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JoAnna Garcia Swisher Talks Happiness, Life In Lockdown And What’s In Store For ‘Sweet Magnolias’ Season Two

"When season two comes around, that’s going to be the least of everybody’s concerns!"

If you have visited Netflix even once during the quarantine period, you have surely stumbled across Sweet Magnolias. And while the wholesome television show has certainly stolen our hearts, so has its star JoAnna Garcia Swisher. 

Playing Maddie Townsend, a newly divorced mother looking to start over in the small town of Serenity, her familiar ups-and-downs kept us hooked episode after episode. But chances are, you’ve seen JoAnna Garcia Swisher on your screens before, from her break out role in 1994’s Are You Afraid Of The Dark? to her guest appearance as Bree Buckley on Gossip Girl, she continues to make waves in Hollywood.

Additionally, with the launch of her online destination The Happy Place, Garcia Swisher’s talents also consist of interior design, entertaining and making a perfect sourdough starter. Whether it’s her effervescent personality or her impeccable taste in design, it’s hard not to love her.

Now, on the heels of Sweet Magnolias‘ incredibly successful run on Netflix, and its recent renewal for a second season, Garcia Swisher sat down with marie claire Australia to chat about her new hobbies in lockdown, what she thinks is coming for Maddie in season two and how she hopes The Happy Place will help others heal, as it did her.

Below, read our chat with JoAnna Garcia Swisher.

Main image by Sara Magnolia.

After the curveballs that 2020 has thrown us, how have you been filling your days in lockdown?

We did get away to the beach, and we rented a little house and cooked and got a little change of scenery. But other than that, I think my husband and I have realised that we’re pretty good at this [laughs]. I’m designing my home in Los Angeles, it’s under massive construction, so that’s kept me busy. And I have a sourdough starter just like every other quarantine person.

I’ve been reading a lot and I’ve actually been organising a good bit, which has been really nice and [I’ve been] writing. I’m just doing all the things that I just never gave myself the chance to. It’s funny, my husband pointed it out, he was like, ‘Did you notice it took you like five months to take a nap?’. And I was like, ‘It kind of did, didn’t it?’, and now it’s 3p.m. and I’m like ‘Ta-ta, everyone! I’ll be back in 20-30 minutes!’. It’s so extra!

Congratulations on Sweet Magnolias, it’s having such a cultural moment. Why do you think it’s been so successful?

My goodness. I say this humbly, but I think that it’s really relatable. And I think that it’s rooted in a lot of heart, and all of that ‘good stuff’, it’s an easier show to watch. It doesn’t shy away from talking about difficult subjects, but it’s presented in a way that’s a little bit easier to digest, and I think that everyone needs that.

[The show] has this kind of romance, and drama, and all of the things that you look for in a show that is fun to watch, but it’s given to you with a lot of heart. I think it’s rooted in stuff that you can grab onto and relate to—female friendships, surviving, thriving and enduring—and just kind of being there for each other. It’s honestly a beautiful example of what community can be and I think we need that now more than ever.

I’ve heard that you read the script in one sitting, what was it that convinced you to take part in the series?

First and foremost, I loved the idea of telling a story of really pure female friendships, and I think it’s something that’s special and it should be celebrated. It’s something that’s really important to me. It was fun to dive into, and I felt like every character had a real reason to be there. I found myself really involved, as I was reading it for the first time, and invested in all of the stories.

I felt like I knew, even some of the roles that were just there for a minute or a couple of episodes, they were just given so much life and there was a reason for all of them. I loved that, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a really vibrant picture of a community’. I felt that I could rest easy knowing that there was going to be depth there.

And it still meant that the whole family could watch it, [it is] a show that didn’t shy away from beliefs, and talks about faith, and all different things that people shy away from. And it did it in a way that had a lot of heart, and truth to it. There was something really solid about it and so compelling for me. I walked away from the first time I read the script, and I was like ‘I know these characters, not just mine’, and that really struck me.

It’s clear that Heather Headley, Brooke Elliott and yourself share such a genuine bond, how was it transitioning your friendship from real-life to on-screen?

It was really natural! I never take for granted those connections, it’s one of my favourite parts of my job. But with these two women, there was this understanding, and respect for one another. There’s just this fun sort of thing about us that I love to be around them, just like I was sitting down with girlfriends who fill me up, and they did, they really did, in so many ways.

But then also I lost my father a few weeks after we wrapped the show and it was very, very sudden. And the way that they wrapped their arms around me and continued to do so, I can’t explain it but, you know when you meet people and you’re like ‘Oh, we’re meant to be in each other’s lives’, that’s how I feel about these women.

Speaking of your character Maddie, did you find any similarities between yourself and the character?

[Laughs] Someone asked me that the other day! It wasn’t even someone that was interviewing me, and they were like, ‘Yeah, you’ve really got that Type A [personality] thing’, and I was like, ‘Oh? Thank you!’.

I definitely think that we both have that ability to put our nose down and say like ‘Okay, we’re committed to this and this is what we’re going to do’, kind of do or die. And often there are times when that doesn’t serve you in the best way. You know, we meet Maddie at a time where her life is in shambles, and I really wanted to honour that moment, and there was an utter betrayal and realisation of what her relationship was like and what she was willing to sacrifice to keep it together, but that decision was made for her. And typically, she would be more comfortable being in control of things and that was sort of out of her control.

I wanted her to have those unsteady moments, not being able to catch her breath, and feeling like she was really losing control.  But I also wanted her to be a survivor, and I wanted her to be strong. I am also eager to see [her] in season two, now that the dust has settled. I think it’s that first relationship [with Coach Cal] where there will really be an opportunity to reflect on that growth and to see where she’s headed, and why she got to where she got. And I’m looking forward to that, I hope there’s a little more of that next season.

Sweet Magnolias has recently been renewed for a second season—congratulations! What do you think Maddie’s love life has in store?

Cal and Maddie have something that’s very undeniable. It’s funny too, even just looking back on the show, I was like, ‘Wow, there’s a real incredible connection between those two characters’. Obviously I have such a love for Justin [Bruening] as a human, I think he’s such a wonderful, wonderful person and I just love working with him. But also, the characters and the way that we explored those and that relationship, and dipping our toe into that, was something that just really translated. I think there is something very real there, and I do believe there’s hope for Cal and Maddie.

But I don’t know why, but I feel like Sheryl [J. Anderson], our show runner, she’s the sweetest person ever but she’s got this devilish grin when you ask her, ‘What are you planning for us?’. She told me, ‘You know, everybody’s so worried about who’s in the car, but when season two comes around, that’s going to be the least of everybody’s concerns!’.

And I was like ‘What?! What do you mean?!’. I feel like she’s got some crazy plans, but for some reason I feel like Maddie’s going to be tortured a little bit. Because I felt, when she broke up with Cal, that there’s better reasons to break up with someone than what Maddie used at that moment. So, we’ll see. Maybe Cal will get someone to break my heart a little bit, I don’t know.

On a scale of 1-10, how eager are you to find out who was in the car? Because I’m at a 10.

[Laughs] Every time I talk to Sheryl [J. Anderson], I’m like ‘I’m ready to know now’, and then I’m like ‘No, actually don’t, I don’t want to know!’ [laughs]. She even said that the other day, she was like ‘Everybody wants to know!’, I feel like she’s calling our bluff. But you know what I really enjoy? I love hearing everyone’s theories.

One of my friends works at Netflix in a different department, and when they were picking up the show for season two, everyone was hooting and hollering, they were so excited. And then she was like, ‘And Ben, our executive [said] ‘all 10 scripts are in and they are going to blow your mind’’. Apparently, it’s going to get really crazy in Serenity, I’m looking forward to it.

What are your hopes for the lovely ladies of Serenity—and their gorgeous Corner Spa—in the next season?

I hope that it’s still thriving and probably with COVID-19, we’ll probably be in the Corner Spa a lot more, we’ll probably be locked down a little bit [laughs].

I’m just excited to see where all of these relationships go and where they’re headed. At the end [of season one], Dana Sue is not even sure she wanted to go out on a date with somebody, [and then] the hottest dude in the South shows up at her doorstep. Eric and Helen have this undeniably chemistry, that I know is not a very easy story. I know that there will be some bumps and chequered paths and mysteries that are going to be unearthed in that way. I want to see Noreen and Maddie get to know each other a little more, and the baby is coming. Actually, I think the baby might already be born by the time we start again. But I am clearly as much of a fan of the roller coaster, as the people who have enjoyed the show.

Another congratulations is in order for The Happy Place, your online destination for all things home and happiness, what inspired its creation?

It’s funny how things come into your life. And I don’t know that I would have ever started a destination, where I talk about things that make me happy. I went to school for interior design, and I was approached a few years ago by someone about whether I wanted to share that with the world, or did I want to do a DIY show or something like that. And I thought, ‘Gosh, I never thought about sharing that with anybody’. So I thought, ‘Well, I can really hang my hat on that and that’s a good reason to start a blog—interior design’. And I love it, I do it for all of my friends and the people that I love the most in the world, and for my family. Then I realised that there are so many stories that came from the home and as I allowed myself to just crack open and share those things, it’s been something that I’ve nurtured, loved and spent a lot of time with. It’s brought me so much joy, to think about the things that bring me happiness.

Then my father passed away, and I remember thinking, ‘How on Earth am I ever going to continue to write stories about happiness when I am the most sad I have ever been in my life?’. And I heard my Dad’s voice all the time, when he crossed over, I heard him say, ‘It’s going to be okay, and I want you to be happy’. And at first, I was really annoyed by that, I was like ‘Well, I’m not okay and I’m not happy’, and I realised there is a way to continue to find joy and find our happy place even in the most dire of circumstances and in the most devastating moments. So I sat next to this little tree that I planted, and thought that this is the only place that makes me happy right now, sitting by this tree that’s been ever present since my father crossed over. And then I thought, this is my happy place, even in the hardest moment of my life.

As my grief has taken shape in different ways, and we’ve entered a global pandemic and we’re homeschooling and experiencing all of these different things, I’ve realised that there is a happy place in every moment. And so interior design, entertaining, bringing joy to a home, are all things that even in the hardest moments of my life, they bring me joy. I don’t pretend to be some sort of expert and I try to really speak from my heart, that’s why I write. But after George Floyd was murdered, what I realised was that I wanted to open it up. What I wanted was that when you come to The Happy Place, it might be telling you about my happy place, but I also wanted to open it up so that every person that clicked on that page, could see themselves there. And so we continue. And it changes shapes and it’s really a lovely thing.

You have interviewed such an impressive line up of ‘Boss Babes’ for the site, what has been one of your most memorable conversations so far?

They’re all my closest friends, I literally feel like it’s an embarrassment of riches that I get to share all of these incredible women with the world. I love them all for different reasons, and usually because there’s a celebration attached the timing of them. So for me, I always have a friend who’s about to celebrate something wonderful, or their podcast is launching and I’m like ‘You are my boss babe, let’s tell the world about this’. I’m always amazed and just respect their hustle.

My friend Nyakio [Grieco], she owns a beauty line, it’s incredible. She was my Boss Babe, and we really spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement and that opportunity to really support Black owned businesses. I had a really important conversation with her about the realities of that, and how wonderful it was that everybody has been experiencing that uptick in sales, but their biggest fear is, ‘Okay, when will that go away?’, and ‘how do we continue to support?’. I do feel like that was one of those Boss Babes where there was something that we were able to punctuate and with a very important message, an actual thing that we can continue to support.

But, they’re all so great and honestly, I’m always like, ‘Who’s our next Boss Babe?’, it’s my favourite thing to write for.

And lastly, is there anything exciting in the works for The Happy Place that we can keep an eye out for?

We are working on our digital brick and mortar, our online store. And we’ve been writing a book, that’s been a labour of love. That’s really been fun to do during this quarantine, because I give myself an hour a day when nobody can bother me, and I just go to town. It’s taken shape in so many different directions, it’s been really fun to put together, I’ve never done anything like that before. It’s amazing, how it ebbs and flows. There are times when I feel like it has to be coming from a place of genuine inspiration, and I’ve been talking about some of the ways that I’ve been trying to get my fix for entertaining through quarantine. I love my family but I really love a party and I love celebrating. So how I’ve been crafting those opportunities, to get my fix in that way.

It’s been a particularly inspired moment, so I’m enjoying that. But the book and our shop, and hopefully some Happy Place products down the line that will be very cosy and will make you feel how you do when you visit the site.

You can catch JoAnna Garcia Swisher in season one of Sweet Magnolias on Netflix, or on her blog The Happy Place.

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