[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
This Friday, Hallmark Movies Now takes another step toward being a bonafide original content streamer when it releases the first two episodes of its first series, When Hope Calls, a spinoff of Hallmark Channel’s juggernaut series, When Calls the Heart. Set in 1916, it will follow Lillian (Morgan Kohan) and Grace (Jocelyn Hudon), a pair of now-adult, reunited sisters (who were introduced last season) as they put down roots in elder sister Lillian’s hometown of Brookfield and open an orphanage.
To say they get a less-than-warm welcome is an understatement. Initially wary of accepting the sisters and children into their community, the townspeople come to see that they’re doing a really good thing and paying it forward for the next generation.
Jefferson Brown plays Joe, who runs the local store. Elizabeth Saunders, coming off a fantastic run in the final season of Mary Kills People, plays Eleanor, the housekeeper for Lillian and Grace at the orphanage. WCTH faves Pascale Hutton and Kavan Smith pop in for episode 2. The regular cast includes Greg Hovanessian and Ryan-James Hatanaka as veterinarian Chuck and mountie Gabriel. It’s not a spoiler to say they’re potential love interests for the sisters.
The wrinkle for Chuck is that his family, in particular his mother, Tess, have a longstanding grudge against Lillian related to the circumstances around his father’s death. That makes an already awkward situation even moreso.
Tess is played by Canadian actress Wendy Crewson, who also currently appears in Frankie Drake Mysteries, which is about to start its third season on CBC in Canada and can be streamed in the US on PBS Passport/iTunes/Amazon Prime. I’ve adored Crewson for close to two decades. I only found out last week that she’s in this, so I jumped on the phone with her today to chat about her character and the series.
Crewson loved getting to dive into the complex role of Tess, who is, in many ways, the town matriarch. There’s a bit of an edge to her character, and a hint of a secret that will cascade out over the season. “When I read the pilot, there wasn’t a lot of menace to it, and I didn’t feel the menace. I understood her inability to connect with Lillian,” Crewson shares.
“I just saw her as an independent woman. She’s suffered a lot of loss, She’s managed to keep going and make it on her own and did really well. The ranch is so big and it built up the town. I love doing this because there is a chance for redemption, and because in today’s world, the number of people who hold onto things that have nothing to do with the people they’re talking to now [is huge].”
“[They] hold those grudges, they polish them up every day, and keep them front and center. Hopefully this will be a good opportunity, in some ways, to say, ‘How do we let those deep hurts go and move forward in ways that aren’t so punishing?’ It does make her very complex. She’s extraordinarily human. She holds on to that resentment and she’s not about to let it go right now and it’s defined her in some ways, that she’s managed to overcome it.”
As Tess, Crewson gets to rock a very distinct (and killer) look, and she credits the wardrobe team with setting that aesthetic. “It’s been so fun getting into character. The main entry into this character was [costume designer] Steven Wright’s wardrobe. Those riding pants and coat and that hat. I’m addicted to that damn hat. I have to have that hat everywhere I go,” she laughs.
“I figure Tess is out there riding and working that ranch. She’s not sitting around with her feet up. I’ve turned her into a bit of a workhorse. That was really empowering when you see those girls in their corsets and petticoats. [Tess] is an outlier and doesn’t follow society’s rules of femininity. She’s her own person and that’s been so much fun to play on Hallmark.”
Crewson says shooting remotely in North Bay, Ontario has helped build up the camaraderie of the cast and crew. When she was offered the role, she laughs that producer Alfonso Moreno admitted he had called around to previous producers she’d worked with to get a bead on how she would handle the environment. “These shoots are way out in the middle of nowhere in Northern Ontario. I called it ‘Camp Hope.’ It’s like summer stock theater with some nice costumes and some horses,” she explains.
“You really are isolated out there. It takes a team to make that work. You want people on each other’s side who get along well and will give it their all and not complain. It’s beautiful, but the conditions [with the heat and the rain and the bugs] can be challenging.”
On Frankie Drake Mysteries, Crewson plays an equally complex character in Nora, the Mom to the titular Frankie played by Lauren Lee Smith. Crewson gave us a little tease of what to expect in Season 3. “She gets up to her usual shenanigans being a pain in Frankie’s side the entire time,” she says.
“She ends up getting conned, which she’s just shocked about. A long-lost relative shows up and [she has] a little romance. She’s got a lot of great stuff this season. It’s a lot of fun to do.”
While both series are set within a decade of each other, but in vastly different worlds, the throughline is that their tone and energy are buoyant, especially when you consider the timelines occur within and immediately after World War I. “They are light and joyful and very playful. I love the contrast and adore going from one to another,” Crewson says.
“It’s nice, and I feel fortunate to be able to, flex those different muscles every time. I fly out of Toronto from a day on Frankie Drake to [do When Hope Calls in] North Bay and the next morning, I put on my hat and head out on my horse and it changes just like that and it’s so much fun.”
Crewson has also banked From the Vine, an independent film co-starring Joe Pantoliano that she shot last October in Italy. “My friend, Paula Brancati, found this novel called Finding Marco. She’s a dynamite producer and actress. She plays my daughter. She sent me an e-mail. I was going to take a couple of weeks off and she said, ‘It’s this little, tiny movie we’re shooting in this tiny town where the story’s actually set,’” she recalls.
“Acerenza is a medieval town on top of a very high hill, built around the ruins of a Greek temple when that whole part of Italy was part of Greece. Nobody spoke English. It was these tiny little cobblestone streets on the peak of this hill with one cathedral in the middle and a great huge wall around it. It was the most magical place I’ve ever been. We got to move into people’s homes and stayed there and shot for a month. It was just the best time. It was so beautiful.”
The 10-episode first season of When Hope Calls will launch with two episodes Friday, August 30th on Hallmark Movies Now in the US, with subsequent episodes released every Friday. You can start with a 7-day free trial. In Canada, you can catch it every Friday at 8 pm/7c on Super Channel Heart & Home. Here are a few sneak peeks.
Update 2/23/20: Hallmark Channel will run the first season at 9 pm/8c on Sundays after each episode of the new season of When Calls the Heart.
Photos courtesy of Crown Media, CBC, Mythic Productions, Farpoint Films and Pointmedia Italia SRL. Video courtesy of Crown Media.
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