Hallmark merges its affinity for romcoms, bakeries, and long-lost loves this Saturday night in The Sweetest Heart, starring Julie Gonzalo (Falling for Vermont) and Chris McNally. I spoke with McNally today about his current projects.
If you travel across genres like I do, McNally may be familiar to you from Netflix’s Altered Carbon, or you may recognize him from his recent Hallmark appearances, in December’s Rocky Mountain Christmas and October’s installment of Gourmet Detective.
After appearing in those Hallmark supporting roles, McNally was offered The Sweetest Heart co-lead outright. “It came out of nowhere. I had done of couple of Hallmark films and my agent called me and said I had a job offer,” he recalls. “I thought it had some great quirky comedic moments in it. I also liked that they threaded through three different love lines.”
In the film, McNally plays Nate, a cardiologist who’s back in his hometown to give a lecture series at the local hospital. He’s a bit nervous, with good reason, because it’s his first return since breaking the heart of his high school sweetheart, Maddie (Gonzalo), a decade earlier when the long distance college thing fell apart after they graduated.
Maddie’s BFF, Sarah (Siren‘s Tammy Gillis), and her neighbor, Emma (Continuum‘s Catherine Lough Haggquist), don’t cut him much slack, either. When her bake shop hits a snag with an attempted expansion, Nate is given an opportunity to help her out and maybe repair those old wounds.Andrea Brooks (Supergirl/When Calls the Heart), Clayton Chitty (When Calls the Heart), Jill Teed (The Christmas Train), Victor Zinck, Jr. (Frozen in Love), and Jordan Burtchett also star.
McNally enjoyed playing a fairly jargon-free physician. “I feel like in the future I would enjoy giving speeches to people…if down the line I have success in this industry and I’m in a place where I can give advice to young people who are striving [to break in], that’s something I’d be very interested in doing,” he shares. “It was fun to do that in a different field.”
His favorite scene was the ending, but it came with some logistical challenges. “That scene seemed to be haunted when we were shooting it,” he laughs. “We kept getting interrupted. Someone set a fire across the street and the police came and we had to wait for them to clear it. Lights were also shutting on and off. Aside from all that, it was my favorite to shoot.”
McNally found the fast pace and his larger role this time around meant making a few adjustments. “The first week [of the shoot], I was commuting out to Langley and two hours of travel [each day] cut down the amount of time I had to prep for the next day,” he explains.
“I decided to stay out in Langley for weeks two and three, which helped significantly working with Julie because we were staying at the same hotel. We were able to work tomorrow’s scenes out once the day had ended. That was my lesson on this one. Make sure you’re staying as close as possible to the set so you have time to prep for the next day.”
His role as Sergei, the partner of the Bancrofts’ son, Isaac, in Altered Carbon (our coverage is here), came around just as he was auditioning for Juilliard in New York. “I got this self tape request. I remember thinking, ‘What is this? I’m auditioning in two days and I’ve got to prep for that. I Googled people who could self tape me in New York, so we worked the scenes and shot it and sent it off and I kind of forgot about it,” he says.
“A few weeks later, I got a call that I had booked it. Then I found out how massive the projects was and I was excited to be a part of it. I think it ended up helping my work [in the audition] because I was so distracted. It was such a secret project. I wasn’t allowed to read the scripts. I didn’t even get my sides until…the latest was the night before. It was a fun experience but I did feel very in the dark.”
“I needed to be informed by Antonio Marizale, who’s a lovely guy and great actor. I play his partner. I got to the set and said, ‘Do you know anything?’ and he filled me in. Working with him was really inspiring and he’s so emotionally available. He has this beautiful Laurence Olivier sensibility to him.”
“I really looked up to Joel Kinnaman because I loved him in The Killing. We were doing the scene were he busts into my apartment and throws us around a little bit. The stunt coordinator asked if we were good. Just the way he grabbed me…my shoulder hurt. He said, ‘Yeah, he’s a little heavy-handed.’ It was OK I didn’t mind. It helps when there’s a little bit of realness. James Purefoy was amazing to watch. Seeing him work was really inspiring.”
Lifetime’s upcoming adaptation of the VC Andrews novel, Heaven is another lead role, and McNally says it was both emotional and educational. “It was really difficult. I’d say it’s the hardest thing I’ve worked on so far. It was really great working with Annalise Basso and Julie Benz. They’re terrific,” he explains. “I feel like I’m still very new in this industry. I’ve been working at it a while, but in terms of working on a set with a more substantial role, that’s still new to me, so I was just trying to learn as much as I could.”
“What made it so hard…with Hallmark, most of what we’re shooting has a lightness and levity to it. It’s fun, we capture what we need to and move on. With Heaven, it’s an independent drama that we should have been taking the time to shoot but we were doing it on a movie of the week schedule…fighting the light [as] the days were getting shorter.”
The story doesn’t pull any punches, either. It focuses on Heaven, an abused young woman who’s adopted by an unbalanced woman with ultimately ulterior motives. McNally plays Heaven’s stepdad, who steps in to protect her and later develops a relationship with her.
McNally wasn’t accepted at Julliard but hopes to audition again, depending on where his year goies. Getting through it the first time was a combination of craft and conquering nerves. “I’ve never been more nervous [than I was] before going in that room,” he laughs.
“I arrived early in the morning. You sign in and you can go in…warm up rooms. There are a few massive dance rooms that are filled with people waiting. Eventually your group is called and then you go to a smaller area and wait and then you go in.”
“You need to have four monologues prepared, two classical, two contemporary, all of a contrasting nature, trying to show a range, and you need to have 16 bars of an a capella song as well. You go in and do one classical/contemporary and they may ask you to sing. If you get a callback, you go back and do that again and then two more. It was all in one day.”
McNally is on Twitter and Instagram, and the admitted dog lover has had a bit of fun on the latter with his family dog and a couple of pups he’s met on set. “The one that appears most belongs to my family. She’s a shepherd husky. I steal her all the time,” he says.
“I was working in Victoria and one of the make up artists had this insanely cute Pomeranian named Cricket. One day I was dressed up in 18th century gear and I asked if we could do a photo shoot with Cricket. We went outside and I’m holding Cricket and it was really funny picture.”
“I ended up working with her again in Heaven and said we need to take took another picture. I’m sitting at a typewriter in my 70s outfit with Cricket. I hope I come across her again so we can keep this going. The key hair person on The Sweetest Heart, Deja, had a little Chihuahua named Candy so I took a picture saying, ‘Cricket’s got some competition.'”
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