Actress Haylie Duff, best known as the snotty, popular girl Summer Wheatly in "Napoleon Dynamite" and for her supporting role as Sandy Jameson on "7th Heaven," is tackling a new role as a 19th century doctor on the frontier prairie--a time when female physicians were rare--in Hallmark's "Love Takes Wing," based on the popular "Loves Comes Softly" Christian book series by Janette Oke.
Duff recently spoke with Beliefnet entertainment editor Dena Ross about what drew her to this new role, what she loves most about the pioneer days, and which modern technology she couldn't live without.
"Love Takes Wing" premieres April 4 (9 p.m./8 p.m. Central) on the Hallmark Channel.
You've been involved with a lot of projects that appeal to Christian audiences, "7th Heaven," "Joan of Arcadia," and now Hallmark's "Love Takes Wing" and "Love Finds a Home." What is it about projects like this that appeals to you?
I don't know if it's necessarily the fact that their story lines have to do with Christianity or believing in God. I don't think that's really what attracted me to the project as much as it was that I felt like they were positive stories. I think those are hard to find, stories like that.
Were you raised Christian?
Yes, I was. I am a Christian, but I also don't really see myself as a religious person. I see myself as more of a spiritual person. There are things that I do agree with in Christianity and things that I don't agree with. I'm not a regular churchgoer, but I do think that I have my own beliefs that I feel strongly about.
In the "Love Comes Softly" series, you play a female doctor at a time when it wasn't very common and they experienced a tremendous amount of adversity. Was it empowering to play such a strong character?
It was. That was one of the things that made me really excited about the project and about playing that role. I'd never had the opportunity to do a role in a period movie. And then to find a character that I thought was such a positive influence and was really smart and just different than the majority of the people around her, as was Belinda's character, I liked that a lot.
You play the main character Belinda's best friend and rock, Annie Wilson. What's the nicest thing a friend has done for you in real life?
I have a very small group of friends that I've had--the three of them--for the majority of my life. And there's just little things that you do as friends that mean a lot and show how much you care about each other. I think the most important things are the little things, like if you have to go to a doctor's appointment and you want someone to go with you. Or people who you can just sit around with and not really do anything with.
If you lived back in the pioneer days like your character did, what would you love about it and what would you miss the most about modern life?
Oh, my gosh. There's so many things I think I would miss about modern life because I feel like we've gotten so spoiled and we have so many luxuries that they didn't have then. But I think the thing I would like about living in that time would be the letters. I really love getting letters in the mail, and I like sending, like--thank-you notes and things like that--I think that would be the thing I would like the most, old-timey mail.
What are a couple of things about modern technology that you can't live without?
Well, exactly the opposite of what I just said, which is my iPhone. I used to have a BlackBerry. E-mail and text messaging and all those things that make life so much easier now.
Are you similar in any way to your character Annie?
I think maybe parts of me are. I feel like normally I can find comparisons, in some way, to myself and the characters that I play. I think I'm similar to her by the way she treats Belinda and the way she's a good friend to Belinda, and how she's motivated in her life and in her career that she's chosen, and she works really hard. She's optimistic and is always wanting good things to happen for people and always thinks she can help people. I think I'm different from her because she's a little more patient and understanding than I am.
What inspires you in your career?
I mean I just love [acting] and I enjoy doing it and I feel lucky to have the opportunity and the jobs that I have, and to be able to have a job that I love. So, that I find inspiring. And I love the creative side of it. I like making stories and characters that people can relate to. I also like giving the audience a departure from whatever they're thinking about in their life and enjoying a show or a movie. That's what I like when I go to see the movies. I'm like, "Oh, I get to go somewhere else for two hours," and you sort of enter another world, which is nice.
If you weren't acting or writing songs, what profession do you think you would have gone into?
When I was a kid--and I don't know why, it's the most random thing--I wanted to be a speech therapist for little kids. I knew I wanted to do something with kids. I had a reading buddy when I was in fifth grade who was a first grader. She had a little speech impediment, and I watched a lot of kids pick on her and things like that. I just was head over heels in love with this little girl. And I saw what she went through and how difficult that was, so I guess that's sort of where [the idea came from].
You and your sister are obviously very close. What's a favorite childhood memory with her?
There are so many. We had a ranch growing up that we used to spend a lot of time at. I guess anything from the ranch house would probably be some of my favorite childhood memories.
What are you most grateful for?
I guess I would be most grateful for my family and my friends and my dogs, my boyfriend. I'm grateful for a lot. I'm grateful to be healthy. I'm grateful for our new president.
Did you ever think in a million years that "Napoleon Dynamite" would become the cult classic that it is?
Honestly, I never thought it would be as big as it was. But, I knew from the beginning, from the first time that I read it, that it was really funny and I related to it. I grew up in Texas, and I think anybody who grows up in the Midwest or in the South, it's just a different way of life. And I just thought the characters were so wonderful.
Sean Covel, who is one of the producers of the movie, literally 15 minutes ago just sent me a text message. I've had some really wonderful friendships come from that movie. I'm so grateful to be part of it and happy that people thought it was as funny as I did when I first read it.
A lot of people didn't get it [at first]. They were like, "What is this?" My mom was sort of the same way. The first time she watched it, Hilary was on tour and we were on the bus together. And one of Hilary's band members brought the DVD onto the bus and was like, "Let's watch it." Everyone was sitting in the front of the bus, watching it and laughing, and my mom was kind of quiet. And I said, "What do you think, Mom?" And she goes, "Well, I think it's…I don't know what I think. I think it's kind of weird." It took her [watching it] a few times, and then she got it and thought it was funny.