Nikki DeLoach and Andrew Walker Preview Sweet Autumn [Exclusive]
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Hallmark Channel is winding down Fall Harvest this weekend ahead of launching full throttle into Christmas next Friday. Before the (TV) season turns, we’re in for a literal sweet treat with Sweet Autumn, the third pairing of Nikki DeLoach and Andrew Walker, who reunite for their A Dream of Christmas director Gary Yates.
The new film casts them as Maggie and Dex, strangers brought together by the reading of the will for her Aunt Dee, who ran a small town candy store and raised her and her sister. Now based in Minneapolis, where she amicably works as an investor alongside her ex-boyfriend, Jonathan (Michael Karl Richards), Maggie struggles with her decision to leave her aunt and sister behind, and miss out on the time with her aunt when her health started to fail.
Dex and his dad, Ron (Paul Essiembre), stepped up in a big way for Dee after they relocated to town to start their maple tree farm. Dex became Dee’s right hand in the business, and he and Ron helped take care of her in her final months.
That makes for a bit of a fractious scenario when Dee decides to pull some strings in her will, leaving the shop 50/50 to the both of them. Maggie looks at it as an investment opportunity while Dex wants to honor Dee’s legacy. Forced to work together and find some common ground, they discover that the shop was only part of Dee’s master plan for them.
This week, I chatted with DeLoach and Walker about the film, which was shot in Winnipeg in late summer with all the new pandemic protocols in place. The duo were thrilled to reunite, and DeLoach actually recommended Walker to producer Stan Spry as the production came together–both as an ideal co-star and as someone she could trust to be safe, since she has a young son who is high-risk. Having Yates was also a blessing.
“We really had to move quickly for it to be put together. It was originally supposed to be a Christmas movie and then they quickly changed the script into a fall movie. I’m so pleased because I had such a quick turnaround. I had two days to get from Vancouver [to Winnipeg]. It’s a 28-hour drive and then I hit the ground running with work the night after we landed,” DeLoach explains.
“I didn’t have a ton of time to prep, so, for me, who was going to be on the other side of me on screen was really important. I needed to know that that person was going to show up [and] do their job…and also be super safe outside of filming. So when we were looking for our co-star, I texted [Stan] and [said], ‘What about Andrew Walker? He’s my buddy. He knows my family. He will make sure to stay really safe for [my son].’ And [he said], ‘Of course,’ because everybody loves Andrew.”
That shorthand among the trio lent itself to an easy working relationship, and a familiarity that helped connect the dots in the script as they worked to make the story tighter. “Gary Yates is one of those directors that I just trust so, so deeply. I know that I’m going to be able to freely move inside the character because he is going to come up to me and say, ‘[You’re doing] too much, too little, try this, let’s do this, that’s really not working for me,’” DeLoach shares.
“Gary is such a great storyteller and he’s such a good director. There was one scene [where we needed a bridge because] Andrew was in a different place emotionally [between scenes] and we had to shoot a really quick small scene…to make the two scenes work. He’s so honest and he’s got your back. He is not going to let you have a moment that’s inauthentic. My biggest thing is authenticity. I just felt like we had the team back together and it’s just a sweet movie.”
“The word that I would describe for this whole process with Nikki and Gary was trust,” adds Walker. “I think that Gary trusted in us and we trusted in Gary and, in turn, ourselves, and just were able to have a lot of fun developing these characters and the ebbs and flows of their relationship.”
Filming during the pandemic came with the challenges of conveying crowd and festival scenes when you couldn’t really pack extras together. DeLoach credits Yates with getting it to work. “Gary did a terrific job [and was] really clever about [making] it look like a festival [when] we only had ten extras,” she says.
“He really made it seem that there was this great fall festival happening. They would spread people out [and in scenes] when everybody’s dancing, they hired couples to be paired up together on set. It’s really kind of remarkable how productions are making this work.”
The film uses handwritten letters to move the story along, similar to how the days of Christmas worked in DeLoach’s 2019 holiday movie, Two Turtle Doves. And for Walker, it was reminiscent of the notes exchanged in his 2018 Valentine film with Lacey Chabert. “I loved that aspect of the story. [In My Secret Valentine], we were leaving notes for each other, so that was a little version of this,” he explains.
The movie also resonated for him because of a real-life relationship from his childhood. “It was very familiar and nostalgic in a way, because my family had this matriarch who was kind of a pseudo-grandmother to my sister and me, but she wasn’t our real birth grandmother. We would call her friendmummy and [her husband] frienddaddy,” he recalls.
“They were this older couple, and Aunt Dee was very similar to what friendmummy would have done in leaving notes and having an agenda. She was a very intuitive person and would have been a matchmaker, as well. So I love that we had a good time with those [and] with building that relationship.”
DeLoach loved the emotional aspects of the way the story unfolds. “[Our characters] have very different ideas of how to [proceed with the shop] and along the way we have to learn to compromise and communicate. And I honestly think that it also speaks to even what’s happening right now,” she says.
“We all have these different ideas about [the world] and what the movie shows is that you have to get vulnerable [and] be willing to listen and open your heart. And along the way, you just might find love inside of that and [a] connection. That’s the real meaning of the movie that I hope everybody takes away from it.”
Walker was excited to play a character that was an equal. “This was such a great experience for me because usually I’m taking a back seat to the leading lady, but this one was really a true two-hander where Nikki and I shared a lot of the screen time together and my character had this true arc. That was a lot of fun to play with,” he shares.
While this is the third film the pair have done together, it’s the first one where their characters are strangers when they meet, which meant portraying a lack of familiarity with and animosity toward each other at the outset. Walker enjoyed that, and says they drew on their real-life comfort with one another.
“When you’re in a closer relationship as friends [like we are], Nikki and I have fun going to that place. We [couldn’t wait to get into] the scenes and push each other’s buttons,” he laughs.
“When we did [The Perfect Catch], I think we were still in that place where we were still getting to know each other and the comfort level [wasn’t there yet], but now we’re such good friends. She could yell at me. She could say things to me and [we] know nothing will ever change how we feel about each other.”
DeLoach and Walker worked together with Yates to tighten up the script prior to shooting, and both actors loved the collaborative process. “Part of my happy place is being able to be involved in that process. I do it to a certain extent with every movie–I work on it prior to filming. I take notes, if there’s anything that isn’t working or…could use the stakes being a little bit higher [I might suggest] build that up a little bit more,” she points out.
“I’ll bring my notes. Some of them get taken [and some don’t]. With this one, it was the first time that, right before starting on a project, the three of us were really sitting down and working through all of these scenes and making sure that everything made sense. We actually had a lot of voice inside this movie and at the end of the day, part of me can’t believe we pulled it off.”
Walker says they reworked a pivotal scene just before they filmed it, and it turned out to be his favorite moment in the movie. “It was so much fun shooting this. [In] the fire pit scene, where we’re sitting by the fire pit and making smores…Nikki and I rewrote a lot of that,” he recalls.
“Two minutes before we started rolling on that scene, we were fine tuning it. And it felt really natural and everything you’d want an acting scene to feel like, connecting with your partner and feeling just the freedom of the relationship budding and not having to force anything. That was one of my more favorite scenes to shoot.”
Sweet Autumn premieres Saturday at 9 pm/8c on Hallmark Channel and Canadian audiences will see it at 9 pm/8c on the W Network on October 25th. Since it’s the last one out of the gate, it will only repeat on Hallmark Sunday and Thursday before the holiday movies kick in.
Both actors have projects in the Christmas lineup this year–Walker is up first, with Christmas Tree Lane on October 24th, and DeLoach has Cranberry Christmas airing on Halloween. I’ll have part two of my interviews with each before those films air. Here’s a sneak peek of Sweet Autumn.
Photos and Video Courtesy of Crown Media.
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