Benjamin Ayres Talks A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, Chronicle Mysteries, Suits, and More [Exclusive]
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Thursday night, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries pairs Rachael Leigh Cook and Benjamin Ayres in the new holiday film, A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas. It’s the first Christmas movie for both, and the first standalone film that Ayres has done since filming the four Chronicle Mysteries installments earlier this year. Earlier today, I jumped on the phone to chat with him about the movie, that franchise, and popping back into Suits for the final season.
In A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, Cook plays New York hotel manager Willow, who’s home for her sister’s wedding. Ayres is David, an attorney and single father to Natalie (Another Life’s Lina Renna). He’s the current owner of the Eagle Ridge Inn, which Willow’s father built and her mother sold after his death. Now, her sister’s getting married and suddenly without a venue, so Willow asks David, who’s also the best man, if she can move the wedding to the Inn.
He’s in the process of selling it and doesn’t have the time or inclination to help, but soon Willow, and Natalie, wear him down and he remembers why he fell in love with the Inn in the first place. David Winning directs Rick Garman‘s script based on the novel A Christmas Bride by Hope Ramsay.
The project came together this summer at the TCA event, where Hallmark talent mix and mingle with the press and each other during the Television Critics Association meeting. “I was at the TCAs and the producer Jim Rice, who I’ve worked with in the past, had come up to me and said, ‘Hey, you know Rachel Leigh Cook?’ I said, ‘Yeah, of course,” he recalls.
From there, he was directed around around the room to talk to various people who wanted to put them together in a Christmas movie. “That happens at those parties sometimes. It’s like, ‘Okay…these are our slate of movies…’ Rachael has been a good family friend for years. And her ex-husband, Daniel Gillies, and I became good friends on Saving Hope, which we did for three seasons.”
“We played best buddies on the show and then became really good friends. We all had kids on that show and our kids grew up together and stuff. But Rachael and I had never worked together so it was nice to have the opportunity to get to do it in this capacity because we’re both relatively new to Hallmark.”
Between Cook, Winning (who directed Falling For Vermont), and working opposite Renna, Ayres had a terrific time. “One of the things I love about acting is…it’s a hundred plus new people every time that have to work together and collaborate to tell a single story,” he explains.
“And when you have some of the people that are in the key departments that you’ve worked with in some capacity previously, it makes it much easier and much quicker because it has a shorthand. I found that specifically with David and especially because he wasn’t working with the Director of Photography and the camera operators that he normally does [so] there can be some delays here and there just due to getting to know one another and how each person works. So [us having worked together before] made it much easier for sure.”
“The relationship with the daughter is so great. I’ve got two daughters myself, seven and four. And working with Lina, who’s playing ten years-old, was amazing for me cause I can just project what it’s going to be like in the future, for me to have a daughter that age.”
“The relationship comes quite easily because when you have kids, working with them, it’s just glorious. They’re so in the moment, so inquisitive, and different every take and she was just so fun to work with. It makes everybody present in every scene.”
Ayres adds that that quality also helped him tap into his character. “Another thing that I quite liked about the character was the fact that he had a hard time living in the moment and was constantly working on this future self that he’s envisioned, because he’d kept these plans with his wife. It’s like, ‘This is exactly what I want from my life and this is the path that I’m on in order to succeed in a way that is going to make me feel fulfilled in life,’” he says.
“And yet there’s this opportunity right in front of him that he can’t see and getting to play the dynamics of doing his best to be in the moment. It’s like be the fun dad for Natalie and also, at the same time wanting to be successful at whatever ‘successful’ is in his mind…becoming partner. It’s amazing how we can be on a path and think that once we get there we’re going to be happier. But ultimately it’s about the journey, not the destination.”
The movie filmed in Vancouver this September, and Ayres says that allayed his initial hesitation about shooting a Christmas movie. “I will admit there have been opportunities to do them in the past, but they [typically] shoot in August. When we shot Falling For Vermont, that was in August and it was set in fall and wearing the clothes for that was really hard. We got really hot,” he points out.
“I remember thinking at the time, joking with Julia Gonzalo, ‘I can’t do one of these Christmas movies. I can’t wear these types of clothes in August.’ This one we shot in September, late September. And it made it much easier because it does start to cool off a little bit. [This time], I was like, ‘Get me those gloves. Where’s the scarf?’”
Ayres has also had a great time shooting Chronicle Mysteries and expects to do more next year. He explains that there’s a trick to nailing the relationships and the mysteries in a serial structure that’s not quite a weekly series. “Sometimes, they’ll air kind of out of sequence, so if you’re watching them you’re like, ‘Wait, what’s going on with this couple?’ So, it’s finding the balance of the relationship between [Alex and Drew] and also the mystery of the week,” he says.
“I think the first one is great as far as setting up the world. And I think by episode three or four, we really started to find a nice balance. I know we’ve got a couple in development that we’re hopefully going to be shooting early next year.”
“[Being asked to join the franchise] was a great phone call to get. They had reached out to my agent about the possibility of working on this project. [I was] a fan of Alison Sweeney, and she is the one who pitched them as one of the producers of it.”
“And she kind of created the idea. I was a huge podcast fan. I thought, ‘I can’t believe this idea hasn’t even been done, let alone on major networks.’ I jumped all over it. I mean a journalist and a podcaster cracking cold cases? I’m sold.”
Ayres also returned to USA’s Suits this summer to play Gavin again before the series wrapped. “Living in Toronto, I was aware that the show films here, so I started watching the first season, just as, ‘I should probably be aware of it cause eventually I’ll audition for it,’ and then I was like, ‘Oh man, this is a really good show,” he says.
“So, we became big fans of it. And when you audition for something or production reaches out for an offer and it’s a show that you’re a fan of, it’s very exciting. I had auditioned multiple times and then this role came around and it was originally supposed to be one episode. So, the fact that I went in there and had a lot of fun with it and they seemed to like what I did and it turned into four of season eight and then they brought me back to those couple of episodes in season nine…”
“I was very honored and happy to get to play a type of character who owns a $50 million house, an airline company, and these private jets and gets to walk in and have the characters on the show who have the status, not have it when they’re with me. That was great. Ultimately I’m like, ‘Oh, I get to work with so and so and then you’re there and you’re like, but no, I’m the one that they’re coming to see cause they need me.’ At the end of the day, all that matters is between action cut. Getting to play a character like that is a lot of fun.”
Our Canadian friends have also had a few more chances to see Ayres—he did a couple of Season 4 episodes of Baroness von Sketch Show, which are also airing a few weeks later in the US on IFC, and children’s show, Detention Adventure, which is airing now on CBC Gem and will hopefully land stateside on one of the streamers.
“The first show I booked was a comedy dramedy type thing. I really enjoy doing comedy. It can be challenging, but it’s just a lot of fun. I love drama too, but after the years of Saving Hope and playing a doctor and infusing, you know, comedy moments in when I could, I really relish in the opportunities when I get to do something like Baroness Von Sketch,” he says.
“I ran into a couple of the women at a TIFF party and we got to talking and I said, ‘You know, anything, I’ll come out and play.’ And [they said], ‘It’s hardly even a part,’ but I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I did a day where I got all done up and played a couple of parts for them and it was a lot of fun and I love the show.”
“[Detention Adventure] is a great show. The creators of it were a couple of the crew guys from Saving Hope. They had seen a photo I have in my cell phone from a project I wrote a long time ago and they’re like, ‘Who was that weird character you’re playing [with the] bald cap and the mustache and the glasses?’”
“They’re like, ‘Okay, we’re writing a series and [this guy would be great as] the lead bad guy we now have in our mind.’ I said, ‘Sweet. If it ever happens, let me know.’ And then like four years later they [called and said], ‘Hey, man, our show’s getting made.’”
Bonus points, too, because his daughter is also a fan. “They did the premiere at a cinema here. And my daughter went, which was the first time she’s really watching me in anything. And she’s obsessed with that because the kids are really cool,” he shares.
“I’m like the bad guy who is also a bit of a goof, you know, and they’re solving science problems and math problems and it’s a really fun show. I hope that you get some sort of international distribution and a chance to watch it.”
In the new year, Ayres will also start work on Best Intentions, a new half-hour comedy for Pop TV. “It’s written by the creator of the American Pie franchise. It has the same kind of gross out humor with a lot of heart and it takes place at a high school,” he explains. “We shot the pilot at the Degrassi school.”
“It’s about a guidance counselor who’s having some relationship problems and likes one of the teachers. And a student who is his son, who’s also coming of age, and [I’m] the guidance counselor’s best friend, the jock with the wife and five kids who used to go to that school and now is the principal of it and thinks he’s the best thing on the planet.”
A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas premieres Thursday night at 9 pm/8c on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Ayres does plan to live Tweet the East Coast air. Here’s a sneak peek of the film.
Photos courtesy of Crown Media, CBC, IFC, and USA. Video courtesy of Crown Media.
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