One of the most recognizable (and fun to watch!) actresses in Lifetime and Hallmark movies, BARBARA NIVEN began her journey as a little girl striking movie star poses while growing up in Portland, Oregon. She got her SAG card in the 1986 Emmy-winning film ‘Promise’ (starring opposite James Garner and James Woods) and relocated to Los Angeles soon after. Studying with the great Milton Katselas at the Beverly Hills Playhouse (she was in his Master Class for 12 years) helped her to land big roles on the small screen, including Pensacola: Wings of Gold opposite James Brolin and One Life To Live. Niven also won the coveted role of “Marilyn Monroe” in HBO’s hit ‘The Rat Pack’. And then there are all those naughty roles she brings to life in a plethora of Lifetime movies… Niven plays bad so well you can’t take your eyes off of her!
After she co-starred in a few films for The Hallmark Channel, they decided to create their first original series and offered Niven a lead role. Cedar Cove was #1 in its time slot every episode last year and is now filming its second season in gorgeous Vancouver. The series seems to be following a new trend (and welcome breath of fresh air) joining non-network channels that are debuting original series… including BET’s Being Mary Jane with Gabrielle Union and Richard Roundtree, TBS’s Sullivan & Son headed up coincidently by Niven’s boyfriend, Dan Lauria (of The Wonder Years fame) as well as Cedar Cove (which also stars Andie MacDowell)… All are #1 hit shows.
Niven is also a business woman. She’s become Hollywood’s top Media Trainer and Video Marketing expert. She also finds time for motivational speaking to inspire others to live their dreams. She sat down for this exclusive Tolucan Times interview at her lovely studio in North Hollywood.
How did a little girl from Oregon get the acting bug?
I always wanted to be an actress! But I put it on hold, got married and had kids… thinking I’d get to it someday. Ten years later I opened my mailbox and found my high school reunion flyer. At the bottom of it was the question: “Have you achieved all you thought you would in your life by now?” It hit me like a ton of bricks that I hadn’t even started yet. I was almost 30 years old, living everybody else’s dream of me but my own. That day I started putting my dream into action. Everyone thought I was crazy.
First you pursued a career in news.
I knew I could write and loved being on camera, so I knocked on the door to the NBC-affiliate in Portland and told the News Director he should mentor me because I was going to work for him! He eventually put me on as an intern, and against all odds I sold my first story to the network! Soon I discovered acting and it’s been my passion ever since. I had no role models in Portland, so I bought acting books and studied on my own. I found Marsha Mason’s monologue from ‘Chapter Two’ and memorized it. Then ABC announced they were doing a nationwide search to replace “Tina” on One Live To Live. The audition was in Seattle and I drove five hours through a black ice storm to get there and read for ABC Daytime Casting Director Bobby Hoffman. A week later they called me to New York for a screen test! I didn’t get the part, but 20 years later it came full circle when I landed the role of “Liz Coleman Reynolds” on OLTL.
What was it like working with Angelina Jolie in ‘Foxfire’?
I remember thinking “she’s so much cooler than I’ll ever be.” No one knew she was going to be such a big star. I was this little girl from Portland and she was edgy and kind of scary! (Laughs)
Was it intimidating to work with Joe
Mantegna, Ray Liotta and William Peterson in ‘The Rat Pack’?
Playing “Marilyn” was a dream! We shot in the old Ambassador Hotel where the original Rat Pack used to hang out, and felt their spirits around us while we were filming. It was an epic moment I’ll never forget. It’s impossible to play an icon, but I hope Marilyn is happy with what I did.
You are obviously the darling at Lifetime and LMN.
I’m grateful to Lifetime – they write strong roles for women. I’ve done 13 Lifetime movies for one producer alone. I think it’s because I’ve always considered myself a character actor and didn’t get pigeon-holed into one kind of role. Truth is also more important to me than what I look like on camera. For instance, in ‘My Mother’s Secret’ I played the part with zero makeup. I’d wash my hair at night and however it would be the next morning was how her hair would be that day. I like having a chameleon face. I’m so blonde you can literally paint anything on me. Message to young actors: Don’t worry about so much what you look like. Just be the character.
Which is your favorite Lifetime movie?
Ohhhh, ‘The Perfect Neighbor’ (with Perry King) because it was the first time I’d ever played bad! [Executive Producer] Pierre David offered me the film and let me pick the part I wanted. I could play the ‘nice’ person that Susan Blakely wound up playing (brilliantly I might add) which is what I always played, or I could choose the other role – a disturbed, psychotic stalker. That terrified me because I’d never done it before. So I had to do it. I worked hard to find the delicious nuances, and it’s my Lifetime role people remember most. The lesson is to always choose what scares you. Beyond your biggest fear lies your biggest gold.
In ‘Double Cross’ you played a ‘good’
character. Which role do you prefer: good or bad?
Playing bad is way more fun than playing good!
You are also favored for Hallmark Channel movies.
I love being part of Hallmark because family values and making a difference are hugely important to me. My favorite memory on set was during ‘Back to You and Me’ when Rue McClanahan shared insider stories about ‘The Golden Girls’ over dinner.
Hallmark gave you the lead in Cedar Cove.
Bruce Boxleitner and I played Western Stars in Hallmark’s ‘Mystery Woman: Wild West Mystery’. They liked our chemistry together so much they offered us Cedar Cove. We have a blast on set!
Media Coaching is also a passion of yours.
Yes, I created ‘Unleash Your Star Power!’ to help people use Video Marketing to stand out and grow their business. Today, we all need to communicate our message well through videos, TV & radio interviews and public speaking. I offer private coaching, Video Boot Camps, and have a home study course. I wish I’d had the tips in my book ‘111 Star Power Tips’ when I was starting out!
And you rescue animals!
Absolutely. I have three dogs and a cat and do all I can to promote animal rescue, including volunteering for Kinder4Rescue (Kinder4Rescue.org). Adopt, Don’t Shop… and save a life!
You are also very proud of your
participation in the viral music video
‘She 4 Me’ (She4Me.org)
It’s a beautiful video about human rights and marriage equality that promotes the message, “Love is Love.”
Creative director: Sue Melke; Photographer: Sabrina Bringiuer; Photo editor: Kayleigh Hawes; Makeup: Donna Moss; Wardrobe: The Way We Wore; Locations: Andaz West Hollywood and Floor Plan.