[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
You’re in for a treat this Saturday, Hallmarkies, when the long-awaited, twice-delayed Country at Heart finally debuts on Hallmark Channel and W Network in Canada. Jessy Schram, Niall Matter, and Lucas Bryant headline a story that’s less a love triangle and more a story of newfound and rediscovered friendships. I previously spoke with Schram and Bryant about the project, and before it was pushed from June, I spoke with Matter as well.
Matter got to dust off his vocal chords in this one, playing Grady, a songwriter hoping for the song that will put him back in the game. Schram is Shayna, a singer-songwriter gutting it out as a day player in Nashville when yet another unsuccessful audition sends her home for the weekend, and maybe a little longer. Bryant is Duke, a country star who’s light isn’t quite as bright as it was but he still sparks the fan love wherever he goes.
All roads converge in Shayna’s hometown, the site of a festival Duke is scheduled to play and the place where Grady, Duke’s former writing partner and BFF, has landed to reconnect with Duke–at the label’s insistence–and try to recapture their long-ago talent for hit-making collaborations. When their paths cross, Shayna stands to gain from both friendships, and she repays them in an unexpected way that benefits everybody. The result is a completely charming take on a romcom.
As it happens, the country genre is near and dear to Matter from time spent riding around with his dad. “As a kid, I would sing with my dad, because he’s a great country singer. He’s a truck driver [and] when I would go with him in the truck, he would be singing and I’d sing along. And that’s about all the singing that I really did,” he says. “I got into music when I was younger, but I was a drummer [and did] some backup vocals, if you can call it that. I would call it backup screaming because I was in punk bands.”
“When this initially came about, I had heard about it a month before we shot and casting inquired about whether or not I could sing. I actually laid down an acapella version of Paul Brant. I do. I sent that off to my agent and my agent sent it to casting. I clearly have a country voice because of how my vocal cords were trained as a kid. I guess that was doable and workable for them.”
“And then I got guitar lessons. I played a little bit of guitar…some power chords and stuff when I was in a band [so] I had picked up the instrument before, but I was not versed in it. And I especially was not versed in playing something and singing at the same time. And that was the biggest thing…once I got the mechanics of the chords down and I could play the whole song, then I had to work on marrying singing and playing at the same time. So that was the biggest trick of all of it for me.”
The major set piece of the film is a duet between Grady and Shayna, that happened to be filmed on the first day of production, and Matter and Schram had to do it live again and again. “That live set was a whole other aspect of it. Our very first day on set together, we played ‘Big Deal,’ Matter recalls. “What you see in the movie, that’s our very first day together.”
“And to make it even more of a pressure cooker, the playback on set didn’t work. Jessy and I had flown in to Toronto before filming and we went to the recording studio and we laid our tracks down and we had recorded everything. So we had thought that it would just be playback on the day, as was planned.”
“But then for some reason it wasn’t working correctly and Jessy and I ended up playing live every take. It turned out really, really well in the end, but it was nerve wracking for me because that was my very first time. And we had lots of veterans onstage, and extras were singing the song.”
“James Barker did a great job writing these songs. I think people are really going to love the music in this movie because of how catchy the tunes are and the lyrics are fantastic. When you pay attention to the lyrics of the song, that just sums up the movie perfectly.”
The onscreen bromance between Grady and Duke that adds an extra layer to the movie was rooted in the immediate kinship the actors felt when they met. “That’s what Lucas and I really wanted the viewers to feel because there are two relationships, one’s on the mend and one’s just beginning in this movie. And, the one on the mend is just as important as the one that’s just beginning,” he shares.
“We just felt like we were friends forever and we had never even met before this shoot. And we have a running joke. He calls me dad, I call him son. I’m the one that’s super organized. And I know the pick up time [for filming the next day]. And the funny thing is, in our hotels we actually had rooms with a connecting door and we just kept the door open.”
“We formed this friendship that is going to be everlasting. We’ve been in contact ever since the movie. That friendship that we formed was what we wanted to have running underneath Grady and Duke, and then hopefully they can get back to that.”
Another lovely jag a little left of the usual formula is that it’s easy to misread Shayna’s intentions when she befriends both men, but she instead becomes a catalyst to their reunion while still having a special spark with Grady that doesn’t alienate Duke. “I think Jessy played it beautifully. She really did, because, at one point, you can kind of maybe [assume] her character is interested in Duke, but then you sit back and you think about it,” Matter explains.
“You’re like, ‘Well, no, he’s a massive country star.’ So there’s that aspect, too. And she walks that line so well. She’s excited, she’s meeting somebody that she aspires to have a career of her own and that’s what she has dreamed of. And literally meeting somebody who has that, that’s a really exciting thing.”
“When you, as an actor, meet somebody that you’ve looked up to for years and years and years, all those emotions bubble up. Sometimes that can be misconstrued and I think she just plays that really, really, really well. And I love how Shayna does mend the relationship between Grady and Duke and she searches for the truth. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is between Shayna and Duke on the stage and no one’s there and they have that heart to heart. I love that scene. Lucas played it brilliantly.”
Matter is aligned with what Schram and Bryant told me–they all want to return to these characters and tell more of their story. “Personally, I want to see more of these characters, a lot more of these characters. All three of us would love to carry on with the music and have the music released and keep on putting some of these movies out because it’s a great vehicle,” he says.
“And I really hope it does well for Hallmark. And I hope that viewers love and embrace these characters as much as we did. The three of us all happen to really love country music. So it would be great to carry on with it.”
Country at Heart premieres Saturday at 9 pm/8c on Hallmark Channel and W Network in Canada. You can catch repeats through the 19th before the Christmas movies start on the 23rd. And Niall’s next Aurora Teagarden premieres on the 18th. Here’s a sneak peek.
Photos and Videos Courtesy of Crown Media.
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