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Wingman Wednesday

Kavan Smith

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We’re just minutes away from the season finale of “When Calls the Heart” on Hallmark Channel, so sit back and enjoy our chat with series star Kavan Smith while you wait!

We recently sat down with Smith to discuss his on-screen chemistry with costar Pascale Hutton, the upcoming “The Perfect Bride” sequel, and why he’ll need his head sewn back on if he’s ever to return to “Supernatural.”

TrunkSpace: You and your “When Calls the Heart” costar Pascale Hutton are doing a sequel to your movie “The Perfect Bride,” which seems like a rarity for the network. It must be a vote of confidence for the work that both of you are doing to have such support from Hallmark Channel?
Smith: Yeah. You know I think that, with the one that we did last year, “The Perfect Bride,” the first sort of installment, I guess, neither of us were really sure, because we’ve had a lot of people talking over the last couple of seasons about having us doing something together that was more contemporary, and they just kind of threw it at us last minute. So when we read the script, we weren’t really sure what it was they were looking for, and ultimately just kind of decided to do what we thought we did best, with just kind of basically making each other laugh. And it worked out. It was really a lot of fun to do. And then ever since we finished that last year, it seemed like the fans did like it and responded to it, and we’ve been trying to find a way to convince them to do a sequel. So we actually ended up going down to Los Angeles, the two of us, and pitched it together as a team. So not only did we work together as an acting duo, we kind of had our first foray into trying to produce something as a tandem, and it was a lot of fun. For our very first attempt at trying to get something made together, the guys down there at the studio were really, really receptive to us, and it went really well. And for whatever reason, they decided to go again. And I think that script was written a little differently. It was the same writer, but this script seems to be written a little bit more towards what we do, whereas the other one, it was like, “We have this script. Let’s throw Kavan and Pascale at it and see what they can do.” This one is a bit more, “OK, we’ve seen what you did in the first one. We’ll write that way, and good luck.”

We read it today for the first time out loud, and really all we did was laugh. We laughed for an hour and a half sitting around a table, so I think that’s a good sign.

TrunkSpace: When you’re working with someone like Pascale who you know you already have solid chemistry with, do you try to alter than chemistry at all when you’re dropped into new roles opposite each other, or do you stick with what works?
Smith: I think it’s kind of a combination. I think both of us as actors think about making changes and think about making conscious choices to be different than our characters on “When Calls the Heart.” But I also think that sometimes just the language alone being so different and the feeling being different, it really kinda does it for us. What seems to work for us, and I think what our chemistry is, for lack of a better word, and what has built our friendship off camera as well, is really a desire and a joy of making each other laugh. It’s kind of like having a buddy that you just like to go out and have a beer with, and just laugh for an hour with, only we do that during the course of a shooting day. In some ways it almost feels like cheating because it shouldn’t be fair that you go to work and laugh all day. It just doesn’t seem quite right. But we do, and I think that the more we foster that, the more that it reads on camera. So I don’t even know that if we were to try and make too many conscious choices to make it different, that that would work. I think part of what really works for us is just the joy that we have of kinda riffing off of each other. And we just have a very similar sense of humor. I grew up with a kid, when I was very young, and we had that same sense of humor. And she’s kind of like my friend from when I was eight years old. It’s just a good fit, work-wise.

TrunkSpace: Well, that’s got to be the dream, right? Not only enjoying the work, but enjoying the process of working?
Smith: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s why I said it feels like I’m kind of cheating the system a little bit, because it should feel harder, but it’s really fun. And even though we love working with everybody else on the show, and I think we work well with the other actors, when it’s just the two of us and the director and the crew kinda just say, “Oh, good. It’s just Kavan and Pascale now.” It’s kind of fun for those moments to have that. I do think it sort of leeches into the crew as well. And when you can have people who are… I wouldn’t say in charge, but when people that are sort of higher up are having a great time, I think it’s infectious for everybody, and it makes the whole day fun. Like the last time we did one of these shows… we did this movie last year. I don’t know if I’ve ever had that much fun on a show. Martin Wood was the director, and we both knew Martin. I’d worked with him in the past, so it was really like a trio, and I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed that hard on a show in my life. I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed that hard anywhere in my life. I can’t express enough how rare it is in my business to find somebody that you work well with, that you get along with, whose families get along. “When Calls the Heart” keeps going and they keep giving us other opportunities to do more. It’s kind of like a partnership, and that’s sort of rare in my field. Usually you do a gig, and you move on. You do a gig, and you move on. And you try and develop friendships, and you try and develop chemistry, but we had a natural chemistry just from really wanting to make each other laugh. And now we’re building more depth to it because it keeps going, and because we keep getting more opportunities.

TrunkSpace: Season 5 of “When Calls the Heart” finishes up tonight. What has that long-term journey with the character been like for you, especially with the series being presented in relatively short season orders? Does that change the dynamic for you as an actor in terms of the character journey?
Smith: I do think it changes the dynamic a little bit. And to be totally honest with you, I think most actors are fairly selfish, and I’m included. I want the story to be about me, and I want to develop more. I want to do more. I want to push the bounds of what he is, and the world that he lives in, because it’s fun. I really enjoy visiting this guy’s life and the limited seasons… I think series television is new for Hallmark, and I think it’s something that they’re working on. And I think we’re in a way, a bit of a test – a test child. They’re testing the waters. I really wish it was more of a 16 to 20 episode show, where you really got to get a few episodes that were really about Leland and Rosemary and their journey. I think that we’re sort of handcuffed from time to time, because in a short run like this, there’s Elisabeth and Abigail and Jack and Bill. And there’s a lot of stories that need to be told. And when you’re only doing 10 episodes, you want to go further with it. And I think that’s the mark of having something that you are enjoying, is you want to do more of it. And we all definitely want, selfishly want, a little bit more. And I do wish that maybe the network would be open to that, but that’s way over my pay grade.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like, in terms of the television industry in general, things are going more and more in that direction.
Smith: Yeah, definitely the landscape is changing a lot. The traditional 13 to 22 or 26 episode run seasons are an anomaly now. I guess money being what it is, and people’s attention span being what it is, and the fact that you can list off 50 new shows that everybody’s talking about, it’s hard to… I think that what’s unique about this show is that, because it is what you would call a family values show, I personally believe that the market and the audience is there for a longer run. I think that on some of those shows, because that subject matter almost seems to be a little over-saturated right now, that people’s attention spans might only be six episodes or 10 episodes where everybody dies, and everybody’s doing drugs, and whatever. Our show, being a little cleaner, I still think people crave that. Families crave that. I think there would be an audience for 13 to 20 episodes, but I don’t control the purse-strings, sadly.

TrunkSpace: And it does seem like the network has such a passionate, loyal fandom. The Hallmarkies, and in your particular show’s case, The Hearties, are committed to the content.
Smith: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting… because I’ve done sci-fi in the past, a fair bit of sci-fi, I’ve had experience with science fiction fans, which are phenomenal fans. They are rabid. They really, really bite into that, being that fandom thing. And I didn’t think that is existed anywhere else. I knew that people were fans and there wee lots of other fans, but I always thought sci-fi fans were sort of the most extreme version. But Hearties are proving me wrong. They are a very loyal, outspoken bunch. They are remarkably positive. I’ve done all sorts of shows in my career, and I’ve been on good shows and bad shows and all sorts of genres. And you read fan stuff, and usually it’s OK, it’s pretty nice, but there are always haters and you try not to read too much. But the Hearties, I guess by definition, are so positive. These are things that you can easily have my kids read. Occasionally when I’m not paying attention, they’ll grab my phone and they’ll look at a Twitter feed or something. There’s never anything on there that I’m worried about them reading. They’re very positive and they’re very complimentary, and they’re really into their show, and it rivals any sci-fi fan base that I’ve ever been a part of, that’s for sure.

TrunkSpace: And that’s very refreshing in this day and age, because you don’t see a lot of that, especially online. It’s hard to find anything positive online, to be honest.
Smith: Oh man, I’m so used to seeing and hearing nothing but constant rivers of negativity, and I also think that that’s part of why, whatever your political bent is, I think that on either side, people are so stressed or so tight, that something like this has a home. I think it’s not just the show itself, but it’s that… I guess people are embracing the whole positive vibe of the show. We’re trying to embrace humanity and positivity and community and things like that.

I think that these types of things, given time to bloom, will just get other people more and more involved. And it’s kind of nice to go online and see positive things. When I first started on following the Hearties and stuff on Twitter, I did so apprehensively, thinking “Well, there’s going to be a ton of people that hate this character, and they’re going to hate the positive message, and they’re going to hate…” But it’s really been just a stream of positivity. It’s really something. My kids are quite young, and with all the negativity in the world, it is nice to be able to show them that something daddy does has a positive effect on some people.

Credit: Diyah Pera/The CW — © 2014 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

TrunkSpace: We’re rabid “Supernatural” fans here, and we always enjoyed your character Cuthbert. If there was ever a character with a built-in backstory worth exploring, he is it.
Smith: I agree. I really, really enjoyed him. And the backstory to that, I did a movie with Jensen’s wife, her name is Danneel Ackles, and we did a movie maybe about a year or so before I did “Supernatural.” And so I got to meet Jensen a couple of times and he came to set – really nice guy, and we kind of hit it off a little bit. So when I got cast on the show, I went in and they were warm and accommodating. His wife came in to say hi, and she and Jensen sort of took me under their wing a little bit, and kept calling the producers every day saying, “We gotta get him on more. We gotta get him back more. It’s a great storyline. It’s a great character.” And I almost felt bad, because I felt like they were going too far. (Laughter) Sometimes when you push producers on something, they react the other way. So it’s like, “I really appreciate the love, but you might be pushing these guys too far.” (Laughter) But I really did enjoy that guy, too. I thought that it was a really interesting bridge that they’d built that they didn’t explore. But they have a million story lines on the show, so I guess I just wandered into obscurity. But I really, really did love doing that role.

TrunkSpace: Well, if there has ever been a show where a character can come back years later, “Supernatural” is that show! (Laughter)
Smith: Well, I have to find a way to get my head sewn back on, but yeah, if there’s ever a show, that’s the one.

The season finale of When Calls the Heart” airs tonight on Hallmark Channel.

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Wingman Wednesday

Megan Park

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Photo: Megan Park Credit: Copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Kailey Schwerman

Fresh starts and new beginnings. That’s what spring is all about. For Megan Park and Jonathan Keltz, stars of the new Hallmark Channel movie “Once Upon a Prince,” which caps off the network’s Spring Fever programming event this Saturday, that meant portraying characters in search of their own individual do-overs. Landscape architect Susanna (Park) has recently discovered she’s not in her boyfriend’s long term life plans while heir to the Cambria throne Nate (Keltz) must appease his mother and find a Cambrian bride. Serendipity brings their two lives together, but it’s love that will place them on the same path.

We recently sat down with Park to discuss seasonal pitfalls, why she enjoys being a part of the Hallmark family, and what her pillars of happiness are.

TrunkSpace: Your new Hallmark Channel movie “Once Upon a Prince” is set to serve as the icing on the Spring Fever programming event cake. We’re located in the Boston area where spring hasn’t exactly decided to show up yet. What are some seasonal elements of this movie that will help us feel that we’re putting winter (and snow!) behind us?
Park: Brrr, I’m sorry it’s still cold in Boston! I’m in California where it feels like summer all the time so I especially appreciate the seasons and the fresh start they give people. I think springtime is super romantic and this movie perfectly captures that. The energy of new beginnings is such an exciting feeling and I think because it’s all about two people deciding to start anew, there’s so much gardening and beautiful florals in this movie, viewers will hopefully be inspired by that and forget about winter!

TrunkSpace: Hallmark Channel productions are great at putting the viewer in the spirit of a particular season, but as is the case with this movie, you shoot during a very different position on the calendar. Were there any logistical issues that the production had to overcome to help put the audience in that April showers/May flowers mindset?
Park: SO MANY! It was totally worth it but we shot the movie in Canada in the middle of the winter and this was supposed to be spring. We were dealing with rain, freezing temperatures, gale force winds all while wearing spring clothing and trying to look like we weren’t freezing. Production was great and they had heaters for us and I literally was wearing an electric heated vest with a battery pack underneath my wardrobe in half of this movie and they did wonders hiding it all!

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on numerous Hallmark Channel productions over the course of your career. What is it that keeps you coming back and working for this particular company on these particular types of productions?
Park: I always come back and work with Hallmark because it’s always such a wonderful experience. The scripts are feel-good, the stories are feel-good and that makes the viewers feel good, which I think it’s much needed in this world. Plus, the network and the executives are really amazing, smart, genuine people and I love being a part of the Hallmark family.

TrunkSpace: How did this experience differ from your previous Hallmark Channel experiences? Did the character/story put you in a position to take a different approach?
Park: I’m always playing someone different and the story is different so each experience feels totally different in a good way. This movie was really FUN. The story is such a common fantasy – you meet someone and you fall in love with who they are, their heart, and THEN you find out they are royalty. I got to just have a good time with this one and lean into the fantasy.

TrunkSpace: We recently chatted with your costar (and onscreen prince) Jonathan Keltz. He had mentioned that the two of you had known each other for years prior to reconnecting on the project. Did having that familiarity with your costar allow you to hit the ground running and find that in-story chemistry?
Park: YES! When I signed on to the movie, Jonathan was attached already and I was thrilled. It’s always fun to meet someone new but there’s something special about already having a history and built-in chemistry with someone. Jonathan and I have known each other since we were both teenagers in Canada but we hadn’t hung out in a few years so it was extra special to reconnect and there was a sense of familiarity that was really nice. He’s a wonderful person.

TrunkSpace: In the movie you play a landscape architect, which is not a profession you often see represented in film/TV. From an outside perspective, one of the things that would be fun as an actor is getting the opportunity to inhabit not only different characters but different professions as well. Did you pick up on any interesting landscape architect tidbits by playing Susanna and what are some other memorable on-screen trades that you’ve had a chance to temporarily take on?
Park: It IS fun to get to play so many “different” jobs as an actor. My mom is an amazing gardener and has a green thumb – my sister too actually! I did NOT get that gene. I have a hard time keeping a cactus alive and since we were filming in the winter in Canada all those flowers you see are FAKE everywhere (shhhhh), even tied into the trees, so I can’t say that I learned a LOT about gardening but I do appreciate it even more now.

Photo: Jonathan Keltz, Megan Park Credit: Copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Patrick Shaw

TrunkSpace: As far as your actual career is concerned, was acting a choice or the only choice? Was this the path you always anticipated taking?
Park: Acting chose me. I have NO idea why at six years old I was soooo determined to get the role of Gretl (von Trapp) in a local production of “Sound of Music,” but something about it all just made sense to me. I still remember that audition and then getting the role. I was totally hooked and honestly never looked back. It’s a really demanding and unique job. Lots of high highs and low lows, but it’s all I know and I really love it. I recently started writing and directing as well and it’s given me a whole new appreciation for the business and a fun different side of my brain to explore. I can see myself doing a lot more behind the scenes stuff in the future as well.

TrunkSpace: As mentioned, you’re also a writer and director, with a number of projects in the can and a number of others in development. Are you finding it increasingly more difficult to focus on your acting career as you expand upon your behind-the-scenes experience?
Park: I’m not finding it more difficult to focus on acting. I think it’s added to my knowledge and understanding as an actor. Since I started directing and writing, it’s given me a new skill set to approach a script, a scene, the way I communicate with other actors and directors. It’s more of a 360-degree understanding of the business and I think it’s helped me in front of the camera as well.

TrunkSpace: What is the ultimate dream for you, and, are you currently living it?
Park: Wow, what a question! I feel incredibly lucky to be healthy, have a partner who is my best friend and endlessly supportive family and friends I adore. I think those are the pillars of happiness for me so yes, I am living my dream. I have a LOT to be grateful for.

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you with a time machine and offered you a chance to have a glimpse at what your career will look like 10 years from now, would you take the futuristic peek?
Park: No, part of the fun is not knowing. Life unfolds as it’s supposed to and I think it’s most magical to live in the moment and not know what the future holds just yet.

Once Upon a Prince” premieres April 7 (9 pm ET/PT) on Hallmark Channel.

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Wingman Wednesday

Steven R. McQueen

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In this high speed information age, things are getting thrown at us fast and furiously every minute of every hour of every day. To calibrate, TrunkSpace is introducing a subsection of our popular Wingman/Wingwoman Wednesday column where instead of taking our usual in-depth approach, we’re sitting down for a speed round with the individuals who pleasantly pop our pop culture bubbles.

This time out we’re going chatting with Steven R. McQueen who has dipped his toe in the Hallmark Channel water, starring in the latest original movie from the network, “Home by Spring,” which premieres Saturday at 9 pm ET/PT.

TrunkSpace: This is a Wingman Wednesday: Lightning Round, so let’s dive right in. “Home by Spring” is your first time working with Hallmark Channel. What did you take from the experience?
McQueen: Hallmark Channel makes great movies about romance, and then it just seemed like a great opportunity. It was fun.

TrunkSpace: You’ve done lots of television, including almost a decade on “The Vampire Diaries.” TV works quickly, but these movies move even quicker. Did that force you to change up your own approach at all?
McQueen: No. I’m pretty used to a TV schedule so everything is fast paced and a quick turnaround, which is nice ’cause you can see it a little quicker. Yeah, it was all in all a lot of fun.

TrunkSpace: In the movie there is a lot of history between your character Wayne, and Poppy Drayton’s character Loretta. Did you guys have time to prepare and work out what that relationship looked like before stepping on set?
McQueen: Yeah, we had rehearsals. We rehearsed a little bit together and then with location and this and that, little things changed on the day, but we definitely had a rehearsal process.

TrunkSpace: With the characters having that history together, do you think that sort of enabled you and Poppy to play up different elements of the relationship that perhaps people aren’t used to seeing in a movie like this?
McQueen: I mean, the story is about love lost and love found again. We definitely have our moments going at each other.

TrunkSpace: Was there something kind of cool or different with Wayne as a character that you were excited to play and get to inhabit that perhaps you haven’t had an opportunity to tackle in the past?
McQueen: Just kind of location and circumstance but other than that, not really.

TrunkSpace: We know you come from a family who has a rich history of working in the industry, including your grandfather Steve McQueen. Was a career as an actor kind of ingrained in you? Did it almost feel like it was a choice driven by genetics?
McQueen: I’ve been lucky enough to work for the last 12 years and the nice thing about having my grandfather is it’s been cool in the sense that I kind of have a blueprint of roles that I would at least aspire to try to do. At some point I have to play a police officer, a bank robber, and at some point, do a Western. Will that come to fruition? I guess we’ll see.

TrunkSpace: Do you think sort of having the family history, having an insider’s look at how things operate, better prepared you for just how the industry works?
McQueen: I don’t know if anything can prepare you for how the industry works. (Laughter) But yeah, it definitely opened a couple doors. I can’t complain about that.

TrunkSpace: Why do you think Hallmark Channel movies continue to bring in audiences and that the network as a whole has seen growth while others have seen their viewership decline?
McQueen: You know, I think it’s always nice to have stories about love with resolution at the end. Hallmark seems to corner that pretty well.

Photo: Poppy Drayton, Steven R. McQueen Credit: Copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Bonnie Marquette

TrunkSpace: And there tends to be a theme involved that everyone can relate to, whether its love, or loss, or both.
McQueen: Yeah, I agree. Things seem to work out the way they’re supposed to.

TrunkSpace: And honestly, there’s something nice about a happy ending, because nowadays, so many shows and movies take a different approach.
McQueen: Yeah, exactly. I think we all hope for happy endings, right?

TrunkSpace: In terms of things moving forward, are there a particular set of goals that you have for yourself, not only short term, but long term as well?
McQueen: It’s just, I like to work. As long as I get to keep working, then I’m happy.

TrunkSpace: Do you see yourself venturing behind the camera at all?
McQueen: Yeah. The chance to direct would be incredible for sure. I guess that’s one of those things you gotta wait and see what opportunities present themselves.

The latest opportunity presenting itself, “Home by Spring,” premieres Saturday at 9 pm ET/PT.

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Wingman Wednesday

Julie Gonzalo

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If you have an insatiable entertainment sweet tooth that craves sustenance, we have just the movie for you!

Starring Julie Gonzalo and Chris McNally, “The Sweetest Heart” premieres this Saturday on Hallmark Channel, serving as the delicious kick off to the network’s annual Spring Fever programming event. The story focuses on Maddie (Gonzalo), a cupcake shop owner who reconnects with her first love, Nate (McNally), and discovers that there is a future to be had in the past.

We recently sat down with Gonzalo to discuss seasonal displacement, what she found refreshing about the storytelling in “The Sweetest Heart,” and why having an endless supply of cupcakes on set isn’t necessarily a good thing.

TrunkSpace: “The Sweetest Heart” is kicking off Hallmark Channel’s Spring Fever programming event. That has to be a cool feeling when your movie is basically serving as the springboard for a big event like that.
Gonzalo: Yeah, it makes me feel so great. I tend to do a Hallmark movie yearly, ‘cause they’re so much fun to work with, you meet such great people and it’s so quick. These projects are always just so happy and fulfilling that you’re like, “Why wouldn’t I want to be laughing all day?” The last one I did, it opened the fall, so it’s kind of awesome that I did one last fall, opened the fall premiere, and then it’s the spring premiere. I’m all, “That’s pretty cool!” I kind of like that.

TrunkSpace: Is it fun getting to play in those seasonal sandboxes, especially when you’re shooting them out of season?
Gonzalo: Yes and no. Last summer I did a film that was the fall, but we were shooting in the summer, so we were literally dying of heat. “Okay, now comes the sweater and the jackets.” (Laughter) So you’re literally shooting a film in pretty hot weather and yet you’re still wearing all these different layers because it’s the fall. And the same thing happened in this one. It’s kind of like, now it’s springtime, but it was freezing. (Laughter) And for me, having grown up in Miami, the cold weather is nice to see from a window while you’re sitting next to a fireplace. (Laughter) But it was interesting to hear, “Okay, now you gotta take this coat off…” and I was like, “No, I don’t want to!” And also, I didn’t realize how much it rained in Vancouver. At first, I’m like, “This is beautiful. We don’t get rain in LA all the time, it’s pretty great.” And then by like day 10, they’re like, “Do you still like it?” And I’m like, “I’m over it. I can’t. I’m just over everything right now.” (Laughter) Once we wrapped, I started seeing sunshine. I’m like, “Great, now you’re coming!”

TrunkSpace: You mentioned your past experience with Hallmark Channel. How did your experience on “The Sweetest Heart” differ from the other movies you worked on?
Gonzalo: The director, I had worked with before – we had done a film before – so I already kind of got excited to work with Steven (Monroe), because I really love how he works. We really work well together. He knows his stuff, he knows what he wants, and I’m such a perfectionist when it comes to my work that I don’t ever… like, I have nightmares about showing up to work not prepared, and I literally panic and I wake up. So I knew how it was going to go, because of my relationship with him.

I’ve only done two other Hallmark films before, but they’re such the love story, and the romance, and you know, obviously the empowerment of a woman, which I love playing. I love that Hallmark does that. I love that Hallmark has women protagonists. They’re following her. You’re really caring for this woman, and that to me is so empowering, especially in these times, right? And what I really liked was the fact that there are three different love stories in this film. You had the main love story, which is my character and Chris McNally’s character. Then you have the Clayton (Chitty) and Tammy (Gillis) love story, and then you have the Andrea (Brooks) and Jordan (Burtchett) love story. So, it was really nice and I like how they all kind of intertwined with each other. I found that to be very refreshingly new.

TrunkSpace: A lot of Hallmark Channel movies focus on would-be couples who are just meeting for the first time and discovering each other, but in this one, your character Nate and Julie’s character Maddie had a past. Did that lend for a different layer of backstory to what you two did from a performance standpoint?
Gonzalo: Yeah. There was a lot of pain there that came from them not being able to work it out when they were 18 and 19. And then in a way it’s like, when you’re 18 and 19, what do you know? It was really nice to have that backstory, but it also made it a little hard because you don’t really have a lot of time to spend with your co-star to kind of create that chemistry, and create that history. But I was very lucky with Chris, ’cause we met before we started shooting and we kind of talked about things, and it’s mostly just getting to know each other, because it’s like testing the reality of it all. How do you convince people that these two characters have known each other and have loved each other for so long? It was very easy with him. He’s such a wonderful human being that it was very comfortable to get to that place, sooner rather than later in a sense. It’s always such a weird thing that that’s what you do for work. “I have to go fall in love with you, cool? I have to find chemistry with a really good looking guy. Oh good.” (Sarcastically) “Work sucks.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Did having an existing relationship with the director enable you to arrive on set and just hit the ground running, because from what we understand, these shoots move very quickly?
Gonzalo: Yes, cause we literally shot in 14 days. You’re shooting essentially a feature film. 110 to 120 pages in 14 days is pretty ambitious and we were shooting six day weeks, so we only had one day off, so I already knew coming in that I was like, “Oh man, I’m gonna be so tired.” But, knowing how Steven operates and knowing how he knows his stuff, and knowing that he prepares himself so well the day before… you’re not overly creating things, you already know what you want, you already know how you’re going to edit it… and that’s always the key to me, cause there’s no reason to waste time. Everybody is here for a job, let’s get it done.

TrunkSpace: By the time that you arrive on set, is your dialogue pretty much locked in or is that still getting massaged on the fly as well?
Gonzalo: Oh God, I wish! (Laughter) No, it’s always like you’re a work in progress in a sense. If you’re lucky, you have a week to prepare. Some of these films come on so quickly, so it’s very much, “Just hang on!” You’re going for ride in a sense.

I don’t ever want to lock myself into dialogue because when you get to set, you play. I don’t know what the other actor is going to do. I don’t know what the room is going to look like. I don’t know what the energy in the environment is going to be like. So I prepare my stuff – I prepare my character, my dialogue, or my intentions rather, of what the scene entails, and then show up to work and just kind of be in the moment and be organic. Everybody has their own process, but to me, it’s like I know what my character wants, where she’s starting, where she’s going, what the intentions are, and then just show up and play. When you show up you just kind of want to keep loose. You want to keep fresh. I feel like sometimes when I lock myself into a way of doing, or saying, or preparing, then I get myself in trouble.

Photo: Chris McNally, Julie Gonzalo Credit: Copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC

TrunkSpace: That makes complete sense. Just like in life, when you put expectations on things, it’s easy to get let down.
Gonzalo: Oh yeah. Expectations are the worst thing that ever happened to us. I mean, I’m sure there’s worse things, but it’s true – you’re right. When you expect something, it never turns out that way, ever, so you’re literally just setting yourself up for disappointment each time.

TrunkSpace: We talked about how quickly a shoot like this can happen, and how much work you do within that time frame, so is it a bit of a culture shock when you call wrap and suddenly it’s all gone?
Gonzalo: Oh yeah, big time. I’ve had this conversation with so many actors before, where you’re like, you fall into this weird depression thing. I shouldn’t use that word loosely because it’s a very serious thing, but you kind of have that feeling of like, “Wait, what happened to my life?” You kind of just turn the world off. Your world, your friends, your family – you’re kind of like, “Okay, I’ll come back in two or three weeks,” cause you submerge yourself into that world and that’s who you are. Your crew members become your family, your co-stars become your best friends and your director becomes your leader. Once you kind of get out of that head space, you’re kind of like, “Wait, who was I? What was I doing? What was I doing in life before this?” But that’s the thrill of it, I think. I love doing that. I love packing my bags and being like, “Where are we going and what are we doing and who am I meeting?” And I’ll talk to anyone who wants to talk to me. I just enjoy meeting people and knowing their stories and kind of learning, “What brought you here? How did we get to meet?” I take everything in and I make the most of every day.

TrunkSpace: One of the things that must also be interesting is that not only are you inhabiting this person, but you’re also inhabiting their career. In this case, Maddie is a cupcake maker. As an actress, you’re sort of taking in these other vocations, too.
Gonzalo: Yeah, totally. You definitely realize, “How do I know this? Oh, cause I learned it at work.” Granted, I never really learned how to make cupcakes this time around, but you kind of just… you do in a way, like the concept of it. We pick things up through the process.

TrunkSpace: Hopefully you picked up a few cupcakes because there must have been plenty around the set.
Gonzalo: (Laughter) At first I was like, “Oh my God, this is going to be amazing! I’m going to eat all of them!” And then you’re like, “Wait, this doesn’t fit. Shit. Nope, no more. No more sugar.” And then you do, and then you have that sugar rush, and you’re like, “Okay, now I’m just annoying myself.” (Laughter)

The Sweetest Heart” airs this Saturday (9 p.m. ET/PT) on Hallmark Channel.

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Wingman Wednesday

Chris McNally

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If you have an insatiable entertainment sweet tooth that craves sustenance, we have just the movie for you!

Starring Julie Gonzalo and Chris McNally, “The Sweetest Heart” premieres this Saturday on Hallmark Channel, serving as the delicious kick off to the network’s annual Spring Fever programming event. The story focuses on Maddie (Gonzalo), a cupcake shop owner who reconnects with her first love, Nate (McNally), and discovers that there is a future to be had in the past.

We recently sat down with McNally to discuss hair commitments, why he loves working for Hallmark Channel, and the fun in getting to play a cardiologist knowing that the doctor ship has already sailed in real life.

TrunkSpace: Something we couldn’t help but notice with “The Sweetest Heart” is… you cut your hair!
McNally: (Laughter) Yeah, I did. I had to cut it for a movie of the week about three years ago, and I was really sad about it actually.

TrunkSpace: It’s tough. It’s like you’re losing a piece of yourself.
McNally: I know, right? It takes so long to get there, and you have to go through such an awkward stage.

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) Yeah, the awkward stage is the worst. It’s like growing out a beard. It’s a commitment. When you shave it off, you’re shaving away that commitment.
McNally: I was really happy that they let me keep my beard for “The Sweetest Heart” because, originally, they were going to shave it, and I really don’t like being clean shaven. It was a big relief.

TrunkSpace: This isn’t your first time working with Hallmark Channel. What is it about the company that keeps you coming back?
McNally: It’s a great company to work for. I’ve always had a very pleasant experience every time I’ve worked on one. I did one in Victoria that was really, really enjoyable. It was a great cast and crew, and I really liked going away to Victoria. It’s not far from Vancouver, but it was a little getaway. That excursion to Victoria was my first time having a more substantial character with them, and everybody was really nice and it was just an awesome time. And then I did “Rocky Mountain Christmas” just before the holiday season. They’re just a pleasure to work for really.

TrunkSpace: It must be an interesting experience because you’re whisked away to these places, and then once you get there, it’s all work, right? There’s not a lot of time to take it all in.
McNally: Yeah. They have to shoot so much in so little time, so it is very crammed. For “The Sweetest Heart” though, I started off the shoot commuting from Vancouver. We were shooting mostly in Langley, which is about 45 minutes to an hour drive away, and then for the second week, I decided to stay in Langley, and that made the days a lot easier because I didn’t have a chance to really rehearse anything with Julie (Gonzalo) after the days were shot because she was staying in Langley throughout the whole shoot. I cleared a little bit more time for myself by staying near set for weeks two and three of “The Sweetest Heart.”

TrunkSpace: Obviously every project is different, but how did this particular experience working with Hallmark Channel differ from those previous movies you worked on?
McNally: I find the more material you have, the easier it is actually. Because you have structure, there’s more of an arc and your character has a journey. When you get to evolve and develop like that, it’s a more natural progression. I find it hard to come in and just hop into a scene. You kind of move the story forward with a little bit of expedition, and I struggle with that, so I was grateful to have more material to work with on this one.

TrunkSpace: A lot of Hallmark Channel movies focus on would-be couples who are just meeting for the first time and discovering each other, but in this one, your character Nate and Julie’s character Maddie had a past. Did that lend to a different layer of backstory in what you two did from a performance standpoint?
McNally: Yeah, definitely. Julie and I met up prior to shooting to spend some time together and get to know one another, just to try and get a little bit of history and backstory between ourselves as people that we could relay into the story with our characters. But, yeah, I like that extra layer of complexity.

TrunkSpace: It’s also something that everyone can relate to… running into an old flame.
McNally: Yeah, there’s that nostalgia, and I think there’s also, when you run into a past love, it’s like, “Oh, did I make the best decision, or did I not?” In this case, it was not a great decision to break up, but, then again, if they hadn’t gone through that, they might not have ended up together where they were at the end of the story.

Photo: Chris McNally, Julie Gonzalo Credit: Copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC

TrunkSpace: In the social media age, it’s probably more difficult to lose complete touch with past loves because if you want to, you can always lurk and check in.
McNally: I know, it’s so hard. I’m really terrible at social media, and I try and stay off of it as much as a can. I don’t have Twitter. I’ve got Instagram, but I try to avoid swiping through the stories to see what people are doing.

TrunkSpace: Yeah, seeing what people are doing in that capacity removes the human element of learning about what they’ve been up to in person.
McNally: Yeah, absolutely. And I also feel like there’s always a filter put through on social media. You’re not getting the full story. It’s an idea that people are trying to project.

TrunkSpace: Yeah, it’s the best case scenario. So, in terms of the performance, Nate himself, what was it about him that you dug and you were interested in exploring?
McNally: I like playing characters who are smart and more intelligent than I am. (Laughter) Nate’s a cardiologist, and it’s great when somebody has written dialogue that is more than anything I could come up with in my own life. So, it was the fact that he’s a doctor, which is appealing to me, because I’ll never be a doctor. I don’t think that’s a possibility for me at this point. (Laughter) And he also likes to help people. He’s a cardiologist, but more focused on the research aspect, and he’s looking for ways to help the masses, as opposed to one surgery at a time. I also love the fact that he’s got this playfulness to him. It’s actually when he is around Maddie, I think that brings it out. They regress to their younger selves, and that is something that I register with, because I’m kind of a goofball myself. I feel like I’m 22 and always going to be 22, so playing into that playfulness was awesome.

TrunkSpace: You were based in Vancouver for many years. We’re big “Supernatural” fans here, and we know you’ve appeared on the show. For actors based in Vancouver, is guesting on that series a bit of a rite of passage?
McNally: Yeah. I love that you said that. It absolutely is a rite of passage. Buddies and I joke about that. “You have to work on ‘Supernatural’ before you can graduate from Vancouver.”

TrunkSpace: And in its 13th season, there’s been ample opportunity!
McNally: Yeah, they keep reusing us. It’s awesome. We grow a little older, we look a little different, and then we come back and play someone else.

The Sweetest Heart” airs this Saturday (9 p.m. ET/PT) on Hallmark Channel.

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Wingman Wednesday

Peter Porte

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Photo: Peter Porte Credit: Copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: David Dolsen

As far as leading men go, Peter Porte is checking all of the boxes. He’s handsome, he’s charismatic on screen, and according to his costar Amanda Schull, he comes to set as prepared as any actor she has ever worked with. Oh, and based on our chat with him to discuss his new Hallmark Channel movie “Love, Once and Always,” which premieres tonight, he’s also ridiculously charming. He’s basically everything our wives wish we could be, and you know what, we’re okay with that because he happens to be about as down to earth of a guy as you could find.

Like we said, checking all of the boxes.

We recently sat down with Porte to find out what keeps him excited to be working with Hallmark Channel, how he’s always contending with dogs and sheep, and why a movie like “Love, Once and Always” is exactly what the country needs right now.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on a number of Hallmark Channel projects, including two last year. What is it about these particular jobs for this particular company that keeps you coming back?
Porte: It’s a wonderful company to work for, first of all. They really take care of us all. I also think that it’s quality entertainment that you can watch with your entire family, and that’s something that I definitely stand behind. And everyone I’ve worked with has always been a pleasure and they’re always shooting at amazing locations. We shot the first one out in Savannah and the last two out in Vancouver and I got to experience that city in both the summer and winter. I got to do some hiking over the summer and some skiing over the winter. The people I’ve met on those are still friends with me to this day. It’s always a pleasure to be working with Hallmark.

TrunkSpace: So how did your character on “Love, Once and Always” differ from those you played in your previous Hallmark Channel projects?
Porte: So, in this one, rather than having a dog, I had a sheep. We had a resident sheep that stole the scenes in basically the same way that all the dogs did, so I had a counterpart to contend with, per usual. (Laughter)

But as far as character goes, it was different from the last two because both of my last two characters were fairly earnest. The challenges were more situational than with my co-star. In this one, because we were ex-lovers, there was a lot more history and a lot more tension between the two of us. This character, I think, is really funny and a bit snarky, and fun. That’s a bit of departure for Hallmark. There’s a quippy banter between the two of them, and that was really fun for me.

TrunkSpace: Did the history between the two characters help to establish that banter?
Porte: I think that was it too. It’s because of that history, there was that comfort. The writers were allowing us to be a little bit more comfortable with each other – real, in a sense.

TrunkSpace: Hallmark Channel productions tend to move very quickly. When you spend so much time, in such a short period of time, on a character, does it feel like you’re abruptly pulled out of his skin when the project wraps, just because of the nature of how fast everything goes?
Porte: Yeah, in a way. This character was a lot like myself so it wasn’t as if it was a dramatic departure that I had suddenly completed and left behind. It wasn’t too much of a challenge, but I’ve been in those positions before. I’m trying to think of one right now that was jarring to get out of after spending so much time in it, but that wasn’t the case so much with this one.

TrunkSpace: What about seasonally? Often you’re working out-of-season on what is essentially seasonal movies, so you could be filming a Christmas movie at the tail end of summer. Is it odd to jump out of calendar time like that?
Porte: Oh, yeah. That is interesting. You know, when I was up there, we didn’t see sun for three weeks straight. Vancouver gets so cloudy. I’d never spent a winter there, but they had warned me that it was very similar to Seattle or Portland. When I got there, I understood exactly what they were talking about. I love Vancouver, but I was very happy at that point to… also, I had a low-key cold the entire time we were shooting, so I was very pleased to be back in sunshine after we wrapped. Although, it didn’t take much time before I was like, “Man, I miss mountains. I miss skiing.”

TrunkSpace: The air is so different up there too.
Porte: So different! Yeah, you can almost taste the air in Vancouver, it’s so rich. It’s so clean.

TrunkSpace: We spoke about what keeps you coming back to the Hallmark Channel fold, but in your opinion what keeps viewers tuning in week after week? What is the draw for all of those Hallmarkies out there?
Porte: I think no matter what your political affiliations or viewpoints on current topics are… I mean, they’re very polarized right now and I think it’s a lot on us as a nation, individually, as families, to cope with and to deal with… and I think that Hallmark offers a wonderful escape from that. It’s super important right now. I think that we are craving that kind of, not simplicity, but… I don’t know how to describe it…

TrunkSpace: It just feels wholesome.
Porte: Yes, that’s it! It’s wholesome. It is something you watch with your entire family. It’s something that will make you feel good, time and time and time again. I think that we’re, as a nation, craving that. It’s no surprise to me that it’s doing as well as it is, and I hope it continues to because I think that’s exactly what we need right now, when it comes to entertainment. It’s the same as all these incredible action, hero movies and why they are doing so well right now. We are craving heroes. We’re craving love stories. We’re craving that the good guy wins out in the end and they get married. It makes perfect sense to me.

Photo: Amanda Schull, Peter Porte Credit: Copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Bettina Strauss

TrunkSpace: There is incredible television out there, but a lot of it is heavy and you carry that with you.
Porte: You take it on! You take that stuff on. I was lying in bed yesterday and I had a long, hard day. I was about to start “Mudbound” on Netflix, and I’m like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” (Laughter) And so I put on some Bill Hader and I watched “Documentary Now!”

TrunkSpace: You’ve guested on some great shows over the years and we’re curious, which one would you have liked to have stuck around longer on? What was the show and character that you wished you had more time to spend with?
Porte: That’s a good question. I reoccurred on a show called “Baby Daddy” for quite a few years. It’s a sitcom, and I love the sitcom format because it’s the closest thing that we have, I think, in film and TV, to theater, which is a big love of mine. I think that there was a lot more to be had with my character having married Bonnie Wheeler, played by Melissa Peterman. I played the grandfather on the show because I married the mother of the baby daddy. In the years I worked on that show, I made such a strong bond with so many of the cast and crew, that that could have just gone on for the next 10 years and I would have been so happy. I love that show.

I also did a guest star last year, just one day, on “New Girl.” I think that entire cast is so brilliant and funny, I would love to just hang out and watch them do their shtick.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned your love for theater. Is that still a big part of your life today?
Porte: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s very important to me. It’s probably my first love and why I got into this business. I don’t get as much of an opportunity to do it as I’d like, but last Christmas I got to do a show at the Annenberg in Beverly Hills, with the company that I’ve been working with for the last, I think, six years now, called For The Record. We did “Love Actually” live in concert. We performed the entire movie of “Love Actually,” but then all of the amazing songs that are within the movie, we also sang.

TrunkSpace: It’s a great soundtrack.
Porte: Oh, such a good soundtrack. We had 25 people in the cast, and I played Hugh Grant’s role, the prime minister. We had Steve Kazee, who won the Tony for “Once,” in it. It was amazing. It was six performances, and we’re hoping that it comes back next year in a larger capacity. But as long as I get in at least one or two of those in a year, I’m pretty satiated, I’m pretty happy. I love it, and I do miss it. I wish I could be doing more of it.

Love, Once and Always” airs tonight (9 p.m. ET/PT) on Hallmark Channel.

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Wingman Wednesday

Amanda Schull

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Times change, and in certain fictional circumstances, Amanda Schull has had a hand in it. As Dr. Cassandra Railly in the SYFY series “12 Monkeys,” the Honolulu native has been traveling through time for three season (the fourth and final kicks off later this year), doing her very best to save humanity from its own premature swan song. It’s dramatic, mind-bending television, often dark and emotional, so it’s exciting to see Schull taking a break  from the future to live in the present with Hallmark Channel’s latest movie, “Love, Once and Always,” which premieres this Saturday.

Eager to take on a playful role and banter on screen with her costar Peter Porte, the actress stars as Lucy, a London transplant who must return home to Rhode Island after learning that her beloved great aunt has passed away. With half of the family estate left to her and the other half to Duncan (Porte), son of the estate’s caretakers, a forgotten romance springs anew and takes both of them by surprise.

We recently sat down with Schull to discuss if she’s living out her dream, the beautiful experience she had working with Hallmark Channel for the first time, and why her costars think she’s having too much fun on set.

TrunkSpace: Looking at the projects that you’ve been working on over the last year or so – “12 Monkeys,” “Suits” and “Love, Once and Always” – they’re all so different. Is getting to play with that kind of project diversity a component of living out the “dream” of being a professional actor?
Schull: It is. It is a dream. I think it’s really uncommon to have a character that you can play for years and years and years and love. I think it is sort of ideal to be able to slip into somebody else’s clothes and skin, and show a whole other part of life and humanity and existence that maybe you’ve never had the opportunity to try on before. And with those three productions that you just mentioned, I couldn’t ask for three different women to get to portray, so I am very, very lucky.

TrunkSpace: It definitely feels unique to the times, too, because even just 10 or 15 years ago, it didn’t seem like performers had the opportunity to juggle a handful of characters at the same time and show so many different sides of themselves.
Schull: That’s interesting. I never really thought about that. I do know that sometimes it is challenging if you’ve been a particular character; that sometimes people feel like that’s the only character you can be and that’s the only person they can see you as. And I’ve been really, really lucky to not have run up against that, knock on wood, because I do think there are a few common threads with those three particular women you just mentioned. I think they’re all smart and strong, and I’m okay with being that. But as far as being pigeonholed into any one particular thing, I think that is frustrating for an actor as I would assume it’s frustrating maybe for any profession to only be seen as one particular thing.

TrunkSpace: From what we understand, this is your first Hallmark Channel production, correct?
Schull: It is, yes.

TrunkSpace: What did you take from the experience? We’ve been told that they move pretty quickly, in an efficient way, but can still be a bit of a whirlwind.
Schull: It is a whirlwind, but it’s a very lovely whirlwind. I had a really, really beautiful experience with them. From the very beginning, from even just meeting the producers and director for dinner before we even started, it was a very open, communicative process from start to finish where everyone respected and admired everybody else’s work and ideas and concerns brought up so that it helped with the efficiency. It helped to make sure that things run smoothly and efficiently, like you said, because there isn’t a lot of time. You have three weeks to do a movie, and that can be really daunting and it can be really stressful unless everyone is really well prepared in advance. And I think that that’s something that they do well, is they prepare and then they also have people who know what they’re doing so there isn’t a lot of confusion on the day.

TrunkSpace: You probably have to be on the same page just to make it work successfully within that time frame?
Schull: Absolutely, and what was really striking to me was the script. Scripts obviously go through a lot of revisions and modifications, and my character just had a lot to say. So with each revision, I had a lot of new dialogue and it was really exciting in a daunting way. I love being presented with challenges, trying to work on all that. Just to give you an example, often men don’t always, necessarily… I don’t mean to bash men after all this. (Laughter) It sounds horrible. (Laughter) But sometimes men don’t always show up as prepared as women, and Peter Porte showed up more prepared and organized, with more ideas even with the revisions with my character, with the new notes and the new things she had to say that I had only gotten the night before. Things that would help me. If I were to say, “I’m unclear about how I’m supposed to feel about this. If you wouldn’t mind, I don’t know how she’d say this or do that.” And he had all kinds of wonderful ideas and thoughts. It was just so amazing. Talk about people showing up and being prepared and being on top of it… he was on top of it times 10, and that was just really nice to get that kind of partnership with somebody.

I’m looking at it from my own selfish perspective that he really helped me in my role because he was so amazingly prepared. (Laughter)

Photo: Amanda Schull, Peter Porte Credit: Copyright 2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: David Dolsen

TrunkSpace: In terms of Lucy as a character, when you first took on the role, what was it that most excited you about getting to inhabit her?
Schull: I really liked being able to have the fun banter. I liked being able to play somebody who was smart and kind of quirky and playful, but also dug in her heels with things that she believed to be true and just. I hadn’t played somebody like that in awhile where it was just sort of playful, and that was really fun. And then the fact that I got to work with somebody who I had such admiration and such fun chemistry with off camera made it even more fun than I had envisioned it because getting something that’s supposed to be playful and fun could be a challenge if you don’t have that dynamic and it needs to be forced. And I can’t speak for Peter, but I loved every single second of getting to work with him. What I was excited about on the page ended up only being realized times 10 when I met and got to start working with him.

TrunkSpace: And that chemistry is such a huge factor in Hallmark Channel movies. If it’s not there, the audience can sense it.
Schull: Right. And I guess sometimes you don’t feel it. I guess there are probably ways to sneak that in. Maybe you could add music or something, but I was really lucky that I didn’t have to fake any of that with Peter, from my perspective. I can’t speak for him. (Laughter) Maybe Peter dreaded going to work every single day. (Laughter) I don’t know, but for me, I loved it.

TrunkSpace: A lot of times these types of movies focus on first loves, but in “Love, Once and Always,” the two characters already had a relationship, so that banter dynamic was probably able to thrive within the story itself because of that.
Schull: Yes, exactly. And that can be concerning that you need to establish the background in your own imagination and what their lives were like before getting on camera, and hopefully the other person has established something similar and that it’ll read similarly. From the first time I met Peter – we had dinner together before we started working and we walked back to our hotel together – and I thought, “Oh yeah, this will work! This will be great!” I was already having a ball with him.

TrunkSpace: Which kind of circles back to our first question about living out your dream. If you’re having a ball doing what you do in your career, then you’ve chosen wisely.
Schull: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. Most of the time what I do doesn’t feel like work. I do a lot of homework and I do a lot of preparation off camera and on my own time, and even that is sort of fun. It’s kind of detective work, where you’re sort of piecing things together to create a person and a human that seemed real and tangible on camera. And then you step on set so that you don’t have to work, or it doesn’t feel like work. Everything is kind of already built within you, and so it is true that it is a dream to be able to spend 12-plus hours on a set and go home and think, that didn’t feel like any time passed at all, and I enjoyed every single moment of it. And sometimes, I’ve even been told… for instance with “12 Monkeys,” Aaron Stanford, my co-star on the show, used to sometimes say to me, “Get a hold of yourself; you’re having too much fun.” And I’d love it. I really, really do enjoy what I get to do, and being surrounded by people who feel that way also is just, my God, it’s icing on the cake.

TrunkSpace: If something starts out as a love and then starts to feel like work, then it’s time to reassess things, but it sounds like you’re still enjoying yourself as much today as you were when you first started your career.
Schull: I guess there’s that really overused, lame-o expression where you find what you love and it will never feel like work, or whatever that horrible thing is. I’ve found it, I think.

Love, Once and Always” airs this Saturday (9 p.m. ET/PT) on Hallmark Channel.

12 Monkeys” returns to SYFY later this year.

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Wingman Wednesday

Rukiya Bernard

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Yes, we’re counting the days until wind chills are no longer a factor in our daily clothing choices and Nor’easters are Nor’more, but until then we’re embracing the sentimental glow of the season – warming ourselves at the foot of the fireplace, indulging in home-cooked comfort foods, and of course, settling in under a heavy blanket and watching Hallmark Channel’s Winterfest programming event.

Premiering Saturday on the network, “One Winter Weekend” tells the story of a surprise romance that develops between two unlikely people, played by Taylor Cole and Jack Turner, who find themselves double-booked and snowed in together while on their own individual weekend away in the mountains.

We recently sat down with “One Winter Weekend” star Rukiya Bernard to discuss her “One Winter Weekend” highlights, why her character’s story delivers a great message for women, and the crossover between the Hallmarkies and the Helsingers.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on multiple Hallmark Channel movies throughout the course of your career, the most recent being “One Winter Weekend.” Do you continue to return to the Hallmark Channel fold because of the people involved, because of the characters you get to portray, or a combination of both?
Bernard: I think it’s a combination of both. I enjoy doing lighthearted comedies and Hallmark gives me the chance to do that.

TrunkSpace: For the viewer, the end product – the completed film – is what becomes memorable, but for those who work on a project, there’s an entire experience involved. What for you were some of the highlights of your time on “One Winter Weekend?”
Bernard: There were a number of highlights in this movie such as eating fondue for work, figuring out how to do things while both hands were incapacitated and getting to know the cast. We’d go out after work whenever possible and it was great getting to know them.

TrunkSpace: When you first got a sense of who Megan was, what initially drew you in, and did you begin to enjoy different aspects of her personality as you spent more time with her?
Bernard: When I first got the role of Megan I enjoyed her free spiritedness, which contrasts nicely with her REALLY good work ethic. It’s maybe too good to her detriment. I enjoyed her playful side and that really drew me in.

TrunkSpace: What is Megan’s journey throughout the course of the film? Did you get to tackle something within the performance that you have yet to onscreen?
Bernard: Megan’s journey is one of learning to stand her ground and go after what she wants in life. I loved that aspect of her story. I think it’s a great message for women to hear – for everyone to hear, actually.

TrunkSpace: Hallmark Channel movies continue to grow in popularity and draw massive audiences week after week, season after season. As someone who has worked on multiple productions, what do you think the draw is?
Bernard: I think the draw is they are easy to watch and people know what to expect. They’re never going to make you uncomfortable and they’ll always put a smile on your face. Now more than ever, I think we need that and I think that’s a huge part as to why the numbers are increasing week to week.

TrunkSpace: As a star of “Van Helsing,” you’re no stranger to passionate fandoms. What we didn’t realize until we started really diving into Hallmark Channel content was that the films have their own really passionate fandoms called the “Hallmarkies.” In your experience, how do the Hallmarkies compare to some of the genre fandoms like what you have experienced firsthand with “Van Helsing?”
Bernard: You know what’s interesting is some of the Helsingers are Hallmarkies too! I was shocked to see the crossover when I started getting messages from fans. It makes me laugh as “Van Helsing” is a horror show – very dramatic and tragic with lots of blood and gore – it’s vampires! And then my Helsingers will change channels and enjoy a MOW I’m in with lightness and everlasting love and lots of fun shenanigans. I love it!

Photo: Rukiya Bernard, Taylor Cole Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Steven Ackerman

TrunkSpace: Speaking of fandoms, you have made two appearances on the series “Supernatural,” a show whose fan base continues to propel it forward, currently into its 13th season. You first guested in season 7, and just returned for season 13, playing two entirely different characters. What is it is like getting to play two characters within the canon of one popular series? Although not entirely rare in the “Supernatural” world, it is relatively rare in the industry as a whole, correct?
Bernard: Yes, it is rare to be invited back onto a show and I was honored that it happened. The SPN fans are super loyal too. It was fun playing both characters who were quite different in that, though both were counseling types (season 7 I played a fraudulent psychic and season 13 I played a grief counselor), the characters were very different and had different demises – I never died in the current season.

TrunkSpace: One of the great things about “Supernatural” is that from a storytelling standpoint, it’s this perfect mix of the fantastical and the relatable. In your season 13 episode, “The Big Empty,” you portrayed a shapeshifter who was dealing with some really heavy, human circumstances and emotions. That sort of perfectly sums up the unlimited potential of acting in terms of where you can go with the craft, does it not? Getting to play a “monster” who, in the end, is the victim, is a theme as old and as relatable as the story of Frankenstein, but at the same time, it’s not something you get to do while sitting in a cubicle at an office.
Bernard: (Laughter) Yeah, it’s not an average day at the office – though if you watch “Van Helsing,” my character Doc is a “monster” grappling with finding and proving her humanity again, so maybe it is another day at the office for me. I think the constant in all the characters I’ve played is that they are presented as one thing and through the journey they go on they endeavor to change. I love playing those characters because I think people need to see that it’s possible to change if you want to.

TrunkSpace: You have received both fan acclaim and critical praise for your work on “Van Helsing.” As you look back over your time on the series, what memories bring a smile to your face, both professionally and personally?
Bernard: I have many fond memories. “Van Helsing” is my first television series and I’m lucky that we’ve been picked up for a third season. When I think about my first few days on set, I was so nervous and was convinced that I was going to get fired, but I think back on those days now and they make me laugh. I also think about the friendships I’ve made and how lucky I am.

TrunkSpace: From what we read, your mother was an art store owner. Did you grow up in a creative environment where your own creative endeavors were supported and nurtured?
Bernard: You’ve done your research. Yes, my mom owned Toronto’s first African art store and though she wasn’t an artist she was a huge supporter of the arts and really helped encourage my artistic desires. Both my parents did. My dad was a graphic artist before becoming an entrepreneur and he’s a really good singer, too. I think I get my artsiness from him.

Bernard in Van Helsing. Photo by: Dan Power/Helsing S1 Productions/Syfy

TrunkSpace: Have your aspirations/goals changed from when you started out acting to where you are now?
Bernard: Not really. I just think my goals are more well-rounded because they now include my family and balancing my dreams and aspirations with my kids and my husband. We aim to support each other with the varying things we want to do in life.

TrunkSpace: We’re a few weeks into 2018. Did you set any resolutions for yourself in the new year and if so, how are you doing with them thus far?
Bernard: I didn’t set any resolutions. I kind of have a fear of them as they set you up for failure. However, I did decide to work out more even when I can’t get to the gym and have crafted workouts I can do at home and while I’m on the road. No excuses this year!

One Winter Weekend” premieres Saturday, January 20 (9 p.m. ET/PT) on Hallmark Channel.

Season 2 of “Van Helsing” arrives on Netflix today.

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Wingman Wednesday

Alicia Witt

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Photo: Alicia Witt Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Kailey Schwerman

Once you’ve trimmed the turkey, got stuffed on stuffing, and crammed yourself with cranberry, take some time to relax with “The Mistletoe Inn,” the latest offering from Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas programming event. Starring one of our favorite multi-hyphenates, Alicia Witt, the movie debuts Thanksgiving night, making it the perfect final course for those looking to kick off the holiday season with a full heart… and stomach.

We recently sat down with Witt to discuss the strength of the Hallmark fandom, why she could relate to her character’s quest for creative confidence, and how she makes her music accessible for all listeners.

TrunkSpace: You’ve had a really diverse year, from “The Mistletoe Inn,” to “The Exorcist,” to “Twin Peaks,” and “Supernatural.” Has that always been the dream, to be able to do as many different types of roles and genres as possible?
Witt: Yes, that was always my reason for wanting to be an actor, is to play characters that are different from me, and play as many different kinds of roles as possible. I feel like I really get to do that at this point. I think it keeps me busy, and it keeps me on my toes. I get bored if I play the same role over and over again. I think about the last couple of years in particular, but really the entire time I’ve been doing this, there have been so many different kinds of roles that I think I’ve kept it challenging for myself.

TrunkSpace: Many of those television shows mentioned have massive fandoms, but truth be told, Hallmark’s fandom easily rivals them.
Witt: Most definitely. The interesting thing is that, for example, when I was on “The Walking Dead,” I did a lot of the conventions around that show, and I was so pleasantly surprised and thrilled to find that almost every other person that would come up to me, they were happy to have seen me on “The Walking Dead,” but they were most excited to talk to me because of the Hallmark movies. So, there’s actually a really big crossover audience as well, particularly for the Christmas films, because people who might watch something different during the rest of the year, pretty much everyone tunes in to Hallmark at Christmas because it’s such great family programming, and such great holiday programming.

TrunkSpace: You can’t have darkness without light, so for fans of “The Walking Dead,” tuning in to Hallmark Channel is a nice balance.
Witt: That’s exactly the thing. They’re both equally valid sides, and I try to live my day-to-day life more like the characters that I play in the Hallmark movies – more positive and more light. But I love exploring the darker side of things, too, because that is a very real element of the world in which we’re living. Yeah, you can’t have the darkness without the light, that’s so true. The job I’m working on right now, “The Exorcist,” which I actually just wrapped, is also a great example of that. It explores that side of us that we don’t talk about all that often, but it’s in there. I feel like these Hallmark Christmas movies celebrate all that’s special about the holiday season, and the coming together of families, and sometimes what’s challenging about that, but also what’s so important, and why it is the warmest time of the year.

TrunkSpace: It must feel extra special to have “The Mistletoe Inn” premiering on Thanksgiving, a night when so many families are already together?
Witt: I was so excited when I found out that was the night we’d be premiering. My movie last year, “The Christmas List,” also premiered on Thanksgiving and this makes me very happy and proud, and I know families are already together on that night. My family and friends in Nashville will all be together. We’re having a big joint dinner that we’re making together, and we’ll all be watching the movie for the first time together when it airs, and then I’ll be live tweeting and sharing that with the viewers for the very first time. I’m seriously so excited to see it. I’m not very big on watching my own work for the sake of watching my own work, but I love sharing these movies with people because they are so much fun, and I’m gonna be laughing as hard as anyone when we watch it.

TrunkSpace: Television moves at a breakneck pace as far as production is concerned. Because things happen so quickly on a movie like this, does that force you to come to set even more prepared in terms of knowing and connecting with your character, in this case, aspiring romance writer Kim?
Witt: This applies to everything that I do, but I tend to just absorb the script and think about the character while I’m working out or listening to music. The character just starts to find me and I figure out who she is and how she’d react to things. But it’s not so much a logical process as more of an intuitive one. When it comes to the lines, I actually learn those on the day. I happen to be really fast at learning lines, and I find that they’re a lot fresher if I don’t think about them too much. So, I let the character sink in for a few weeks beforehand, and then the lines themselves I don’t think too much about.

TrunkSpace: Was there something about Kim from a performance standpoint that you have yet to do with a character in the past? What was it that drew you to her?
Witt: She reminded me a lot of myself when I was starting out as a singer/songwriter. Because I could relate to her sense that she had this talent that, on one level she knows that she’s good at writing, and she knows that she could do it seriously and have a book deal and all of that, but because she’s a grown up living in the real world, with a real job and all of that, she needs that extra boost to get the confidence to start doing it in earnest. And at the beginning of the movie she doesn’t quite have that yet, and it’s not being helped at all by the fact that she’s been dating this real piece of work, known as Garth, who I just love that character so much in the movie. He takes himself way too seriously and believes that his work is more important than Kim’s and actually dumps her within the first five minutes because he’s decided he needs to date a more serious writer, and his career’s moving up and hers isn’t. I actually dated a singer/songwriter very similar to Garth when I was just starting out as a singer/songwriter. I had wrote a song called “About Me,” that I’ve released, that I actually wrote after that guy broke up with me.

TrunkSpace: So there was a real connection to the character as far as her journey was concerned.
Witt: Oh, I totally related. For me, it was quite a few years ago, but it kept bringing me back. I kept having flashbacks of this guy that I had dated. There was a lot that… like when Zeke (played by David Alpay) is giving Kim feedback on her writing, I could relate to that vulnerability of receiving feedback for the first time on my songwriting, or my performances. When you’re first starting out it feels like such a rejection that, if every song you write isn’t a potential hit, then you should just quit and not write songs anymore. And that’s not the way it works, you have to write hundreds of songs before you start becoming a good songwriter. Many of those songs nobody will ever hear, and it’s the same way with writing. You have to be willing to make mistakes, and write something that isn’t perfect to get to the point where you are good. So I felt like that was a real parallel and something that I could relate to in Kim.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned having a similar experience hearing feedback on your songwriting for the first time. Do you write primarily from a personal space, or do you take a more storyteller’s approach?
Witt: I have done that, the latter, but most of the time it is personal experiences and things that I am feeling. And it can be just a moment, it could be a passing feeling that I have for someone or for a situation, and you turn it into a song. If you were to tell that person, “This song’s about you,” they might be confused, and they might not get it. But, people can inspire a song without the entire story of the song being 100 percent accurate to what the real scenario is. It’s all over the place, and some of the songs I’ve written are about some of the things that have happened to people I know, and sometimes just things that I’m imagining.

TrunkSpace: So can criticism and feedback be more difficult to hear because you tend to write from such a personal space?
Witt: I think it was in the beginning. Now, I don’t take it personally because it really isn’t. I mean, to make a song something that other people, who haven’t had your specific experience, can relate to and apply to their own lives, you do need to adjust them sometimes. Sometimes it’s not good to have them be too specific. Other times you need the opposite – you need to make it more specific. 
There are moments when you put something into a song that didn’t happen at all, that’s got nothing to do with what your true experience was with it, but sometimes that’s gonna make for a better song that more people can access.

TrunkSpace: And that’s the beauty of music, an entire group of people can each find something different in a single song and relate to it in a different way.
Witt: Yes, completely. That’s what I love most about music.

TrunkSpace: And you have a new EP in the works, correct?
Witt: It’s due out soon. I did this Kickstarter campaign, which just was such an honor, and the album is done and it’s ready, and I’m just trying to figure out how best to release it because it’s produced by Jacquire King, who has an extraordinary track record. And it’s safe to say they’re the best recordings I’ve ever been part of, and I just want to do the best that I can by them and figure out if they’re going to be distributed by a label, or if I self-release again, or what. So far, my music career has pretty much been self-generated, though I’m trying to explore the possibility of finding the right person to help me with it, but if that doesn’t happen I will just self-release it again, and book a tour, and get going with it. I can’t wait to share it with everyone, though.

TrunkSpace: Finally, Alicia, as people plan to gather around with family and watch the premiere of “The Mistletoe Inn” tomorrow night, what do you believe it is that continues to draw people to Christmas movies like this one?
Witt: I think that at this point, when you tune into Hallmark Channel, especially at Christmas time, you know that you’re going to see programming that will make you smile, make you feel good no matter what’s going on in the wold, or in the news, or in your own family. And at this time of year, even though it is the time for families to get together, and in theory it’s all warm and fuzzy, there’s sometimes a lot of tension. You have family members who don’t see each other all year long and then they get together and they may not get along the way that we would like, but Hallmark can actually help make that better. I hear this a lot from people who come up to me all year long and tell me that my movies have helped their families to grow closer at the holidays. And it’s just a great channel to leave on and help you get in the mood. At least the ones that I’m a part of, I try to find some kind of offbeat humor in every one of them. And there’s a few moments that I’ve seen in this one that especially make me smile. They let me be a little bit goofy and silly, and I have as much fun making them as I do watching them. I’m really proud to be on yet another one this year.

The Mistletoe Inn” premieres Thanksgiving night on Hallmark Channel.

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Wingman Wednesday

Alexa and Carlos PenaVega

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Photo: Carlos PenaVega, Alexa PenaVega Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

For all of those who made watching Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” an annual tradition, the holidays and dancing go as well together as ribbon and wreaths. In the new movie “Enchanted Christmas,” premiering Sunday on Hallmark Channel, real-life couple Alexa and Carlos PenaVega tap into that nearly 65-year-old classic to once again put festive frolicking into the spotlight, and warm the holiday-loving hearts of viewers in the process.

We recently sat down with the PenaVega pairing to discuss how their comfortableness with each other enhanced their onscreen chemistry, why they’d work together on every project if they could, and what makes Hallmark Channel the best in the business.

TrunkSpace: So much of the success of Hallmark Channel holiday films relies on the chemistry of the two leads at the center of the story. Do you feel like you had a leg up on that because of the actual chemistry that exists between the two of you?
Alexa PenaVega: I have to say that Carlos and I are the goofiest, dorkiest public couple out there. (Laughter) But it’s really fun and entertaining to watch, so I think it really does help. There are little quirks that you just can’t write into a script that happen naturally when you’re married, and we were able to add that to the project.

TrunkSpace: From what we’re told, things can move pretty quickly on one of these films – you get the job and you’re shooting before you know it. Again, having the existing relationship must have allowed you to really hit the ground running.
Alexa PenaVega: 100 percent!
Carlos PenaVega: And Hallmark is amazing. Unlike most other projects, they’re really flexible with the script, which really led to Alexa and I…
Alexa PenaVega: We were able to explore.
Carlos PenaVega: It really led to, because of our relationship as a real married couple, bringing things to the screen and to life that you normally probably couldn’t get.

TrunkSpace: How did it all come together? Was one of you cast first and then the other brought in?
Alexa PenaVega: It was actually Hallmark. They knew how much we’d been wanting to shoot a film together, and we actually had a film set up last year, “Destination Wedding,” and unfortunately Carlos’ shooting schedule didn’t allow it so he had to drop out. But, when this one came up, they were like, “We think this is great, the timing is right, and you both will be able to dance.” And I love dancing!

So, they really presented it to us and were really looking for a project for us to do together. And we couldn’t be happier because our goal… if we could make it happen, every project we could do would be together for the rest of our lives.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned the dancing side of “Enchanted Christmas,” which seems like a great throwback to classic holiday films like “Whit Christmas,” something we don’t see much of anymore.
Alexa PenaVega: I totally agree. And you know, we shot this in Utah and everybody was so friendly and it blows my mind how much Hallmark movies just nail that Christmas holiday spirit – they have it down. And I think the script was special. Rick Garman did such a good job with it and more than anything, we had a director, Terry Cunningham, who just wanted that chemistry to be right there, up front. He’s like, “Look we have the script, the script is already good, but what you guys can bring to it will just transform it into a very beautiful project.”

This is my favorite Hallmark project that I’ve done thus far.

TrunkSpace: Because of that extra element of dance that was layered into your performance, did you have more time to shoot this than you normally would?
Alexa PenaVega: No, we wish. (Laughter)
Carlos PenaVega: (Laughter) Not really, no. We had about a week of rehearsals in the middle of filming.
Alexa PenaVega: For about eight dances.
Carlos PenaVega: Thankfully the magic of TV…
Alexa PenaVega: Editing!
Carlos PenaVega: You can have different angles that you can edit and it all looks great. (Laughter)

Photo: Carlos PenaVega, Alexa PenaVega Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

TrunkSpace: So in terms of your characters, what did they offer you from a performance standpoint that you have yet to tackle with previous projects?
Carlos PenaVega: Definitely the dancing, for sure.
Alexa PenaVega: Yeah, we never had to put that into a project.
Carlos PenaVega: It was interesting. Alexa and I had never been on sets where… the call sheet is like one, two, three, four… we’d never been the one and two. So as actors, normally the one and two set the tone for the entire production. They’re the ones in every day. So as an actor, it was really interesting coming in, in that position, where it was like, “Hey, you know what, I’m setting the tone with my wife,” which was really cool. She said it to me… “It’s the best experience I ever had working on a project.”
Alexa PenaVega: Yeah. Ever, really.
Carlos PenaVega: It was cool to come in and kind of just, I don’t want to say run the set, but we set the tone from day one.
Alexa PenaVega: We both had experiences where we worked with other people who really… it takes one rotten egg in the bunch to kill the whole vibe on set. So, to be working with my husband… it did not feel like work. We had fun every day.
Carlos PenaVega: She said it in one sentence. I said it in three. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Christmas is for spending time with family and building memories. Here you two are, shooting a Christmas movie as a family and building memories in an entirely different way. It almost sounds poetic.
Carlos PenaVega: Yeah. I like Christmas. Alexa LOVES Christmas! And Hallmark is amazing about families. Ocean was on set every day and the experience of just having him…
Alexa PenaVega: That’s our little boy.
Carlos PenaVega: Just the experience of having our family there and then having a good time… I think yes, that’s gonna to stay with us forever. But what’s amazing about film is that it also lasts forever. We’re always going to be able to go back and watch this. Our kids are going to go back and watch this.
Alexa PenaVega: Yeah, and we also worked with a team that I would love to work with again and again. Terry Cunningham and our producing team, they are incredible. It was unreal. Normally when producers come on set, people are like, “Oh boy, the producer’s here! Here we go!” Ours, her name was Cindy Bond, was so kind and loving to everyone, but also got work done, worked super hard, and nobody had to yell. Nobody ever had to get angry. It was just a pleasant experience for everybody.

They genuinely care. It’s not like these productions where it’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna slap this together and we gotta go.” They genuinely care about the happiness and quality that they’re putting out there and it shows. It really does show.
Carlos PenaVega: We haven’t had the craziest careers for years and years, but we’ve worked for some really big studios and companies, and I will say, Hallmark is my favorite. It’s Alexa’s favorite. They care about their talent. They care about their movies.

Enchanted Christmas” airs Sunday on Hallmark Channel.

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