Barry Watson stresses while it might look like the only acting projects he's attracted to have to do with family, he has done a variety of roles over the years. It's just that the decade he spent on the family-oriented "7th Heaven" along with the series "Date My Dad" plus heartfelt films like "My Future Boyfriend," "An Hour Behind" and "Far From Home" are the projects that most people associate with him.
That association is only going to get stronger as Watson stars in a new Lifetime movie that was inspired by a true story. "My Mom's Letter from Heaven," scheduled to premiere Saturday on the cable channel, is an inspirational story of a woman who on her deathbed gives her husband a letter for their 4-year-old daughter. The note is to be passed on when the youngster is older and better able to understand her mother's final words. The letter is placed inside the child's favorite book but, 12 years later, just when the father-daughter relationship has soured, the book and the note have been lost.
"A big body of my work has been about family, but it really has been a mix of everything. I have been part of some stuff that has been more family-oriented, but that just happened with my career. It's not like I planned it," Watson says. "I think with something like this, it is more of an inspirational-type thing that Lifetime is doing."
Planned or not, the executives at Lifetime were aware of the acting reputation Watson has built up over the years. Because the cable channel generally leans toward movies where women are in peril, an actor was needed to star in "My Mom's Letter from Heaven" who would create an immediate image of this being a different approach. Watson says to that end, it worked out for both him and the cable channel.
Even with the potential of the film adding more evidence of his family-friendly resume, Watson knew he wanted to take on the role as soon as he read the script. It was also a plus that his close friend Michael Scott ("Hitched for the Holidays") would be directing the production.
"The first 10 to 15 pages draw you in. This is certainly a story about the daughters, but it is also about the father who hasn't been able to grieve himself properly. As soon as I read the first few pages, I knew this would be great if we can get the right people," Watson says.
Watson had told Scott the film would work only if the right actors were cast to play the daughter, Libby, as the 4- and 16-year-olds. He was happy when Emma Oliver ("Snowpiercer") and Jordyn Ashley Olson ("DC's Legends of Tomorrow") were cast. Watson found having two such strong young actors to share scenes with made his work easier because of the fast pace cable movies are shot.
It also helped that Watson has three children of his own.
"I think any actor, not matter what level they are at, they always use a part of themselves in every role that they do. If you didn't, then it would be authentic," Watson says. "You can't make it authentic if you are acting through the whole thing. You have to bring something of yourself to the work. Even if the audience doesn't see it, you know it is there."
"My Mom's Letter from Heaven" adds to Watson's family-friendly image but to be fair, he has played a lot of different characters in TV series such as "What About Brian," "Samantha Who?," "Gossip Girl" and the upcoming TV series about Roger Ailes, "The Loudest Voice." He's also taken on varied roles in the feature films "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" and "Sorority Boys." If that's not enough proof of his acting flexibility, Watson did a guest appearance on the series "Masters of Sex."
Watson will have to continue to explain he does a diversity of roles with his next project as he stars in the heart-tugging "A Dog's Way Home." And that discussion already has been taking place close to home.
"My kids got to screen it ("My Mom's Letter from Heaven") and 'A Dog's Way Home.' And they asked me 'Why do you do all these sad movies?' They kept asking me why I keep making all these movies that make them cry," Watson says with a laugh.
At least Watson can sympathize with his children as he spent so much time crying while filming "My Mom's Letter from Heaven" that he had a headache for two days.
'MY MOM'S LETTER FROM HEAVEN'
10 p.m./ 9 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime
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