Melissa Joan Hart On ‘Quiet On Set,’ Politics & Raising Teens Now

Melissa Joan Hart On ‘Quiet On Set,’ Politics & Raising Teens Now

Not long after we arrive at a millennial-pink cafe in Nashville’s chic Belle Meade neighborhood, Melissa Joan Hart’s phone rings. It’s her oldest son, 18-year-old Mason. “He never calls me,” she says with a smiling eye-roll to the effect of teens, amirite? “Hello? Hi. What do you need from me?” I hear him ask her to check her texts, and when she hangs up she flips her phone screen to show me a series of 10 or so texts over as many minutes: “Read it. Read it. Mom. Mom. Answer. Answer. Answer. Answer.”

“He needs his Social Security number,” Hart says. “But he has a note that I put all of his big-boy information in. He’s at work right around the corner, his first day at the job… Our friend hired him at a veterinarian clinic — he’s holding down the dogs while they do things to them, I guess.”

The actor, director, and host of the What Women Binge podcast, 47, is the mom of three boys — Mason, 16-year-old Braydon, and 11-year-old Tucker — with her husband, rock musician Mark Wilkerson. When we meet, the former child star of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Clarissa Explains It All has just finished filming The Bad Guardian, a Lifetime legal thriller co-starring La La Anthony. But here in Nashville, Hart might be best known for her activism: Earlier this year, she spoke at a Senate roundtable about her close encounters with school gun violence, including when she helped kids fleeing the 2023 Covenant shooting. Below, Hart talks about raising teens, what she learned about gun control from going to the shooting range, and the new documentary about Nickelodeon, Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV.

So you grew up in New York, filmed Clarissa for years in Orlando, lived in California and Connecticut, then settled down four years ago in, surprise, the South. How has the transition been for you?

It is a little bit of a shock. I like Nashville. I’m totally happy here, but I loved Connecticut. Everything was within 2 miles; here, I have to drive my kids 45 minutes everywhere.

It seems like the South has had a certain degree of good luck for you, though: You and your husband met at the Kentucky Derby, of all places?

Yep. In a few weeks, it’ll be 22 years. We met a year before Sabrina the Teenage Witch ended. He’s a musician and was performing at a charity event, and I got his tour manager’s number and called him a few days later — and that was it. I basically went on tour with him, on the bus. Which was funny because he had had one, well… very strict rule about no one having women on the bus.

Ah, I thought you were going to say the rule was “no pooping on the bus.” That’s the rule on my husband’s tour bus.

I actually paused for a second because I was about to say there were two rules, but I was like, “Nah, I’m not going to throw that one at you.” But it’s true! That was the other one. I don’t think I could go on tour again. It’s so claustrophobic. And by the time our second son was born, my husband was done. He said, “That’s it. I don’t want to do it anymore.” I was like, “All right. That sucks for me, because I married a rock star, but whatever.” But he wanted to be a dad, and he didn’t like the road.

It’s tough to do both. What are you working on right now?

I just finished a movie called The Bad Guardian.

Is it about… Britney Spears’ dad?

No, but it is, sort of. It’s a little bit Wendy Williams, Britney Spears. It is about how people take advantage — and this is a multi-billion-dollar industry, apparently — of guardianship. If someone can exploit the system, if someone gets a judge in their pocket, then they can just take full advantage of somebody. So then it’s like, well, how do you catch people at their own games? It’s very Erin Brockovich, I would say.

What are your thoughts about the documentary that just came out, Quiet on Set, with all the allegations of abuse happening among child actors at Nickelodeon years ago?

That story has really hit hard for a lot of people. And it’s an important story to tell, but it’s also important to know that just because there’s a few rotten apples doesn’t make the whole batch bad. Everyone I worked with was nothing but fun and loving. I felt very, very safe. It was really hard — I won’t say it wasn’t — but the only thing I would complain about was that in Orlando, I don’t know if the child labor laws were the best. So I was worked probably longer hours than I should have been. That’s it.

But the documentary was so concerning that my mom called me and said, “Is there something you didn’t tell me?” And I was like, “No, I swear, you don’t have to worry.” I mean, it’s very similar to when the #MeToo movement happened and everyone was asking “What’s your #MeToo? Are you going to tell us your story?” I was like, “I’m really lucky that I don’t have one.” Nobody believes it.

You are an unusual public figure in that you have hopped back and forth between supposed political boundaries — “crossed the aisle,” so to speak. Tell me about that.

I think the thing we’re missing right now is calm, adult conversation. And common ground. What happened to that? And what happened to respecting our president? I mean, I had a really hard time with certain presidents, but ultimately, they are the person that was elected and chosen to run the country.

Politically, we’re putting everyone in a box. You’re one or the other. And it’s so not fair, because I feel like I’ve never really fit in a box. I called myself Republican growing up because my first vote was Bob Dole. But, back then, I don’t feel like it was one or the other. Then, I was in Connecticut when Sandy Hook happened. I had a first-grader.

I wanted to look into the laws. Why had I been so staunchly for the Second Amendment? I didn’t own a gun at the time. I didn’t know anything about it, but at the same time it was like, well, those are my rights. That’s my freedom. Don’t come after my freedom. But then Sandy Hook happened and I started to research: What are amendments? They’re already amended, right? Can we amend them… again?

We can. You and I were both at the Voices for a Safer Tennessee rally yesterday advocating for better gun laws in Tennessee. How has your relationship with this cause evolved?

I looked into MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and what they were able to do to try to help with the laws to keep people from drinking and driving. Back in the day, it took a lot of moms a long time to fight to get all kinds of laws. All kinds of laws, right? Bigger fines, bigger punishments. And so I felt like, well, we can do that with guns too.

Why are we so “no guns” or “all guns”? I don’t think it has to be that way. So I’m learning more about different laws and bills, and I’m going to the shooting range now and learning about guns. It’s such a tricky world right now. Things feel so dire, but have they always been and I just missed it? My kids have been in three active lockdown drills. Every city we’ve lived in has had a mass shooting. And we were there at the Covenant one. Luckily, we weren’t in any sort of danger. And we weren’t any kind of heroes, but we were there, and we were able to be the helpers, which I’m so thankful for.

That’s so scary for your kids to have to go through.

Yeah, it messes with you. It makes you think things through and it makes you think about who you’re voting for and what’s important to you. So politically, I would say I’m kind of all over the board, because I don’t believe any one party has it right.

How are you feeling about the parenting-teens years? Any advice for those of us inching toward them?

I do think that there is something really special about my kids getting older. There is something really nice about being able to have great conversations, share certain movies. Like, I’ve decided I’m ready to show my 16-year-old Kingpin — not Pulp Fiction yet, but it’s a start. But also: bigger kids, bigger problems. Like cars and driving and freaking out about that. You hear one horror story, and it sticks in your head, and you’re terrified. You can check up on them, but how much are we supposed to do that, and how much are we supposed to let them have freedom to make their own mistakes?

It’s hard these days because you have to think about the stuff that we got away with that they will never get away with. We got to go out and ride our bikes and just be home when it was dark and the streetlights came on. Or drink hose water. That’s a thing I really want to start, by the way, if anyone wants to start a company with me called Hose Water. I’ve already got the packaging planned. I think I’m going to call AriZona on Long Island, the AriZona Iced Tea people.

Hose Water for Gen X.

From Long Island. Anyway, there’s something about getting older and just maturing, accepting. This is who I am. It’s OK. I have a little belly on me. And I think for every child you have, you’re allowed to be 10 minutes late. So I’m allowed to be 30 minutes late.

Parenting is hard, right? As moms, aren’t we told… What’s the Barbie quote about doing it all and not doing it well? You have to be perfect, but you’re not perfect. Yet at the same time, we are capable of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. I think, as mothers, as women, we push ourselves in a lot of ways that people don’t see. On set, if anyone’s ever like “Do you need a coat? Are you cold?” I’m like, “I’m fine. I had three babies.”

It’s one of my talents to embarrass my kids. You know what? We birth them. Then we get to embarrass them. It’s a rite of passage.

When did you get your kids phones?

We waited until eighth grade for the oldest. My mom did not believe I could do it. The middle one got his at the same time, so he got his in sixth grade, but he had already worked towards it: We got him a watch first, and he had to, for six months, keep it charged, answer with manners, and not lose it. Then, he could get a flip phone. If he kept it up with that for six months, then a smartphone. My middle one did all those things and gave us money and did a spreadsheet on why we should get him a phone. So we got him a phone.

Have your sons watched your shows?

I was re-watching the first episode of Melissa & Joey for my podcast — I was in the living room, and Mason comes in. He goes, “Are you watching yourself?” And I was like, “Yeah, I have to watch it for research. It’s work.” So he sits down and starts watching it. and then a second episode comes on, maybe even a third. We just keep watching it. And the middle kid comes downstairs, Brady, and he’s like, “Are you watching mom’s show? Why are you watching this?” And Mason turned around and goes, “Shut up. It’s funny.”

High praise from a teen. Do you think teen fashion is boring now? They’re no Clarissas.

Yeah, it’s weird! It’s like grandma style, baggy. The neutral colors and the big orthopedic shoes. For my kids, these days it’s all Crocs. Actually, I spent this morning at 7 a.m.going through the garbage out in our driveway because I threw away my teen’s Crocs because they were torn in six places and his foot was coming out of them. There was no way to keep them on. He got so mad at me: “What did you do with my Crocs?!” And I was like, “I threw them away.” He said, “You’ve got to find them.” So we had to dump out the trash bags and try to find his broken, dirty Crocs. I was like, “I will buy you new ones.” And he’s like, “No, I want those.”

I finally convinced my son’s girlfriend to make him get a tux for prom. I said rent one, but I didn’t stress rent one. I said, “If you don’t take him, convince him to go do this; they might run out of tuxes.” It’s happened before. So they immediately went and, I thought, rented a tux. And I saw the Men’s Wearhouse charge come across my credit card, and I was like, “That’s expensive.” My husband finally asked him, “Why was it so expensive for you to rent that tux?” And he said, “Oh, I didn’t rent it. I bought it.”

We were going to buy him a suit for graduation. We’re like, “Well, there you go. Now you have a tux. You better wear it when you’re gardening.”

And oh, my gosh. His poor yearbook — he’s going to be so mad when he sees what I wrote in his yearbook, because I didn’t know what to write. It’s so embarrassing, but nobody stopped me. I wrote, like, “You’re going to soar to new heights, and we’ll always be here for a soft landing. And we’re always going to be the wind beneath your wings.” I wrote that. Wind beneath your wings.

In a yearbook. That’s very good.

It’s one of my talents to embarrass my kids. You know what? We birth them. Then we get to embarrass them. It’s a rite of passage. Well, I also tell them if they don’t give a kiss, I’m going to roll down the window and play “Bye Bye Bye” by *NSYNC. You do that once, and they’re like, “Fine, I’ll kiss you. Shut up.”

Do you think your kids have it too easy?

I just think our society is making us cut corners where it feels like we’re not doing what we’re capable of. Even stairs used to be a modern convenience; now we’re taking the escalator. I notice that all the time. There are escalators everywhere now. I always take the stairs.

Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Photographs by Cedrick Jones

Set Designer: Lisa Allyn Easterling

Hair and Makeup: Neil Glen Robison

Talent Bookings: Special Projects

Contributing Style Director: Jan-Michael Quammie

Photo Director: Alex Pollack

Editor in Chief: Kate Auletta

SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid

SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert

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