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.
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.
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.