PTR Senior Staff Writer
Question: How many of us can say we’ve acted on a whimsical chance that is still going on 25 years later?
My guess is not many.
Yet, that is exactly what Robbie and Doug Smith did when they founded the Safe Harbor Boys Home 25 years ago in Jacksonville, Florida.
And that is exactly what Nancy Travis found most inspiring when she took on the role of Robbie in the upcoming Hallmark Original Movie, Safe Harbor.
“For me, that whole element of chance – taking a chance, being available to whatever fate brings you – is the most powerful element of this movie. And, what appealed to me most about the story was the notion of somebody who has their life pretty much charted out, was prepared to take the next step, and fate threw something in their path that completely changed their direction and made them realize unfulfilled wishes. That was all an appealing process to me,” says Nancy.
The movie, which premieres Saturday, May 30th at 9 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel, is based on the true story of real-life married couple Robbie and Doug Smith, who shelved their retirement plans to sail around the world together, and instead founded a unique, residential, educational program for at risk teen-aged boys aboard their boat on the Saint Johns River. The Safe Harbor Boys Home is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
"I think, too, what was also interesting about it," says Nancy, "is that in this day and age - especially if you’re somewhat of celebrity - there’s an onus to find a charity with which to associate yourself. And, I think in general today, it’s what can you do for the world. But often, those decisions come to you without you looking for them. I liked that this was a gradual process for the Smiths in that they took in a boy as a favor to somebody else, and it blossomed into their journey. So sometimes, even though we’re searching for the place to put our name, it’s [actually] right there in front of us. What Robbie and Doug did, ultimately, [was] a huge contribution. But sometimes, there are things that we do that are small that are equally as helpful."
So, as a mother of two, what did she identify with the most in Robbie - a woman who didn't have any children? Ironically enough, it was actually the mothering quality in Robbie that the Safe Harbor boys seemed to be able to bring out of her.
“I’m a mother, and I can’t really imagine my life without my children now that I’ve had them,” says Nancy. “But Robbie is a woman who chose not to have children – mostly because she couldn’t get pregnant, and as a couple, they decided to just not have kids. It was this unfulfilled desire for her. And yet, it was an interesting notion that these delinquent boys come to her, and she is able to fulfill that dream [of being a mother] even though they are not her own children. So, there was a very mothering quality about her. I connected with that."
The process of making the movie, however, proved to be one in which Nancy isn’t entirely used to considering her day job is one that most of us would envy – no matter the profession.
Start at 10 a.m.
Done at 3 p.m.
This, of course, is the benefit of being on a sitcom, which has always had the reputation for having one of the cushiest filming schedules in the entertainment industry.
Currently enjoying a strong run as Bill Engvall’s wife, Susan, on the TBS hit comedy, The Bill Engvall Show, Nancy got a true taste of renegade filmmaking as Safe Harbor was filmed outside, on a real sailboat, during some extremely unseasonably cool weather in Long Beach, California.
"All of it was [filmed] pretty much made outside," says Nancy. "So, we were definitely dealing with the elements - with the light, or just trying to get a shot in of a walk on the beach before the sun goes down. It ended up almost being renegade filmmaking. That said, surprisingly given the budget, the scenes that really worked in a very professional way were the storm scenes - I was really impressed with that. We were lucky, too, in that Treat Williams [who portrays husband Doug Smith] is a nautical guy – spent his life sailing, knew things about boats and sailing and the sea – and he was able to bring a lot to it."
Bringing a lot to the projects she undertakes is something Nancy takes great pride in doing - no matter whether it be a comedy or a drama. She finds inspiration in simply having the ability to investigate any given character at any given moment at any place in time.
"I have always had a sense of adventure," says Nancy. "I love that in acting, I get to be other people, live in other places, experience emotions and situations I might not have in my own life. And then, conversely, all I can bring to it is what I’ve experienced in my own life, and imagine what it would be like to be a woman who lives on a boat, and a woman who faces these boys [who are] virtual criminals - how does one handle that, how does one answer their own moral questions. I love being able to put thoughts and emotions before other people and see how I can affect them.
"I just love performing," Nancy continues. "I love to do theater. I love film. I love even performing at my kids’ school fundraiser. I love all of it. And, I think I mostly look for projects that look like they're going to be interesting and fun, and hopefully [be] the best quality thing I can find. But also, it’s about what’s happening in a moment. I’ve done jobs that I’ve thought, 'Ugh. Wow. I don’t know why I’m doing this. What am I doing here?' But a director once said to me: you never know what the opportunity is going to bring. You just never know what the opportunity is that’s within a project. And that is almost a metaphor for this film, too, in that you just never know what opportunity lurks with what you choose to do."
But she does confess theater is her favorite. Why?
"I think because you spend time in this little cocoon rehearsing and preparing something, and you really don’t know what it's going to be until you’re pushed out onto a stage, and it’s just you, your other actors and the audience. And, that thing that happens with the written material, the actors and the audience changes every night - it can be a different sensation every night. It’s an alchemy that happens that’s pretty addictive. There’s really no opportunity to say, 'Ok, let’s stop. Let’s go back and redo this, let’s perfect this.' It is what it is. One night, a line may soar and everybody will be applauding; the next night no one may get it. So, you just never know, and I just love that question," says Nancy.
Speaking of questions, you know that old saying how everything comes in threes? I believe this to be true. So how would Nancy sum up Safe Harbor in three words?
She'd use three phrases instead.
“Let fate be your guide. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Take a chance - it can provide answers you’ve been searching for your entire life,” says Nancy.
We here at PTR extend our great thanks to Nancy for taking the time out to chat with us. We also thank our friends at Hallmark Publicity. Safe Harbor premieres Saturday, May 30th at 9 p.m. / 8 p.m. Central on the Hallmark Channel. For the inside scoop on the story and the film, head on over to HallmarkChannel.com