Long before donning purple spandex and “the full armor of God” as Bibleman, Willie Aames was breaking teen hearts weekly as Tommy Bradford on the television series Eight is Enough. Young, good-looking and rich, Aames easily fell into a decadent Hollywood lifestyle. When Eight Is Enough was canceled in 1981, he went on to appear in a couple of films before returning to television as Scott Baio's irresponsible foil in the sitcom Charles in Charge.
Through much of the '80s, Aames battled cocaine and depression and became notorious in Hollywood for his erratic behavior. But by the time Charles was canceled in 1990, he had cleaned up his act, become a born-again Christian, and married for the second time.
In the mid-'90s, he began starring as an evangelical superhero in the Bibleman series of youth-oriented musical videos. Now Aames is the senior executive vice president of Pamplin Entertainment and Boisseau Filmworks, creating, directing and producing family entertainment products. His latest projest, The Missy Files, debuted on Nov. 18.
Dubbed a “feel-good dramedy” for girls, The Missy Files stars Aames’ daughter, Harleigh Jean Upton, and wife, Maylo McCaslin-Aames. “Harleigh was the entire source of my inspiration,” says Aames, who wrote, directed and produced the series. “Watching her learn and grow in beauty and character is one of the greatest joys of my life.”
Willie, Maylo and Harleigh Jean sat down together this summer with Crosswalk.com to talk about The Missy Files and the joys and struggles of family life in the spotlight.
Crosswalk.com: Tell us about the genesis of The Missy Files. What made you decide to take on this project?
Willie Aames: It started the same way Bibleman did. We saw there was this huge gap for boys between 6 and 12. There was nothing with action, nothing that would let a boy be a boy. You had a lot of cartoons – Veggie tales – for younger kids, but nothing for this group. As we began to do Bibleman and added Biblegirl, we noticed that the girls were really looking for something as well.
I actually came up with The Missy Files idea about three years ago, but we were so busy on the road that we never really got around to developing it. Last year when I came off the road, I had knee surgery. I had a lot of time to think and write. We started to put this together and got the green light to go for it
There is nothing like it for the Christian audience. We tried to write it in a way that life meant something more than just a trip to the mall, but at the same time, maintain this kind of Cyndi Lauper style – to let people know that you can have a style all your own, have a lot of character and be intelligent. My philosophy is that if you don’t ask kids to think, they won’t.
Crosswalk.com: Why did you cast your daughter?
Willie Aames: The fact is, she was the best person for the part, regardless of being my daughter. When you see the show, you will know it.
Maylo Aames: We had a casting call and read other people. She just stood out. It fit her so well. If she wasn’t good at it and didn’t fit in it – I mean, it’s my husband’s project, with his name on it – he would have recast it.
Crosswalk.com: Having grown up in the industry, do you have any trepidation about your daughter following your footsteps?
Willie Aames: I sure do. When I got into the industry, my parents did not want me to be a part of it. I had to beg and plead in order to get to be a part of the industry. When Harleigh was growing up, I was like, “Gosh, I hope she wants to be a vet or something like that.” She kind of went through the “I want to be a vet” stage too, but the fact is, the girl’s good. It’s what she really loves to do. We’re going to make sure that she gets her education. When she’s gotten her degree, if she decides she wants to continue acting, she can, or if she decides she wants to go into business, or if she wants to just be a mom, she’ll have that opportunity.
Crosswalk.com: So you’re not really pushing in any particular direction?
Willie Aames: No, but I am sharpening my machete. The one good thing is having grown up in the industry and understanding it and being a producer is that I’ve been there, done that, heard the stories, know the song and dance. You’re not going to be able to slide a whole bunch past me.
Crosswalk: What are your hopes for the series?
Willie Aames: Anne of Green Gables sticks out in my head as such a great classic show. We went to a lot of trouble to make sure that we kept the same type of integrity. We hope that the Christian community will recognize that we’ve put a lot of effort into creating something for their kids. That’s our first goal. We want girls to have somebody to look up to, like Harleigh.
Crosswalk.com: Turning to you a little bit, Maylo, you played mom in the series. Was it difficult working for your husband?
Maylo Aames: You know – it wasn’t. I worked for many, many years in Los Angeles before I met Willie. He’s such an incredible director; he’s an actor’s director because he was an actor for so long, so he communicates very well. Once I’m in front of the camera and he’s behind it, he’s my director. I completely trust what he’s saying and I’m completely submissive, as talent, to the ideas and the vision that he has. So it’s really very natural and very easy. It’s also very wonderful and easy and natural to play Harley’s mom. We all respect each other.
Willie Aames: I spent almost the last 10 years on the road as Bibleman. One of the great things about doing this project was that we all really felt, as a family, that it was time to spend more time together. That season of my life of being gone 180 days a year is coming to a close. To have this project, to work together all of the time, is a gas. It’s fun, and I try to keep it fun on the set. There’s nothing like trusting the person that you’re working with.
Maylo Aames: We laugh. We just laugh. It’s great.
Crosswalk.com: Now I have some questions for Harleigh. What did you like most about the filming?
Harleigh: Everything. This is going to sound really stupid. I liked the smell. I have been around sets since I was little, and when the lights are on for a long time, and all the makeup and everything, it starts having a certain smell. It’s so comforting to me.
Crosswalk.com: What was it like working with your schoolmates?
Harleigh: It was nice having the friendships already established and not having to feel your way with these other people. We laughed together a lot. We’d work over lines. It was just really fun.
Crosswalk.com: How old are you?
Harleigh: I’m 13.
Crosswalk.com: How do you feel about the overly dramatic style of Missy?
Harleigh: I like it. It’s fun. I usually just wear jeans and my favorite shoes in the world – Doc Martins – and a T-shirt. I’m wearing my favorite shoes right now out of her wardrobe– just wearing all of these bracelets and stuff – I’m having so much fun.
Crosswalk.com: You said you’ve been on sets a lot. Is this your first major debut?
Harleigh: I have done some voice-overs, and some kid stuff. This was the first big thing.
Crosswalk.com: To conclude, Willie, is there anything else that you would like to add about the project or your family?
Willie: I just think it’s a great opportunity to fill a need. It covers a lot of things — great music – and includes a lifestyle that shows what a young teen can be as a Christian. There is not real entertainment for a Christian girl out there. Today’s kids are in desperate need of high quality, wholesome entertainment. Bibleman was just the beginning. The Missy Files is the next exciting chapter. I can’t wait to see what God will do.