Whenever I watch a show or movie starring children, I have to admit I get completely preoccupied with what these kids' lives are like in real life. Who is teaching them algebra? Who are their friends? There is perhaps no one who knows this life better than Melissa Joan Hart, who you remember from Sabrina The Teenage Witch or Clarissa Explains It All. Now on the Netflix show No Good Nick, she's working with teens again — and she's sharing all of her child-star wisdom. Speaking with Romper over the phone, Hart tells me that she loves working with her young costars (and Sean Astin, who plays her husband on the show).
Hart got her start in show business when she was still a young teenager, with her first starring role as Clarissa in Clarissa Explains It All when she was around 15 years old. She’s come a long way from playing spunky teens, however, as she cheekily notes in a nostalgic ad for Kelley Blue Book. “Wait, I’m not a teenager anymore,” she exclaims as she flops on the bed Clarissa-style. Now she has a husband and three sons and is need of a more family oriented vehicle rather than the two-seater convertible teen Melissa might have wanted.
Another way Hart has grown up? The roles she gets now. For the first time in her career Hart is actually playing a mom of teenagers instead of, you know, the teenager. And since she’s surrounded by boys all the time, she says she loves being able to work with the girls, Siena Agudong (Nick) and Lauren Lindsey Donzis (Molly), who are now at around the same age Hart was when she first started out.
Hart knows better than most what life is like for these two and she says she's happy to provide some teaching moments. One of the harder lessons Hart had to tell her young costars was that they may not always stay as close as they are right now. Apparently Agudong and Donzis are pretty much joined at the hip at the moment — reminding me of those intensely close bonds you form at sleepaway camp, relationships that end pretty much an hour after your parents pick you up at the end of the summer. (If you're out there, Cindy, DM me.)
"You get on a show and everybody becomes fast friends," Hart explains. And then, of course, the show ends and everybody goes their separate ways. Hart says she and Astin told their young costars while it "absolutely feels" like they'll be BFFs forever, they might not be. "They were heartbroken about it but Sean and I were like, 'It doesn’t really go that way.'"
That said, there's always a chance. Hart, after all, is still friends with Soleil Moon Frye, who she worked with on Sabrina The Teenage Witch. Other words of motherly wisdom Hart shares with her TV kids are what you'd expect, including to be careful about what they post on social media and to stay in school.
Having grown up with Sabrina the Teenage Witch as well as the underrated classic of a teen movie Drive Me Crazy, I admit it's sometimes a little hard to imagine Hart as a maternal figure. But it's immediately clear that Hart's sons and her family are of utmost importance to her. Luckily, she says, she's in a position where she can afford to spend time both working and taking care of her kids. Not, of course, that she's immune to "mom guilt."
"And mom guilt is super real and it happens across the board," she says. "Parents just have guilt." Kid-having people across the world can agree — it never seems like enough. Hart explains that with her job, she gets to swap between being a stay-at-home-mom and a working mom, which is why her kids live outside LA where Hart often works.
"When I'm home, I'm a full-time mom," she says. "When I'm home, I get to disconnect completely." It's a serious privilege to be able to do that, which Hart acknowledges. As much as she feels guilty when she's away from her kids, she clearly knows she's lucky to be able to focus on them entirely when she's with them, whether that's at home in Tahoe or on one of their long family road trips (which makes sense given Hart's previously mentioned partnership with Kelley Blue Book).
While Hart may not always feel like a perfect mom, she's still doing better than her character, who Hart loves to play because she's "a little bit unlikeable." I mean, what's the fun in playing goody-two-shoes all the time?
Melissa Joan Hart may not be a teenager anymore — but that doesn't mean she, like pretty much all moms, has it all figured out either.