Luke Macfarlane Talks Christmas Land, Killjoys, Mercy Street, and More [Exclusive]
Luke Macfarlane broke our hearts in the first season of Killjoys, but we’re thrilled they are already working on season two. The bad news? We’ll have to wait six months for those episodes. The good news? Macfarlane is back on our TVs Sunday night opposite Awkward‘s Nikki DeLoachÂ in Christmas Land, a very sweet, fun Christmas movie for Hallmark Channel. And next month, he’s on PBS in the Civil War era miniseries/limited series Mercy Street. I jumped on the phone with MacfarlaneÂ this week to talk about his projects.
Christmas Land is Macfarlane’s second outing for Hallmark after 2014’s The Memory Book (when I interviewed him the first time), and it was a super-fast turnaround. They just wrapped filming in November and were able to take advantage of an early winter in Salt Lake City, which helped them set the tone.
Macfarlane had a ball working on the movie. “My agent is really good at being in touch with the folks at Hallmark Channel. They thought of me [for this]. I did [The Memory Book] and didn’t do a terrible job, so they gave me another crack at it,” he laughs. “It’s great because the Christmas movies are a big part of the Hallmark tradition. It was an honor to be asked because it’s a whole other level of what Hallmark is known for. I jumped at the opportunity to do it.”
The movie was Macfarlane’s first time working with DeLoach and he adored her. “Nikki is really special. I did the Google thing [before we started work]. She’s so grounded and such an honest, hardworking girl,” he says. “She’s texting with her mother making sure Christmas things are arranged. She’s a great mother. I really, really, really respected her and the way she’s navigated the business as an actress. She’s great and prepared and on the point.”
He was happy they didn’t have to fake the cold weather, which made the shoot that much more special. “We were joking that you could see our cold breath so it made it especially cozy and authentic,” he says. “Most of the time, it’s fake snow and it’s the middle of the summer. We were the last one [filmed for this holiday season]. They made it work to get it done in time for Christmas.”
“They did an amazing job with the location. We found this beautiful old pioneer town that became the primary setting. You never know when you read the script how they’re going to pull off this important set piece,” he explains. “It was these old facades, and with the smells, it was so cozy. It was especially exciting. The background players [in Salt Lake City] are the best I’ve ever worked with. They were so good. They had just lost Blood & Oil when we were there so there was a lot of disappointment about that.”
Macfarlane made a point to meet TV icon Maureen McCormick, who appears in flashbacks. “She was so lovely. I knocked on her trailer because we didn’t have scenes together and said hello and an hour later, we were chatting about life and family and the business,” he recalls. “She was so wonderful and kind and open-hearted. I really, really enjoyed her.”
Eagle-eyed viewers may have caught Macfarlane in a recent two-episode appearance on Supergirl, which he filmed earlier this fall before Christmas Land. He came to that through his connection to Greg Berlanti fromÂ Brothers & Sisters. “I’d worked with Greg before and I knew some of the people peripherally from auditioning. It was interesting because of my experience on Killjoys,” he says. “In a way, they’re both sci-fi shows with a strong female lead, but I’ll tell you who had a bigger budget than we did.”
“It was really impressive and massive. Beautiful, beautiful sets, hardworking cast. It’s always fun to get a little bit of a glimpse into that moment when the cast is hopeful and optimistic about the show. I got to catch up with Calista Flockhart. I’m very curious to see how it will continue to do, and on that network.”
Starting next month, we can see Macfarlane in Mercy Street, a Civil War-era drama with Josh Radnor and Elizabeth Winstead, which PBS is positioning as a pickup series for audiences anxious to fill a post-Downton Abbey void. Macfarlane plays a Chaplain, and he was happy to dive into such a historical piece.
“I’m super proud of this project. It’s produced by Scott-Free, [it has] wonderful writers. I play Chaplain Hopkins, who was a Union Chaplain who worked at this hospital,” he explains. “It’s essentially an Upstairs, Downstairs story of a hospital. Being a Civil War buff, I was very excited to live inside this world. It’s a fantastic cast. I think PBS is looking to find something that whets the appetite of the Downton Abbey audience, which they’ll be losing this year as the show goes off the air. I don’t know howÂ official it is, but I understand they’d like to do one for every year of the war.”
Mercy Street isn’t Macfarlane’s first foray into period territory. He shot a miniseries for CBC a few years back called Iron Road, about the building of the railroad. [You can now buy that on DVD in the U.S.; for a while there it was only available in Canada].
On a much darker note, I had to grill Macfarlane (good-naturedly, of course) about where D’avin ended up in the season finale of Killjoys, and where he’s going in season two He was tight-lipped except to say that we will learn more about Level 6. I did get him to admit that three weeks into production, he has shot footage with Aaron Ashmore and Hannah John-Kamen but he laughed that he couldn’t say whether the scenes were in the current timeline or a flashback. (Dammit!)
Macfarlane is beyond excited to be back at work. “[Season one] was such a positive experience. It continues to be. Almost our entire creative team came back, which I think is a testament to the show. It was such a great experience,” he shares. “We’re all energized by the fact that nobody’s given us fistfuls of money and [set] super-duper high expectations. It’s very fun to problem solve within the constraints [we have].”
“Michelle [Lovretta] is so wickedly talented and she ‘s doing that very clever thing of creating a universe that can speak about contemporary issues in a deep, deep way. And she continues to do that in the second season. It’s fantastic. It’s really, truly, and sincerely a positive experience.”
He didn’t know going in that Lovretta had planned to pull the trigger so early on Dutch and D’avin but he trusted her vision. “I think Michelle did this very smart thing where she wanted to get it over with. She’s notÂ interested in love triangles. She’s bored by the idea of two guys fighting over one girl. I think she wanted to acknowledge and recognize that these are two red-blooded people so let’s get that story told.”
“I also felt like she was interested in exploring intimacy and violence and how close they can exist. It was hard to watch. When I finally saw it, [D’avin] actually hitting her was so upsetting, and the punches to the face with the sound effects were so brutal. But so much of the show is also about Dutch defining herself with these very controlling men. She’s trying to be a strong woman and still be feminine. Hannah John-KamenÂ isÂ so wickedly talented. I look at her with such awe. She’s seven years younger than me. I’m blown away by her precision and focus.”
“I think Michelle’s universe and the story she is interested in telling are so smart. And everything I’ve read this year is even better. I want life to get better for D’avin. One of the joys and difficulties of having a small cast [is that] we have to continue to tell stories within our small group. I’m loving this show. I hope it goes for five years. I really, really, real do.”
Macfarlane missed out on the 2015 convention circuit because he was booked back to back between his TV work and a play, but he looks forward to doing them next year if scheduling permits. “I think it will be especially exciting to go to these things once the audience is familiar with the show,” he says. “I’m certainly open to it. Aaron says it’s a very positive experience.”
Also holding a place on Macfarlane’s dance card is the third season of The Night Shift. He hopes he can return to the show after Killjoys wraps in April. “Gabe [Sachs] has been really open with me. I love doing that show. I want to [give him a window] and come do something with Brendan. I’m pitching myself,” he says. “I love being part of the show. I know how frustrating it wasÂ for fans [that my availability impacted the story].”
As an alumnus of Brothers & Sisters, Macfarlane has done the traditional 22-episode season on a network, and he’s loving the flexibility afforded by the short seasons of his current roster of shows. I 100% prefer a ten-episode season. This year has been a testament to why I got in the business,” he points out. “I joke with my friends that I play soldiers in three different generations, one in the future, one in the past, and one in the present. That’s because of these schedules. I’m very grateful.”
Working on so many projects has also given him the opportunity to do something near and dear to him. “I’ve always known about myself that what really interests me about acting is the opportunity to meet different people. I love meeting people, and I love the different sets and seeing the way they’re unique,” he admits. “Killjoys is probably the funnest for me, because I believe so deeply in the material.”
Mercy Street begins January 17th on PBS. Killjoys and The Night Shift return in mid-2016.
Christmas Land premieres Sunday night at 8/7c on Hallmark Channel. DeLoach plays a career marketing exec who’s plan to sell her late grandmother’s Christmas-themed village gets derailed when she strikes up a friendship with the lawyer (Macfarlane) handling the estate, and she realizes what the village means to the community. Here’s a sneak peek of Christmas Land.
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