“Class” is a new romance premiering August 14 on the Hallmark Channel, and I spoke to its star, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (“Prison Break”), who plays a single mother struggling to take care of her son assigned to an arrogant law student (Justin Bruening) who is required to perform public service in order to graduate. Ms. O’Keefe called me to talk about the appeal and the challenges of a role very different from her previous appearances.
This is very different from your previous roles — you have often played more aggressive, physical characters. In this part, the way you held yourself and moved was so distinctive.
I just tried to keep everything quiet and small.
What attracted you to this part?
I kept my niece in mind the entire time. She’s nine and she doesn’t get to see a lot of what I do.
Your character has a very close relationship with her sister, which helps us see her as someone who is wounded but still open to connections with others. Are you close to your sisters?
I’m very close to my two sisters. It was a wonderful way to grow up, with two strong older sisters who always had my back. And the actress who plays my sister is a good friend of mine, Lauren Glazier. So that part was easy for me.
You began working very young, didn’t you?
Yes, I began modeling when I was very young, catalog work and all that, and then the modeling agency merged with a talent agency and I got an audition. That was the beginning of the end for me; I was in love. I was 13 or 14 and walked into the audition and the casting director said, “What did you think of the script?” That was what did it! That was the first time somebody asked my opinion and made me think I actually had one. Before that it was “Stand there,” “Wear this,” “Look over here.” There wasn’t a whole lot of “how do you feel about the character.” I was such a huge reader I had 40 thousand things to say about the script. My mom used to have to tear books out of my hands to go to school.
What were some of your favorite books?
I read everything I could get my hands on! I loved The BFG by Roald Dahl. His books are incredible.
When this script came to you, what made you want to do it?
It was something new for me. I wanted to see if I could do it. It’s been a long time since I’ve been the good guy. And my niece always asks why I don’t live in New Jersey. I wanted to make something she could watch. She and my nephews have been begging me for years to be a cartoon and I’d love nothing more, but until then, this is for them.
What connection did you feel to the character?
That whole “don’t judge a book by its cover thing.” And she feels confused and misunderstood. Like everyone else growing us, I have felt that way. I relied on that. And it is such a lovely, sweet, romantic story. I went with that. And I had such a great supporting cast. I fell so in love with Maxwell Perry Cotton, who plays my son, Shane. I was just over the moon about him. I could not get over him. He’s one of the loveliest kids ever, so funny and so bright, and he became more of himself every single day. It was one of the nicest sets I’ve ever worked on.
Did you have any formal training as an actor?
My training was working on a soap opera [“Another World”]. It was overwhelming at such a young age but I learned a lot. It was where I learned everything, the longest hours I ever put in, a show a day. Incredible.
What makes you laugh?
Anything inappropriate! I’m from New Jersey!
And what inspires you?
Books! Right now I am reading the books about Sookie Stackhouse. I cannot get enough of my vampires! I just re-read my favorite book, Pride And Prejudice, and I just read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which I loved.
Are you reading book books or ebooks? Have you succumbed to the Kindle?
I absolutely did! I have a dust allergy and literally for six months my mother told me I had to get a Kindle. I used to travel with an extra suitcase just for books. She talked me into it and it changed my world. And now I have an iPad! It’s the greatest thing ever!
And what do you aspire to?
It’s pretty simple. I want to keep working, pay my mortgage, spend time with my family, and take care of my dogs. I have two sharpeis and a bulldog, Penny, Ophelia, and George.