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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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Wingman Wednesday

Billy Wickman

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Photo By: David Naman (www.hypnoticphotos.ca)

For many diehard “Supernatural” fans who have been watching throughout the course of these 13 seasons (and counting!), identifying actors who have appeared in multiple roles has become a bit of a side game. With such a vast universe to inhabit and more than 260 episodes already under their demon-hunting belts, it’s virtually impossible to have so many guest stars written into the series and not have them reappear a few years later. And when their as talented as Canadian-born Billy Wickman, it makes just as much creative sense as it does the logical variety.

We recently sat down with Wickman to discuss how he put physical separation between his two SPN characters, the handsomeness of the Winchester boys, and getting to play a Hallmark Channel villain.

TrunkSpace: You’ve played two characters within the “Supernatural” universe, which as we understand it, is not uncommon with that particular show. That being said, is that a common occurrence with other shows or does the tenure of “Supernatural” just make it impossible not to have that option available to the casting directors?
Wickman: That’s exactly right, when a show has been around as long as “Supernatural,” they have to start dipping back into the same talent pool. Most shows won’t see you twice, or even once, if you’ve appeared in the same “universe” on another show.

TrunkSpace: What is that experience like? When you’re playing two characters within the same universe, and knowing how passionate that fandom is, do you purposely try to separate yourself from what you’ve done previously, both physically and through performance?
Wickman: Absolutely. For my second time around we darkened my hair and beard and I played Elvis as an experienced extrovert, as opposed to “Brian”, the fresh-faced fearful youngster.

TrunkSpace: For us, your more memorable turn was as Elvis Katz in the season 12 episode, “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox.” The episode itself had a classic horror vibe, but more importantly, the character was very memorable. What did you look to bring to the role when you first read the sides?
Wickman: I wanted him to be warm and human, even during his friend’s memorial, to remind us why Hunters fight for our side. Demon hunting is serious, but you have to live to be human.

TrunkSpace: In that episode you played a Hunter, which in our book, really puts you in the meat of the lore because there’s so few Hunter’s within the universe. Do you feel like that by playing Elvis you have left your fingerprint on the franchise in a way?
Wickman: Hunters are a pretty elite group and I am very proud to be in the company of such great characters and the amazing actors portraying them.

TrunkSpace: The “Supernatural” fandom, or the SPN Family as they have come to be called, is extremely passionate and fully invested in the world and characters who inhabit it. Over the course of 13 seasons, there’s a lot for them to love, but have you felt that fandom’s reach directly following your performances within the series? Is that fandom as welcoming to guest stars as it is their favorite series regulars and reoccurring characters?
Wickman: The SPN Family is incredible, and your reach is huge! I have received my largest Twitter bump yet from you all. The Fam loves Jared & Jensen so much that it’s probably easy to miss a guest, but I still feel a lot of appreciation for our work and I appreciate it right back!

TrunkSpace: As we previously touched on, the series is currently in its 13th season. In your opinion, what is it about the show that has driven so many people towards it for such a long period of time? Why has it been successful for so long while other shows can’t maintain that kind of longevity?
Wickman: It doesn’t hurt that these are two of the most handsome dudes I’ve ever met, but they’re also super friendly and hard working. I’ve known them each for a long time now, and they’ve always been fun, open to ideas, and constantly improving. Also, the show has such credibility that we can get a legendary director like John Badham to come in and lead us.

TrunkSpace: You have also guested or reoccurred on some other great shows with passionate fandoms, including “The X Files,” “Arrow, “Falling Skies,” and “Hell on Wheels.” When you’re joining a show that has been filming for such a long period of time, even as a guest star, is there a level of anxiousness coming into something that already has a particular tone and way of doing things on set? Does it feel a bit like you’re the new kid in a school where everyone already knows each other?
Wickman: (Laughter) That’s exactly what it feels like! It takes a minute to get that out of your head, but you have to remember that everyone there is on your side and wants you to succeed. It can really help if the director and lead actors express their trust in you early, but usually they’re busy doing their jobs too. The best you can do is stay confident in the talent that got you there, and you’ll be welcomed into the family quicker than you think.

TrunkSpace: You come from a big family with lots of siblings. Did that upbringing shape you into the actor that you’ve become? Did having a lot of siblings put you in a position to entertain and have an audience from a young age?
Wickman: Being the sixth of seven kids taught me to fight for, and earn an audience. You don’t get much stage time at a busy dinner table, so you need to be quick and interesting!

Photo By: David Naman (www.hypnoticphotos.ca)

TrunkSpace: You were born and raised in Canada and work there extensively. From what you’ve seen, has the Canadian production industry continued to grow and expand since you started your career and has it presented more opportunities for actors to stay in Canada without having to consider moves to Los Angeles or New York?
Wickman: I have seen our industry fluctuate, but it is definitely on the incline now. Vancouver used to be a training ground for LA, but with the quantity and quality of productions here now, and the stunning natural beauty, many successful actors are choosing to stay here.

TrunkSpace: You’ll be appearing in the upcoming Hallmark Channel holiday movie “Finding Santa” premiering November 24. Can you tell us about your character and where he falls into things?
Wickman: I play Clint, he’s the closest thing to a villain you’ll find in a Hallmark Christmas movie. He is the epitome of entitlement, the mayor’s son, who still lives in her basement. Clint is given the part of Santa in the annual parade, much to the disappointment of the entire town. I had a great time on that set, with a lot of hilariously talented people. It was my second time working with director David Winning (first was “Van Helsing” episode “Big Mama” airing November 23). He is one of my all-time favorite people.

TrunkSpace: The Hallmark Channel holiday offerings are always extremely popular and come with a built-in audience. Why do you think they consistently do so well year in and year out?
Wickman: Hallmark fans know what to expect with those films. As in life; family, community, hope, and happiness are major themes visited in every project. Hallmark has a direct line to America’s heartstrings. (Ooh, that sounds good!)

Thanks for inviting me to chat, it was my pleasure, much love to the SPN Family!

Feature image by: Bryce Bladon Photography

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Wingman Wednesday

Taylor Cole

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Even though our slowly-shrinking jack-o’-lanterns are still sitting on our stoops and our various Halloween costumes are slung over the backs of chairs, the changing of the calendar from October to November means only one thing for those particularly festive people like us… it’s the unofficial start of the holiday season!

Thanks to Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, our inner inflatable, oversized, holiday-themed lawn decoration is being filled with seasonal wonder from now through December as a magical series of Christmas movies pump our holiday spirit to maximum capacity. Premiering this Saturday on Hallmark Channel is “Christmas Festival of Ice” starring Taylor Cole and Damon Runyan.

 


We recently sat down with Cole to discuss the draw of Christmas content, why she so easily connected with her character Emma, and her own favorite holiday memory.

TrunkSpace: Your new holiday Hallmark Channel film “Christmas Festival of Ice” premieres just a few days after Halloween. For all of us who are still nursing candy corn hangovers, how do we jump start our brains to transition from spooky spirits to finding our holiday spirit?
Cole: The crisp air and new latte flavors, of course. Also, I’ve already started planning my family get-together and there’s nothing like family to bring in the holiday spirit.

TrunkSpace: The film is a part of the network’s “Countdown to Christmas” programming event. People love the holidays and they love Hallmark Channel original programming. The marriage of the two seems like a no-brainer. In your opinion, why does this particular type of seasonal content resonate with so many viewers?
Cole: I think Hallmark Christmas movies evoke a sense of nostalgia that people are yearning for during the holidays.

TrunkSpace: In the film you’re playing fresh-out-of-law-school Emma Parkers who returns to her small town only to discover that an ice sculpting competition that means a lot to her has been cancelled. The two elements that are most often discussed as relating to holiday Hallmark Channel movies are relationships and the holidays themselves, but a big part of their allure is the environment of a community that they establish. In terms of “Christmas Festival of Ice,” how important is that element of community and the town itself to the overall story and to who Emma is?
Cole: Emma really discovers herself through fundraising for her favorite childhood pastime with the help of her community. Giving back and creating memories for the town again makes her realize her passion in life might be different from what others expect her to be.

TrunkSpace: Was it an easy journey for you to discover just who Emma was? It is our understanding that things move pretty quickly from the moment you land the part to the first day of photography. Did you have time to absorb the material and connect with the character?
Cole: I connected with Emma immediately because of her connection with her father and the activities they bonded over. My favorite memories as a child were camping with my father and road tripping to volleyball games. I recently bought a trailer and spent the last year and a half traveling the US driving from job to job for that very reason.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, what was your favorite moment in your journey as Emma? Is there a particular scene or aspect of the story that you’re most excited for viewers to see?
Cole: The last scene with my father was hands-down my favorite scene. I’m a daddy’s girl and that bond is beautiful and unbreakable.

TrunkSpace: Speaking of viewers, Hallmark Channel has a very passionate fandom. Coined Hallmarkies online, they love all things Hallmark Channel, especially seasonal content. As an actress, is it rewarding to be working on a project that not only has a built-in fan base where you know people will show up for the premiere, but is also something that the entire family can share in?
Cole: The fans are so great because they are so genuine and loyal. What more can you ask for? My favorite part of Hallmark is the family bond it has created for so many families, including mine.

Photo: Taylor Cole, Damon Runyan Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Petr Maur

TrunkSpace: We here at TrunkSpace are admittedly a bit obsessed with all things “Supernatural.” We know that you appeared in two episodes with a large gap in between, so we’re curious, how much of a surprise was it when you received the call to reprise the role of Sarah Blake in season 8?
Cole: I always thought it would be an interesting storyline to continue considering she was Sam’s first love interest after his great loss, but it was so early in the show I wasn’t sure there’d be room for a love interest. So getting a call seven seasons later was definitely a surprise.

TrunkSpace: As someone who was on set in the inaugural first season and then again in season 8, does it come as a surprise that the show is currently still going strong in its 13th season?
Cole: The blend of the boys charm and the humor and adventure in the writing are a winning combination. And you can’t beat their fans. Their passion reminds me of Hallmark fans. They are the reason Sarah Blake returned to the show. That episode was used to kill off everyone that the fans begged to have back, which I think is kind of genius. They’ve done it all and the fans can’t get enough.

TrunkSpace: You’ve starred and guested in a lot of great, memorable shows over the years. Is there a particular character that you wished you got more time with to explore further and why?
Cole: I really enjoyed playing Sofya Voronova on “The Originals.” It was fun to have the challenge of playing two characters in season 4. Working and growing with such gifted talent inspired me everyday.

TrunkSpace: Again, “Christmas Festival of Ice” is part of the Countdown to Christmas programming event. What is one of your favorite holiday memories and what do you most look forward to each year as the season kicks off?
Cole: My arts and craft skills are not up to par so my favorite thing to do is attempt any cute holiday idea and see how poorly I can execute it. My favorite holiday memory was asking my dad to dress up as Santa so I could catch him leaving gifts under the tree.

“Christmas Festival of Ice” premieres Saturday on Hallmark Channel.

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Wingman Wednesday

Victor Webster

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There’s no better seasonal experience for the senses than autumn, and with the Fall Harvest programming event currently underway at Hallmark Channel, the network is making sure we all get to participate in the sights and sounds of the season.

Starring Victor Webster and Jill Wagner, “A Harvest Wedding” tells the tale of a lost love only to be found again, set against the backdrop of a New England town ankle-deep in fallen leaves and swirling with crisp air that tickles the lungs. The movie premieres Saturday at 9 pm ET/PT.

We recently sat down with Webster to discuss why he loves the Hallmark experience for both he and the audience, what drew him to the character David Nichols, and why he always arrives on set fully prepared.

TrunkSpace: You’ve trained in martial arts for years. Do you look at acting in a similar way in that, you’re training and working hard to always get better?
Webster: Yeah, I look at acting like I looked at playing sports. For me, you’ve got to work really hard and you’ve got to put in the effort. You can’t just walk on the court and expect to be able to shoot three-pointers and free throws. I take it very, very, very seriously. I wouldn’t say that I’m a naturally gifted actor. I’m not, by any means. I’ve got to work hard at it and I take it very seriously.

TrunkSpace: You’re currently starring in the new Hallmark Channel original film “A Harvest Wedding.” Television is known for its fast-paced production schedules. Does that work and preparation come into play even more so on something like that where you’re wrapping a project in such a short period of time?
Webster: We work 12 hours a day on camera, plus we show up an hour early, and we’ve got an hour for lunch. We’re there 14 hours a day. Sometimes, depending on the movie, you’re working six days a week, so the schedule’s pretty crazy. You’ve got like 10 pages of dialog a day you have to memorize on top of it, so you’ve got a lot of homework to do. You have to be focused and you have to come prepared. The Hallmark movies are such a well-oiled machine, that if you’re the cog that’s slowing up the whole machine, that’s never a good feeling.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked in the science fiction world, which is known for having loyal fandoms, but there is a fandom of loyal Hallmark Channel viewers that rivals the passion of science fiction fans. Has that been your experience?
Webster: I was walking through Central Park the other day, and I had a woman come up to me and she was freaking out because she watches every single Hallmark movie there is. I love doing these movies because everybody can watch them. If you’re a child, or a grandma, or a mom, or like one of my buddies that watches Hallmark movies, it’s like it doesn’t matter, there’s something for everybody. We have so much negativity going on in the world right now, it’s nice to sit down and have two hours of something beautiful and positive where there’s always a happy ending.

TrunkSpace: One of the things the network is always great at is painting a picture of the season that the viewer is currently in and making the movies feel like a part of what they’re experiencing seasonally at that exact moment.
Webster: Yeah, the world that you’re in at the moment is a part of the Hallmark world. You’re right. It’s like you’ve been immersed into a virtual reality. Even if not, if you’re in California and you know that it’s not fall out, you watch one of those movies and for those two hours that you’re watching a movie, you feel like you’re in that world with the trees changing color and the leaves falling. They always shoot them so beautifully, even from the aspect of the cinematography, it’s just a beautiful addition.

TrunkSpace: You’ve starred in a number of Hallmark Channel movies. What was it about this particular character that drew you in? Was there something that he offered you from a performance standpoint that you haven’t had a chance to experience yet?
Webster: The last one that I did for them, I played a guy in a suit, and he was an MBA. This one was a guy that worked on a farm, that worked with his hands, who had dirt under his fingernails and drove a tractor. Playing those kind of characters that like to get their hands dirty, there’s always something that is fun to play because that’s more closer to who I am. Being able to wear dirty jeans and a T-shirt, versus a suit and tie, which I’ve also done because I was a stockbroker – going back and forth between those roles and doing something different each time is one of the things I love about acting.

Photo: Jill Wagner, Victor Webster Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Brendan Meadows

TrunkSpace: We talked about the production schedules a bit, but does that expedited process force you to look at your own performance differently as well?
Webster: Yeah. You don’t have the luxury of not being prepared. I’ve worked on some bigger movies, where people come and it feels like they’re literally learning their lines while they’re on set. When you’re shooting 10 pages a day and you’ve only got three weeks to shoot it, you better come prepared. Otherwise, you’re never gonna get a good take, you’re never gonna get a good performance because you’re just gonna be trying to memorize your lines. That’s such a disservice to the people that want to go home – the crew that wants to go home and see their families at the end of the night, or to your co-star that did three hours of homework after a 14-hour day to go home and memorize for three hours. You need to come prepared. I take this very seriously. No matter what I’m working on, I always do, but yeah, for sure, it requires everybody to be on their game.

TrunkSpace: You said it yourself, these productions are like a well-oiled machine. In your experience, have you seen any companies or networks that are able to pull off what Hallmark Channel does?
Webster: Never. It’s an anomaly. The only other way to compare it is to compare it to a TV show that’s been on the air for 10 years because they’re doing the same show. The thing that’s completely different about this is you’re doing a different movie with different actors, different writers, different directors, different locations. Honestly, my mind is blown on how they keep it all together and they do such a good job and they do over 100 movies a year.

TrunkSpace: As you look over your career as a whole, are there any characters that you wished you had a chance to spend more time with?
Webster: The character that I played on the TV show “The Lot” for AMC, which was about what went on behind the scenes at 1940’s film studio. I really, really wish that I, more than anything, had been able to delve into that. I wish I could go back with what I know now and replay that character because I was so green and fresh, and there was such an opportunity to just do so much more with that character than what I did. I felt like I did a good job, but with what I know about acting and life in general right now, I feel like I did a disservice to that. I could go back now and really bring that character to life, and he’s a very, very messed up character with lots of colors and facets.

A Harvest Wedding” premieres Saturday at 9 pm ET/PT on Hallmark Channel.

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Wingman Wednesday

Andrew W. Walker

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Fall is in the air, leaves are on the ground, and pumpkin-flavored everything is lining the shelves of grocery stores across the nation. With the changing of the seasons upon us and the turning back of the clocks just around the corner, Hallmark Channel has kicked off its Fall Harvest programming event, featuring a number of movies meant to up our autumn intake.

Premiering this Saturday at 9 pm ET/PT is the romantic comedy “Love Struck Café” starring Sarah Jane Morris and Andrew W. Walker. We recently sat down with Walker to discuss the importance of on-screen chemistry, how the fall season plays into the film’s storyline, and why watching Hallmark Channel reminds him of gathering around the television with his family when he was younger.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on a number of Hallmark Channel films over the years. How does “Love Struck Café” differ from the others you’ve starred in as far as performance and where you were able to go with your character?
Walker: Well, these things always rely on the chemistry between myself and the lead female. Sometimes these things take a little longer to develop over the course of the 15 days, because these are such quick shoots that you really need to kind of hit the ground running.

TrunkSpace: Hammering something like this out in 15 days is really impressive.
Walker: It’s crazy. Usually you get the job maybe a week before you go to shoot it, so you have about a week by yourself and then you meet your leading lady and then you have two days with that person before you actually start shooting, so it really is no time at all. I think something that really helped on “Love Struck Café” was, Sarah and I had been introduced through a friend. She was working on a show called “Brothers & Sisters” and a girlfriend of my wife and mine worked on that show as well. So we had met her a long time ago and she’s just a great person. We had a rapport.

By day three we really started to get in the groove, and then once that happens we’re able to play and have a lot more fun, and just really challenge each other as well. I like it when I’m questioned on my decisions and where I’m bringing my character and where we came from and where we’re going. Sarah’s like, “Hey, let’s talk about where we came from today. Let’s go back in the script.” So we were working in the makeup trailer. We were working on our lunch breaks. Even when our day ended, we would meet up for maybe an hour-and-a-half or so and just talk through the next day and just make sense of what’s happening.

And with this, it’s a lot more playful, I think. It’s more broad of a range than the other Hallmark’s that I’ve done. I just had the ability to play around a lot more.

TrunkSpace: When you arrive on set and hit the ground running, is the script itself still being massaged throughout the production process?
Walker: Being massaged throughout the process, every day. The framework is there, but the meat of it all, we could change it up, almost as much as we’d like. Obviously that could be a slippery slope. You start changing things here and there in the plot, and then you get stuck in the editing room at the end. So we’ve got to keep it within the confines of everything, obviously. But yeah, we had the ability to change it up and add things that we felt necessary, where we felt necessary.

TrunkSpace: Hallmark Channel is one of the few networks that is continuing to grow its viewer base and their original programming continues to grow in popularity. Why do you think that is?
Walker: I think it’s a real positive spin. We deal with so many issues nowadays, between religion, politics, and environment, I think that it’s a great way for people to escape. And it’s a classic story. Hallmark has their formula. They are telling classic, Humphrey Bogart-like stories – different versions of classics that we all have grown up to love.

I remember sitting down every Sunday back in the day with my parents to watch the Disney movies that would be airing on Sunday night. We’d go to church in the morning, we’d go for lunch with the whole family, and then I would go play soccer or football or whatever, and then at night we’d all sit down with our TV dinners and sit there and watch these Disney movies. That’s what the allure is, just bringing people back to what we had back in the day, and I think that’s super important. I think that it’s nice to see that families want to sit down and watch these movies together, because they’re also movies that the whole family can watch together.

Photo: Sarah Jane Morris, Andrew W. Walker, Cassidy Nugent Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Bettina Strauss

TrunkSpace: Hallmark Channel is also really great about connecting audiences to the feel and emotions of the seasons that they’re in through the seasonal content that they produce. “Love Struck Café” is part of the Fall Harvest programming event. How does that play into the story?
Walker: I would say everything you’d imagine fall would embody is basically in the film. We go to a pumpkin patch. We go on a wagon ride through an apple orchard. We enter a pie baking contest. It’s actually not a pie, but it’s basically an apple baking contest where the town gets together and bakes the pie. So, leaves are falling on the ground. It’s cooler weather outside. It’s all of the above.

TrunkSpace: When you’re shooting these movies out of season, does it throw you out of whack personally? Are you thinking about celebrating Christmas in the summer?
Walker: I just came back from shooting one for Lifetime right now. I was in Winnipeg, and it was torture. (Laughter) We had these big winter jackets on and stuff.

Psychologically it doesn’t throw me necessarily, because I just jump into it. And the set decorators – they always do such a great job at really doing it up and making sure that everybody feels like the holiday that they’re going to portray. Maybe physically it throws me a little bit off whack because I’m wearing three layers and I’m sweating, supposedly in the winter. (Laughter) But no, you can get into it really easily. It’s just all imagination. It’s fun. I get imaginative.

TrunkSpace: Outside of acting, you’re also producing, recently having finished up a science fiction film called “Oxalis,” right?
Walker: Yeah, we actually just submitted to Sundance and we submitted it to Tribeca, so we’re just crossing our fingers and hopefully it gets picked up somewhere.

TrunkSpace: Was this your first time producing a feature?
Walker: Producing a feature, yes. I produced a documentary about seven years ago called “Stolen Seas” and it was based on pirates in Somalia, but this is my first feature that I’ve ever produced.

TrunkSpace: One of the things that people always seem to be drawn to, at least for those of a particular personality type, is the problem solving aspect of producing. Is that something that you found yourself being drawn to?
Walker: Yeah. I own a business with my wife in Los Angeles. We have a cold-pressed juice business and we’ve had it for about five years now, so I’ve always enjoyed bringing people together in collaboration. With my business, I’ve definitely had to resolve many, many conflicts, but I do love that aspect of it. I just like bringing people together. Like with movies, if you cast it right, you don’t have to do that much. You just have to sit back and let people do what they do.

See Walker do what he does this Saturday when “Love Struck Café” premieres on Hallmark Channel.

When an aspiring architect returns to her small town to complete a land deal for her developer boss, she reconnects with her former sweetheart, a widowed single dad now, and discovers the surprising reason he broke things off with her all those years ago.
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Wingman Wednesday

Sarah Jane Morris

SarahJaneMorris_Halloween_Wingwoman_wednesday (1)

Fall is in the air, leaves are on the ground, and pumpkin-flavored everything is lining the shelves of grocery stores across the nation. With the changing of the seasons upon us and the turning back of the clocks just around the corner, Hallmark Channel has kicked off its Fall Harvest programming event, featuring a number of movies meant to up our autumn intake.

Premiering this Saturday at 9 pm ET/PT is the romantic comedy “Love Struck Café” starring Sarah Jane Morris and Andrew W. Walker. We recently sat down with Morris to discuss what drew her to the character, why she enjoys the breakneck pace of television production, and how oftentimes rekindling an old romance means having to accept a lost love for who they are now as opposed to who they were in the past.

TrunkSpace: “Love Struck Café” premieres this Saturday on Hallmark Channel. Do you have any rituals for screening your projects when they first debut?
Sarah Jane Morris: No, not really. I’m trying to just get the word out as best as I can so that people see it. This is actually my first Hallmark movie. It’s one of the first things that I’ve done that I feel like my kids can watch. (Laughter) Although, they don’t want to see me kissing anyone. They’ll have to duck out for at least one part of it.

I’m going to do some live tweeting, and I actually have a couple of friends that might come over and watch it. Every once in a while I’ll do that. I’m excited.

TrunkSpace: One of the things that Hallmark is so good at is painting the picture of a particular season…
Sarah Jane Morris: Which is always fun when you’re shooting winter in the middle of summer. (Laughter) This was actually not too bad. We were doing fall. We were late summer shooting for fall, so it was light jackets and sweaters and stuff, but I wanted to burn my coat by the end. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how “Love Struck Café” was your first Hallmark project, which are known for having fast-paced production schedules. Did that force to alter your approach as far as performance was concerned?
Sarah Jane Morris: Oh yeah. It’s funny, I was thinking about that a lot when we were shooting this movie, which was 15 days. There were some big, huge budget features like “Deadpool” that were shooting in Vancouver at the same time as us. We had one day where it was kind of a big scene, so it took most of the day to shoot. I was like, “Man, I don’t know if I would be super excited to be spending a week on one chase scene in a movie.” (Laughter)

I think I kind of love the breakneck pace of television. You have to come in really prepared, which isn’t always easy because sometimes you’re not getting the material until right before you start shooting, or it changes right before. But you’ve got to kind of come in and be prepared and ready to have curveballs thrown at you, and be able to change it up on the fly. It’s challenging in a different way.

TrunkSpace: Being able to wrap a project in 15 days as opposed to three months also gives you time to pursue other projects and characters, which must be nice?
Sarah Jane Morris: Oh yeah, definitely. For me, it also gives me a lot of time to spend with my family. I’m a nearly full-time mom when I’m not working. I feel really lucky that I can go and work, fast and furious to get it done, and then come home and be with my family. I can be the mom that I want to be for them, and that they want for me to be, but they still get to see me as a working mom.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, what was it that drew you to the character Megan Quinn in this particular movie?
Sarah Jane Morris: Most of the stuff that I’ve done, I feel like in the past leans towards the pretty heavily dramatic. With some of “The Night Shift” I definitely got to play up a little bit of quirkiness with that character, but this was just fun to be kind of a goofball a little bit. I don’t know if it will come across that way in the end, with the final product, but it was a fun opportunity for me to bring my kind of goofy, weird side to a character, and not just have to play the straight romantic, dramatic actress that I often have to. Nobody was dying, so it’s kind of a nice emotional break. (Laughter) The last episode of “The Night Shift” that I shot in the summer, it was kind of an unpleasant head space to be in for that period of time, because it was a downer. This was just fun. It was nice and light. I like getting to play with my comedic side a little bit. I don’t get to do that very often.

Photo: Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer:

TrunkSpace: So much of the success of these films comes down to the chemistry between the people at the core of the story. Was on-screen chemistry something that you and your costar Andrew W. Walker discussed prior to shooting?
Sarah Jane Morris: Well, it was funny, because after I was hired they told me who the male lead was going to be. I looked him up and I was like, “Gosh, I don’t know if I know this person.” Then on the first day I got there, I was waiting in the lobby with the director – we were going to walk to dinner, the three of us – and Andrew comes walking up. He walks right over to me and gives me a big hug. I was like, “Oh, okay. I don’t usually hug people I don’t know yet, but okay.” (Laughter) He was like, “No, we’ve met.” I was like, “Wait, we have?” And he starts reminding me that we actually met a couple of times, but it was 10 years ago. He and his wife are best friends with Emily VanCamp, who I was on “Brothers & Sisters” with for three years. As soon as he reminded me of that I was like, “Oh my gosh, yeah!” Then it was just like, “Okay, good people. We’re off from here!” It was great.

He’s done a lot of these Hallmark movies. I think the very first scene that we shot was a scene in the movie where he and I kind of run into each other again. I was like, “Oh, he knows how to really connect in that romantic chemistry type of way.” He goes for it and I was like, “Okay, this is gonna be easy.” I just had to let my guard down and go for it as well.

We had a great rapport. It was easy to play up the chemistry between the two characters. It was never awkward or anything like that, which was nice. We got along really well, so it wasn’t having to cycle feelings of frustration, or annoyance with my costar ever. (Laughter)

We actually did have a conversation pretty early on about how there wasn’t a ton of conflict in the writing between the two characters. We wanted to play up the conflict a little bit.

TrunkSpace: In terms of their backstory?
Sarah Jane Morris: The backstory, and just that they’ve changed – they’ve grown up and changed who they are as people. They always had a relationship where they sort of pushed each other’s buttons, even as kids. But now as adults, it’s different. He’s kind of needling me about the guy I’m dating, and the career path I’ve chosen. It’s not exactly what he let me go to pursue. I’m not really fulfilling that dream.

You want to kind of think that he’s sort of bugging her and that this may not work out. They may have changed too much for this to work out.

Find out if it ultimately works out this Saturday when “Love Struck Café” airs on Hallmark Channel!

When an aspiring architect returns to her small town to complete a land deal for her developer boss, she reconnects with her former sweetheart, a widowed single dad now, and discovers the surprising reason he broke things off with her all those years ago.
read more
Wingman Wednesday

Andrew Francis

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Photo: Andrew Francis Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Ricardo Hubbs

Yes, it’s officially fall, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still visit the shores… “Chesapeake Shores” that is! The Hallmark Channel original series returned in August with season 2, and with it, even more critical acclaim.

We recently sat down with O’Brien family member Andrew Francis to discuss the draw of the series, running lines with costar Treat Williams, and why he tosses up brohoofs all over the world.

TrunkSpace: “Chesapeake Shores” is based on Sherryl Woods’ book series. In your interaction with viewers, has the show been attracting fans of both the source material and those who knew nothing about the novels beforehand?
Francis: Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read the books just quite yet! I know, I know. But between scripts and Diane Ladd (who plays Nell O’Brien, of course) who hands me a new book to read every couple of weeks or so, I’ve been pretty swamped! By the way, thank you Diane!

But I have noticed on Twitter that there are many fans of the book series as well as many newcomers to “Chesapeake Shores.” It’s interesting hearing opinions from both sides. These opinions can really shed some interesting insight on the episodes. And all of the feedback has been quite positive, so that’s always an added bonus! Sometimes Sherryl would be on set with us too and it was always a pleasure having her there!

TrunkSpace: As far as your character Connor is concerned, did you spend time with Sherryl’s books or did you want there to be separation between the television world and the literary world that already existed?
Francis: Sherryl and I were able to speak briefly about the character at the read-through before we started season 1, but most of the conversations were between our showrunner, writers, producers, and the director for those episodes. Not to mention, as the cast started to gel, we really started to bounce ideas off each other. There is such talent in our cast, I used the opportunity to learn as much as I could. I think these conversations were very impactful for finding a strong motivation for Connor, Trace, and the whole O’Brien clan.

TrunkSpace: Where is Connor’s personal journey taking him in season 2 and what part will he play in the overall storyline?
Francis: Connor has come a long way in season 2, much like he did in season 1. At the end of season 1 he was waiting to see if he passed the bar, he had a very large hand in helping Abby with her custody battle with Wes, and was feeling pretty good about the path he had chosen. Season 2 brought on a lot of questions for Connor. He questioned whether he had picked the right choice of job, his living situation, and most of all, I think his overall maturity level in general. Along those lines, I actually decided to have Connor not drink in season 2. Whenever his family is drinking wine, you will notice that Connor is always having water. Just a minor choice I decided to make, to hopefully add another subtle layer of growth to his character. Not to mention, I myself don’t drink and love sparkly water! So it was a win/win across the board really.

TrunkSpace: You have been in the industry since you were a kid. You have worked on more series, both in front of the camera and as a voice actor, than we have fingers and toes to count with. How has your “Chesapeake Shores” experience differed from all of those other projects you have spent time with?
Francis: I have been honored to work with some great actors and voice actors over the years. But the cast on “Chesapeake Shores” is definitely the most talented ensemble I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Every actor takes their character to heart, and really tries to find the ‘real’ inside of themselves, bringing that reality to life inside the role they are playing. Through our own journeys and the act of bouncing ideas around with all involved, I think we have really found our own ways of layering these very complex characters that Sherryl has created. I definitely love being behind a microphone, it’s a happy place for me, but now “Chesapeake Shores” gives me the same feeling. Being around such a talented cast and crew really helps with the growth of our characters. And this happens to be a great fit with Hallmark, a network that promotes strong bonds between people on a daily basis. It’s a very strong collaboration. One that I’m very proud to be a part of.

TrunkSpace: The series focuses on a family and the dynamic of that family, which is something that is relatable to most people. Was there anything about the O’Brien’s that you were able to tap into and relate with given your own upbringing/family?
Francis: I think that everyone can find a piece of “Chesapeake Shores” that relates to them. And I’m no different. We have all encountered some form of struggles growing up, whether it be a strained relationship with a family member, or multiple family members, all the way to trying to find love or the right career path to follow. Our show brings a unique multi-generational storyline that speaks to people of all ages. I really think that’s what separates our show from many others. You start to feel like you are a part of this family, and you care about the choices each of the characters make and how they are going to affect not only themselves, but the whole family dynamic.

Photo: Andrew Francis, Britt Irvin Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Ricardo Hubbs

TrunkSpace: In it you play a law student, which got us to thinking. Had entertainment not been your path in life, where do you think you would have ended up career-wise? Did you have other interests?
Francis: Funny you ask that, growing up I always wanted to be an entrepreneur – something that I could focus on when the industry got slow, or for whatever the reason. And during that time, I didn’t really know how, or what, but I always knew the right opportunity would eventually (hopefully) present itself. I started with a few different businesses. I rented out water crafts, invested in a restaurant, then moved into producing. All were well and good, but just recently, I really feel I have found my calling. My girlfriend and I have been hard at work building our new business, ZENDEN. It’s a meditation, sound healing and yoga studio situated in a two level space with an unobstructed view of the North Shore Mountains and water. We focus primarily on meditation, sound healing, and a lot of workshops, but also offer many other ways of finding relaxation in this very busy world.

TrunkSpace: You’re working alongside some incredible actors within the series, many of whom have had long, storied careers. What have you taken from them, either from personal advice or through osmosis, that you’ll carry with you throughout your career?
Francis: Oh, the amount of knowledge I have acquired working on “Chesapeake Shores” from the other actors has changed my acting for the better. Not only for the better, but it’s changed my whole outlook on how to perform. Working with actors who are at such a high caliber, you have no other choice but to step up and play in their arena. Not only have I had amazing personal talks with each and every member of the cast, but I have learned so much in between takes. It’s such gift being told stories about film sets 40 years ago, stories about actors, much like the ones in our show, who we still know and love today. I would be selling the higher ups (as I like to call them) short if I didn’t mention them as well. Working alongside such an experienced behind-the-scenes producing crew, writing team, and network – us, as actors, are given a great amount of help finding the ways our characters would react in any given circumstance.

TrunkSpace: Is there a difference between finding the voice of a character you’re voicing in an animated piece and discovering the point of view of a character you’re playing in a live action piece? Is that journey different?
Francis: It is actually. Finding a character in a cartoon is a lot more surface level when you are first given the picture and description. On camera, you ‘are’ the description – your whole being is the character. It’s just deciding what pieces of yourself you decide to show the audience, in hopes of furthering the growth of not only the character, but the whole storyline in general.

It’s a very interesting question. I think both have their very unique traits, hurdles, and discoveries, but ask for a different approach to achieve the very best results.

TrunkSpace: In theater, acting is big. In film and TV, you’re supposed to take a more subtle approach. What is the approach when it comes to voice acting?
Francis: I feel the approach to voice acting is a combination of acting for film and television, and as well as acting for theater. There is a lot more projection involved in voice acting than there is on television, but projection is a large part of theater. On the flip side, in voice acting you are very over-the-top in many of the situations, where as in theater, sometimes the quiet moments can be the most impactful.

Treat (Williams) would ask me from time to time to run lines with him in preparation for one of his upcoming plays, and it was always a treat (pun intended) to be in the presence of such a talented actor, watching him rehearse 10, 20, 30, pages at a time, myself just sitting wide-eyed at the experience. I will definitely treasure those moments for not only my career, but my entire life.

Photo: Andrew Francis, Kayden Magnuson Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Ricardo Hubbs

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on some really big, universal brands over the years. Is there an added layer of performance dissection (on your own part) when you’re voicing a character who has been around for decades?
Francis: When you’re voicing a character who’s been around for decades you want to respect where the character has been, but I think the emphasis should be on where the character goes from the time he is put in your trusted hands. This goes for not only voice acting, but also playing Connor on “Chesapeake Shores.” Sherryl gave me the rundown about Connor, but through talks with the writing team, other actors, and everyone involved, these are the times where the Connor you see on television is really brought to life. For voice acting, I would research some of the people who have played the big-name characters that I was given the opportunity to play, but definitely put my focus on adding my unique touch to the opportunity I had been given. This would, in turn, grow the character’s overall dynamic, while also expanding his range.

TrunkSpace: You’ve voiced Iceman and Hawkeye. That has to give you permanent cred in the fanboy community, right?
Francis: (Laughter) Well, I hope so – that would be nice! Over the years, I’ve had the honor of working on some very big franchises, all the way from awesome Marvel projects such as “X-Men,” to equally awesome Hasbro projects such as “My Little Pony.” You would be very surprised at the fan base that “My Little Pony” has. I travel the world from time to time, meeting the fans and attending conventions, as the show has picked up quite the following. For all you Brony’s out there – brohoof!

TrunkSpace: With the new season of “Chesapeake Shores” nearing its end, what do you hope fans will walk away with when the season finishes up?
Francis: I hope the fans walk away from “Chesapeake Shores” with a renewed insight into the reality of what families, ‘real’ families, are like. Also, a better insight into the relationships between the people in such families, and the outside world. Especially considering the strenuous times we currently live in, I think it’s important for people to tune in to a show that not only fills their heart with beautiful moments, but also shows the struggles that are affecting families all across the globe. “Chesapeake Shores” demonstrates the hardships, but also the ways that not only a family, but a whole community, can come together and make positive change using compromise and respect.

Chesapeake Shores” airs Sundays on Hallmark Channel.

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Wingman Wednesday

Crystal Lowe

CrystalLowe_Wingwoman_wednesday
© Crown Media United States, LLC

Even though digital correspondence is the preferred method of communication these days, we all still love to open the mailbox and find a handwritten letter waiting for us. There’s something nostalgic about peeling back the seal of a freshly delivered envelope and discovering what is waiting for us inside. That’s why the concept of the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ ongoing franchise, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” is so ingenious, because it strikes a chord before you ever get past the opening credits.

A group of postal detectives work to solve the mysteries behind undeliverable letters and packages from the past, delivering them when they are needed most.”

As far as pitches go, it doesn’t get much better than that, and for the countless fans of the series who have followed along with it since it first began airing in 2014, the individual stories that make up each standalone movie back up the overall premise.

The latest installment, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Home Again,” premieres Sunday, September 24 at 9 pm ET/PT on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. We recently sat down with series star Crystal Lowe to discuss how her character Rita was a welcome departure from previous roles, why she feels the franchise is resonating with audiences, and how she had to restrain herself from fangirling on Mandy Patinkin.

TrunkSpace: Early in your career you appeared in a number of horror films, including “Black Christmas” and “Final Destination 3.” Did you make a conscious effort to step away from that genre and focus on other things so as not to be pigeonholed?
Lowe: I actually did. It’s not that I don’t enjoy doing the horror genre, but no painter wants to paint the same painting over and over again. That’s what appealed to me as well. I think I’ve always said it would be a dream of mine that when somebody sees my demo reel, for them to not recognize me from role to role. I did appreciate the fans and the love that I got from that community because they’re a very tight community, but it was an ongoing joke that I wanted to live in a movie. Just one. “I just need to not die in things, that would be amazing.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: What is the key to successfully breaking out of a particular way of being viewed within this industry?
Lowe: I think for me it was that I hunkered down a lot and I studied and I studied and I studied. I was taking classes. I still take classes. I always will. I begged casting directors and people to just give me a shot. “Just give me a shot. Just see me in a different light. Just let me in the room and I’ll do something.” They were kind enough to do that. I did also have really good relationships with a lot of casting directors, so they gave me the opportunity to come in and just try new things.

TrunkSpace: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” must have been a welcome change when it came along in 2014?
Lowe: Huge change for me. When I auditioned for that, they sent me the sides and I called my agent and said, “You sent me the wrong sides.” He said, “No, no, they’re going to see you for this.” I was like, “No, they’re not. What? I’m not going to book this. This is not right for me.” (Laughter) And then they asked me to come back and I started laughing. I remember being in the room looking around at all of these girls, really nervous, and trying to get the part and I was like, “I don’t care. I’m not getting this.”

I had no idea who Martha (Williamson) was. I had no idea what kind of resume she had. I had no idea about any of it, so it was good because I went in there with no… I remember performing the character of Rita for my girlfriend, who was also auditioning for it as well, and she said to me, “Are you going to do it like that?” (Laughter) I was like, “I don’t know, but this is just how I see that character.” She was like, “Oh, okay. That’s not a choice that I would’ve made.” (Laughter) I had the offer that night.

TrunkSpace: We recently read how Hallmark Movies & Mysteries is one of the few networks that is actually growing its audience, which is really fascinating. As television continues to go down a gritty, dark path, the growth is evidence that many people want to feel good when the credits roll.
Lowe: Yes. I’m a strong believer in that light always overcomes the dark, but you need the dark in order to have light, right? Sometimes the pendulum swings and then we need a wake-up call and a reminder that in order to keep that light going we got to keep fighting for it. You can’t just be complacent and you can’t just hope somebody else is going to take care of it. I think our show offers that to people. I’ve never been on a show like this where the fans are genuinely thanking me for getting them through chemo treatments or losses of family members. There’s not a lot I can do, but if I can inspire, then that makes me so happy.

I always used to joke when we first started the show, because I was a huge “Dexter” fan. “You watch an episode of ‘Dexter’ and then you watch our show before you go to bed.” You’re like, “Oh my god!” and then you’re like, “Okay, everything’s going to be fine.” (Laughter)

You need to remind yourself that, yes, the world is chaotic at the moment, but there’s so much good. The average person, your next door neighbor and the people around you, the majority are good and want the best for people, so I like that our show is a reminder of that.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Home Again Photo: Kristin Booth, Eric Mabius, Crystal Lowe, Geoff Gustafson Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: David Owen Strongman

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, what has the journey been like for you in terms of exploring the character, because the project started as a series and then transitioned into an ongoing film franchise? Does the journey change at all in that regard, seeing your character’s arc from the perspective of a series to a two hour film?
Lowe: Yeah, it does because when you’re doing a show like ours, because there’s an A storyline, which of course is the POstables, and there’s a B storyline, which is the letter, you don’t have a lot of time to tell an entire letter story and propel the POstables. You can push them forward, but you don’t have a lot of time to push them forward. At first I was like, “What? The two hour format? No, I love the series!” And then we did the two hour format and I was like, “Oh, actually Rita and Norman get to really grow. We actually get journeys through this.” That would’ve maybe taken five episodes, which I now get to do in one movie. As an actor I get to make bigger leaps and bounds, which is awesome for me. I love that.

TrunkSpace: Even though it’s a film, does the process still feel like you’re shooting individual episodes just because of the episodic nature of it?
Lowe: Yeah, it does – like a two hour episode. They’re movies and they’re standalone and you can tune in and pretty much understand what’s going on, but to me it’s almost like the British version of television. It’s like a miniseries. You just get more time with it, which I think works for our show and Martha’s writing because her writing is so full. It’s so nuanced. It’s hard for me now when I get auditions or scripts because I’ve been working with good writing for a really long time, so if it’s not good writing, I know. (Laughter) There are lots of layers in there all of the time and the two hour format gives her the opportunity to really put those layers in and allow people to watch them over and over again and find them, like reading a book.

TrunkSpace: You’re shooting these as movies, but you’re still working in television. Does that mean you’re still working with the breakneck television scheduling?
Lowe: Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes eight to 10 pages a day.

TrunkSpace: Wow!
Lowe: It’s insane, but we do it. It’s dialogue heavy and we do it. Our crews are amazing, especially on these last two. Our crews were just an awesome bunch of people that are young and hungry in the industry and I love watching that too because people really love their jobs and care about them. We pound pavement. We make it happen. During it you’re always like, “This is never going to work,” and then after you’re like, “Of course it worked. Why wouldn’t it work?” (Laughter)

I worked on a movie this year called “Wonder,” which I’m really excited about. It’s coming out in November and it’s based on a book. It was so weird because when I shot that, the director was like, “What do you want to do? What do you want to try?” I was like, “I’m sorry, what? We have time to just try stuff?” (Laughter) In TV world, you’re like, “We got to go. We’re done.”

TrunkSpace: “Wonder” looks like very powerful storytelling, and again, is that feel-good story that it seems like we need as a society right now.
Lowe: That film is…

I got to work with Mandy Patinkin. For me that was a bucket list thing. It took every bone in my body not to be like, “Mandy, I love you! I’ve watched ‘The Princess Bride’ a thousand times and I love it!” I didn’t though because I was like, “Do not fangirl on him, he’s going to think you’re a weirdo!”

But the story was just so good. The writing was so good and it’s really, really necessary all over the world. I just recently moved to the United States and I think it’s really important in the United States, for many people, even in the highest positions, to learn about bullying. This is a good film and it’s necessary.

TrunkSpace: In our pre-interview quest for research we learned via your Instagram page that you were a big “Perfect Strangers” fan growing up, which got us to thinking… what makes Crystal want to do the dance of joy?
Lowe: (Laughter) This sounds ridiculous, but to those who know me, they’d be like, “Uh-huh!” Brandi Harkonen, who’s one of the producers for my show, she laughed and gave me a song, which is “The Lego Movie” song. She’s like, “That’s you! That song, ‘Everything Is Awesome’ encompasses you as a person!”

The happy dance comes really easily for me. I happy dance over the smallest of things and I happy dance over big things. I think what I would have to say is, seeing the people that I love smile makes me so happy. If I can do something that makes them laugh or if I can get them something that I know they really wanted or if I can take pressure off of them, it just makes me happy dance everywhere.

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