New Logo riveting riffs magazine Barbara Niven at Home on Chesapeake Shores
Barbara Niven Photo One

 

Barbara Niven is a lot of things, but if you were to ask her, she would probably tell you that what she is most proud of is being a mother and a grandmother. She waves that flag proudly and so she should. Barbara Niven, the actress has appeared in more than one hundred feature films and made for television movies. Her roles have been as diverse as currently starring as Megan O’Brien on the Hallmark Channel’s wildly popular Chesapeake Shores, where she is the prodigal mother who returns home to her five adult children and her ex Mick O’Brien or in her role as Delores Swensen, mother to amateur sleuth Hannah Swensen played by Alison Sweeney in the Murder, She Baked mystery movies, also Hallmark productions and the middle-aged Rebecca Westridge in Nicole Conn’s A Perfect Ending with the late John Heard and Jessica Clark,  a story in which her character is trapped in a loveless marriage and she falls in love with another woman.

While there is a part of every actor invested in every role that they play or at least there should be if that role is to be performed well, not every moviegoer or fan who sits in front of their television sets on a Saturday or Sunday night gets an opportunity to discover who the real person is behind the character. We invite you to spend a few minutes with us as we chat with an incredible woman, who seems to find the perfect balance between strength and kindness, while not being afraid to lend her voice to causes she truly is passionate about such as, animal rights, anti-bullying, human rights and helping others to realize their dreams. As Barbara Niven so often likes to say, “Don’t stop five minutes before the miracle happens.”

For those readers who are not familiar with Chesapeake Shores, now in its second season on the Hallmark Channel and in Canada appearing on the W Network, we asked Barbara Niven to take a few moments and to set the scene for us.

She says, “Chesapeake Shores is on the Hallmark Channel, which first of all tells you that it is positive programming that families can watch together. That is what drives me so much towards the Hallmark Channel. It is funny because this is my thirtieth anniversary of getting my Screen Actors Guild card and I started thirty years ago on the Hallmark Hall of Fame with a movie called Promise (1986, and is credited as Barbara Alexander) with James Garner and James Woods. I just think that I am so lucky that it has come back full circle and I am on Hallmark again. It is basically who I am and I think there are a lot more people like us who watch that than there are the people who like the other kind of programming. I love watching the other shows that are out there now too. I watched one episode of The Game of Thrones and I hear that it was the most violent one that they had. I had to turn it off. I like reaching. I like stretching the envelope and I have done that too, but darn it for my real life, especially in this kind of stress filled atmosphere and universe that we are living in nowadays, I love being able to turn on TV and having positive energy going on in the background.

Barbara Niven Photo TwoChesapeake Shores is a show about a family, like so many in our country who have divorced parents and the children grow up without one of them for whatever reason. Chesapeake Shores was written as a novel by Sherryl Woods and it is about the O’Brien family who split up. After seventeen years they are coming back together again to try to heal the family. In the breakup my husband was Mick, (played by) Treat Williams and my character is Megan, we were divorced, but he was able to keep the kids. We have five kids. It is such a journey and I get so many comments back from people who watch and say that as they are watching our O’Brien family who is definitely not perfect, my character is definitely imperfect, but as they watch us heal it gives them hope that they too can start healing in their own families or their own neighborhoods or their own nation.

I was really drawn to this part. Bill Abbott who is the president and CEO of Crown Media, which is over Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries called me. He said I am reading this series of novels called Chesapeake Shores and the mother in it she reminds me of you. I think that you need to read this, because maybe this is something that we need to do together. As he was on the phone I got on my computer, I downloaded it instantly and I started reading it. From the first moment I was drawn to the character of Megan.

Niven says she was drawn to the character of Megan O’Brien, “Because she is a fierce mother. I have been divorced before. I remember thinking, because I was married to a very strong person when I was much younger and I also had my daughter Jess, the marriage was just not working. I wasn’t old enough at the time that I got married to be able to know what I wanted in my life or who I really was, but the most amazing thing in my life and still is until this day is being a mother.

When I ended up getting divorced I had no way to make money, I had no place to go and I had enormous guilt for ruining this life. I put some of the guilt on myself, which again Megan (in Chesapeake Shores) did the same thing. I ended up finding a place to live, finding roommates to help, because again I had no money. I didn’t even take any child support. I left him the house, the car and everything, but I had my daughter. I (also) had my big acting dream. I moved away and somehow God smiled upon me and somehow I made that work. I don’t know how it happened.

That is another story and why I am so passionate about helping other people now, but living their dreams as well. I am living proof that if I can make this crazy acting dream happen, as a single mother at thirty in Portland, Oregon anybody can make any dream happen.  You just have to work harder than anybody else and not give up and not give up five minutes before your miracle. Just do a little bit every day.

Getting back to Megan and the character, I just knew that I had to play her, because in the original script she was portrayed as pretty much black and white. Even the lines that would come through that I was supposed to say, ‘I had to leave to save myself.’ I said no that is not how a mother thinks. That is not what I thought when I got divorced and that is not how Megan thought.

Almost any parent of divorce can relate to this. When you divorce, obviously there has been a bad relationship for a while, maybe you have been fighting. If you are not fighting out loud, at least there is a lot of stress.  You know your children pick up on it and you don’t want to color your children’s lives by that kind of fighting and arguing, because they always take it onto themselves. When you leave you also have to think about the kids and you had better not put your ex-spouse down, because that’s fifty percent of their DNA.  You have to do everything to try to work together and to make it better for your kids. That’s not easy, because you obviously have a whole bad history with an ex and if you can’t communicate when you are married, how can you do it right afterwards?”

Barbara Niven saw Megan O’Brien as being a woman who chose to leave her marriage, so she could get help, to rediscover who she was, because she lost her identity in being the mother to five children while, in her words, “getting run over by a stronger personality.”

“It is not that he (Mick O’Brien) is a bad guy, but it is that (Megan) just like me in my marriage didn’t know how to handle it. She didn’t know who she was and she got married so young. You have to take a time out and you have to start over, but you don’t want to drag five kids with you to an unknown if you have no way to make a living. You are going to move to New York and it is expensive there, so all of these questions and the decisions that you make, you can’t just do it for your own selfish reasons. You have to do it by taking the kids’ best interests into account as well.

Imagine Megan in that family, you see the house that they live in, that is where she lived too. You see the school and you see all of the economic gifts that they had. Plus they had Nell (played by Diane Ladd) who came to live with them, as soon as Megan took a time out to go and put her life together. (Megan) fully thought she was going to take the kids with her and fully thought that it was going to work out, because you can’t be separated from your kids for that long. When Nell gets there the kids are doing well in school and then how do you interrupt them away from all of that and say now it is time for you to come and live with me in New York? There is no black and white in that and it is a gray area. She obviously kept in touch with her older kids, but the young ones she really never knew.

As we get older and now I am a grandmother too, all of those reasons, I wish I would have or I could have or all of the blame game on yourself and whoever else you blamed for whatever happened in your whole life, you get to a point when you say now I can’t live with that anymore. I now know what is important no matter what.  I am going to go make it right and I am going to heal this family. You see what is happening to the kids, because of mistakes that you made and that your ex made. They are all living in this thing and until you can heal yourself and help them heal nobody can move forward. That is the chapter they are in now. Megan is back, because she wants to heal them and to create brand new relationships going forward, because family is the most important thing after all,” says Niven.

Chesapeake Shores is filmed on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia Canada and more specifically it is filmed at Qualicum Beach and Parksville one of Canada’s most beautiful locations and Cedar Cove in which Barbara Niven portrayed the character Peggy Beldon was filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. While Toronto, Canada’s largest city is often depicted as the center of the Canadian entertainment industry that is in fact a misnomer, because in recent decades British Columbia has become the hub for the arts in Canada (these comments are purely the editorial comments of this writer, who has lived in both Vancouver and Toronto and is in no way meant to reflect Ms. Niven’s personal opinions).

Barbara Niven says, “So much of the film industry is up in Canada now and I am really fortunate, because my father was born in Burnaby, British Columbia, so I was able to get my dual citizenship. I am a full dual citizen of Canada (and the United States), which makes it desirable to hire me as an actress, because they get a tax credit up (in Canada). It was perfect timing and before my father passed he made sure that we went to an immigration attorney and that I was able to get this.

It is like coming home. I see dad around sending me little messages and I know that he has orchestrated the whole thing from heaven. After I got my citizenship I brought my dad up. He was in his eighties and he took me to the area where he grew up. He told me stories about how poor they were, but how much love they had in their family. It is always a treasure to go back up there.”

What is it about the marriage between the Hallmark Channel and Barbara Niven that just seems to work so well for each of them? Rather than speculate we asked Barbara Niven that very question and this is what she had to say.

“It is (a good marriage) and corny as it sounds I am trying to make a difference in this world and by putting out positive energy in so many ways. I try to support causes that can make a difference and the people at Hallmark and Hallmark Movies and Mysteries from the top down feel the same way. They fight so hard to make a difference for animals, for people, for veterans and they are just the kind of people that I like hanging out with. I find that the fans of the Hallmark Network, almost to a person are the same way. You can call us corny, but darn it those are the good family values that I grew up with. That’s what I want my kid and my grandchildren to live their lives by too. There is so much negativity now and I honestly feel that part of that is because of haters and revolutionaries and terrorists around the world are a lot louder with their hate than we peaceful people are. That’s just how it is. Peace and love are quieter, but they are also more powerful. The more that we can each step up and hold hands around the world and not just here we can make our voices, our love and our positive actions louder than hate and stronger than hate. That’s what I think it is going to take.

Hallmark is a way to do that. Even at Christmas I have the Hallmark channel with all of the Christmas movies on in the background and it changes my attitude. That’s how I mark my Christmas and to have the Christmas spirit. It has just saved me so much, because I get overwhelmed and I think a lot of people do with what is going on in the world. I need to in my heart and in my home and in my family to remember that family is important and that love is important and that heart to heart connections are important. I don’t want to bring in and magnify the other stressors anymore. I know that what we think and what we say, we can create. I just urge people to concentrate on the positive and to start outcreating whatever is negative, in your home, in your life or in this world. I know we can do this together (you can hear the passion in her voice) I know that sounds corny.

What is happening to our children who are watching the violence?  We allow our kids and ourselves to get used to seeing this kind of violence and even the kind of violence in video games where people are being obliterated and where kids can shoot each other etc. and we are not outraged at the real thing anymore. We become numbed to it,” she says. Barbara Niven Photo Three

Hallmark’s Murder, She Baked mystery movies find that perfect balance of being a murder mystery without the blood, gore and gratuitous violence. With film titles such as Murder, She Baked: Just Desserts, Murder, She Baked: A Plum Pudding, Murder, She Baked: A Peach Cobbler Mystery, Murder, She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery as well as others, it is  far more likely that you will become very hungry rather than horrified about what you see unfolding on your television screens.

“Hallmark now has a sister network that is going off the charts with growth too and it is called Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. It is for the sleuth that is in all of us. If you liked Murder She Wrote and some of those other kinds of mysteries, but you don’t want to see a lot of blood and gore then Hallmark Murders and Mysteries is your channel. I have been doing a series of them with Alison Sweeney (as Hannah Swensen) where I play her mom. Alison is a baker in a small town and she just keeps stumbling onto dead bodies.  As her mother Delores and as you know anybody named Delores has a big personality, Delores is a big force of nature and she is just aghast that this keeps happening to her daughter, because most of all it will hurt her (Hannah’s) marital chances. Who is going to go out with somebody who keeps finding dead bodies? Delores is a blast to play. There is a lot of comedy and again it is on Hallmark. I would just be happy to spend the rest of my life on Hallmark, the rest of my career. I am just really proud to be a part of it,” says Barbara Niven and again that passion has returned to her voice.  

To understand how and why Barbara Niven first became an actor we need to travel back in time to her childhood and she acts as our tour guide, “Here is a little bit of my story. One of my first memories as a little girl was in kindergarten and standing up in front of the audience at a Christmas program. I still remember what I was wearing, the music that I was singing called “Me and My Teddy Bear,” and I remember the goosebumps that I got in front of the audience.  I still get the same goosebumps from performing.

I grew up as a ham and every time that there was a camera out I would be in the front of it trying to do something. My parents used to laugh when I was a little kid if they would lose me at the beach or at a family outing that they would find me in the front of some family’s home movie, just waving and trying to get attention.  It is embarrassing, but it just shows that I have always had it.

I ended up buying into what most people do, which is, that’s just a dream. That will never happen. Get real with your life. After high school I got married and I had a baby and I lived for ten years doing what everybody else’s dream of me was even though inside I kept thinking, well someday I’m going to do it.

One day I walked out to my mailbox and I pulled out a flyer for my ten year high school reunion that was coming up. On that flyer that everybody gets you have to write who did you marry? How many kids did you have? Where did you live? At the bottom of mine was the (question) have you achieved everything in your life that you thought you would by now? That one sentence changed my life and it hit me like a ton of bricks, because I hadn’t really started yet. That was the day that I took stock and I decided if I don’t do it now I never will. I declared I am going to be an actor and I am going to be in show business somehow.

I took stock of what I thought my talents were, because I had (been) to college. I had gotten my real estate license, sold commercial real estate, got married and then had a baby. That was it. I took stock and I realized that I loved to write. I have always written and I love a camera, so news reporting! Without any experience I knocked on the news director’s door at the NBC affiliate in Portland, Oregon, called KGW and I said will you mentor me if I bring you stories? Will you tell me, not what’s good, but what is bad, so I can make it better, because I am going to work for you? He liked my moxy. This was the caveat I said if you mentor me I will pay it forward someday when I reach my own success. That was the hook that made him say yes.

He gave me a sample script, so I would know what format to write it in and then I just started acting as if I already was. I would call people that I thought would want a TV interview, because who wouldn’t want that in those days? I would say hello, my name is Barbie I am an associate producer with KGW and we may do an interview with you on TV, but I need to pre-produce you first, so can I interview you? Everybody said yes, so I would take my tape recorder and I would tape the interview. Then I would go back and write up the script. The next day I would show up in the news director’s office again and I would say here it is. What do you think? He ended up liking my moxy and I really could write, so he hired me as an intern without college, which was the first time they made that exception. I continued to do stories. As an intern, because I was not union, I could appear one time on air as a reporter in my own story.  I announced that I am going to sell my story to network (even today you can still hear the determination in her voice). I’m going to do it guys! Everybody said sure, right, but I found a national hook and I did it. It aired on NBC nationwide. I got put on there, but right afterwards I discovered acting and that has been my passion ever since. Even though I still do hosting, writing and I do commercials and all of that, acting is what I love the most.”

The hour in which we spent talking to Barbara Niven flew by and we wanted to make sure that we left time to chat about some other things that are really important to her. One of those being a project that she was involved with that was directed by Nicole Conn, a combination music video and public service announcement in 2014 that advocated marriage equality for members of the LGBT community. The video was titled SHE4ME and is in this writer’s opinion it makes one of the most beautiful statements about why this is such an important issue.

“It is so beautiful and it helped promote marriage equality. We were sponsored by Marriage Equality USA. I hope that it helped people to understand that love is love is love. Why do we label it? We need to celebrate it in whatever form.

When we did the SHE4ME video we wanted to do it in such a way that anybody watching would see themselves in one of the characters. You can see yourself as one of the people in the wedding, you can see yourself as one of the people in the audience and I play the marriage officiator. It is just taking away the scary face that some people think what being gay is or being any part of the LGBT culture, trans or (she changes direction slightly)…just getting back to no judgement and love is love. Wherever we find that nowadays, we need to bless that and to let it grow. We need to show our kids that we are not to judge, by color, race, gender, faith, economics or any of all of that. It is just about helping each other raise each other up. Hate is not something that we are born with, hate is learned. Children see everything. We are their role models. With our silence that makes us complicit in the crime, I think.

Bullying is something else that I am passionate about, stopping bullying of any kind and that means domestic terrorism. That means what we all witnessed in Charlottesville (Virginia, August 2017) recently and that means watching people chant horrific slogans and terrorize people again. We thought that we had snuffed that out. I know I put myself on the chopping block a lot, because I cannot sit back and just be silent about that. We need to each standup and to be the change that we need to see in the world as Mahatma Gandhi said.

If we are silent that is when evil grows. When good people are silent that is when bad things happen. History has shown that over and over and over again. I also condemn violence of any kind and I think that we can snuff it out by kindness and paying kindness forward. There have been so many misunderstandings since this whole political election happened (you can hear the passion in her voice). Even in my own family we are torn apart, because of political beliefs and people are saying, in the name of God and all of this. All religions are based in love. That is how every religion around us was started. Man came in and created the rules and turned what was beautiful and what was at the core of all faiths and turned it into something that we can’t recognize. At the base of it each one of us needs to recognize that is what it is all about. It is all love, no matter what you call it or what you label it with.

I hope that what I have with my fan base and however else that I am blessed to be an influencer, I hope that is the one thing that people take away from me. It is not about judgment. I don’t care who anybody voted for, but we have to stop the judgment and we have to stop the violence. We have to stop the arguing at the moment that somebody says something that they disagree with you (the passion returns to her voice). Everybody is just ready to raise their voices and to fight about it. Just calm down and take it one person and one family at a time and listen more than what you talk. Try to come to an understanding, because at the heart of everything we need to come together. Every parent wants the best for their children. We all bleed the same color and we all have hopes and dreams and if we don’t support each other….(her voice trails off, as she looks for the right words). The thought that we don’t support each other is just overwhelming,” she says.

Barbara Niven created an enterprise called Unleash Your Star Power and she trains people in the use of media. Barbara Niven Photo Four

As she says, “It’s more than just media. It’s about being able to get your message out in a succinct way, so the world can hear what you are about and what your purpose is. I teach people about doing public speaking or doing an interview or doing a video, but most of all I teach people and I pass on what I’ve learned as an actress about handling nerves or getting your message clear or talking to an audience. There are so many things about that, about image and self-image. My real purpose here I think is to help other people to get their message out. I just want to give people courage to standup and to say their truth and do it with love and kindness. You have to know how to say it.

I want to say that no matter what job you are in or no matter what you are doing in life you have to follow your goosebumps. People always ask me, how do you follow your dream? How do you get started and I just say you gotta’ follow your goosebumps and if you are not getting goosebumps you are settling. You are playing it too safe. Dust off those goosebumps again and see what happens.”

You have no doubt heard other people over the years make similar types of promises, some sincere, some much less so, but what gives Barbara Niven so much credibility is first of all she has actually accomplished everything that she is teaching you and as you have already heard, she started from a very humble beginning. Secondly, you need to understand that the confident cheerleader for humanity and accomplished actor that Barbara Niven is today, well it has been as she says a journey to get to this place in life.  

She says, “We all struggle with self-esteem, but we all try to hide it and think that it is only us. We all have something. I had an eating disorder. We all have secrets and our secrets keep us sick. Maybe somebody is struggling with alcoholism or credit card abuse or maybe porn or whatever it is, we all have something. Until we can speak up and give up the secret and punch that secret so that it lets all of the pressure off it is going to keep us sick.

Now in my life I try to be out with the things that I struggle with or have dealt with, especially in my career. The camera always adds ten pounds, so I am always trying to be on a diet. I never feel that I am as thin as I should be. You know what, that’s life. The other one that I am out with is ageism in Hollywood. I’m 64 this year and it is not supposed to happen that I should be working on stuff still at this age, but if I bought into that, you are over 40, you can’t act anymore or give it up, and that’s how my life would have been. 

Whatever is bothering us we have to standup for each other and say this is me and that’s you and let’s just get over ourselves and start building each other up again. Part of that is I don’t want my daughter to have to worry about getting older or to have her daughter struggle with an eating disorder. My mom had it, I had it and my daughter did have it. That is because we all didn’t talk about it, we kept it a secret.

Once I got a phone call from my daughter’s school saying that she had fainted at cheerleading practice. Why did I not see the red flags? It turns out they had all been doing bulimia and anorexia together to fit into their cheerleading uniforms when they were in high school. That is when it hit me and I said enough is enough. I am never going to be silenced again. I am never going to let my secrets keep me sick again. I now speak on eating disorders. It is not just about eating disorders it is about whatever is keeping us sick, because we just need to be over ourselves and to be out with it.

We put so much energy into those things. I can’t tell you how much energy that I had in hiding the whole food issue for thirty years. Other people with alcohol or drugs or whatever would put so much energy into that. What could we accomplish if we just said I’m not doing that anymore?  What could we accomplish in our life and our own personal dreams if we put that energy elsewhere?

We can’t settle in our lives for just okay. In our countries and in our nations I think we are all having wakeup calls now that we have to do something to make a difference. I urge people today to do something for yourself, for your family, for your nation, your world and your planet. Let’s not give up five minutes before the miracle, because we can do this. I have just learned in my life to expect miracles, because our thoughts become things.

You learn when you are an actress that art imitates life or is it life imitating art? All we have as an actor or any kind of an artist, a painter, a writer or a musician or anybody who is creative at all, all that we have to use as tools to feel that creativity are ourselves. The older one gets the more beautiful tools and instruments you have to add to your orchestra and your palette.  

I just feel so blessed to be able to make a living doing what I love and I am passionate now about helping other people to live their dreams too.”

We have just barely scratched the surface of who this beautiful, gifted actor and woman is and now we want to know Barbara, when are you going to start writing your autobiography, because you should.

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This interview by Joe Montague  published September 1st, 2017 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of  Barbara Niven, unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved