[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Saturday night, Hallmark Channel airs its first Hanukkah-themed movie with Double Holiday, and I’m happy to tell you that Carly Pope and Kristoffer Polaha, along with an extended cast and a really sweet script by Nina Weinman Swift, deliver a sentimental, lovely story about two colleagues who have to let their professional guard down over the holidays.
Pope plays Rebecca and Polaha plays Chris. They’re real estate project managers and cubicle-mates who regularly push each other’s buttons. When their manager bails right before the holiday party, they’re thrown together to pull it off. Complication number one is that they’re equally next in line to assume the manager’s vacated slot and the party is their test. Complication number two is that this all kicks off on night one of Hanukkah, and Rebecca’s on the hook for the first big family meal.
She’s determined to succeed by multi-tasking until an opportunity presents itself when Chris arrives unannounced at her house as she’s knee-deep in meal prep and it’s not going well. Unprompted, he steps in to help cook dinner, and then her mother asks him to stay and eat what he prepared.
Thus begins an unexpected off-the-clock friendship and both discover that each really like who the other is when they’re not in work mode. It also gives Chris an opportunity to fall in love with a family holiday that’s light years away from the spartan Christmases he shared with his single mom. I spoke to Polaha last week about the film, his Mystery 101 franchise with Jill Wagner, and a little movie coming next summer called Wonder Woman 1984.
Polaha understands the stakes of Double Holiday. “I think it is a big deal and unlike anything else they’ve ever made. This is specifically about Hanukkah and the celebrations. It teaches the audience about the traditions of the holiday. My manager’s Jewish and she sent me the prayer. She was on vacation with her family and she closed herself off into a quiet room and [recited] this really beautiful prayer, which is how I learned it. It was a special thing to be a part of,” he shares.
“I am not one to get weepy or teary-eyed, but there was something about the ending that kind of just made me tear up a little bit as I was reading it. It’s just a smart story [that recognizes] Hallmark’s desire to be more inclusive, but it’s also just a really well-written movie.”
“December is this kind of beautiful time of year where we fight against the darkness. The days grow shorter. We’re literally wrapping our homes in light and we’re just trying to fight off the darkness. That physical act of trying to bring light into the world is also this reminder of what we’re meant to do as people. If we could just [do that] all year long, remember [that] kindness.”
“I think that’s what the movie hits on, which is what I was drawn to about it and which is what I’m drawn to as an actor. It goes from [being] a competition to them working together, then all of a sudden he sees her for who she is and she sees him for who he is and, and then they start seeing themselves for who they are. They start to [have] these little revelations [about each other and where their lives are].”
The film is Pope’s Hallmark debut and Polaha was excited to work with her. “We had a couple of friends in common and [we share] an agency. When [my] offer came in, Carly was already attached and her agent told my agent, ‘[He] will love working with her [because she is] the most generous, amazing person.’ Then I got to set and she was everything [I’d been told] and more,” he says.
“She’s just genuinely a really nice human being and a pleasure to work with. I actually wrote an article last year for the Hollywood Reporter about why I was leaning into Hallmark and she’d read that. She said [she] wanted to work with me because of that article.”
Polaha credits excellent timing with the start of his Hallmark relationship, which has grown significantly over the last five years. “[My first film, Dater’s Handbook] was a frivolous little romp, but there was something about it that was just really fun. And the character was right in my wheelhouse. Like he’s in my strike zone. And then I got to the set and ended up working with a woman named Megan Markle. And she and I hit it off. It was gangbusters for the two of us and we had a great three weeks. It aired in February and then [she met Prince Harry],” he says.
“And I think my stock rose just sort of organically, and [Hallmark] wanted to use me again. It’s been a really pleasant relationship. They’ve given me a lot of creative control. I go on set and I feel like it’s more of a collaboration than [just acting]. I’ve actually pitched something to them [that I’ll also star in]. So, I’ve now become a producer, which is like a really amazing thing. It’s been awesome and I’m working my tail off.”
“The working title is Trouble in Paradise and we’re set to shoot in Australia. It’s about a woman who comes to a very small Island in the South Pacific with designs to build an eco-friendly spa. But the caveat is there’s a guy who’s been living on the property that they’re looking at buying and he has squatter’s rights. She’s uptight and doesn’t want to go in the water and he’s super laid back and it’s all sorts of fun stuff.”
He’s also appreciate of the Hallmark fan base, which reverberates across his other projects. “They are a rabid, very vocal, very passionate group of people who just love their Hallmark movies and they’re vocal on social media,” he explains.
“I had a movie come out called Run The Race last February, produced by Tim Tebow. The producers came to me and said, ‘We’ve broken the ticket [sales] down [and] your fan base showed up and bought tickets for this movie,’ which is awesome.”
Next up, Polaha hopes to direct for the networks, and recently completed a short film. “I’ve been encouraged to get really productive and really artistic and creative and just try to keep pushing the ball forward,” he explains.
The Mystery 101 franchise paired Polaha and Jill Wagner after their first film, Pearl in Paradise.“They liked our chemistry and about two and a half months after it aired, I got the call. [Jill] is awesome. She’s great. She’s a really wonderful person to work with, too. Super laid back and chill and easy and fun. She keeps the day very light and entertaining,” he says.
Polaha has enjoyed the evolution of their characters and the one-off mysteries, which let viewers pick them up anywhere in the sequence. “The audience response [to the series] is really wonderful. I’ve come to really love the process of shooting them. Over the summer, we did two back to back. And so we were in a rhythm and we were able to just kind of crush it [and then take] a bunch of time off,” he says.
“With [a weekly television series], you’re constrained to the timeline of that long form narrative. Each week is…in the same time frame. And with this, there’s an indiscriminate amount of time that’s passed between each film and [they] are interchangeable.”
“Even though we’re telling a story and it’s episodic in the sense that the relationship is maturing from one to two, to three, to four to five, the mysteries are standalone so the characters can grow and mature a little bit in between. I was hell bent on [my character’s] leather jacket for the pilot and now as we’re going into five, I’m like, ‘You know what, he’s lived here for a while. He doesn’t have to wear the armor.’ He’s taking the armor off and is a little more relaxed. I’ve enjoyed it that way creatively.”
Wonder Woman 1984 (aka WW84) is one of the tentpole movies coming to theaters next year, and Polaha has a super secrety-secret role he can’t discuss yet. He got involved with the film after striking up a friendly correspondence with director Patty Jenkins following TV pilot season a few years ago. “Patty Jenkins is not only a genius, she’s unbelievably loyal and she’s unbelievably talented and amazing. I auditioned for her in 2013. I missed out on a pilot for ABC,” he recalls.
“Patty wanted me to play the lead in that and she brought me in five different times and every time, ABC [said], ‘No, no, we want him to be edgier.’ They wanted me to be basically more famous than I was.”
“[After they passed on me], Patty wrote me this beautiful letter that I have to this day about my potential and how disappointed she was that it didn’t go the way that she wanted it to go. And she [wished me] good luck and Godspeed. It was really lovely and super professional. And then cut to the summer of 2017. I’m in the movie theater [watching Wonder Woman] with my 91-year-old grandmother, my mom and dad, my wife, our three kids, and the youngest at the time was six. And my Nana was crying, just boo-hooing.”
”And I wrote Patty just a quick note on opening weekend of the movie and I said, ‘Ms. Jenkins, I just wanted to say congratulations on the success of your film. It is amazing. I’m sitting here with my 91-year-old grandma and my six-year-old and we loved it.’”
“And I loved the fact that it wasn’t a superhero movie. It was a movie. Like a really great film. And she flipped all of these narratives like [Chris] Pine being in the water versus her getting up naked. Everything was backwards and upside down and wonderful.”
“And she wrote me back that same weekend while everything was happening and she just was this amazing person. Then, six, seven months later I got called in in February to go to Warner Brothers. And it was just me and the head of casting [asking me] to just read [the part]. She said, ‘You can’t do anything wrong. Read it.’”
“[I did a few takes of it] and then I waited until June. My manager, who’s so awesome, kept kind of gently [asking for updates and they told her], ‘Everything is great, don’t worry.’ And then in June they offered me the role and in July and August of 2018, I went to London. $230 million, I think, was being poured into that. [If] they wanted it, they built it. And the Amazon set was just this extraordinary blue screen utopia. They had an entire separate film crew for it.”
Polaha is active on Instagram and Twitter and uses the platforms not only for his TV and film projects, but his and his family’s service and humanitarian endeavors. “I’m going to do what I’m going to do and I’m going to get the parts I’m going to get and I’ll be as big or as small as the good Lord wants me to be. Along the way, this is what I do for a living and as long as my kids are safe and as long as I see no harm in setting an example of what it looks like to be a family,” he says.
His social media feed led him to his first fundraising experience with herARTS in Action, where he established a fundraiser with signed artwork from him and some of his colleagues. “It was just one of those things where I knew exactly where the money’s going and it’s something I can get behind. We raised $12,000. She was able to go to Africa and get the work done that she’d been trying to do for like four years,” he points out.
“My wife did a lot of mission work as a kid. I’ve done some missions, and our kids go to a school that is going to start doing a lot of service work [and she thought] before they start going off with their classmates, it was really important that we do it as a family together.”
Double Holiday airs Saturday at 8 pm/7c on Hallmark Channel. Here’s a sneak peek. WW84 will be in theaters and on HBO Max on Christmas Day 2020.
Photos and Video Courtesy of Crown Media.
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