Jill Wagner and Kristoffer Polaha return to Hallmark Channel Saturday night in Pearl in Paradise, the second movie this summer set and filmed in Fiji. It’s the first pairing for the actors, and first Hallmark project for each since appearances in Christmas films last year.
The story follows Alex (Wagner), a rising travel photographer angling for a creative director promotion at a travel magazine, who teams up with a Romancing the Stone-type novelist, Colin (Polaha), on a quest to chase down the titular pearl for a 30th anniversary cover story that will cement her new job. Once they meet up, they find that finding the pearl is secondary to embracing the heart surrounding its longheld lore.
I chatted with Wagner earlier this week to talk about the movie, her growing work with Hallmark, wrapping up Teen Wolf, and her spring Amazon Prime and DVD feature film release, Braven.
Wagner built up a solid repertoire as a fierce action heroine and sometime-villain before segueing into Hallmark movies, and she credits her late grandmother with kickstarting that. “We were having a conversation one day and I asked her, ‘What haven’t I done in my career that you really want to see me do?’ She thought a minute and said, ‘I’d really like to see you in one of those Hallmark movies. They’re just so decent.’ That was all I needed to hear. So I called my manager and said, ‘We have to get me a Hallmark movie,” she recalls.
“He sent me two or three scripts. I didn’t even read them. I printed them out and mailed them to her and within hours of getting them–she’s such a fast reader– she called me, and said, ˜I know which one I want you to do.’ [And it] was Autumn Dreams. That was my start and because she wanted me to do these movies and it made her so happy, I decided that meant the world to me and so I kept doing them. I’m really thankful that she got me interested in [that]. Hallmark is a great company to work for There are no egos. They’re just kind, awesome people. It’s always fun. I’ve made good friends I’ll probably have for life.”
“I don’t think I ever truly found the importance of [these kinds of projects] until I got married and had an eight-year-old step-daughter. She asks me [if things I’ve done] are appropriate, and a lot aren’t. It’s nice because now I can let her watch the Hallmark movies and she loves them and that makes me happy, too.
Pearl in Paradise came her way through producer Michael Goldstein, with whom she worked on A Harvest Wedding. “He’s a really great guy and has become a good friend and my producing partner. We’re looking to produce some movies as well for Hallmark,” she explains.
“[The cast] all had such a good time and such good chemistry. It was like working with your buddies and getting paid to hang out somewhere beautiful. I want to go back. I was so excited to see what Fiji was going to be like. Going home and leaving paradise was harder [than the flight down].”
“The best day that I had was the day we had to get into the river. In Fiji, you can get these days that are just pouring rain and there’s not a lot you can do, and you wait, and you may get 5 minutes of shooting. That day was a perfect, beautiful day. The sun was shining. It was hot and I wanted to get in the water. I thought, ‘Wow, look at this landscape. It’s incredibly beautiful and here I am in Fiji and in this beautiful river.’ It made me look at the sky and thank God and appreciate that I can do what I do. Not everybody gets to do what they love.”
Karen Kingsbury’s Maggie’s Christmas Miracle is a favorite around here and Wagner loved the experience of working on it, too. “I like the message in the film. I think it’s so relatable and real. Her struggle is something a lot of people can relate to,” she says. “I really thought Luke [Macfarlane] was amazing, as an actor and human being. He embodied Casey. [Lauen Guci], who played my son, was also great. It’s amazing when you can get all the characters to fit into the right spaces and it feels right. It makes my job as an actor so much easier.”
A fair number of people recognize Wagner for her hosting duties on shows like Wipeout and her lifestyle show, Handcrafted America. She loves balancing that with acting. “I’m changing every day. There are times I can’t stand being me and I just want to become another person,” she laughs. “There are other times I love who I am and want to explore that. I really enjoy the [reality shows] where I get to learn stuff. It’s day-to-day with me. I love both equally.”
One of the fun things about Teen Wolf‘s wrap up last year was the return of familiar faces, including Wagner’s Kate Argent. She was happy with her character’s last arc. “Kate was always really, really fun for me because she was so bad. I hated this character and I guess I did my job because everybody else did, too,” she laughs. “She became really interesting to me when we found out what was going on with her. There was a plot for her. She did end up getting to kill Gerard. I’m glad that they didn’t kill her. We had a side bet on who was going to live and die and I won ten bucks.”
Wagner has another new film out now, streaming on Amazon Prime and available on DVD and Blu-ray. Braven pairs her for the first time onscreen with longtime friend Jason Momoa and she had a blast flipping into action here mode. “Braven is one of those [movies] not suited for my eight-year-old, but all of my male friends have called me and told me they love it. It’s an action movie, typical of a Jason Momoa action film,” she explains. “That’s his sweet spot.”
“When he called me and wanted me to be a part of it, it was 100% yes. [My character] is really strong and is the kind of woman you want on your side. She doesn’t play the victim; she picks up a bow and arrow and kicks some ass. It was filmed in Newfoundland [and was] a long, long shoot and very cold, but it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to and the people were amazing.”
“It was basically me and a bunch of dudes–Jason and his crew and the little girl who plays our daughter. I was raised by my dad and brother and have always been one of those girls who hangs out with boys. [On this movie], I was there with all my brothers. It was a fun shoot. It definitely had its issues with the weather but was totally worth it.”
“Jason is a close friend. He was my first acting partner in Los Angeles. We’ve known each other for 15 years and he slept on my couch a couple of times. It was nice to put something on film that we’ll have forever that I can show my kids some day and say, ‘This was one of my best friends.’ It captures that moment in time. I call Jason my brother. He’s family for me.”
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