[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Andrew Walker is in the unique position of starring in Hallmark Channel’s last film of the Fall Harvest and the first film out of the gate for Christmas on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries in two back-to-back weekends. Last week, I chatted with him about Sweet Autumn (which repeats Thursday at 8 pm/7c), and this week, we chat about Christmas Tree Lane, premiering Saturday night at 10 pm/9c.
Starring opposite Alicia Witt, who conceived the story, executive produces, and performs two original songs, Walker plays Nate Williams, a corporate lawyer newly arrived back in Denver who has a meet cute over the finer points of sweet holiday coffee confections when he runs into Meg Reilly (Witt) at a town square coffee spot.
Reilly is a musician who spends her days in her family music shop teaching her voice students, but there’s a history of a near-miss with a career as a pianist, singer, and songwriter lurking underneath the surface of her story. She lives in a duplex with her dad (Drake Hogestyn) and happily runs the store. That is, until a developer drops a bomb in the form of eviction notices–two weeks before Christmas–on them and all their neighbors on their quaint old-school shops on Christmas Tree Lane.
She learns this right after meeting Nate, and he surprises her by jumping up to help her cause to publicize the impending demolition and redevelopment and save the street. She and her fellow shopkeepers, including BFF Emma (Briana Price), who runs the coffee shop next door (which immediately made me wonder why Meg was buying coffee somewhere else, but go with it) join forces for a massive promotional push capped off by a Christmas concert. Steven R. Monroe directed from a script by Michael J. Murray from Witt’s story.
Funnily enough, this film was shot before Sweet Autumn, this past July in Utah, and Walker was excited to get back to work after being home with his family for several months. “It was surprising to get the call so early. We [all got] cars to drive out to Utah. When I landed in Utah, I realized that this was the first project back in the industry.,” he explains.
“There were a lot of expectations on all of us as a team going into this and trying to be the blueprint of how the industry should come back safely. Our primary goal was to make sure that everyone felt safe around us, because we’re the ones taking our masks off during the day.”
“There were two projects that had started at the same time as ours that same week and one of them had been shut down, so when we heard that, everyone really hunkered down and [looked at] what we could do better, that maybe that project wasn’t doing.”
“About three days into shooting, the nervous energy had worn off. There was a sense of just being grateful [about] being back at work, doing what we love and the sense of community, everyone coming together on set and really making each other feel safe.”
“And as the project went along, we hit our groove and everyone felt safe and everyone left healthy. It couldn’t have worked out better. It was a great experience and kind of a historic kind of moment. I could forevermore say that I was part of the first project that came back after COVID, during this unprecedented pandemic.”
Walker personally made an effort to minimize contact that the crew had to have with him. “I just wanted to try and make sure that I was doing everything to help the days move along as quickly as possible. I had a chat with the prop master [and offered] to reset all my props,” he shares.
“I might have to be reminded here and there, but if I have a briefcase in the scene, [I asked to] keep the briefcase. If I have a cell phone, I’ll just hold on to it…throughout the entire shoot. So I was just trying to be thinking like that, same with Alicia.”
Similar to his experience in Sweet Autumn, Walker sat down with Witt ahead of shoot to review the script. “We met at the house that she was renting, on the weekend, and went through the script [which] I like to do every single time I hop on a movie,” he points out.
“I love to meet with the leading actress and just go over the script on a Saturday, Sunday, and also just get to know each other. I had never met Alicia. I met her briefly at a Hallmark party, but we definitely didn’t know each other on that level. And so just sitting there getting to know her a little bit more, we were definitely able to [collaborate and] rearrange [scenes] a little bit and see what comes of it.”
That comfort level also extended to reworking a scene in the moment. “There was one day where we actually did a full on improvisation scene [when I’m] sitting on the sleigh and waiting for her to come out of the music store. We just threw caution to the wind,” he laughs.
“Alicia’s a phenomenal actress and she’s like a chameleon. I really saw her truth, her performer colors come out. I was blown away with her talent, her piano playing, her singing, her acting ability. She let me roll with the punches.”
Walker enjoyed the deviation from the standard template in this film, where Meg finds out Nate’s truth well ahead of the final act, and it creates an opportunity for him to take action. “This time [my character] really wanted the best for Alicia’s character. Trying to play middleman between my father and Alicia and managing the personalities and still [trying to] make everybody happy.” he says.
“It was fun to wear these different hats and try to see different perspectives on things. It happened organically where a couple of scenes, which I’ve never really done before in a Hallmark movie, but I kind of put my foot down a bit with my dad in this movie. At the end of the scene, I would laugh about it with the actor playing my father. And he’d say, ‘Man, go easy on me.’ It was nice to be able to take it to that place.”
Christmas Tree Lane premieres Saturday at 10 pm/9c (note the later time) on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. Here’s a sneak peek.
Photos and Video Courtesy of Crown Media.
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