Photo courtesy of Johannah Newmarch

Real talk with actress Johannah Newmarch on aging in the industry and her current series

13 mins read

Fans of “When Calls The Heart,” often referring to themselves as “Hearties,” are very loyal to the show and the cast members.

I had the opportunity to sit down with British Columbia native, Johannah Newmarch, who portrays Molly Sullivan on the show, and discuss what fans can expect in season 9.

I received so much feedback from “Hearties” wanting to have specific questions asked for this article that the best format for it became a question and answer (Q&A) style interview. Johannah shared about her start in the industry and answered the questions “Hearties” wanted to know. 

Daily Planet: When did you realize you wanted to pursue acting as a career?

Johannah: I was a very passionate dancer when I was young, more specifically, I trained as a classical ballerina, that was the thing I devoted all of my extracurricular time to as a young person from about age 7 onward, and then I spent some time at one of the most prestigious schools of dancing in Canada, The Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

I was fortunate enough to be accepted into a summer program at The Royal Winnipeg Ballet. That was the time I got to be around some professional dancers and spend time with some of the older girls who were on track to be part of The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, which is one of our most established companies here (Canada) and to be honest, my passion started to fade around the age of 12. When I got to be in my later teens, I saw the toll dancing took on women and there’s also these extreme body standards that a classical female ballerina has to be, you know like extremely thin. 

Even though I was blessed genetically to have a slender physique, I could just see how psychologically unhealthy it seemed to be to me. I also realized your longevity as a dancer was limited. I knew I enjoyed performing, so I started focusing on acting at around 15 or 16. 

Photo courtesy of Johannah Newmarch

Who have your acting influences been?

I want to start by giving a shout-out to some older actresses as this career is incredibly challenging. As people age, our culture, in general, is cruel to those on-screen. We aren’t expected to age as normal human beings to some in the public. I’m hoping this is something we can begin to address real soon.

I’d say actresses like Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, and Meryl Streep. I want to give a shout-out to a lesser-known actress, Jean Smart. She’s known in the television world. She’s my current goal and how I’d like to spend the next 20 years of my career. She’s so amazing at both comedy and drama. I admire her performances so much. 

A few of my peers in my age group would be Olivia Coleman, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, and I’d like to give a shout-out to the recently deceased British actress, Helen McCrory, who I think is absolutely glorious. Anyone who watches British television is familiar with her. Then Viola Davis and Regina King, who has really inspired me.

As far as male actors, I just recently watched “1883” and I was touched by Sam Elliot’s performance in that. He was extraordinary. It was just so heartbreaking and noble. His work was just so full of heart. I mean what a role! Actors in their late 70’s so rarely get the opportunity to play such rich, layered dynamic leading roles.

Jared Harris, who was in the TV miniseries, “Chernobyl” and the TV show “Mad Men” along with Mahershala Ali, who was is in “House of Cards” and “Moonlight” are two more.

Then there’s Frank Langella who is just brilliant. He did a role on one of my favorite series, “The Americans”. There’s also Paul Bettany. He did the “Avengers” movie and a [Disney] TV series called “Wanda Vision” which is a spin-off of the “Avengers”. He plays “Vision”. He’s a wonderful actor.

I’d really like to encourage those that may be a writer, filmmaker, or director, to not forget to offer those extraordinary roles to older actors. 

I feel our culture is so strange about it, like at a time that human beings and actors have the most to offer; the most life experience, and the most depth, because you’ve lived. Hopefully, you’d have the most compassion and wisdom you could bring to your work. Unfortunately, it’s the time we get the least amount of screen time.

Photo courtesy of Johannah Newmarch

So you feel aging in our culture is an issue in the entertainment industry, on women in particular?

There’s a very sobering statistic out there that was recently released that shows 25 percent of roles go to actors over 50 and of that 25 percent, only 5 percent go to women. It’s a pretty depressing statistic for women over 50. I’d like to see that starting to be addressed. It’s completely unacceptable. I recently turned 50, so it’s a subject very dear to my heart. As an actor, you start looking out ahead of you and seeing the opportunities dwindling. 

You no doubt agree then that as actors age, it’s even more difficult on women getting speaking roles. Do you believe there’s hope for change anytime soon?

Oh, 110 percent! I think that as a society, attention is now being drawn to all sorts of inequalities and I do find it interesting that age is one of the ones that has not come to the forefront of society’s mind to the extent I think it really should. We’ve had other issues rightfully being brought to everyone’s consciousness about various inequalities. Things like racial inequalities, and financial inequalities. Women have obviously made huge amounts of progress in past centuries and hopefully in this one. 

I think we have further to go, and it’s quite striking to me that more people aren’t discussing ageism as a genuine problem in our society. Like many things, it’s something that’s so embedded and so ubiquitous that we almost don’t even notice it. It’s seen as just part of life. I think that it’s not ok. When you look at that statistic I gave, 5 percent of women over 50 have roles in film and TV, that’s pretty sobering. 

I’m a huge George Clooney fan! He just gets better looking as he ages by society’s standards. Gray around the temples and that handsome rugged kind of look. The exact opposite is true for women. We are expected to be 25 forever, which is ludicrous and this is while men are celebrated and accepted at that age. I think there’s a lot we need to unpack there about what that says about our attitude. I hope people began to go, we’ve come so far on other issues, let’s talk about this one!

Thinking about it and thinking I may want to become a writer and tell stories that matter to me as a woman who’s in her middle age. I think I may try to start championing those stories myself.

Places like Asia actually venerate their elderly. More than North American or western culture does. We tend to throw people into an old folks home and visit them twice a year. That just seems so sad and so unhealthy for society at large.

Every generation has so much to offer the next generation, and we’re meant to live all together all the time. All generations are meant to inspire, inform and support the next generation. The older people are meant to support and inspire the younger people. The younger people are meant to inspire the older generation. We all have different things to give each other at different stages of the life cycle.

Before “When Calls The Heart”, you appeared on the DC/CW series Smallville in season 3, episode 16, “Crisis” as “Gwen Burton” and then “Jane” in season 5 of  Supernatural. What were those experiences like?

“Smallville” was one of the first shows to shoot in Vancouver. It was one of the shows that really helped Vancouver transition into the powerhouse of the film and television industry. I think it was one of the first superhero shows that ran in Vancouver for multiple seasons. It was fun getting on to that set because it was so iconic in Vancouver. 

Even though I didn’t have a huge character arc, I had a nice little juicy character that helped move the plot along in the one episode I was in. It was nice to meet Tom Welling who was a lovely man. Just being on that set and the mythology of Superman was exciting to all of us. “Superman” is such an iconic character. Canada already had a nice connection to the “Superman” mythology with Margot Kidder having played Lois Lane.

On “Supernatural,” I was in episode 99! I remember a week after I wrapped they had a party for making it to episode 100. They have since had many more episodes! Like 14 seasons I think! (Supernatural ran for 15 seasons on the WB/CW Network from 2005 until 2020) 

Very few shows have that kind of longevity. I got to be in the episode titled “99 Problems” which was very appropriate as it was the 99th episode. To be able to be at that celebration for the 100th episode was great! 

I played a pretty interesting character. She was so passionate about her beliefs, she began doing morally questionable things. Her son gets killed, and she’s obsessed with seeing him in the afterlife. A pretty dramatic arc and I got to work with just a wonderful British director named Charles Beeson.

Photo courtesy of Johannah Newmarch

Do you have a favorite scene so far for your character “Molly” on “When Calls The Heart”?

It’s going to be hard to distill it down to one. I’ll give you a couple! In season 1 I had that touching scene with my daughter, “Rosaleen” [ Mamie Laverock] where she went missing, and then we find her. That’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to do a highly emotional scene with a younger actor. Mamie Laverock, who portrayed “Rosaleen”, did such a wonderful job, and she made it easy for me to perform with her. 

Then last season (season 8) was really touching when I got to give “Florence” [Loretta Walsh] my dress and have that tender moment between us where “Molly” really had a chance to thank “Florence” for her friendship. It was a beautiful moment for me as an actor. My real-life friendship with Loretta is so special to me that it’s just a beautiful merging of art and real life.

As far as comedy scenes, last year I had the opportunity to flirt with “Bill” [Jack Wagner] a little. The scene where he finally admits he did notice my dress and I say it was 32.00 well spent and then went off confidently in the other direction. That was a really fun comedic scene.

Another scene, that isn’t really comedic, was when I got to give “Bill” [Jack Wagner] his serge and had that little moment in his office where I got to say, the uniform doesn’t make the man. I thought that was a pretty sweet scene.

Speaking of “Molly’s” daughter, “Rosaleen”, fans have asked where she is at.

Yeah, valid question. She’s been referenced a few times over the years. Most recently last season it was briefly mentioned after someone asked where I was. The answer was that I’d been inspired to go to visit “Rosaleen” [Mamie Laverock] after seeing “Ned’s” [ Hrothgar Mathews] daughter “Katie Yost” [Larissa Dias] at the wedding. The assumption, I think, is that she’s been at school in another town. 

“Hearties” have noted how beautiful your hair is and wanted to know if you have any hair tips you can share?

That is so sweet! I guess some of it, I have to give a shout-out to my parents. Genetically I was blessed with a decent head of hair. Beyond that, the key thing is, don’t wash your hair too much ladies! I think it kind of strips it of its natural oil, so I’m a big fan of dry shampoo in-between washes. I try not to wash my hair too often. It’s happier when I don’t, so that’s one thing I can recommend. I know it’s nice to have perfectly clean hair, but I think your hair is happier when you let it sit between washes!

As you age, it’s good to take a high-quality collagen. Your whole body and tissues are made up of collagen and that extends to your hair and your skin. I’ve been taking a high-quality collagen supplement every day and I definitely think that can do some good!

So “Hearties” are hoping to see romance develop this season between your character, “Molly”, and Jack Wagner’s character, “Bill”. Is there any chance of that for season 9?

I’m not allowed to say too much, but I can give some teasers. There’s definitely some lovely moments between “Bill” and “Molly” this season. I think the teasing that I appreciate [showrunner] John Tinker focusing on is the idea that as characters get into their midlife, there’s a need for emotional connections and companionship. Love should be celebrated at any age, but particularly love stories involving more mature people. It’s also important to show the romance there. We don’t see enough of that representation on our screens which is such a shame, but it’s just more ageism. I mean, mature relationships can be passionate too!

This season they are emphasizing that notion of life can be lonely and It’s important to have someone you can be with and trust. I think they are exploring the fact that “Bill” has a bit of a reputation of being a crusty character, although he has a wonderful heart, but he presents himself a little as a grumpy pants. “Molly” has really found a wonderful way of teasing him and being playful with him. We are going to continue on with that this season.

As far as the bigger romantic arc, I do know [showrunner] John Tinker has some very clear ideas in mind. I just hope we get to see those come to fruition. It’s always a give and take with a large cast. There’s a limited number of minutes. We only have 45 minutes per episode to try and squeeze in all the wonderful storylines.

Some fans, and your coworker, Amanda Wong, wanted me to ask who your style inspirations are?

Most of the time, I roll up at set in the morning in a fancy pair of pajamas, because that’s the only way to be stylish when you’re barely awake. I have many pairs of sorts of fun, silky pajamas that I wear, and I think she’s [Amanda Wong] just looking at my cool pajamas and thinking that I have more style than I do.

Fashion has been something I’ve been passionate about since I was quite young. Here’s a funny little anecdote for the fans, when I was younger, around 3 or 4 years old, and my mom would go over to a friend’s house for coffee or a chit-chat, they’d always look up about 15 minutes into the visit and ask where I had gotten off too and sure enough, I would have found the woman’s bedroom and be in her closet trying on her shoes. 

For me, because I am a creative spirit, it’s been sort of a way to show my individual creative expression. To me putting an outfit together is like painting a picture. It’s something that brings me fun and enjoyment. Life is made up of some pretty bored and tedious days like doing errands, taxes and grocery shopping or washing the dishes for me, it’s an outlet that kind of makes the day a little brighter. 

Obviously, I’m inspired by the great houses of fashion like the Valentino’s, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, and Elie Saab. Those are very beautiful and extraordinary houses that decade after decade have reinvented themselves. Lately, my inspiration has come from places like Instagram blogs that take photos of people walking around in New York and having fun with fashion. 

There’s a wonderful one on Instagram called Advanced Style [Ari Seth Cohen]. It’s a young gentleman who’s really passionate about highlighting older people with wonderful senses of style. Iris Apfel is a wonderful example of an older person with style. She just turned 100. She is genuinely rocking the fashion world at 100 years old. I think women can get shy in fashion as they age and feel they can’t pull something off and that’s such a shame. 

I’d say to your readers that the most important thing a woman can have is confidence. If it makes you smile and brings you joy then wear it!

Photo courtesy of Johannah Newmarch

Do you have input on the style your character wears on the show?

Barbara Gregusova [costume designer], that a number of the cast has given credit to over the years, and goodness knows she deserves it, she works hard on our show and with a limited budget, but she’s great on collaborating! 

When we do our fitting every year, if there’s an outfit you’re not fond of, she is definitely more than happy to hear your opinion. She shows up with all the material and ideas, but she is actually very collaborative. Fans may notice that this year I’ve brought my own brocade jacket that I have in my closet. I’ve probably had it 10 or 15 years now. I looked at it right before the season started and thought it would look really good on “Molly” so I brought it, and she was like oh yeah, we’re definitely going to use that! 

Can you give “Hearties” a general idea of what to expect for season 9 of “When Calls The Heart”?

one thing [showrunner] John Tinker has been so great about is highlighting the ensemble of “Hope Valley”; that it really is a community of people. One of the first words to come to mind when I think of season 9 is community. Rallying together through the good times and the bad. There will be a wonderful mix of adversity and heart. That’s a wonderful balance When Calls The Heart always seems to strike. 

We’ve all gone through this very challenging pandemic and there’s a war in Europe, so we need that. We need content that makes us feel good.

Fans want to know if there’s anything you’d like to see “Molly” do that maybe she hasn’t gotten to do yet?

I would like for her to find her passion! There have been storylines with other characters finding their passions and I think it would be great if “Molly” could find hers.

She’s exploring being a working woman again, and she’s enjoying that level of independence and camaraderie with her colleagues. You see that with “Faith” and “Molly” this year. 

Hopefully in season 10, if we are fortunate enough to have a season 10, not that we’ve been notified of a season 10 yet, but hopefully and fingers crossed, that we get one, and we can take this even further.

Another popular question from “Hearties” was if we do get a season 10, is there any chance of a “Bill” and “Molly”  wedding? Which “Hearties” affectionately call #TeamMoBi on Twitter! 

Well, as lovely as a wedding would be, I honestly don’t know just yet. There’s a lot of possibilities for how things could go for #MoBi. Different ideas have been tabled. So, as annoying as it is, I’m afraid we’ll all just have to wait and see. The thing I am certain of is that their deepening relationship will continue to be important and meaningful to both of them.

Hopefully, we are a show like “Supernatural” and will get many more seasons to go! I’d love that to happen! I’d love to spend several more years in “Hope Valley”. 

What do you like the most about your character? 

That one is easy! I love “Molly’s” combination of a kind heart mixed with playfulness.

When did you realize how big of a hit “When Calls The Heart” would be?

Every actor starts a series hoping for the best but cognizant of the fact that the statistical probability of your show going longer than one or two seasons is pretty low. By the time we got to season 5 or 6, I was like I think we really have something here.

I knew it was a wonderful fan base before that, but that doesn’t always necessarily translate into longevity. Now that we are staring down the barrel of a season 10, I just smile. Making it to 9 or 10 seasons is very rare. 

We are eternally grateful to the fans for having supported us this long. I mean what an extraordinary gift.

Jimmy Reno

Jimmy Reno has always had a passion for the creative arts. Singing and writing have been at the forefront of his career. A professional Christian country singer and songwriter, he discovered his love for writing and journalism later on. Working as a freelance journalist in addition to his music, he contributes to the Daily Planet. An avid, life-long Superman fan, discovering the Daily Planet and contributing to it, was a dream come true.

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