The former Facts of Life actresses costar in the TV movie For Better or for Worse

By Steve Helling
Updated July 19, 2014 04:25 PM
Credit: Michelle Faye/Hallmark Channel Crown Media

When Lisa Whelchel and Kim Fields landed starring roles on The Facts of Life in 1979, they had no idea that their characters would become ’80s icons – or that they’d become such close friends.

After Facts ended in 1988, the girls (along with Nancy McKeon and Mindy Cohn) went their separate ways but always kept in touch.

Fields, 45, stayed in the industry, starring on Living Single before going behind the camera. (She has directed and produced dozens of sitcom episodes.) She lives in Atlanta with her husband, Christopher Morgan, and her two sons: Sebastian, 7, and Quincy, 7 months.

Whelchel, 51, retired from acting for more than two decades and became a successful Christian speaker and author. She raised three children: Haven, Clancy and Tucker. After divorcing in 2012, she returned to the limelight when she tied for second place on Survivor.

Now the two actresses are working together again, this time on the Hallmark Channel original movie For Better or for Worse (premiering July 19 at 9 p.m. ET). Whelchel plays a widowed wedding coordinator who falls for a divorce attorney. Fields plays her best friend and coworker.

The two actresses sound off to PEOPLE about children, dating and working together after so many years.

So how did it happen that you worked together on this movie?
Whelchel: I am pitched a lot of scripts that are family-friendly, and I hate to say it, but a lot of them are really, really cheesy. Either that or they’re just trying to hit you over the head with a message. So when I got this one, I thought it was a great script, a delightful comedy that happened to have a nice message. I was enamored by it, so I signed on.

Fields: They sent me the script and said that Lisa was attached, and I thought it was a great story. And after all the directing and producing, I loved not having those responsibilities. I could show up, get to work with someone I adore, and then go home! And I got to be comfortable in my post-baby skin!

Sounds nice. Was it weird to be on the same soundstage after all these years?
Fields: In terms of the familiarity and chemistry, it’s all still there. It just gets better with time.

Whelchel: It was like old times, but really, really different. We felt comfortable together, because we’re such good friends. But I can see her talent as an adult. I would watch her during a scene now and think, “Wow, she’s really good. She’s so funny.” I didn’t appreciate that as a kid.

Fields: And Lisa is a wonderfully talented woman. I like working with talented people, and she’s one of them! It helped that we keep in touch. I keep in touch with a lot of people I work with. So it’s not like we haven’t seen each other in umpteen years.

Whelchel: We see each other, and we see each other’s families. My children call her “Aunt Kim” and her children call me “Aunty Lisa.”

It’s nice to see an ’80s show where everyone wasn’t screwed up.
Fields: Thank you for that! Yeah, I think we all came from wonderful families. That’s not to say that other kids came from bad families. But we had family support.

Whelchel: There was a grace over that set. That’s the only way I can explain it. We had close ties with each other, and good families. And somehow, it worked.

I have to address this: Both of you look exactly like you did 25 years ago. What’s the secret?
Fields: Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but black don’t crack. No one else on the show can claim that! [laughs] You know, I was never into the hard life. I hold onto the Scripture that says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in all things give thanks.” I’m not saying I don’t have problems or that I don’t worry, but I try not to be stressed. I manage my anxiety through prayer. Worry shows up on your face, and I don’t want that!

Whelchel: I sleep a lot. Eight or nine hours a night, 10 if I can. If I’m on a plane, I’m asleep before takeoff.

You were both child actors, but would you want your kids to become actors?
Fields: We’ve talked about it. I will encourage my kids in everything that life has to offer. [Sebastian] is passionate about animals and the environment now; that makes my heart sing! If he wants to act, I’m fine with that. As long as he’s grounded, it’s fine.

Whelchel: I’m actually putting together a sitcom for my daughter Clancy and I to put together. We’re both in the same place, just a generation apart. We’re both single. I’m starting to date again; she’s dating. I’m thinking of going back to school; she’s in school.”

Wait. You’re starting to date again?
I had my first blind date last week. [laughs] And I signed up for an online dating profile, and then I deleted it the next day. I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to dating.

So give me some words of wisdom. What have you learned since the ’80s?
Fields: Balance is so important. We all have to cut up our clock to find out what works for you. If you’re ineffective, you’re using bad clock management, and you have to adjust. Using a basketball reference, the team who wins is the team that can make adjustments in real time.

Whelchel: I’ve learned to be grateful for things. I’m really grateful for this film, because it’s so charming. There’s a sweet message about taking chances and starting over again. That’s a really important message, and I’m happy that I could be a part of it.

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