The mighty Michelle Stafford’s latest project, Secret Mind of a Single Mom bowed a week ago on NickMom.com to great reviews. The short episode series follows the two-time Daytime Emmy winner’s first foray into the web with her wildly entertaining series, The Stafford Project. Now with ‘Secret Mind’, it’s Michelle and her five-year-old daughter Natalia who are front and center in tales that any single mom, or parent, can wrap their head around while raising a child.
From real life circumstances, one can find the humor in life – and that is exactly what Michelle does seemingly effortlessly in ‘Secret Mind’. As creator, writer, director, and star of the series, Stafford gets to flex all of her talent muscles, and in the process comes up with a winning vehicle that showcases herself and little Natalia!
And, while Stafford is getting the word out on Secret Mind of a Single Mom, this busy chick is also creating havoc as Nina Clay on ABC’s General Hospital! Where after the GH Live shows, viewers found Ms. Clay married to none other than Ric Lansing (Rick Hearst), while a jilted Franco (Roger Howarth) stood by heartbroken! Now, with Ric scheming with Nina’s badass mother, Madeline (Donna Mills), will Nina ultimately get duped? Will Franco rescue her? Will Nina remain loony tunes after 20 years in a coma? To get the answers to these questions and more, and insight into her latest project, we chatted with one of our favorite gals, Michelle Stafford for the scoop. Here’s what she shared!
First off, I was smiling watching the four episodes of Secret Mind of a Single Mom, and might I add … your daughter has become quite the actress!
MICHELLE: Thank you. Lord help me, Michael. (Laughs) It’s very tricky working with kids, and then there is an extra dynamic when it’s your own daughter, who doesn’t listen to you. (Laughs) So there was that, and that was in there and how to deal with it. But I can say … my daughter knows her comedy! (Laughs)
Not only do you star in ‘Secret Mind’, but you created, wrote, and directed this project. This has been in the works for a while, this partnership with Nickelodeon. How did it all come about?
MICHELLE: Nick Mom, which is part of Nickelodeon, saw The Stafford Project and then they started to check me out, and my social media, which is now a huge part of life, and even getting a job. So everybody should be very aware of what they put up on their social media. Nick Mom saw my hash tags, and my Instagram account where I would say #Doinitasasinglechick, and they really felt they lacked telling stories for a single parent, and they really wanted to touch that audience out there too, which there are many, and where they felt there was an untapped audience. I agree with that. When I started posting things on my Instagram about being a single parent, just the barrage of comments I got was amazing. Even if they are married, many women feel, and I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, that they are a single mom! Many women are like: “Wait a minute. My husband is worthless! He doesn’t help at all! I am in this group, too!” (Laughs) So we developed it, me and Nick Mom, and I just wanted to tell stories of the minutia of being a parent, and have it really speak to any parent, and even for people who don’t have kids. I want them to say, “This makes me laugh. I know this, and I understand this.”
Well, there is a reality to it. These are circumstances we can all pretty much understand, and relate to.
MICHELLE: I wanted to make this real. I have so many more things that I wrote down that I would love to use in the series, just as things happen in life. I think to myself, “Oh, my God! That is hilarious! I’ve got to remember this!” So we did four episodes thus far, and if they do well, and if people clamor for more, then we will make more.
When you did the first episode with Natalia not wanting to eat the sandwich, or the bedroom episode where she is keeping you awake when you are trying to sleep, or the hot guy on the street vignette, what did you think of how your daughter pulled off the performances in those? Were you giving her direction?
MICHELLE: I kind of act out what I want her to do, and explain the situation, and try to make it fun, and give her the line reading. The sandwich episode was the most difficult, and in fact it went back and forth between us a little more than in the final cut, but I thought, “Oh gosh. This may be too much for her.” So I changed it around. We actually rehearsed that one a lot, she and I. She would be in the tub and I would say, “Hey do you want to run lines?” (Laughs) I made it really fun, because otherwise who would want to do that? (Laughs) She knew it was a joke, and she got the joke. She could not stop laughing in the sleeping one …. to the point where I was getting a little nervous.
So when Natalia had the lines in the hot guy on the street episode going, “My mommy’s hurt. My mommy’s hurt,” which was hilarious by the way, did you have a moment where you thought this was too hard for her?
MICHELLE: No, honestly if it was too difficult for her, I wouldn’t have her do this. Remember when we did that joint interview with Maura West (Ava, General Hospital) for your Daytime Emmy piece, and I said, “Let’s see how my daughter does … or … I may call to have Maura’s daughter Bird be in it!” (Laughs) I have no problem getting rid of my kid for the good of art! (Laughs) If Natalia didn’t like it, or didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t allow her to be in it, but she thinks we are playing. So, you have to keep it like that, as she has no concept of what we are really doing. Honestly, we have to have strict guidelines on set: such as there is a teacher there at all times, and we have to follow all the rules where kids are concerned because it’s Nick Mom, and the Nickelodeon network is very careful about that. In addition, anybody working on set had to go through a background check to ensure there are no known pedophiles working on this. They are very ‘by the book’.
Has Natalia watched herself in the episodes of Secret Mind of a Single Mom?
MICHELLE: She has seen herself in it, and she thinks it’s hilarious! She loves the sleeping one!
What a unique and wonderful experience to share with your daughter, don’t you think?
MICHELLE: It is cool! I know there is a small percentage of people who may not think it’s a good idea to be working with your daughter, who is 5-years-old. Honestly, if my kid did not like doing this, and it’s not fun for her, and if she wasn’t good, I wouldn’t have her to do it. That’s really the bottom line, and if it was also a miserable experience for her. Again, I would be calling Maura and asking for Joe West, but I couldn’t afford Joe at this point! (Laughs)
In episode four, in comes this take-no-prisoners babysitter, who charges for every millisecond she has to watch Natalia, while you have to leave for the day. Who played that babysitter? She was hilarious!
MICHELLE: Christine Barger is her name, and I actually asked got her from DAYS casting director Marnie Saitta. I told her what I wanted, and the description, and she was really helpful. I wanted someone who was very straight-laced with horned rimmed glasses, and totally humorless! (Laughs) She was awesome.
Wearing so many creative hats in this project: director, creator, writer, actress, was it daunting when push came to shove?
MICHELLE: I watch “Secret Mind” and I see mistakes over the place. In fact, I remember telling my camera guy I needed to get more coverage on the hot guy. I also see things I missed as an actress all over the place, and the whole thing is about one minute and a half, and so it’s OK. It’s not Birdman. (Laughs) Thank God for Paige Dorian, because she took care of all of the production aspects of getting people paid, and pulling all the technical stuff together. There was no way I could have done that all by myself. If we continue to do these, the Paiges are going to write some of them, and Paige Dorian will direct some of them, and Frank Valentini (EP, GH) will direct some. I would direct the first 8 to 12 just to get the tone in to establish what it is, and so then I can bring in other people to handle the directing of the episodes. I actually would prefer that. I am not a micro-manager and I really love collaboration, and so I want other people to direct.
Now, we all loved The Stafford Project. Will there be a season two in the near future? What is the status of that show?
MICHELLE: Really, this is the plan – it is not the easiest thing to do and people are going, “Where is it? Where is it?” And I am not annoyed by that at all, and I would do the same thing if there was a show I really liked watching. I would be going, “Where is it?” For The Stafford Project, my hope is to get someone else to finance it, and we had some meetings on this, but sometimes our visions haven’t meshed. We have had a couple companies like something specific in The Stafford Project, and then we will do a whole treatment of it for two seasons and write a few scripts, and then we give it to them, and they will give us as feedback, “Well, what we really want is this…” And then it really becomes not the same show. It has happened a couple of times. That’s what goes on. I don’t want to sell it just to make money, and it’s not the same show. None of us want that, and I am speaking for myself and the Paiges. The thing that people loved about it is what we created. I think if this project Secret Mind of a Single Mom becomes successful, it might be easier to bring The Stafford Project back. There are some things we are all good at it in our lives, and know about ourselves, but I know I can tell a good story. I know how to make someone laugh at my expense. I’ve always been able to tell a story ever since I can remember, since I was three-years-old and lying to my mom! (Laughs) I love telling story on GH, too. I get story and I read through the scripts, and I get what the writers wants. I feel I am instrumental in helping them get what they want out there through my acting.
What did you think about the GH Live episodes, where you and other cast members were out there on a livewire, sort of speak?
MICHELLE: I loved it, and people were looking for more screw-ups, actually. And of course, they are! So, I thought, “Should I throw a curveball out there on purpose?” I just was not going to do that to Roger Howarth. And I just have to say, Roger was amazing in the live shows. The funny thing is I did not know what was going to be in the two live shows, and we did not see the scripts ‘till about the week before we shot the live shows, and so we had already taped the aftermath of those shows. And, when I read the scripts I was like, “Oh my gosh. These are so beautiful” And then when we played them, Roger played it so beautifully, and I was so affected by it. The following day I was so bummed out, because I as Nina was supposed to be mean to Franco. I wish I would have known how he was playing it on the live show, because he was so sweet.
What did you initially think when the powers-that-be told you that your character of Nina would be romantically paired with Roger Howarth’s Franco?
MICHELLE: They never said they were going to pair us together … never. I just knew when I worked with Roger, and our ways of working together, and our interaction in scenes, were good.
Were you completely taken by surprise when you found out that Nina was actually marrying Ric Lansing in the GH Live shows, and that you would now be working with Rick Hearst?
MICHELLE: It was totally a surprise … and I was like “What????” They told me Nina was getting married, and I was like, “OK.” Then they told me, “You are not going to marry Franco.” I was like “What???” Then Shawn our wardrobe guy said, “I am glad you are marrying this guy. You will like this actor.” And so when he said that, immediately Rick Hearst came to mind, and that was just because the way Shawn started to tell me. Then later when I found out I was like, “Oh, my God!”
Had you worked with Rick before?
MICHELLE: No. Well, he was across the hall at The Bold and the Beautiful when I was at Y&R, and so we were always really good friends. Rick is a wonderful person, and a wonderful actor.
At this point, do you want the audience to feel bad for Nina … since it appears she is being screwed over by her mother Madeline and Ric, who are in cahoots for Nina’s fortune?
MICHELLE: I don’t know, honestly, you can feel any way you want. That is not my job. But, I am thinking the story is interesting where they are going with it, and what you will see in the next few weeks is really fun to play. I think Rick Hearst will really shine in the story.
Ultimately, no matter what Nina says or does … she loves Franco, correct?
MICHELLE: Oh yeah! She loves Franco. First of all, she has been in a coma for 20 years, and she comes out of that, and her husband doesn’t love her anymore, and she is not emotionally together. She doesn’t know what to do when her husband doesn’t want her anymore, and so she is trying to get him back, and then she realizes it’s over. And then there is this other crazy-ass guy, and so she really has feelings for him. She really loves him, and she doesn’t know what to do with it. I think that is sometimes scary and very true in life that you realize about someone: “Oh, wow! This is real! This is real love, and I am uncomfortable about it. I have to run from it.” I think that is kind of Nina’s reaction to Franco, in that “Someone really cares about me. What do I do now? I’ve got to leave!”
What do you think about your on-screen nemesis Maura West coming back on to the canvas as Denice DeMuccio (AKA Ava Jerome)?
MICHELLE: I think it’s great. I think Maura is playing it, and going for it, and it’s great. I am a huge fan of Maura’s, and she is amazing, and its fun, and it’s not a doppelganger.
Eventually, will Nina help takedown Denice?
MICHELLE: We will see. It might be happening. Right now the stories are taking left and right turns, and I think you will be surprised. I hope you’re gonna like it! Everyone is trying to entertain folks the best they can at GH.
Sometimes on the soaps all stories are working and firing on all cylinders, and sometimes the A story may be working, but the B and C stories aren’t, or the whole show may be disconnected. I think that is one of the biggest challenges for all four network soap operas.
MICHELLE: You go in with the intention of making everything great. I watch myself and I will go. “Ooh, that was not the right way to play that.” It does help me to watch it and check myself and my work.
Will you and Donna Mills (Madeline) be sharing more scenes soon?
MICHELLE: Yeah, we will! She is great. Mom is back. I just think Donna is very Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People, and I always tell her that. I think that is the relationship between Nina and Madeline, except that Madeline is more evil. Donna loves it. She is fun. Listen, when I was on Y&R we had actors come on who had never done a daytime soap, and they were at first like, “Well, I don’t know about this.” And then their story arc would run out, and they would be bummed out, because they wanted to continue. It’s a fun job!
Some closing thoughts on your awesome latest endeavor: Secret Mind of a Single Mom. What is the message you want to get out there about creative working women in Hollywood, such as yourself?
MICHELLE: I want people to know that in Secret Mind of a Single Mom that I directed, wrote, and acted in them, and I only say that because I am a chick in Hollywood. It’s really important that women are getting recognized for what they are doing. We have this whole new wave of really talented women, and we always have had a wave of talented women, but in the past they didn’t have a chance in a predominately male industry. Now we have women coming in and doing great work and we have this wave of funny woman, it’s terrific!
Everyone has been commenting recently because of ‘Secret Mind’ that you should really get a lead role in a sitcom comedy series. I think that this concept would also be a fantastic vehicle for you. Would you want to do one?
MICHELLE: Yes, if it’s funny. Who would say ‘no’ to that? That would be the goal, and Nickelodeon has Nick Mom, Nick Junior, Nick at Nite, and they are a monster company, and really a great company to work with. They are looking for good programming, so if this does well, bottom line on the web, and they continue to garner more views, then if it continues it will expand. And it could expand on to their primetime channel, which starts on Nick Mom from 8 PM to 12 Midnight. They have a couple shows that are originals, but they are looking to expand. Of course, it’s a goal, because if it’s a fun show to do you want to see more of it, and it’s just like when people complain they want to see more of The Stafford Project. They want to see 30 minutes of it. They want to see more of it, and that is a great complaint and I love it. It’s really an exciting time for women, and especially funny women right now in this industry, and people want to read and see pro-female things, and funny things, and I love being a part of it.
What do you think of Michelle’s new online series Secret Mind of a Single Mom? Are you enjoying the concept and seeing Michelle and her daughter Natalia together in the series concept? What do you will happen next to GH’s Nina Clay … will she see the light and head in the direction of Franco … or, will her mother and Ric Lansing take her for everything she is worth? Share your thoughts below!