For those of us who grew up in the ’90s, Melissa Joan Hart was the quintessential girl next door. Starring in beloved teen sitcoms like Clarissa Explains it All and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Hart was always stylish, funny and charming (we still covet Clarissa’s colorful wardrobe and Sabrina’s magic powers!). Now, over 30 years after Clarissa first graced the screen, Hart is a mom of three — and she still acts and does admirable charity work! FIRST For Women sat down with the star in an exclusive interview to talk about her amazing Hollywood journey, overcoming perfectionism as a working mom and the charity that makes her spirit soar.
Melissa Joan Hart explains it all
Hart describes her career as a snowball effect. “I was in 9th grade when I started doing Clarissa Explains It All,” she remembers. “I was still in school and trying to live life like a normal teenager in between my classes, auditions and other activities such as dance, which I loved. When I was cast in Sabrina The Teenage Witch, I moved to Hollywood. This was the first time I was living in Los Angeles and trying to get used to this huge fame.”
Through it all, she managed to stay grounded, which she credits to her upbringing. “As a child I didn’t grow up with a lot,” Hart explains. “My father was a fisherman and construction worker, and we were barely getting by with a lot of kids. All that changed when I got Sabrina. While Clarissa helped me pay for college, the role of Sabrina gave my family means we never had before.”
Hart reveals her favorite character (it’s not who you think!)
Hart has played many delightful characters over the course of her long career. When asked about her favorite, she picks not Clarissa or Sabrina, but a later part: “Melissa from Melissa & Joey was my favorite because she was flawed in every wonderful way that an actor wants to play. She wasn’t a bad girl, but she wasn’t a good girl either,” Hart shares. The comedy, which ran from 2010 to 2015, co-starred another ’90s teen icon, Joey Lawrence (of Blossom fame), and marked a triumphant return to TV stardom for Hart.
Hart is well-known for comic roles, and found performing in front of a live studio audience for Melissa & Joey electrifying. Recently, she’s taken on more serious projects like the 2023 Lifetime thriller Would You Kill for Me? and the 2016 Christian drama God’s Not Dead 2.
Hart learned a lot from these intense roles. “In regard to Would You Kill For Me?, I never really studied or knew a lot about the different kinds of abuse people suffer from,” Hart admits. “To learn about that was eye-opening for me, because I wanted to learn everything about my character’s backstory, so I could bring her to life.”
Key coming-of-age lessons
Now 47, Hart has been famous for more than half her life. Over the course of her decades in Hollywood, she’s worked with a long list of famous talent, including Adrian Grenier, Dean Cain, Caroline Rhea and Calista Flockhart. Asked which of her co-stars gave her the most valuable advice, Hart shouts out the people behind-the-scenes who were there at a pivotal point in her life.
“I learned the greatest lessons from two women I worked with on Sabrina, Eryn Krueger Mekash in make-up and Kimberly Engelman in wardrobe,” Hart says, “They taught me how to be an adult by helping me find a refrigerator, a mattress, how to shop and how to write thank you notes. These were coming-of-age lessons I had no clue about, and they were always by my side chaperoning me through the process.”
Striking the right balance
So how does Hart find balance all these years later, as a working mom? “It’s hard, because I am a people pleaser, and I often don’t say no to things,” she acknowledges. “But I am trying to get better at it, especially around the holidays.”
In order to keep everything running smoothly, she prioritizes being a full-time mom whenever she’s at home, and planning thoroughly and fully committing herself to work whenever she’s on a film or TV project.
From teen star to humanitarian
Since 2019, Hart has been an ambassador with World Vision, a worldwide Christian humanitarian organization that began in the ’50s and supports the critical needs of children and families around the globe.
Hart lends her celebrity support through volunteer trips and sponsoring the “Beads of Blessing” bracelet, a colorful accessory made by women artisans in South Africa, with proceeds going to the cause.
The role has given Hart a deep gratitude for her home, food, clean water, good schools for her kids and good health. Sadly, Hart says, not everyone was dealt the same hand. According to the World Bank, approximately 9.2% of the world, or 719 million people, live on less than $2.15 a day. As of 2021, 11.6% of the population, or 37.9 million people live in poverty in America.
Hart’s desire to give back was sparked when she relocated to Los Angeles as a teen. “I was called to do a lot of charity work at a young age,” she says, detailing some of the various causes she’s worked with. “I served Thanksgiving dinners at the Mission, I worked with Lupus L.A. and in Nashville, I donated a lot of time to the Gary Sinise Foundation. Being active in the philanthropic circle means a lot to me and I always knew when I had kids, having them give back would be a priority.”
In addition to being an ambassador with World Vision, Hart and her family also sponsor three girls close in age to her three boys. Her sons call them their “sponsor sisters,” and Hart makes donations that are used to buy chickens and goats, providing crucial sustenance.
Earlier this year, Hart, and her family spent three weeks in Africa and four days in Zambia, where they helped carry buckets of water to the small huts where people sleep on straw beds.
Hart tried to help however she could, revealing, “My children didn’t understand how people living in Zambia don’t have clean water or a faucet to get water from. Instead, they get their water from a watering hole that is often shared by pigs living nearby.”
Hart and her family also noticed how the local children didn’t have toys to play with. She recalls, “One of my sons gave a young boy a soccer ball and the look on this child’s face was priceless. That ball was like the best thing that ever happened to him, and my kids saw his entire face light up brighter than a Christmas tree.”
Whether she’s spending time with her kids, volunteering or lighting up the screen, Melissa Joan Hart’s positive energy always shines through.
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