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LOS ANGELES, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Melora Hardin said her new film, Golden Vanity, premiering Thursday at the Burbank Film Festival, drew on her years of experience as a stage and screen actor and a singer.
Hardin, who has been performing since the age of 6, plays movie star Mabel Montgomery-Mayflower, who is having a breakdown after losing her category at an awards show in 1967.
The film is from writers Max Abram and Taylor Minas. Abram directed Golden Vanity independently, so it is not among the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers productions currently on strike.
Hardin is the only actor who appears on screen in the film.
"I'm a dancer and so I think that also came into play," Hardin told UPI in a recent phone interview. "I was always looking for ways to use the space in surprising ways and not just be a talking head."
Mabel records her memoirs in what becomes a performance for the viewer. The character speaks in a "Mid-Atlantic, slightly English, American accent" that was common in early Hollywood stars.
Golden Vanity filmed for five days, but rehearsed for two weeks. Hardin said she would do some takes for 40 to 45 minutes. When she needed a break, Hardin had methods for recharging.
"There was a room in the house that was my room," Hardin said. "I would just go there and meditate for 10 to 15 minutes and then come back down and do it again."
Hardin said the schedule was well-paced so she had breaks between the film's most emotional scenes.
"We didn't try to do all the super emotional stuff in one day," Hardin said. "The whole thing is pretty emotional, but we tried to pace ourselves."
Like the fictional Mabel, Hardin, 56, had been acting since she was a child, though Hardin's career began in television. She appeared in an after-school special and episodes of Diff'rent Strokes and Little House on the Prairie, followed by '80s movies like Iron Eagle and Soul Man.
But it was roles as Dunder Mifflin Vice President Jan Levinson in The Office and Trudy Monk on Monk that solidified Hardin to TV audiences.
In many of those roles, Hardin combined comedy and bittersweet drama. Hardin said that is what Abram and Minas responded to in her body of work.
"There were just things that they felt they'd seen in my work over the years," Hardin said. "They wanted her to be dark, but light. They wanted it to be heartbreaking."
As a child actor, Hardin said she had a much better experience than Mabel, who was inspired by stars like Judy Garland. However, Hardin said she still could relate to Mabel's struggles.
"I did start in this business so young, so I've seen a lot of people go down that path," Hardin said. "I remember working when I was little with some kids who worked all the time and then they kind of went off the deep end."
Hardin said she credits her parents with teaching her to focus on the craft of acting, not getting famous.
Unfortunately, Mabel's mother had other interests, as Mabel reveals in her monologues.
"She was a victim of her own life," Hardin said. "Mabel's mother was focused on fame and living vicariously through her."
Golden Vanity also takes advantage of Hardin's musical skills. Hardin, who has performed in Broadway musicals, has also released three albums.
Mabel sings an original song called "Curtain Call" in the film, written by Nick Thorburn and arranged by Stuart Brawley. "Curtain Call" is only a minute and one-half, which added challenges for Hardin.
"To have to be able to get the emotional story of it really, really fast, but you also have to get to that climax vocally really fast," Hardin said.
The Burbank Film Festival runs Thursday to Sunday.