Exclusive: Melissa Joan Hart: From Rice Krispies girl to NASCAR driver?

Exclusive: Melissa Joan Hart: From Rice Krispies girl to NASCAR driver?

Jesse Metcalfe and Melissa Joan Hart star in 'God's Not Dead 2' in theaters now.

You know Melissa Joan Hart from her hit shows, Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Her latest project is the film, God’s Not Dead 2. Inspired by real life events, God’s Not Dead 2 follows the fallout when Brooke [The Goldbergs‘ Hayley Orrantia], a hurting student grieving the loss of her brother, reaches out to Grace [Melissa Joan Hart]. Their coffee-shop conversation leads to Grace sharing the hope she finds in Christ. However, when Brooke asks an honest question about Jesus in the classroom, Grace’s reasoned response lands her in big trouble — almost before she finishes giving her answer. God’s Not Dead 2 co-stars Jesse Metcalfe, Robin Givens, Ernie Hudson, Ray Wise, Fred Thompson and Pat Boone. I recently sat down with Melissa to talk about everything from the film and the presidential election to commercials and NASCAR.

National Monitor: Studios are starting to add divisions specifically to make faith based films. Why do you think that is the case now?

Melissa Joan Hart: These days, it seems that the films that are bringing in money are Christian films and horror films – two totally different genres. I think there’s a community of people out there that are looking for Christian fellowship. Having that fellowship on the screen is important to the mass amounts of people in this country that feel like they’re being left out of film and television.

We’re you nervous or excited about taking part in a sequel that you weren’t a part of the first time?

I got the script before I saw the first film. I decided to read the script first to see if it stood on its own. And it does. It’s its own story. I think having two, possibly three, movies that stand alone with some intertwining themes is something you don’t really see that often. It’s rare that you see a sequel that’s better than the first. I’m obviously a part of this one, but this movie really did take a step up. I thought this was a very important story to tell. I had to make room in my life to make this movie, but it’s already been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

What do you hope viewers will take away when they walk out of the theater?

I hope what people take away is that it’s just a well-made film. Honestly, we’re in this business to tell a story. If we’re hitting people over the head with certain messages, and this is obviously a Christian movie, but when I first saw this movie on Monday, I was blown away by how good it was. It told a great story and it invokes emotion. Hopefully there’ll be little debates and questions that arise from this movie that get people talking and believing. One of my favorite lines from the movie that Jesse says is, ‘if a Christian’s right to believe is subordinate to all other beliefs, then it isn’t a right at all.’

This is an election year as we all know.

Uh oh.

This movie is about values and we keep hearing about different sorts of values from the presidential hopefuls. What are your thoughts on values in America today and what politicians are trying to say about values in America?

It’s a tough year. I’m usually like, ‘this is who I am. This is what I believe and this is what I’m voting for.’ This year, I just don’t know. I’m just flabbergasted by everything that’s going on and I don’t believe one of them. My state hasn’t voted in the primaries yet, like it’s going to matter much. I’m just praying for this country for the right thing to happen. The only outcome I can see right now is complete turmoil. We have to shake up the system where maybe we don’t have a two party system. Maybe the outcome of this election is that [the two parties] don’t have all the power. Maybe we have five parties or we have an independent step in.

I know you made a lot of commercials as a young child. Do you have any funny or embarrassing moment that really stands out from your commercial days?

I was called the Rice Krispies girl. Recently, my mom was chatting with someone on Facebook who had posted the Rice Krispies commercial I was in. I showed my kids and only two of them could guess that it was me. I was six when it came out and I was called the Rice Krispies girl for like three years and that’s what I was known as. It’s funny because people will ask, ‘do you hate when people remember you as Clarissa?’ but Clarissa was refreshing going from the Rice Krispies girl to Clarissa. Then it was Clarissa to Sabrina and people would ask, ‘don’t you hate it when people call you Sabrina?’ I’m like, ‘no, because it was a change from Clarissa which was a change from Rice Krispies girl.

I was the Tylenol girl. I was the Life Savers girl. Life Savers was a great commercial. It was a really fun commercial. I think we shot it for like two days, but it seemed like a long time. It might have been a while week. We got to dress really cool and really funky with Converse sneakers and bright colors. We just got to play. The director’s like, ‘just go over there and play.’ It was a checker board with giant Life Savers. We got to run around with balloons and do cart wheels. It was a real fun commercial shoot AND I got to wear that outfit on the first day of school when I entered junior high. It was seventh grade and I felt pretty cool.

And seventh grade is an important time to feel cool.

Yes! Before that, I wasn’t cool, though I probably wasn’t cool after that. At least on the first day of seventh grade, I was cool.

At least you made a good first impression.

I did make a good first impression but I didn’t get a boyfriend out of it [laughs].

You turned out okay.

It’s okay. I married a cute guy so I’m good.

Along the same lines, you were a child star and somehow avoided the [child star] curse. You’ve been married a while and avoided that [Hollywood marriage] curse.

We’ll see [laughs].

You’ve been married 13 years right?

It will be 13 in July.

That’s like 50 in Hollywood years.

That’s right. It’s like dog years.

How did you manage to avoid both curses?

A lot of credit’s got to go to my parents for raising me the way they did, being open-minded but strict and making sure I knew right from wrong. I also, praise God, am not an addict. I’m in an artist community but I’m not one of these artists – I’m drawn to acting for a different reason than a lot of actors I think. I’m also business-minded about it. I approach the craft from a business perspective whereas a lot of people have this innate need to perform. Maybe that’s it. I need to perform, but I’m not all-consuming artistically. I really do think I have a business mind. A lot of the pitfalls I’ve managed to avoid is because I try to make level-headed decisions. I also make commitments that I keep. I consider myself to be three things: loyal, honest and fearless. I never promote something or put my name on something I don’t whole heartedly believe in. The hardest thing in the world for me is to say no to something. If I do, it’s literally because I can’t commit.

I have a public email address now and people are constantly asking me about donating to charity or posting something about their charity. I honestly can’t make everyone happy, but I try, to a fault, to be loyal to people’s needs. And I’m fearless. I try to face controversy head on and take on any challenge. I feel like Neil Patrick Harris in How I Met Your Mother: ‘challenge accepted!’ So I’m going to drive the pace car in Virginia next week (April 3) for the NASCAR race and I’m so excited! They asked me in October and I couldn’t do it and it almost killed me to say no. I love taking on controversy. I was at a spin class and two women started talking about politics. I didn’t even know these women but I asked them if I could join the conversation. I just like to debate. I want to hear everyone’s perspective. I want to know why you feel this way or you feel that way. I’m a student of this world and I love learning new things.


God’s Not Dead 2 is in theaters now.

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