[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Looking for a little non-Christmas programming this weekend? May I direct you to Lifetime Movies Saturday night for the premiere of the decidedly, definitely, NOT a holiday movie, Amish Abduction, starring TVD‘s Sara Canning and Hallmarkie Steve Byers (also of Slasher/Reign)?
Fellow Hallmarkie Ali Liebert makes her directorial debut with the story of Annie (Canning), an Amish woman whose world is turned upside down when her husband, Jacob (Byers), breaks with their faith and enters the world of the English, taking their son, Caleb (Liam Hughes), with him.
Byers is one of our favorites, so I jumped on the phone with him last week to chat about it, and changing gears to play Jacob. Filmed last year in and around Vancouver, the movie gave Byers an opportunity to reconnect with Canning.
“She’s so lovely and we had a great time working together. Sara was offered her role by Ali. And when they were talking, my name came up and along with my agent they said that we’d be a good match,” he recalls.
“Sara and I had worked together before on Remedy and knew each other through other channels, and as the circles get smaller as we get older. It was a no-brainer for me. I welcomed the challenge and it was an opportunity to go back out to Vancouver for a little bit.”
“The people were fantastic to work with. Gabrielle Rose is a lovely lady. Although she didn’t have a ton to do in it, everything she does I think is fantastic. And Andrew McIlroy and Ryan Bruce who played the brother, such a sweet guy.
The movie also made use of the When Calls the Heart set after the series wrapped its season last fall, albeit with a very different look and purpose. “Obviously it’s beautiful. I think the fact that it was November, and the leaves had fallen off the trees and the grass is all browned out…once all of those elements change, it becomes actually a very haunting kind of place,” he explains.
“It played a character in the script all on its own. There were no heaters in the houses and it was cold. We were out on a bunch of nights shoots and you could hear the coy wolves training the pups to howl. They’d all start up and it would be a huge chorus of them. We were shooting in this tall grass and in the woods and they sounded close.”
As with most Lifetime women-in-peril flicks, there’s a very specific villain who’s the source of that peril, and here, that’s absolutely Jacob. Byers layers his performance to play the character as someone who’s deeply unhappy but doesn’t set out to be overtly malicious in his actions. And of course, because, Lifetime, we get an obligatory scene of him in a towel, much to his chagrin.
“[That] was my first day of shooting. I gave [Ali] the gears on that. I’m like, ‘Really? What about a robe?’ ‘Nope. Network wants a towel.’ It was my first day coming into Vancouver [but] when have you been half-naked with everybody, you get pretty close,” he laughs.
Byers embraced the challenge of playing Jacob’s darker emotions “There was no way around it, really. I think that because of his issues and what he [does] in terms of taking Caleb, if you don’t go along for the ride [in your performance], then nobody else will,” he explains.
When we spoke, Byers had just wrapped Hero Dog: The Journey Home, a family film where he plays blind for the first time. “The premise is that my character is going back home, which is way up North. The ferry boat runs aground and he has his sister’s dog on board with them. [Once they’re shipwrecked], they take it upon themselves to get through the wilderness and back home,” he says.
“Whenever you’re in a wilderness type situation, the weather obviously does what it wants to do. It’s never predictable. It was amazing to work with [the dog] Iikona and his handler, who are lovely, and we really got to bond. That was a lot of fun. People say don’t work with kids and dogs, but in this case, both were great.”
When he was initially approached about the project, the concept was that his character would wear glasses, but Byers made the case to not do that. “[My character] had his vision taken from him by an IED in Afghanistan. He’s not lived his life without sight. And I did a lot of research about sighted people who had lost their sight since birth versus injury,” he shares.
“I think [now] you get to see the performance rather than it being hidden by the glasses. [To portray blindness], you purposely unfocus your eyes. You can’t really track, because as soon as you start to track things, it takes people out [of what you’re doing.]”
“There were so many little moments where the other actors forget you’re playing blind and they’ll hand something out to you or put their hand out to shake your hand. And I [had to say], ‘I don’t see that.’ So they had to be reminded of it. At the end of the day I was, I was really grateful for the challenge.”
In the US, Hero Dog: The Journey Home is on demand and streaming on Amazon, YouTube, and iTunes. It’s also available on DVD. In Canada, it’s available on Super Channel Heart and Home.
Byers is also in the season 4 of Workin’ Moms on CBC and Netflix–and he’s completed another movie, The Babysitter’s Revenge, which is expected to air next year, likely on Lifetime.
[Update 1/11/20: The Babysitter’s Revenge airs Saturday, January 11th, at 8 pm/7c and Midnight/11 pm c on Lifetime Movies and is available to stream now on Lifetime’s website. I caught the first airing Thursday night and it’s a deliciously trashy drama about a war of wills between a seemingly perfect suburban stay-at-home mom (Bree Turner) and the teenage girl next door (Aviva Mongillo) who blames her for upending her mother (Zoie Palmer)’s career. And this girl Does. Not. Play. Even if it means blowing up the life of her target’s husband (Byers, who, again, gets to play a surprisingly emotional arc). Below is what he had to say about the project.]
In the film, his character’s wife is having an affair that’s discovered by the babysitter. It’ll be another high drama outing, and this time around, the heat was a factor instead of the cold. “Everybody was lovely [but] it was the hottest Montreal I’ve ever experienced,” he points out. “My lovely costume designer decided that to show that I had wealth, I was going to [always] be wearing sweaters.”
“I have a scene where I’m barbecuing in like a sweater and a blazer. I had a lovely a onset wardrobe person who would constantly be having to blow a hairdryer across my back.”
Amish Abduction premieres Saturday at 8 pm/7c on Lifetime Movies and repeats at midnight/11c. Here’s a sneak peek:
Photos and Videos Courtesy of Lifetime and Journey Home Films.
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