The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Patricia Heaton (“The Christmas Heart,” “The Middle”)

Although it’s not unreasonable to suggest that just about everyone knows Patricia Heaton best for her work in front of the camera, but she’s been known to step into the role of producer on occasion, including the 2006 film “Amazing Grace.” Her most recent procedural credit, however, can be seen throughout the month of December on the Hallmark Channel, and as is only appropriate for a holiday film, it’s a family affair: not only did Heaton co-produce the film with her husband, David Hunt, but it’s written by her brother, Michael Heaton. Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Ms. Heaton during the summer TCA tour, and although “The Christmas Heart” was the reason for our conversation, I was able to split our time evenly between the film and her current full-time gig: playing Frankie Heck on “The Middle.” By the way, “Middle” fans, please note that, given the date of our conversation, I had no way of knowing that my theory about Frankie departing from her job at the car dealership really was in the cards. I’m like freaking Nostradamus over here!

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Bullz-Eye: As someone who has a sister myself, how weird is it to work with your brother on a project like this?

Patricia Heaton: Not as weird as working with my husband on it. [Laughs.] Too many relatives spoil the soup! No, it was great. You know, my brother and I have… Once he stopped torturing me and pinning me down and spitting on me and things like that when we were younger, we both lived and struggled in New York together at the same time. At one point we were both working at People Magazine: he was writing and I was a copy clerk. So we’ve been down the road together, and…he’s a great story guy. He has tons of stories, partly because he’s a journalist himself and he talks to people all day long, every day, and it just generates these stories in his mind. So this movie, “The Christmas Heart,” he had in his head for many years, and we’ve been trying to get it made. We’re so grateful that Hallmark gave it a home.

It’s an unusual Christmas movie, in that it’s very dramatic and there’s very serious themes in it. So it’s a little bit unusual, but I think that’s what’s going to be great about it. You’ll want to have popcorn on one hand and a box of tissues on the other. But it was great to have my brother having written it and my husband (David Hunt) and I producing it, and seeing the whole thing come off the page…we spent hours and hours and hours on the script, so when you start watching the dailies and you see it come alive, it’s so thrilling. And that’s what makes it addictive, ’cause it’s really one of the hardest things you can do, to take something from an idea to the screen. It’s a lot of hard work, but when you see it… It’s the kind of thing that really sort of lives forever.

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