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At Fort Lauderdale Film Festival, Melora Hardin goes dark

Melora Hardin has made a career playing women for whom attention must be paid.

In the past decade, especially, she has forged a series of distinctive TV characters out of an amalgam of intelligence, wit, style, motivation and physical presence — from Jacqueline Carlyle, the confident mentor for a young magazine staff on Freeform’s “The Bold Type,” to the Emmy-nominated, scene-chewing role of Tammy Cashman on Amazon’s “Transparent” and complicated Jan Levinson on NBC’s long-running hit “The Office.”

Hardin’s ability to bury the certainty of these women for her role in “Cruel Hearts,” making its world premiere Nov. 10-11 at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, is among the reasons her brief scenes in the film-noir mystery are so captivating.

“It’s funny, but it’s dark, and I am very much an advocate of independent filmmaking,” says Hardin, a second-generation actor whose résumé began more than 40 years ago with childhood appearances on “Police Story,” “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Little House on the Prairie.” Hardin has known “Cruel Hearts” mobster Patrick Day since he was a boy studying at her mother’s Los Angeles acting school, which he now runs.

In “Cruel Hearts,” written and directed by University of Miami graduate Paul Osborne, Hardin portrays Grace, a sardonic third-shift diner waitress in sensible shoes drifting through life unnoticed by anyone except an overbearing ex-husband who pressures her for money.

There is, of course, more to Grace than her practiced smile and false bravado, a woman trapped by circumstance, whose ambitions are just barely perceptible in Hardin’s nuanced portrayal. Grace’s lonely inner life soon is laid bare in her flirtations with a mysterious customer who has an ability to decode her stifled hopes and stunted dreams.

“I really am aware of the fact that I’m stronger than [Grace] is in real life, and I’m also not broken like she is,” Hardin says. “But she is obviously a survivor. She maybe doesn’t recognize that in herself, because she isn’t that conscious as a person.”

Hardin, Day and Osborne will be among a group representing “Cruel Hearts” at a screening 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale, where Hardin will receive a FLIFF Career Achievement Award. The group also will attend a screening of “Cruel Hearts” 4:15 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, at Cinema Paradiso in Hollywood.

Out of ‘Office’

For fans curious about Hardin’s other characters, there is good news and bad.

While there has been no talk of a reunion of “The Office” anytime soon, Hardin has warmed up to the internet chatter that Jan Levinson got her act together and moved to New York, where she’s become Jacqueline Carlyle on “The Bold Type.” Freeform has announced it will bring the millennial-focused drama back for a third season.

“I always loved Jan. I loved how all of her fear and ambition and sadness about not having found the love of her life is masked in her hardness and her tough exterior,” Hardin says. “She was a woman coming up in a man’s world, and she became more masculine than she should have. That was the thing that made it work for me, playing Jan, that she would be attracted to Michael [Steve Carell]. Because she was Jan, she needed a man like him that she could be in charge of, but he also represented this idea of a white-picket fence.”

Hardin isn’t the only cast member of “The Office” showing a film at FLIFF, with writer, producer and actor Paul Lieberstein (Toby Flenderson) attending Nov. 16-17 screenings of the dark comedy “Song of Back and Neck.”

Missing Tammy

“Transparent” is scheduled to return for Season 5 in 2019, but Hardin has not been asked to reprise mercurial lesbian Tammy Cashman.

“I was so excited by her. One of my best friends in high school was Tammy. We wrote tons of music together, and she was really talented and really strong, really cool,” Hardin says. “I really did tap into her. I said I want to honor that [friendship] by playing it right.”

While she’ll miss Tammy, Hardin also will miss the inspiring vision of “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway.

“One of the things that Jill had written about [Tammy] was, ‘She has the biggest balls of anyone on the set.’ That was the greatest thing anyone could have ever said to someone like me. When she said that, that’s what I did, is drop into these imaginary balls,” Hardin says, laughing.

“Which, I guess, resonated with people. I’ve had many, many straight women come up to me and say, ‘You know, I’m not gay, but I would totally have sex with Tammy,’ ” Hardin says, with more laughter. “And I’ve met a lot of gay women who say, ‘I know you’re not gay, but you’re doing a great job.’ ”

“Cruel Hearts” will screen at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at Savor Cinema, 503 SE Sixth St., in Fort Lauderdale, with a post-screening dinner party in the John Mager Courtyard at 9:30 p.m. Melora Hardin will attend the screening and the party, joined by director Paul Osborne, actors Patrick Day and Melanie Sparks, producers Joe Pezzula and Jonathan Brown, and executive producer Bill Eikost. Tickets for the film cost $12, $10 for seniors, $9 for military/students and $8 for members. Tickets for the film and party cost $25, $20 for members.

Hardin and the others also will attend a screening of the film 4:15 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11, at Cinema Paradiso, 2008 Hollywood Blvd., in Hollywood. Tickets for the film cost $12, $10 seniors, military/students $9, $8 members. For more information, call 954-525-3456 or visit FLIFF.com.

bcrandell@sun-sentinel.com

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