Eric Mabius of ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ on letter writing

By Julia Hatmaker |
June 18, 2014

eric-mabiusWhen Eric Mabius is sleep deprived, he gets philosophical.

The Harrisburg-born actor, who grew up in Massachusetts, shared that tidbit as a way of explaining – semi-apologetically – the past ten minutes of PennLive’s interview with him, where he had talked at length about the importance of reading letter-writing today. No apology was necessary though, as the topic is one of the themes of his latest series: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” which airs its season finale on June 22 on the Hallmark Channel.

Mabius stars as Oliver O’Toole, the head of the Dead Letter Office, a unit of the post office that tracks down the intended recipients of mail that has been lost or damaged. The episodic series, written by Martha Williamson (the executive producer of “Touched By An Angel”), follows Oliver and his team as they learn the stories behind the mailings and make the final deliveries.

It is the latest item on Mabius’ lengthy filmography, which includes starring roles in ABC’s “Ugly Betty” and Showtime’s “The L Word,” as well as appearances in films “Cruel Intentions” (1999), “The Crow: Salvation” (2000) and “Resident Evil” (2002) among others.

To say he has kept busy is a bit of an understatement.

PennLive just happened to catch him after a particularly hectic few days, right when he had finished filming episode nine of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” which aired on June 15. In three days, Mabius had worked through 33.5 pages of a script, most of it dialogue.

“It was such a wonderful experience, but my brain is mush,” he confessed.

Wonderful is pretty much the summation of what Mabius feels about “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”

“It’s probably the best work experience I’ve had in my entire life,” he said. “It’s just the most kind, collaborative, interesting, passionate and young group of people I have ever worked with.”

“Martha [Williamson] is an incredible writer,” he went on. ” It’s just so great to be a part of something with people that want to put something good in the world and something of quality.”

His role as Oliver is a clear divide from Mabius’ past roles, in particular Daniel from “Ugly Betty.” “They are night and day,” Mabius said. “Daniel was more like a car that’s just almost out of control. And Oliver is someone who really considers his thoughts and actions beforehand.”

That being said, Oliver’s character growth depicts him slowly thawing out from his stiff, structured persona.

“Shane [played by Kristin Booth] is starting to fill him out as a human being,” Mabius described. “It’s even more a delight as he’s learning all new facets of what it means to be a human being through her presence. I think that discovery is a lot of fun to play.”

That doesn’t mean he was a total robot before. On the contrary, Mabius describes Olvier as “someone who has an unbelievable amount of heart, depth of intention and love of what he does and the people around him. Oliver isn’t necessarily great at expressing it, but it’s clear that it is present.”

However, his favorite thing about Oliver isn’t the story arc – but the character’s turn of phrase. “He always has the right response or the right quote in his repertoire,” Mabius explained.

Quotes are definitely Oliver’s forte – in the latest episode the character quoted Shakespeare, Milton and Martin Luther King, Jr. That ability to rattle off great literary quotes is something Mabius feels the world is starting to lose.

“I really enjoyed reading growing up,” he said. “I really have a sense of history, so I really understand the importance to looking where we came from and where we’re going to. But everything is so immediate nowadays.

“I think that’s what’s so great about Oliver. He reminds me of the people I look up to, like one of my English teachers in high school – someone who really absorbs what they read and understands that there is a reason to read other than having books assigned to you,” Mabius continued. “There is a reason why we should absorb these literary traditions and try to understand them. It helps us, I think, appreciate our lives more and understand where we fit in to all the things that we encounter.”

The idea of slowing down and really taking in your surroundings is something Mabius comes back to again and again throughout the interview – not just when talking about reading, but also when it comes to writing letters.

“I’ve always enjoyed letter writing and [the show] definitely has gotten me back in touch with that,” he said. “I feel like there are few better avenues of discourse than a letter exchange back and forth between two people.”

“Today there’s just this disconnected verbal barrage passing for interaction… people can’t hear tone or inflection,” he said.

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” represents a world where the opposite is true. “It is definitely reminding me of what’s important and that’s [letter writing] is a bit of a lost art,” he said. “I think the show is, to some extent, hopefully reviving that. I have a 5 and a 7 year old boy and there’s still something so magical when we go to the mailbox and open it up and there’s a letter from a friend or a relative.”

The magic of letters and the weight of importance they carry is one that the show highlights. It’s also something Mabius has found to be pretty universal.

“Everyone seems to have a story of their own too [about returned lost mail],” Mabius said. “They want to stop you on the street and tell you theirs.”

“Our universe and the DLO (Dead Letter Office) is certainly fictionalized – you could never address all the mail that has damaged addresses or missing addresses or whatever,” he said. “But it’s a wonderful fictionalized universe that Martha has created, which we had a lot of fun embodying.”

“It’s a great testament to intention, following through and sticking to your morals and remembering what’s important,” he continued. “In a climate of television where it’s about who is more fantastically able to maim another person, we have a different story. I don’t mean it’s fluff, but it certainly is entertaining and you feel like you can escape.”

And while Mabius may be currently knee deep in the world of lost letters and Hollywood, the midstate still has a place in his heart. He can fondly recall trips to the State Museum of Pennsylvania and to Hershey.

“Going to Hershey was probably my favorite memory as a boy growing up,” Mabius said. “I remember going to Hersheypark and having brunch at the hotel, because it was the only time I had ever seen ice carvings in my life. They would have one as the centerpiece there and I always remembered that as a kid. It was the most exciting thing in the world, to come into town, open up the car doors and smell chocolate.”

DETAILS: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” airs 8 p.m. June 22 on Hallmark Channel. You can watch the full episodes of the show on