A pair of rare female doctors for that era: Dr. Annie Watson (Haylie Duff, left) gives birth
to her first child while visiting her friend, Dr. Belinda Owens (Sarah Jones, right).

Fans of the Love Comes Softly series of films (based on the much-loved books by Janette Oke) will be glad to know that the Love Comes Softly 10th Anniversary Collection is now available on DVD, featuring 10 of the beloved titles all together on two discs. Homecoming recently had the chance to chat with actress Haylie Duff, who plays Dr. Annie Watson in both Love Takes Wing and Love Finds a Home. Haylie has acted and sung professionally since childhood, appearing in many movies and TV shows, such as "7th Heaven."

Here, she chats about what drew her to the Love Comes Softly series, her close relationship with her sister and fellow actress Hilary Duff, her upcoming cookbook and more.

HOMECOMING: In many ways, the Love Comes Softly stories are very different from our modern culture — obviously the lifestyle, but also the values and the standards of behavior that were acceptable back then. Why do you think these stories resonate so much with modern fans?

HAYLIE: Well, one thing that is interesting about these movies is that they are such a departure from the modern world. You take a peek into a time when there were no cell phones,TV or internet. That was something that I enjoyed — that I got to leave behind the modern world and go disappear into this for a while. So I think that’s one thing that draws people to this series. And then, the fact that the story is so much about family and strong women, women making a difference in the world during that time — that's definitely a draw as well.

HOMECOMING: In what ways did you identify with your character Annie?

HAYLIE: I think I relate to her in terms of being a woman in this industry where you do kind of have to stand up against the crowd and go against the grain sometimes. There’s not always as much opportunity as there is for a man in our business, and I think Annie was going through kind of the same thing — being a doctor during that time, when that was usually a man’s occupation. I also identified with her in the fact that she’s a good friend. I really value my friendships, and I cherish the people I'm close to more than anything. I see that in Annie with her relationships in the film.

HOMECOMING: Yes, and that leads into the next question. One idea presented in the Love Comes Softly series is the idea of being plugged into a community; how the relationships with family and friends are very important and they all help each other. I’d like to ask you to contrast that time, at least the way it’s presented in these films, with how things are now. Do you think we’re more connected or more isolated now?

HAYLIE: I have so many opinions on this topic. That is one special thing about these films too, that the community really comes together. Even if it’s something that they don’t want to happen, like with the orphanage … I think it’s in the second one, when the community speaks out against the orphanage. Regardless of whether it’s a positive or negative situation, there was a real sense of community. Now, everything is so accessible in your own living room — movies and even communicating with people … you sit and do it from your living room.

I think we are kind of a divided community now, which makes me kind of sad. I feel like when I was growing up, I knew my neighbors more than I do now. I think it’s nice to watch a movie where you see the unity of a community.

HOMECOMING: That’s true. We recently interviewed the prominent Amish fiction author Beverly Lewis, and she said that was a common thread in letters she gets from her readers — they long for that connectedness, and they’re not getting it. Even at the dinner table, somebody’s going to play the Xbox, and someone is watching TV while they eat…we’re all going in different directions. And the Amish actually sit down at the table and talk … who does that anymore?

HAYLIE: Yes, there’s something special to be said about that. Fortunately, in my family we’re very close and we love to sit down and have meals together, but we definitely have the moments where we have to turn off the computer and the phones and just be present. And I think people don’t do that as often as they used to.

HOMECOMING: What do you hope viewers will take away from these movies?

HAYLIE: There are so many things to take away from these movies, but I think the main thing that I take away from them is the importance of family — being there for each other, supporting each other. I guess that’s the best thing to take away — these are stories of multiple generations of families, which I also think is cool.

HOMECOMING: If you hadn’t been born in this century, in what time and place do you think you would have enjoyed living?

HAYLIE: You know what? I could have totally been happy living in the times of this series … in the 1800s. The clothing was so different — I remember going to hair and makeup and getting rid of any trace of modern times. The horse and buggy and just that Western feel, I loved that… so yeah, I could have been happy living in those times.

HOMECOMING: Sounds like it was a great experience. Ok, another theme in these movies is faith, and I understand that you consider yourself a spiritual person. Can you tell us how your own spiritual beliefs play a part in career decisions, or do they?

HAYLIE: It’s really interesting … I definitely am very spiritual in my own life. I don’t push my beliefs on anyone else, but I hold them dear to my heart, and I try to live by them. It’s funny because throughout my career, I’ve worked on things like “Seventh Heaven,” which was definitely a spiritual series. I think it’s important to kind of keep those values and morals out there in the world and to be involved with content that encourages people to live right and to do right by each other.

HOMECOMING: Yes, it is. And speaking of your work, can you name somebody in this business who has really encouraged or inspired you along the way?

HAYLIE: Yes, I definitely have been so lucky to work with people who I look up to; Patty Duke, for example, who was in the Love Comes Softly series. She was such a fantastic woman to work with, and she was somebody who has obviously been very successful from a young age. She’s been through the ups and downs of this business and has always carried herself at a certain level and never was doing some of the things that we see some of the young actresses doing nowadays. But throughout it all, she held her head high … she has some battle wounds, but also this very positive outlook on how rewarding this business can be. She was so wonderful to be on set with — she was so present and open and available to me, work-wise, and she was definitely someone inspiring to work with … and encouraging to me too.

HOMECOMING That’s really good, to have those mentor types to help along the way.

HAYLIE: Yes.

HOMECOMING: Let me ask you this, and the answer can be for any area of your life or career … are there any upcoming projects or events that you are really excited about?

HAYLIE: Yes, actually, about two years ago I started a food blog. I write recipes for some different websites and I just turned in the first draft of my cookbook … I’m so excited! It will come out in October of next year. So that’s the project that my heart has been poured into the last few months, and I’m really looking forward to sharing that with people.

HOMECOMING: What kinds of recipes will your cookbook focus on?

HAYLIE: They’re easy, healthy… it’s called Real Girl's Kitchen; it’s a very “real girl” approach to cooking. The thing I love about my cookbook is that it’s half stories and half recipes. Each recipe comes with kind of a funny story from my life.

HOMECOMING: That sounds really great! Ok, here’s a fun question … if a movie were made about the lives of you and your sister Hilary (Duff), who should play the two of you and why?

HAYLIE: Oh, that’s hard! (laughing) I don’t know who on earth would play the two of us, but I would be totally entertained by watching a movie about us … I would get such a kick out of that!

HOMECOMING: Are you and she pretty close?

HAYLIE:  We are — I’m so fortunate to have a sister who is close in age, that we have each other to depend on and run to when things are tough. We’re so blessed, and I have a new little nephew who I absolutely adore.

HOMECOMING: Aww … that’s sweet. Ok, another question about acting…how do you approach playing a character who is very different from you?

HAYLIE: Those are the characters who are really so fun to play. I did a movie called Home Invasion for Lifetime a couple of years ago, and I played a girl who did home robberies and became obsessed with getting revenge on this woman — she was absolutely nothing like the person that I am. It is so fun to step into a role like that. I think that no matter how far off a character is from you, though, you have to find the common ground that kind of makes you similar--how you can relate to them. So I guess that’s the first thing that I do in approaching a role that’s really different from me — look for a little piece of common ground.

HOMECOMING: That thread of humanity in there that you can relate to…

HAYLIE: Yes, no matter how deep down … it’s there, you know? I think that’s a good way to approach relationships with people, too; no matter how different you are, finding that little piece of common ground, no matter how small it is … finding that way to relate and be kind to each other.

HOMECOMING: So true. Well, I really appreciate your time with us today.

HAYLIE: Thank you very much — it was nice talking with you, too.

 

Photos: Justin Lubin/2009 Crown Media