[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
It’s no secret that around here we’re Lucas Bryant stans and I’m on record demanding more of him on Hallmark (or anywhere on my TV, for that matter), so I love that he’s back for his second Christmas movie in two years, just six weeks after we finally got Country at Heart. Saturday night at 10 pm/9c, you can catch him opposite Jill Wagner in The Angel Tree on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. I caught up with him this week, calling from Australia, where he’s relocated with his family for a little while until the world calms down (my words, not his).
Loosely based on the book of the same name by Daphne Benedis-Grab, the film is directed by Jessica Harmon, who made her Hallmark directorial debut earlier this fall with My Best Friend’s Bouquet. Here, she directs a script by Teresa Kale. The Angel Tree is the story of Rebecca (Wagner), a features blogger who goes to the town of Pine River with her daughter to cover her one-time hometown’s titular Angel Tree, a fully decorated live tree that mysteriously appears overnight in the town square at the beginning of each holiday season.
People write down their wishes and affix them to the tree, and an anonymous benefactor grants them. Except not all of them are granted–Rebecca’s wish to not have to leave town with her family back when she was a teenager still stings a bit, so she’s not wholly buying into its magical promise. That is until she starts to see it in practice.
Going home reunites her with her beloved Aunt Mimi (Annabel Kershaw) and her childhood friend, Matthew (Bryant), whose family diner was saved by Angel the same year her own wish wasn’t granted. Now grown and still running the diner, he’s also the guardian of his teenage nephew while his sister is deployed. The old friends hit their stride immediately and also find a shared kinship around being single parents.
We had to wait a year for Country at Heart and when Bryant and I spoke last year, he was hopeful the movie might lead to additional projects with those characters. Nothing’s moving on that front yet, but he reiterates that he’s still all in if it does come to pass. “I was very happy when it [finally aired] and extra happy that everyone received it as well as I had hoped they would. I would love to [get together again] and we’ve been putting that out there,” he says. “There is nothing concrete to report at this point, but the effort is definitely happening. I’m not giving up on it.”
As with the other Hallmarkies we’ve spoken to this year, Bryant had to quarantine for 14 days before production began, and was surprised how much he enjoyed the solitude. “I was a little nervous about going into it. And then as soon as I got into quarantine, I thought, ‘Hmm, I would like to quarantine for six months,’” he admits.
“We’re so lucky we can have anything delivered these days and you can have a video connection to anyone that you need. It certainly doesn’t make up for human touch. I’m not saying that, but I found [that] I got all sorts of things done that I do not ordinarily have the time to do. So I was thankful and I enjoyed that process. But then I realized at the end of it, it was a bit strange to go back out into the world and start interacting with people.”
Y’all know from our chats with Bryant here, and from interviews Wagner has done–and her social feed–that they’re well-matched in the comedy department. Even though this is technically a Hallmark Movies & Mysteries premiere, and theoretically should skew a little more dramatic, having these two front and center makes for really fun throughline of humor, and Bryant and Wagner were given leeway to riff a bit.
“I think [where we landed] was a nice combination of what was in the script and then us being given some freedom to play around. Jill and I spoke early on, before we’d met,” he says. We were both in quarantine, so we got on the phone and one of the first things we talked about was these characters’ relationship. Because they’d been such good friends when they were kids, we didn’t necessarily want, when they see each other again, to have the classic sort of shy and slightly interested reaction. It was important to [us] that we have a real childish, fun relationship that still existed as adults.”
“Everything was about really playing up their playful relationship and how good they felt around each other…like kids again, bringing that childish joy, and I think we found it. We spoke a lot about the line between their old relationship and their new attraction, and having developed a relationship as kids, now being grown ups, how they were going to navigate this stuff.”
“And Jessica is an actress herself. I love working with actor/directors because obviously there’s a mutual language and understanding that we have and can speak. She really let us find our way through some of those scenes and then encouraged us in ways that were incredibly fun.”
“Jill and I had a stupid, fun time playing with each other. We were always really trying to [honor] these people who loved each other from a long time ago [and who] wanted to be good and real friends to each other and bring the reality to this situation.”
Bryant enjoyed working with Wagner and the younger pair of actors who play her character’s daughter and his character’s nephew. “Jill is hilarious. She’s ridiculously funny. Working with her any and all the time was good fun, and Oscar [Farrell], who played Owen and Cassidy [Nugent], who played Cassie were both really lovely and very capable young actors,” he says. “[They brought] such a nice energy.”
Bryant was particularly excited to tackle a multi-page heart-to-heart scene that finds Rebecca and Matthew airing their grievances, if you will. “I think we shot the longest scene I’ve ever shot in this film. It was like a seven-and-a-half page scene. It was incredible, just the back and forth between the two characters trying to sort themselves and each other out,” he recalls. “It really felt like theater, when you get to play a scene that’s ten minutes long. That was a memorable day because that doesn’t often happen on camera. So that was good fun for me.”
Following Country at Heart, which featured Bryant on guitar and singing his own vocals, we get to see him play and sing again. “It was not in the script. That was something that [producer] Alexandre Coscas brought up early on with me, the possibility of maybe doing some singing. Initially we were [thinking] we’ll do some Christmas caroling or something like that. And I said, ‘I’m up for whatever,’” he explains.
“And then over the quarantine, I had a while to think about things. [I figured] that we’re probably going to use ‘Oh, Christmas Tree,’ [so] I would mess around with it and play with some of my own lyrics. So I started sending little videos of those possibilities to Jessica and Alex thinking that they would probably think it was ridiculous, but they were really into it.”
“I was surprised and encouraged and went further and wrote this silly little ditty and then I recorded a longer version of my lyrics to that classic tune [that is] used in the soundtrack of the film.”
The Angel Tree premieres Saturday night at 10 pm/9c on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Despite the time difference, Bryant does hope to live Tweet during the premiere. Here’s a sneak peek.
Photos and Videos Courtesy of Crown Media.
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