[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Y’all know where we land on Luke Macfarlane, so to have him pop up on Hallmark Channel twice in three months is bonus territory for us. And then you put him with Bethany Joy Lenz, and it’s a done deal that we’re watching. This Saturday, the pair team up for A Valentine’s Match, the premiere film in the network’s Love Ever After programming event, which will air at the same time in Canada on the W Network. Macfarlane and I spoke on the phone last week about the new project.
First up, we chatted about the news just before Christmas that got Hallmark in trouble with the LGBTQ+ community when they pulled a commercial that featured a lesbian wedding. The public outcry against the action led to a very quick reversal and a promise to work with organizations like GLAAD to do better.
As an openly gay man with a longstanding Hallmark relationship, Macfarlane was rattled by the decision and appreciative that they recognized the broader implications of their misstep and quickly acknowledged they still have work to do. While the network has always treated him well, he admits that it made him question that relationship.
“People make mistakes. And they dealt with it very quickly. I’ve always been open, and they’ve always known, and I’ve never felt discriminated against,” he shares. “So it was a really complicated thing for me to consider. When they corrected, I was very, very grateful.”
Macfarlane filmed A Valentine’s Match last fall shortly after Sense, Sensibility, and Snowmen (which repeats on February 6th), and says that it was one of his favorite working experiences. Lenz is widely credited with taking a hands-on approach to her roles, and according to Macfarlane, this film was no different “I really liked [Joy] a lot. She was really super fun. She reminded me of Sally Field [when we worked on Brothers & Sisters],” he points out.
“[With this project, Joy would ask], ‘How can we make the scene better? How can we do this?’ And we would literally get together in my hotel room on the weekends with a pen and a paper and figure out how we could bring more of ourselves to it and make it what we thought was better.”
“There was this whole thing with the spilling of a milkshake on her jacket and it was one of these complicated situations where I think that she had to have been wearing the jacket in another scene before taking it off. I can’t remember all the logistics of it, but we just figured it out.”
Macfarlane’s character, Zach, is the long ago love that Lenz’s Natalie unwittingly returns home to when their Moms (Mary-Margaret Humes and Karen Kruper) play matchmakers. Laid off from her job and floundering for her “what next,” Natalie agrees to visit her parents (Humes and Ken Tremblett) and help her Mom with an annual Valentine’s festival. What she doesn’t know is that Zach is still there, very much a fixture in the community, which makes for an awkward reconnection after they parted ways years earlier on the pretense that both were leaving for good.
Zach is a quiet, fairly reserved, and genuinely good guy who runs the hardware store and does artisan woodworking as a side hustle. Macfarlane enjoyed both aspects of that. “In the Hallmark universe, you either play the verbal guy or the less verbal guy. And I have to say, I really enjoyed being the less verbal,” he laughs.
“I got to play with that acetylene torch. I loved it. When I first went into [the set, I told the set decoration team], ‘Guys, this needs to be messier. You need to have more stuff around here.’ I super, super enjoyed that.”
The movie marked Macfarlane’s first time working with Hallmark director Christie Will Wolf, and he says she brought a different, and welcome, energy. He especially enjoyed the meet cute (again) scene that has Zach and Natalie just missing each other while walking around his store.
“That was so fun to watch and it was like the peekaboo sort of missed connection kind of thing. One of my favorite things in acting is the dance that you play with the camera,” he explains. “And when you have a good camera operator, it’s so much fun. You’re waiting around the corner so that you can pop out and do your thing. I love that.”
“And Christie was super. She was one of my favorite directors to work with. She worked with Joy before [on Poinsettias for Christmas] so she and Joy knew each other. Her energy is really, really different than a lot of the directors that [are] more technical and editor driven and I really appreciated that.”
“I found [her to be] really interested in the techs [and] performance. And of course she knows how to do the other stuff, but she was just really interested in that aspect of it. I adored her. And [she’s] just funny, she made me laugh. [It was] the first time I’ve worked with a female director on a Hallmark movie.”
“And then I thought to myself, ‘Why aren’t more of these directed by women?’ Because there’s a sensibility towards romance that I think would be easily described as more feminine. Maybe I’m getting into the stereotypes there, but I did feel that she really understood where the heart was in various different things.”
Over the course of the film, as Natalie gets more comfortable in her own skin, she sheds the protective layers of makeup and fashion that have buried who she used to be, and refreshingly, Zach never calls her on it. Macfarlane says that was driven by Lenz’s hair, makeup, and wardrobe choices, and a specific decision to not fall into that common trap.
“Often, a trope in the Hallmark universe is [a pointed observation of], ‘Why are you being so fussy? Why do you have to doll yourself up?’ which I think we both felt is a little bit sexist [so we avoided that],” he explains. “I definitely remember having a conversation with Joy [that], ‘We can’t comment on the way you look at the beginning.’”
“[That look] was so smart on her part because [when the] executives come to set, they don’t really necessarily always know where you are in the script. They just see [what’s happening on the day]. And she said no [to any pushback, telling them], ‘This is the journey my character goes on.’ So she really fought for that.’”
Macfarlane says that as the characters eventually warm back up toward each other, he and Lenz wove that softening into their behavior instead of the spoken word. “We definitely [wanted] to show the affection,” he explains. “But it’s not going to be with words. It’s going to be through action.”
“So we always would try to find the sort of physical behavior that could show them caring for each other. We ended up with a lot of door opening [deference]. ‘Will he open the door for her? Will she let him open the door for her at this point?’”
Ahead of the Love Ever After event, Macfarlane appeared last weekend with Larissa Wohl co-hosting an adorable critter-filled preview special/adoption event, which was a bit daunting at the start but eventually a great time. “I have a whole new respect for [lifestyle shows and reading a TelePrompter]. Larissa was great at it,” he says. “She could read [her lines] for the first time and just be like, ‘Yes. Got it.’ I really enjoyed it. It was super fun. The puppies were amazing. I can’t believe I didn’t walk out of there with one.”
Macfarlane is also one of the Hallmark stars who will appear on Sirius XM’s Hallmark Channel Radio DJing love song playlists between Friday, January 31st at 9 am/8c and Sunday, March 1st, at 3 am/2c. You can find that on SiriusXM channel 70 and through the SiriusXM app.
Another treat, if you’ve never seen it, is Macfarlane’s first Hallmark movie, The Memory Book, which was the very first thing I spoke to him about back in 2014. After a run on Hallmark Movies Now, it’s now in rotation on Hallmark Drama beginning Friday.
Photos and Video Courtesy of Crown Media.
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