Melora Hardin is anything but a typical suburban mom. The 41-year-old Houston native was part of TV’s funniest odd couple with Steve Carell on NBC’s hit comedy, “The Office,” where she plays Jan. With two small children, Hardin is also making a movie with actor Zac Efron in the upcoming “17 Again” and opposite singer Billy Ray Cyrus in “Hannah Montana: The Movie.”

A trained dancer since the age of five and a child actress since six, Hardin has appeared in some of the best watched TV shows, including “Little House On The Prairie,” “Magnum P.I.” and “The Love Boat,” and such films as “27 Dresses” and “Thank You For Smoking.”

She also has released two CDs and performed the role of Fantine in the musical “Les Miserables” at the The Hollywood Bowl in California this past summer.

Bankrate: Working with Steve Carell — how important is laughter to your own general well-being and balance in life?

Melora Hardin: I would say it’s high up on the list. When I was in the market for men, I always had that high up on my list for qualities that I was looking for. I think it’s really important for me to laugh and have a sense of humor about yourself and about the things going on around you, especially in relationships. To have that release is very important.

Bankrate: What do you do to relieve stress in your life?

Melora Hardin: Dance class is a wonderful thing for me. I take jazz classes. I was a really serious ballerina for years. I went to Joffrey Ballet in New York on scholarship when I was 13 so that’s really food for my soul. And exercise, in general, is a great stress reducer because it releases those endorphins in your brain and it just makes me feel like I’m all here, and not half of me (is) out my body and half of me is in. It keeps me grounded and connected to the world and my body.

Bankrate: So when you do a jazz class, does it take you back to certain childhood comfort zones?

Melora Hardin: I’ve never really stopped dancing. I think there’s something very fulfilling and gratifying in something that you’ve worked really hard at your whole life. You can actually look in the mirror and you’re good at it. I can’t do everything I could do when I was 18, but I can still really dance. There’s just nothing like really, really moving. It just feels so satisfying for me and I think that’s the real thing.

And that’s another example of a place that you’re really focused on something so that your brain has so much space. It’s also an incredibly positive way to be focused on yourself, completely, 100 percent. You’re not focused on yourself in a narcissistic way. You’re focused on making that line right or doing that jump higher or whatever. It’s a very constructive focus.

Bankrate: What are your thoughts on body image in the media right now?

Melora Hardin: I think I’m really lucky and don’t know how I got away with being an actress from the age of six and a dancer since the time I was six, being raised in Los Angeles, and still having a really pretty healthy body image in the sense that I think our bodies are really incredible.

I’m one of those women who felt great being pregnant both times, I haven’t really minded my body changes; I marvel at the way the body can expand and contract, and I think if you eat well and you feed your body whole foods, your body is naturally resilient. If you don’t do that and eat a bunch of crap and take a lot of drugs and do a lot of drinking, smoke — if you abuse it, you will pay. So I feel really fortunate that I’ve always been interested in a healthy lifestyle and never been seduced by eating badly and doing drugs.

Bankrate: Do you feel somewhat financially secure now and you’ve come into your own?

Melora Hardin: It’s funny, I’ve never worried about money in my life, even when I wasn’t particularly working (laugh). First of all, I’ve actually worked quite consistently and have been very fortunate to transition from a child actor to a teenage actor to being an adult actor, but in my mind, I guess I’ve always known I was going to be fine, financially. And I don’t have to be the richest person in the world to be happy; I just need to feel I can do the things that I want to do. And I feel that I can. When I’m making more money, I think about doing other things and when I’m making less money, I think about collecting pods (laughs).

Bankrate: So do you save for a rainy day?

Melora Hardin: Yes. We now have a business manager and she’s really helping us gather those pockets of financial stability.

Bankrate: When was the turning point in your career, when you felt, ‘Oh, I can make a good living at this?’

Melora Hardin: I think I’ve always made a good living. When I turned 18 … I come from parents who are actors, and my father really took care of my money as a child and really didn’t even talk to me about money until I was 18 and basically handed me an account that was quite full. So I started out with a nice beginning to my life and put myself through college.

Bankrate: What was your first big splurge?

Melora Hardin: When I started driving, my dad said you can drive this used Volvo for a year and if you don’t get any tickets or in any accidents, you can get the car that you want. So after a year of no accidents and no tickets, which I think was a really smart thing to do, I got a brand new Mazda RX-7 when I was 17.

Bankrate: Your father, Jerry Hardin, was an actor and your mom, Diane Hardin was a manager. So besides them helping you save your money early on, what else was beneficial for your maturation process?

Melora Hardin: I traveled around Europe for three months by myself. I’ve often said that I wish every graduate from high school would be handed a Europass to go round Europe. It was one of the most wonderful and balancing experiences, and I think that if you get out of your own backyard and see the world a little bit, you realize that there are good people everywhere.

Bankrate: I know you’ve been working with Miley Cyrus on “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and you were a teen actress as well. What is your impression of her and working opposite her dad?

Melora Hardin: I think Miley is a real professional and takes her job seriously. She’s got a lot of 15 year-old exuberance but she’s also doing her work. I remember 15 and being an actress and never had that incredible swirling fame that she has at the moment. but I really do remember that time and remember the way it felt and I think she’s just doing what a normal 15 (year-old) working actor would do. And Billy Ray Cyrus is just one of the nicest, most lovely people I have ever worked with. I think we will definitely be friends. I think he’s such a special, kind man.

Bankrate: “The Office” is coming back, of course. Talking to you this much has made me wonder, what do you and Jan have in common?

Melora Hardin: Not too much (laughs). I just think she’s the greatest character but she’s very different from me. She’s really struggling to find her place in the world and I kind of feel I know where I belong. So we’re really different, but she’s pretty awesome and a real joy to play.