[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
If military-themed or dog-themed romances are your thing, Hallmark Channel is coming for you Saturday night with Love and Sunshine, the second film in their “Summer Nights” set of new premieres. Danica McKellar and Mark Deklin star as Ally and Jake, who strike up a friendship when she fosters his retired military service dog, Sunshine, and he returns home from a deployment. I spoke with Deklin today about the film, his fourth for Hallmark.
Deklin began his Hallmark association with 2010’s The Wish List and readily admits that he was a bit reticent to switch gears from a multi-faceted career that’s spanned heavy dramas and broad comedies, but once he started, he realized it was a fantastic fit. “I love working for them. [When I was first approached] my first reaction was, ‘I’m dark and edgy and they have happy endings and that not my thing,’” he laughs.
“They reached out a few times and I turned them down a few times. and then as you get older and you have mouths to feed, your perspective changes. I did The Wish List and I had a great time. Everybody I worked with was so nice, and I thought, ‘This is kind of great. I’m open to this.’ And then they didn’t call for a while and I was doing other things.”
Deklin returned to Hallmark in 2017 with Switched for Christmas opposite Candace Cameron Bure and the second Christmas in Evergreen, Letters to Santa in 2018 opposite Jill Wagner. “[On Switched at Christmas], I had such a great time. I went to Salt lake City and loved all the people I worked with. Every person from every department,” he recalls.
“I remember being touched by people at every level of production. I thought, ‘This is fantastic. I hope they call again.’ So, when they called with Christmas in Evergreen, I jumped at that. Since then, we’ve been in business together, I’m very happy about it.”
For Love and Sunshine, he enjoyed diving into the non-holiday role of Jake, and appreciated the responsibility of playing a military man and representing that story. He says McKellar also made sure their portrayal was honest. “The simple fact that someone has committed themselves to service, and have said, ‘I’m going to dedicate my life to my country,’ in a way that we all benefit from, needs to be honored and respected and not in a knee-jerk way. When I say, ‘Thank you service,’ I genuinely mean all the words of that sentence. I’m grateful,” he explains.
“We had a consultant on the set, and I’d ask questions about [all the details] and I wanted to make sure it was right [and believable]. I want [military personnel] to like the way I’m representing them. Danica became very protective of my character, which is, in some ways, typical of who she is. She’s a very generous person. And she was a pal to me. If something came up in the script that was out of character for Jake, or didn’t have the utmost integrity, she was really quick to say, ‘No, he wouldn’t do that.’”
“She wasn’t just looking out for me, she wanted to make sure the military was represented in an honorable way, and those qualities make Ally fall in love with Jake. We start out as friends sorting out the loose ends from our lives and she comes to rely on him because he’s a good, honorable man. And she realizes that’s what she loves most about him.”
Deklin says it was also important to represent Sunshine accurately, and that she’s a powerful motivator for Jake once he’s home. “We weren’t just talking about a pet, we’re talking about a service animal. They go in the same danger zones that we ask our enlisted men and women to go into and that should be honored and respected,” he points out.
“That’s a driving force for Jake. He wants to do right by her because he loves her and because she earned it. She has been to the dark places with Jake and has earned her retirement and he’s going to make sure she has a good one. It’s a high bar to live up to and it gives you a spine as an actor, no matter what you’re doing in a scene, because you’re always holding on to these qualities.”
Aside from the romance aspect, Love and Sunshine also gives Jake a family life with his Mom, Margo, played by Bess Armstrong (in only her second Hallmark project), and his brother, Sam, played by Hallmark fave Toby Levins (which is genius casting). Those scenes were also special to Deklin. “I loved the family dynamic. It creates a great background for my character. He comes from such a great, tightknit family,” he says.
“His dad was career military. His family knows what he’s in for. His Mom was married to a military man. I loved that aspect. Bess and Toby are both such pros. They were so great to work with. It was a wonderful. I had fun shooting those scenes with them. I had to tell Toby that he was a such a generous actor and a great presence to have on set. He was there to serve the production and not ego-driven at all. It’s so nice to see that. I really felt that brotherly bond.”
Outside of Hallmark, you may recognize Deklin from dramas like Designated Survivor and comedies like Grace and Frankie and Hot in Cleveland, which gave him the opportunity to work with icons Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Betty White. He savors all of those experiences.
“I love when I get to work with genuine icons. It’s a real thrill when you see these icons you grew up watching and now you meet them as a human being and a colleague. As you get older, you become less ego-driven and it’s really nice to be on a set that’s fairly ego-less, where they’re there to have a nice time and do good work. That’s an environment I really enjoy,” he explains.
“[On Grace and Frankie], I became close with Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen since most of my scenes were with them. It’s so fun to work with someone who you admired for years and now you’re buddies and colleagues and you meet someone who hasn’t become jaded. I remember standing with them watching Lily and Jane do a scene. Lily is a force of nature when she’s acting that’s unlike anyone else and it’s really cool. And we were all awestruck at how unbelievable she was. It was a fun situation to be in.”
“Betty White is sharp as tack. She doesn’t miss a beat. She’s razor sharp and so sweet. My daughter was a toddler when I was on that show and all the women fell in love with her but she and Betty became buddies. I have all these pictures of them playing together. They were like girlfriends It was great to see bookends of life that way.”
Deklin is deeply appreciative of the mix of work he gets to do that also gives him significant quality time at home with his family. “Hallmark movies afford me the opportunity to do other projects a lot and I love stretching those muscles. A live audience is a very particular way to play comedy [vs.] filmed comedy or serious drama. I’m fortunate to be able to do a great variety of roles and styles and media in what I do,” he says. “And I’m able to be with my family a lot. I try to keep that balance [when I pick projects]. My career is exactly what’s I’ve asked for.”
Deklin doesn’t have another specific Hallmark project lined up yet, but does expect more movies to follow, including a planned third installment of Christmas in Evergreen. You can also catch him on Twitter and Instagram. Funnily enough, while it’s Ally who has a green thumb in this film, Deklin has a gift for it in real life and the pictures to prove it.
Love and Sunshine premieres Saturday night at 9/8c on Hallmark Channel. Here are a couple of sneak peeks.
Photos courtesy of Crown Media and Netflix. Video Courtesy of Crown Media.
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