Tonight, the Postables are back on the case in Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From the Heart, and it wouldn’t be the same without Oliver O’Toole, the charming team leader portrayed by Eric Mabius. LA Fan Cultures Examiner conducted an interview with Eric on Friday to talk about the enduring appeal of Oliver and his colleagues, and how Oliver continues to evolve.
This fall will mark three years since the original Signed, Sealed, Delivered pilot, so did Eric think he’d still be playing Oliver by now? “I had my hopes,” he said. “Once we started to go into the series mode and then they found a way to restructure it with a two-hour [movie], I was really excited and I sort of felt like we’re going to be here for awhile, because the two-hour format really opened us up, in a way that we can really get to know the characters and become more invested. Because it’s about their relationships, not as much as the letter of the week.”
Indeed, it’s the Postables that have kept audiences coming back for more. Oliver is a man who’s dedicated to his job and more charming than he realizes, but also someone who still has a lot to learn about the world and a lot of healing left to do. With that in mind, From the Heart presents more of his continued growth, particularly in his relationship with Shane (played by the fantastic Kristin Booth).
“This is really each of them struggling to find what their relationship is towards one another,” Eric explained. “There’s a great sort of reverse going on between Rita and Norman, and Oliver and Shane – the challenges that each couple is facing, drawing one couple together and seems to be pushing the other couple apart. They’re going to be invested in different ways and like in life, I think Shane and Oliver and Rita and Norman compliment each other in different ways. I think that’s part of what makes the show so interesting.”
It’s those ever-changing bonds that continue to make the Signed, Sealed, Delivered franchise appeal to him. “There’s a desire through the course of the relationship, just something about themselves that they’re learning that they don’t want the other person to see, and something about themselves that they’re learning that they do want them to see,” he said, “and the degree to which they reveal that causes a person to become closer or to push them away.
“Relationship politics really interest me, and [series creator] Martha [Williamson]’s able to capture that and it’s not just for a sitcom gimmick,” he continued. “It’s much more complex than that, because it’s constantly changing.”
Given that he’s only doing a handful of movies now, is it easier for him to return to Oliver’s character once he’s back working with his fellow cast members? “I do,” Eric told us, “but the things that Martha’s been writing lately have really been interesting to me, because Oliver has been out in the world and out of his comfortable element, so it really pushes his character to new places.
“The DLO [Dead Letter Office] is a place I think we all feel most connected to, but I enjoy also being pushed into new areas and as I’m challenged as an actor, Oliver’s challenged as a character,” he continued. “Lonely and like a man without a country, and he does a lot of self reflection and he’s going off on his solo adventures.
“I think that allows an audience a type of catharsis as well. Putting a familiar character in unfamiliar circumstances allows an audience to project onto that character, and this is a strange new world and how are we supposed to feel and how are we supposed to act, just as Oliver is stumbling his way through, I think it’s really useful.”
Eric knows about being on a project that fans have been able to embrace, having starred in the critically acclaimed and beloved Ugly Betty and appeared on other series with fan followings like Chicago Fire and The O.C. So how does working on Signed, Sealed, Delivered, which has become a franchise for Hallmark, compare to those experiences?
“This show, we’re doing really well with the ratings and we have a really passionate fan base,” he said. “When I did Ugly Betty, the Internet was just sort of really blossoming, Twitter was really starting to peak after the show was cancelled. It’s a little harder for me to compare because it was an ABC show and it was back when there were a lot less cable networks and less product. Now there’s so much product people really don’t know what to watch, but they know what to tune into Hallmark for specifically and we have successfully evolved the audience that did watch The Waltons when they were little kids and now they have children of their own.”
Maybe that’s because, as he explained, Signed, Sealed, Delivered isn’t another show where someone’s being kidnapped or murdered or buried in the backyard. It’s a series that creates stories on a positive note, that everyone can somehow access and identify with, and it’s helping to change the idea that family-oriented content is somehow less than mainstream television. Indeed, this series is actually lifting that standard up.
“A show like this, which is emotionally resonant, allows an audience to be right there and to look at things as they wouldn’t necessarily look at in their own lives,” Eric continued. “Like as I said, it’s a type of catharsis, and being part of that kind of television, influential television, that happens. I’ve been fortunate enough to have this happen to me now a couple times. Ugly Betty was one of those shows; it appealed to all age groups, all nationalities, all socio-economic backgrounds, and that’s really what we’re trying to aim more towards with this show as well.
“The problems that they face are universal family problems – father-son, mother-daughter, relationship problems, friend problems, workplace problems. And even though it seems a little anachronistic to talk about the post office, I think that the show is also indicative of that,” he explained. “Where you don’t shoot off four words or ten words with no punctuation and then erase it a second later. This is about sitting down and translating what’s in your heart through your hand onto a piece of paper and putting it in the mail.
“It’s, I believe, a metaphor for the show,” he told us. “That Martha is taking the time to write something that is different and is not being done.”
But different only works when you have people willing to take those leaps, and we’re lucky to have Eric and his talent there bringing these unique stories to light. Don’t miss it when Signed, Sealed, Delivered: From the Heart airs tonight at 9 p.m. on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.