TV Movie Goodness Interview: Lacey Chabert & Warren Christie, Hallmark Movie Channel’s The Color of Rain
Hallmark Movie Channel gets real this weekend with The Color of Rain, based on the true story of Gina and Michael Spehn, a Michigan couple who met, married, and blended their families after each lost their spouses to cancer. Itâ€™s not often that you begin a love story at the end, but in the case of the Spehns, the end was just the beginning, and theyâ€™ve turned their relationship into a platform to help families affected by cancer.
The film stars Lacey Chabert as Gina and Motiveâ€™s Warren Christie as Michael. We had a chance to join a conference call last week with the Spehns, Chabert, Christie, and producerÂ Dan Paulson to talk about the Spehnsâ€™ story, their book that spawned the film, and how everyone worked together to bring their story to life for Hallmark.
Chabert had an advantage over Christie in playing a real character after playing Brooke Ellison a decade ago. â€œWhenever you have the opportunity to play someone that is a real live person, and to be a part of telling their story, it’s an exciting chance,â€ she says. â€œ[It] came with a great responsibility because I wanted to make them proud of what we were doing [and] portray Gina in a way that was as truthful as possible and in the light of who she really is. They were very trusting of us and very supportive, but I certainly wanted to make sure we captured the strength and the beauty of their story.â€
Chabert says the challenge was to find the essence of who they are and trying to portray that, and she wished sheâ€™d been able to prep a little more with Gina. “It would have been nice to actually have spent a little more time together. But when I got the role I immediately, or shortly after I called Gina and we spoke on the phone. And it was really nice to introduce ourselves…she was incredibly supportive from the get go, which was really comforting for me.”
Christie didnâ€™t realize it was a true story until he got to the end of the script. â€œ[My] stomach dropped a little bit and I went back to figure it out,â€ he says. [T]here’s obviously an added responsibilityâ€¦and you want to make sure you put the heart and soul into the story that it deserves and that it warrants.â€
Both thought it was an important story to tell. â€œIt was so special in how inspiring it was,â€ Chabert reflects. â€œAnd I thought it would be something that people could relate to and hopefully also learn from.â€ For Christie, it was â€œa really beautiful story about love and loss and healingâ€¦that was going to resonate with a lot of people.â€ â€œOnce I think I got over my initial fear of playing a real live person,â€ he says, â€œwe just tried to go at it with that [and] make sure that the essence of the story was there, and that the family was going to be happy with it in the end.â€
While Chabert found having the Spehns on set in Vancouver last summer comforting, Christie was terrified that Michael Spehn was at arms length just off camera. â€œ[Itâ€™s] a very unusual experience to have someone that you’re playing sitting right off camera as you’re doing a scene that they lived in real life. But they were very supportive and [their presence] really elevated the atmosphere on set,â€ says Chabert. â€œIt’s a very beautiful story with a lot of obviously sensitive and personal material,â€ adds Christie. â€œSo when you are portraying someone like that, you want to make sure that at the very least you’re grabbing the essence and getting the story across. Once the family showed up, and we were able to spend a little time together, [there were] little things you try and pick up and little things you try and grab.”
“[We sat] down and realized that as long as we put everything we could in this, our heart and our soul, and at the end of the day, as long as the family was happy with the end product, then that’s all that really mattered to us,â€ he adds. “We hope it reaches a bigger audience, and I think it’s an important concept to get out there and an important idea, but for us it was about making sure the family felt that their story was told with all the heart that they were…so forthcoming with putting in their book and then putting in the script.â€
Paulson got involved with the Spehnsâ€™ story when his co-executive producer David Permut saw them on the Today Show promoting their book. â€œHe called me and said, ‘this is a tremendous storyâ€¦something that should be told,’ and I…read the book and agreed with him,â€ he says. â€œIt was a long process in getting this started, but I went directly to Bill Abbott, who is the President of Hallmark. And Michael and Gina did a little sizzle reel for us [that their son shot that told their story]. Bill [and I watched it] and I’ll never forget, the lights went up and Bill said, â€˜give me one good reason why we shouldn’t make this film, it’s great,â€™ so the network got behind it and the rest is history.â€
The Spehns werenâ€™t immediately sold on a movie. â€œIt’s our story and we’re handing it over to someone to kind of care for itâ€¦butâ€¦when we first talked with [the producers], we could tell immediately how genuine they were and what care they had intended to take with our story,â€ says Gina. â€œ[They] really earned our trust right away…so it became very easy after talking with them to definitely put our story in their hands. They really created confidence in us and as it turns out, it was a great decision and they did it so beautifully and we’re truly pleased with the outcome.â€
When the couple wrote the book, it was more of a case of getting their story down to understand what theyâ€™d come through. â€œI don’t think Michael or I even knew that it would become a book. We had never attempted to get into publishing,â€ says Gina. â€œThe way that our story happened was we poured out what was on our hearts, and when we shared it with a friend, it ended up in the hands of a literary agent, not by design but just sort of almost accidentallyâ€¦and it became a published book just a couple of years after that.â€
Their five children werenâ€™t involved in the book, but they did get to weigh in on the movie. â€œThat was a little different because now your story’s going to be on television and it’s very accessible to a lot of people that way, [so we asked them what they thought],â€ says Gina. â€œAnd we had a lot of conversations and really, truly our kids were excited about it and I think understand it beyond just, ‘wow, how cool that someone’s making a movie about us.’â€
Michael Spehn says it was a collaborative process throughout. â€œA big priority for [the producers] and for Hallmark was to really convey the story as closely as possible on screen and…we were just simply a part of the conversation all along the way,” he says. “We didn’t know how books became movies or even how movies became actual movies. And when we got on set, that continued through the generosity of Warren and of Lacey, and frankly all the on-screen talent. I think…the accountants would have to verify this, but I think our family being on set really raised their craft services budget right through the roof. But other than that, we were just simply included. There wasn’t any sort of formal consultation process or any other thing like that. [The cast and crew that the producers] assembled…was focused on collaborative, creative accomplishment.â€
Following their marriage, the Spehns created the New Day Foundation for Families, which rose out of a fundraising golf tournament started by friends of Ginaâ€™s first husband, Matt Kell. â€œMatt had such a wide circle of friends, and generous people of faith out here in Michigan that raised all this money,â€ says Michael. â€œAnd so we looked around and said to each other, there’s something really [great here]â€¦there’s a passionate servant heart in all of these people and we need to capture it formally. And so in the aftermath of that, we formalized the New Day Foundation.Â Both Matt Kell and Cathy Spehn were people of incredible faith and of incredible generosity toward others. And I’m not just talking monetarily, I’m talking in their love and their fellowship. And so to be able to carry their legacies forward in a practical application, like the work of the Foundation, is a privilege that we get to have every day.â€
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