Three Great Things: Melora Hardin

The Emmy-nominated actress, who's soon to be seen in the Hulu horror movie Clock, shares some of life's essentials.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the upcoming release on Hulu of the horror movie Clock, starring Dianna Agron and Melora Hardin, the Emmy-nominated Hardin – who is best known as Jan from The Office and Tammy on Transparent – shared some of the things that mean most to her in life. — N.D.

I love everything about diving into a piece of art, whether it’s creating a character, directing something, or looking at the overarching vision for a project. I’m also a collage artist and love diving into that practice and allowing for inspiration to drop into the moment and using all the knowledge and experience I’ve garnered over the years.

I started acting professionally when I was six years old, I started dancing when I was five and I started singing from the age of two, so I’ve been putting on shows in my backyard and doing collage art as long as I can remember. All of those things and the way it all comes about, just brings me a ton of joy. My experience of creativity is that I’m just channeling things that already exist in the world. I’m not making these things up, they’re coming through me – using me, my talents, my face, my mind, my body, my spirituality, to make a statement in the world through art.

I wrote my first song when I was two. My family lived in a duplex in Santa Monica and I remember I was sitting in front of the big window in the living room where you could see the ocean, way in the distance. I was sitting with my brother’s guitar on my lap and just strumming and making up this stream-of-consciousness song. I don’t know how I can remember the words, but somehow I can: “Coughin’ Jeannie sits by the window. She’s so sick. She cough, cough, coughs.” And then it just went on and on about Jeannie and her cough. I played so much, I got a blood blister on my finger, as I was just having so much fun strumming and singing. I just kept going!

Another important moment is when I was five years old and my grandfather took me to a Wednesday matinee of That’s Entertainment. At the end of the movie, the curtains closed over the screen and I got up in front of them, where there was a spotlight. I was dancing in the spotlight and I just remember thinking, “This is what I want to do. This is what I want to do with my life.”

My family is such a huge part of my life. My husband and I have two daughters who are now 18 and 21. My parents are still alive and I had the extraordinary experience of my grandparents still being around into my 30s. There’s something about family, even with all its challenges and struggles, that I so love. There’s something about the warmth and closeness of family, and even the friends who become “chosen family.” I still love to have people over for dinner: I love to cook and do flower arrangements. My husband used to call me “Petal” when we were first dating, so I had an idea that I could open a little flower shop with a tiny corner stage for open mics and poetry readings. I still haven’t done that yet.

Everybody in my family is creative and I feel very centered and grounded by them. I’m not a person who thrives on chaos; I really like the stability and the rootedness of family, which gives me the opportunity to feel free to take bigger, scarier, more challenging risks in my art. I know my family is always going to be there for me, even when I fall flat on my face – which is absolutely destined to happen when you’re taking big risks.

My sense of family definitely also affects how I operate when I’m directing. The director Ron Shelton once said that you can’t make good actors give great performances unless they feel fully safe, and I always want my actors to feel that. I try to let them know that out of all the people who could have played this character, I’ve chosen them and they’re the only one I want. So whenever I say, “Hey, let’s try it like that,” or “What are you thinking here? Why don’t we think in a different direction?”, it’s not a criticism, it’s just collaboration.

I like to shop with certain friends or with my daughters, but I also really like to shop by myself. I have a large and very eclectic wardrobe and I think that’s because I like to find just the right clothes for the characters I’m playing. I have sometimes had a costume fitting for a project and felt like I wanted to go in a different direction, so then I’ll go shopping and send a picture to the costume designer of some clothes I think might be good. They’ll say, “Why don’t you buy that? And if you see anything else you like, we’ll reimburse you,” or sometimes, “I’ll meet you and we’ll shop together!” I’ve done that quite a few times; it’s fun.

When I’m shopping, I don’t need to buy anything – I can enjoy just wandering. I hate shopping online and I’m really sad about that becoming the way most people are doing things because I love the tangible nature of shopping. I really enjoy having time to just touch the textiles and wander through stores and look at the aesthetics the staff have created to go with their clothes and shoes and imagine how those items might look on me. I might even try them on. It’s like playing dress up for a little girl, and again, it’s another form of creative expression for me.

So much of shopping for me is about the human interactions, whether it’s with the sales associate or a friend or someone I meet randomly. The other day, I wandered into a store because I had a few minutes to spare and there was a woman who, like me, was trying on some shoes. I said her shoes looked great and she loved the shoes I had on too, and we had a whole conversation about shopping and about how much we love to shop. She was from Texas and on a business trip and she had a few hours before her next meeting to browse. She had no idea who I was, which was fun. It was just a really sweet interaction.

Featured image shows Melora Hardin in Clock; image courtesy Hulu.

Melora Hardin stars opposite Dianna Agron in the forthcoming horror movie Clock, out April 28 on Hulu. She is best known for playing Jan Levinson on The Office and was Emmy nominated for her recurring role of Tammy Cashman on Transparent. She’s also recently starred in The Bold Type, had a recurring role on A Million Little Things and competed on Dancing With The Stars. Her film credits include Hannah Montana: The Movie, 17 Again, Thank You for Smoking, Absolute Power and 27 Dresses. She made her directorial debut in 2009 with the independent feature You, and also directed Paula Cole’s music video for the 20th anniversary of “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone” and a 2019 episode of The Bold Type that was nominated for a 2020 Women’s Image Award. She most recently directed the upcoming documentary Hunters Thunder. (Photo by Manfred Baumann, courtesy Melora Hardin.)