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Matt Cohen talks Hallmark Channel’s Holiday Date

Photo Credit: Allister Foster/Crown Media United States LLC

It’s safe to say Matt Cohen has had a blessed career so far. And not just because he’s played an archangel and a doctor-slash-priest on TV.

In 2005, the Florida native starred in South of Nowhere on The N. He also appeared on the CW’s 90210 reboot before he booked Supernatural, the show that helped send his career to the next level.

Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/The CW

The CW drama could be considered the gift that keeps on giving. Cohen’s only guest starred in three episodes of the cult hit starting with 2008’s “In the Beginning.” But he’s made friends for life; he’s been part of fun parodies and related web series like Kings of Con; and he’s become an integral part of the fandom celebrations that the Supernatural conventions have become over the years. 

Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/The CW

On top of all that goodness, the powers that be are giving him a shot at directing an episode in this the final season of the longest running sci-fi series in North America.

Cohen’s also branched out and guest starred in primetime on How to Get Away with Murder, Criminal Minds and its short-lived spinoff, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. On daytime television, he did a stint as Dr. Griffin Munro on the long-running soap General Hospital. And now he’s honing his interviewing skills in the space in between daytime and primetime. He’s one of the newest correspondents on Entertainment Tonight.

Photo Credit: Allister Foster/Crown Media United States LLC

Yes, the 37-year-old actor is everywhere. So it should be no surprise to hear he’s added another juggernaut to his ever-growing resume: Hallmark Channel. Tonight he stars in Holiday Date, a movie that blends Christmas rituals with Hanukkah traditions and finds time to do what all these holiday-related movies do, celebrate love. 

Photo Credit: Allister Foster/Crown Media United States LLC

In the movie he plays an actor who has to rely on his considerable skills to help a stranger in need. His Holiday Date co-stars include Brittany Bristow, Bruce Boxleitner and Teryl Rothery.

We recently chatted with Cohen who talked about joining the Hallmark family; what it means to him to direct an episode of Supernatural; and his recent return to General Hospital.

TV Goodness: Holiday Date is your first Hallmark movie ever, isn’t it?

Matt Cohen: This is my first Hallmark movie and it was an absolute delight to work on this thing for so many reasons. My son is always asking, ‘Daddy, what do you do at work? What do you do at work?’ I tell him, ‘I make movies, I make TV,’ and this will be the first thing I’ve ever done in my career that he can sit down and watch. I know he’s four and a half years old so I’m thrilled about that. On top of that, it ties into my Jewish roots with my grandfather, who’s always tried to instill the Jewish lessons and prayers and traditions on me. I kind of always pushed back or wasn’t fully interested. During this movie I was really attached to it from the start and in the depths of my heart because of my grandfather. It was really nice.

Photo Credit: Allister Foster/Crown Media United States LLC

TV Goodness: You’re playing an actor. How much of yourself did you bring to Joel?

MC: I brought a lot of myself in this role. It’s funny, typically the answer for an actor to give when they’re asked how much of themselves is in the role, we like to say, ‘Oh, we developed the character and made this and that and the other thing,’ but Joel is the most like Matt Cohen of any character I’ve ever played. He’s filthy, he’s funny, he makes a ton of mistakes, he’s screwing up left and right, he’s a terrible liar, he’s always selling himself with a smile, even though he’s a people pleaser and I really relate to him. I related to him a lot.

Photo Credit: Allister Foster/Crown Media United States LLC

TV Goodness: Why do you think people will relate to this movie?

MC: Well, I think it’s a great lesson in showing how easily and how wonderfully different holidays come together, which is a lovely thing. As humans, we like to draw lines and divide each other by our beliefs or what we think is right or wrong, this, that, and the other thing. This movie puts on display how lovely Christmas is, how lovely Hanukkah is, and how lovely both things are together. They bring families together. There’s many great lessons to be learned from all holidays and all beliefs; and this movie portrays that perfectly.

TV Goodness: What was your favorite moment from the movie?

MC: It was the wonderful director, Jeff Beesley and our amazing executive producer, Joey Plager; both of them really pushed me to push my comedy and push my improv skills and see what would happen. Every moment that we put on tape was my favorite moment. I enjoyed the process thoroughly.

Photo Credit: Allister Foster/Crown Media United States LLC

TV Goodness: Talk about working with Brittany Bristow (Brooke) because you two shared a really nice chemistry.

MC: Brittany is incredible. She’s there, she’s in it to win it. She doesn’t care if she’s sick or anything. She’s willing to push through and show up for everybody, the crew and myself. I just couldn’t be luckier to have a co-star like her. We both want to make the best movie possible and when that happens you get a pretty good product.

TV Goodness: Well why should people root for Joel and Brooke?

Photo Credit: Allister Foster/Crown Media United States LLC

MC: Oh man. Because they… find love in an unlikely place. They’re two people that are lost, trying to be something they’re not necessarily. While Joel is fighting to be the actor and got all of his eggs in that basket and Brooke is fighting to not be the one at the table alone on the holidays. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you’re portrayed as, as long as you’re happy and you’re with the people you love. I think what happens here is while they’re searching for themselves through all these weird ulterior ways, they find themselves within each other. I think that’s where this kind of love story comes in.

TV Goodness: You also got to work with Hallmark vets Bruce Boxleitner (Walter) and Teryl Rothery (Donna). Can you talk about working with them? They’re so great.

Photo Credit: Allister Foster/Crown Media United States LLC

MC: they are absolutely fantastic. Bruce and Teryl are lightning bolts and every scene they’re in, every line of dialogue elevates the scene. As well as Peter Benson (Glen) — he’s comedy gold. He’s my generation’s Vince Vaughn as far as I’m concerned. He’s absolutely fabulous. Anna Van Hooft (Ashley) and Ava Grace Cooper (Tessa) and every single person was cast so well for this thing. It’s really remarkable how it came together.

TV Goodness: Teryl, Anna, Peter and you all have something in common. You all guest starred on Supernatural.

Photo Credit: Allister Foster/Crown Media United States LLC

MC: Yeah, it’s crazy. Supernatural started so many careers and I’m actually going up there in January to direct my first episode of the show.

TV Goodness: That was my next question. What are you looking forward to most about that experience?

MC: Oh my goodness. It’s hard to say. You know that show, I’ve done a couple episodes of that show as a guest-starring actor over the years and that show has truly changed my life. I’ve done fan conventions and during those fan conventions, I developed into the man that I’m proud of, by coming in contact with all these people that support me and want to open up to me and share their stories.

They really just shaped who I am today. I’m very, very proud of the guy I became via that show and what that show has provided for me now. It gave me a guest-star credit. That was lovely. That turned into a recurring credit that pushed me to direct and now it’s kind of launching me into my primetime directing career, which is fantastic. I feel I owe that show all of my guts and glory. I really do. It’s done a lot for me.

TV Goodness: Did you really shadow Richard Speight Jr. to help prepare you for directing?

MC: I did. I shadowed him on one of his episodes directing Supernatural. Richard Speight Jr. is a very special guy because he’s the guy that insists on giving more than he’s received and that was so evident in the way he performed as a shadow director for me. He told me, “I am going to be the director that every shadow deserves to have that I wish I had,” where he tested me, quizzed me, he pushed me, he made me work, he made me block scenes. He made me do all these things. We would go out after each long day on set and he gave me 195%. There’s no more that I could have ever gotten, I got a four-year degree in filmmaking from this guy in basically eight days. I owe him inevitably for life.

TV Goodness: That’s amazing. And do you plan on asking Jensen (Ackles) for advice since he’s done it a few times himself?

MC: I do and I have, I’ve talked to Jensen in depth and I will be very much working with both of the boys (Jensen and Jared Padalecki) as well as Serge (Ladouceur) the DP and Brad (Creasser), the camera operator. I will be working with everybody. I’m not going in there trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m going into Supernatural trying to make the best piece of television that I can make with Supernatural. And the team there, that started perfectly for 15 seasons.

TV Goodness: To get to be a director in the show’s final season has to be special….

MC: It is everything to me. I can’t tell you. It’s hard to put it in words. But my episode is episode 15 of the 15th season. It’s like a good omen. It’s just such a beautiful thing in a show that deals with the supernatural. It’s nice to feel a little supernatural with the little bits and pieces going into it. I’m thrilled about it. I’m just above the clouds and I’m so grateful and really, it’s just gratitude and grateful are the only words to describe my feelings for that experience. It’s coming out.

TV Goodness: Earlier you mentioned the Supernatural conventions. How much fun is to be a part of them?

MC: It’s been truly a life changing experience, those conventions. I’ve been doing those off and on for about 10 years. I’ve met hundreds of thousands of people. Beautiful, wonderful people with tragic stories, inspiring stories, triumphant stories. And in the process, we… I’ve gained a friend circle that’s very small, but the only friends I really have are those guys on the road. Those guys and girls from Supernatural. So it’s… we are essentially a big extended family. They’re supernatural. Their, kind of, motto, is family don’t end with blood. It couldn’t be more true. We’ve lived together. Some of us have nearly died with each other. It’s been a wild, wild ride and we’re just so grateful to have each other as an extended family. I would not change one day of my life with those people. Every day is so valued.

TV Goodness: Now you’re doing so many other things. You just joined Entertainment Tonight, right? How’s that been going?

MC: ET is going fantastic. It’s fun and it’s another incredible group of creative people who care about each other and want to make the best product possible. I love that. I want to work in a happy place. I didn’t expect to be a correspondent for ET or host their shows and any of the stuff. But in the words of the great Richard Speight Jr.: ‘Walk through the doors that open. Once you get in there, if you don’t like it, walk the eff out.’ It’s okay. Take these experiences. It’s your life, live it. Live it fully and wholly.

I love acting. I love directing. But I’m a guy that very much believes in the human experience being just talking and associating with other humans and that’s what I’m doing at ET. I’m able to interview people and talk to people that I truly admire in the business and at the same time make relationships. I’m pitching two feature films for me to direct right now and there’s a ton of interest. I’m just meeting all sorts of people that want be involved with me and I like that.

TV Goodness: What have been a couple of your favorite interviews so far?

MC: Well, most recently, and this is worth printing and worth talking to you about, because I was very moved. I just interviewed basically the entire cast of the new Clint Eastwood directed film, Richard Jewell. This movie is profound. They have found an ace in the hole in Paul Walker Hauser. He is a phenomenal actor. He is wildly talented. I got to sit down with Paul Walter Hauser, Clint Eastwood, Kathy Bates, Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm, and these are people that I admire on the top shelf of this business, who they are and the roles they’ve picked, the effort they give. It was great.

I looked at Clint and I looked at Paul Walker after we sat in the room together and they were interested in what I had to say as much as I was interested in what they had to say. At the end of the day, it’s a collaborative business, this world. If you’re just in a room to talk and be listened to, well you’re not really getting a full collaboration. You have to talk and listen thoroughly on both sides and those guys really did it. And Paul Walter Hauser will star, at some point, in a movie that I direct because that guy’s talent to me is… he’s amongst the best working in Hollywood today.

TV Goodness: As an ET correspondent you visited the set of General Hospital. But as an actor you recently went back for a short stint. how was that?

MC: Yeah. I just popped back in. Frank (Valentini), the executive producer over there, reached out. Of course, it’s a great honor to be welcomed back in the show after you’ve departed. And, of course I said, yes, I love those actors. Those actors were a big part of my life for three years. I miss them daily and being back on that set was… it was magical. Maura West is a dear friend of mine. I got to do some scenes with her, Finola Hughes, Maurice Benard. These are people that changed my life while I was there. It’s important that they know that. It’s important that they feel the love. I appreciate those people.

TV Goodness: And, finally, let’s take it back to Hallmark… tease one more time why fans should tune into Holiday Date.

Photo Credit: Allister Foster/Crown Media United States LLC

MC: Fans should tune into Holiday Date because this is a fun movie. It’s a fun movie that’s going to teach you something about Christmas. It’s going to teach you something about Hanukkah. Most importantly it’s going to teach you something about family and how families can come together with whatever it is they believe and/or celebrate. It’s a beautiful fun ride. The great Jeff Beesley, our director, he pushed for the comedy and I think we got a cute, funny, little film on our hands. Once again, Joey Plager and Brittany Bristow and the entire cast, they really showed up and I think we got a movie that fans are going to really feel warmed by for the holidays and probably watch a couple of times.

TV Goodness: And now that you’re part of the Hallmark family, do you plan on doing more?

MC: Yes, absolutely. I am a guy that’s wide open to life and whatever life brings me, we’ll figure it out. I’m not signed on to do any Hallmark movies at this moment, but if one comes up, let’s do it. Let’s make it great. And that’s it. That’s the end of the story.

Holiday Date premieres tonight at 8/7c on Hallmark Channel.

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