Victor Webster Previews Five Star Christmas [Exclusive Interview]
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Hallmark Channel is rolling out more incentives to stay on the couch this weekend with three more days of premieres. First up to start the weekend is the very fun and light Five Star Christmas starring Victor Webster, and Bethany Joy Lenz in their first pairing. It’s also Lenz’s second film in a row for director Christie Will Wolf, who directed A Valentine’s Match earlier this year. Webster is one of our longtime faves and we jumped on the phone last week to chat about the movie.
Webster was calling from Vancouver, where he’s in production on the second season of Freeform’s Motherland: Fort Salem.The film, written by Alfonso H. Moreno and based on a story by Stephen Witkin and Michael C. Elliot, is heavily comedic and follows the Ralston family–eldest daughter Lucy (Lenz) and her adult siblings, Will (Blair Penner) and Amber (Grace Beedie), and their grandparents Walter (Jay Brazeau) and Margo (Paula Shaw), who get an unexpected surprise when they arrive at their family home for Christmas and discover that family patriarch Ted (the fantastic Robert Wisden in his first film in almost a decade), has turned it into a B&B.
Initially hurt and horrified, the trio of siblings and their grandparents are thrown into role-playing guests and staff when they get wind that a make-or-break travel writer is in the area–and, they think–has just checked in, incognito. That guest, Beth (Laura Soltis), strikes up a friendship with Ted, while a second guest, geologist Jake (Webster) shows up at the B&B after a meet-cute with Lucy in town. Lucy and Jake are the second pair to warm up to each other against the backdrop of everyone not completely telling the truth.
Things get a little madcap (think Frasier’s flair for mistaken identities and people leaving and entering rooms with perfect timing) before the truth is revealed. We also spend a little time developing the arcs for Will, who’s about to travel the world with his wife, Suzanne (Barbara Patrick), and Amber, who’s just abandoned her latest college major and finds the Christmas weekend sparking her in a new direction.
Webster enjoyed working on the movie and was glad to get back to work on his first film this year. He and Lenz were acquainted but hadn’t co-starred yet. “She was great to work with and has a great sense of comedic timing and lots of great ideas. It was a very collaborative effort between [us] and Christie,” he says.
“[Christie] was so open to hearing everybody’s input. I think that was one of the things that made the movie come alive. She’s so easy. She’s unflustered. Whatever you throw at her, she just goes with it. She’s been an actor, too, [which helps]. I would love to do anything with her.”
There’s one scene that found Lenz and Webster improvising as Lucy and Jake get to know each other, and another with the whole cast at the dinner table that Webster recalls as special moments during filming. “The scene [with Joy] completely changed on the day. We reworked the whole scene. It was pretty long. It was just us sitting there and making up stuff and vibing off each other,” he shares.
“I think it turned out really well. In the dinner scene, where Jay is sipping the soup, we did so many different versions of it. He kept trying to get it and then they kept interrupting him. I don’t know what ended up in the film, but it was so good.”
The film is very much an ensemble effort, and Webster loved his colleagues. “[Hallmark] always gets really talented people. Every person individually brought so much to their roles that it flourished and became this great ensemble. Paula was so spunky and a spitfire in the best way. Jay had me rolling the whole time. He had a ball. He’d improvise these great lines and facial expressions,” he points out.
“While the pandemic protocols served the story well in being almost entirely a set piece inside the B&B, Webster says that was always the plan. “[The house itself] was another character. I think it was important to everybody to be in that house,” he shares. “It’s a story about the emotion of the house, everybody being in those rooms.”
Webster also has a career-first in the movie–serenading Lenz’s character in the middle of the town square. “That was the first time that I sang in public in my entire life, and it was in front of about a hundred people,” he laughs. “And so that was interesting and intimidating, and it was a good thing that Jake wasn’t supposed to be a fantastic singer because I’m not a good singer but we had fun with it.”
The pandemic has switched up the shooting protocols, and Webster shared that there were a few tricks and photography magic to help keep the spirit of the communal scenes that are Hallmark holiday staples. “We had masks on the entire time and as soon as they said action, we took them off. [The cast] weren’t allowed to sing; if anybody was singing or caroling, their voices were added in later on,” he explains.
“[In the crowd scenes], they were quite a distance away. I think the closest person was 15 feet. You can make people look a lot closer depending on what lenses you use and stuff like that. We had about 20 minutes to shoot the entire [finale] scene at the end of the night. Christie had to come up with a creative, really cool way of shooting it. I think we got three takes of it and she got the steady cam up and just, you know, positioned everybody and turned the cameras on and we did it.”
Webster’s gotten used to the pandemic protocols, living in LA during its lockdown, driving cross country, and now back at work. “I don’t think anything will be a hundred percent back the way that it was before. I’m fine for this to be close to what our normal is, because if it keeps everybody safe, I can live with it,” he says. “If I can pop on a mask, support the economy and keep myself safe, keep businesses open, help out in any way that I can help people pay their mortgages, I’ll do it.”
Photos and video courtesy of Crown Media.
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