For this one, I tried to get rid of all the modern ways of doing things like my nails and my hair, my make-up and posture. I changed the inflection in the way I said certain lines, and some other things like that.
The thing that's interesting about her is that she and Belinda both are a little ahead of their time, so I didn't want to go too far back into the old-timey way of thinking and doing things. Even though it was set in the late 1800s, the two of them were kind of groundbreaking and thinking outside the box. They were a little ahead of their time, so we tried to not take them too far back, or as far back as everyone else.
I loved that about her, and thought it was one of the things that made Annie and Belinda unique. Everyone was sort of trying to bring them down, especially in the first movie. People were thinking they weren't the doctors, but the nurses, and other things like that. I feel like women still sort of fight for equality and respect, even now. That's crazy to think about, but to see that it was happening in such a severe way was interesting and neat to portray a woman in that situation.
There were a lot of veteran actors with strong backgrounds in television and film. What was it like working with them, and what did you glean from them?
Haylie: Patty Duke is one of my favorite people ever. I was so excited to work with her and Cloris Leachman and Lou Diamond Phillips. Patty and I were like soulmates or something. As soon as I met her, I was totally captivated by her. When we were on set I picked her brain all the time.
I think you can do as much preparation and research on your own as you want. But to be around a person that has accomplished the things she's accomplished and been through the things she's been through, that's where you really want to be like a sponge. When I'm in that situation, I try to take in as much as I can and learn from that.
I worked with Anjelica Huston a few years ago and felt the same way. I wanted to take in every second as much as I could when I was around her.
What were some of the physical challenges of the film?
Haylie: When you're the actor on the set, for whatever reason, there's always someone there asking if you need anything. We are catered to. But I did have about two weeks of filming (I think on the second film) where we were at this ranch. Our trailers were a little far away from this set, and we had this quaint little house where we had no cell phone service.
Once you drove through the gate to get on this ranch, you drove another 10 minutes onto the property, and there was this pretty little house and our base camp. We'd go to work sometimes at 5 in the morning and be there until 7 or 8 at night with no cell phone reception. The first two days were sort of horrific for me. I thought, "What am I going to do?" Afterward, I thought I needed to take it and be excited about it, to experience some of what was portrayed in the movie in real life. I thought I could take that, learn from it and make it real.
Those sort of things were a little rustic, but we definitely were taken care of very nicely.
When you came back to Los Angeles, did you find yourself missing the quiet days on the ranch?
Haylie: I miss that living in LA anyway because I'm from Texas and I love the hill country. We had a ranch house in Bastrop outside of Austin, and I loved it there. Eventually that's where I'll live again. I miss that all the time, so I loved filming this movie. I try to go back to Texas a couple of times a year.
How much time did you have between the two films, and did it make it easier or more challenging to portray the character in both films?
Haylie: I was really looking forward to the second film because we spent four and half weeks doing the first one then had two and a half weeks off before doing the second one. Then we spent four and a half weeks on the second one.
In the second story, we are five years older, so there were some major changes for the characters. I felt like I found Annie in the first one and sort of got my feet wet. In the second one, when I found myself on the set in her clothes and in her space, I really felt comfortable and was really ready to change her in certain ways. It was nice, and felt a little like a series with the hiatus and return.
Are there other projects you've done that you'd like to return to and show the character at a later point in their life?
Haylie: I'd love to do another part of the Love Comes Softly series. I would love to play Annie again. I think when you find a character you relate to so much and enjoy being, she's always a part of you. I felt that way with my character Sandy on Seventh Heaven. At the end of the season, I was ready for a little bit of a break because we'd been filming for 7 – 8 months. But then I found myself really excited to come back to her. There's always a little attachment for each character I play.
When viewers see the films, what do you think people will see that you brought from your own character and personality to the role?
Haylie: Annie came at an interesting time in my life where I had been going through some things in my personal life. She all was this patient and forgiving person. It came at a nice time because I got to take those life lessons with me. Her consideration of people was really good for me, and I learned from her in those ways.
What I brought to the role was that I'm a good friend. I'm supportive of my friends. I think I'm a pretty positive person. Afterward is when I got to take Annie's trait of patience. It comes through with Belinda questioning her faith so much.
Annie's faith is very important to her, and I think she had patience not pushing Belinda to believe what she ultimately did believe in. She showed patience in trying to give her the space to deal with the tragedy she had gone through and try to figure it out in her own way. Annie was supportive and was there for Belinda.
When something bad happens, I feel like people either turn to faith or rail against. I feel like Annie was a solid friend that was there to bring Belinda back down to reality when she was ready to be angry at everything.
Besides being an actress, you are very musically talented. Do you feel like one or the other, music or acting, is a better fit for you?
Haylie: I love doing music, I really do. But it's hard for me to focus on more than one thing at a time, so I had to choose the one that was making me feel the most creative. I get into a place where sometimes I really love music and writing, and there are other times that I feel like I can't do it and feel more passionate toward making movies and things like that.
For the last couple of years, the acting has been the thing that's had my focus. I would love to do a movie where I got to sing in it or something like that. Hairspray was a nice combination of the two.
I want to go back to the statement you made about women fighting for equality even now. Do you see that in the film industry, and do you see improvement in that area?
Haylie: In my profession, I feel like women don't always have the longevity in their careers that men have, and they don't always have the same opportunities for roles either. I'm not a feminist, but there is definitely a side of me that feels that way.
We also have this kind of weird shift, especially in this generation, where women are not trying to portray themselves as smart and successful. It's as though the people to look up to all of a sudden are kind of these ditzy overexposed people. Sometimes I wonder why people look up to certain people, so I hope that when I have kids, way down the line from now, that those power positions have shifted a little bit and there are better women role models for people to look up to.
We do have some great role models now, but they don't receive the praise that some of the disasters do. I think there are some really positive changes happening in the world right now. Hillary Clinton running for president was such a huge step in the right direction. Whether you support her or you don’t, to see a woman that proactive in her life was definitely inspiring for me.