[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
When Calls the Heart has had an extraordinary run. When it began, Elizabeth Thatcher was a newly minted school teacher arriving in Hope Valley and trying to find her footing in a small town that was still scarred and reeling from a tragedy that reshaped the whole community. Now, eight years later, Elizabeth is still the center point of Hope Valley, but the town and its people are every bit as much of the story as she is, and that’s exactly the way series star and co-executive producer Erin Krakow wants it to be. Ahead of this Sunday’s Season 8 premiere on Hallmark Channel in the US and Super Channel Heart & Home in Canada, I chatted with her recently about ramping up production during a pandemic, and talked about the new faces coming to town and where the new season will take the Hearties.
Krakow and the WCTH cast and crew were eager to get back to work this fall, with their typical summer start pushed out due to the pandemic. When they reconvened in British Columbia to start filming, she says their history together and affection for each other made the process go extremely smoothly. “We were very lucky because we’re very much a well-oiled machine and we shoot in just the one location in our sweet little town of Hope Valley, so that really did kind of maintain the bubble for us,” she shares.
“I think everyone there, cast and crew, we were all just very grateful to get to be back to work. So many people have been out of work for a very long time. It was through that gratitude that we recognize the responsibility that we had to keep everyone safe in that bubble. So everyone was just really following the rules.”
“All of our cast and crew wore masks, our casts would take off the mask, obviously, when we would film. We were tested multiple times a week. There were temperature checks, all of those things that come with pandemic safety. It was just such a joy to get back to work and to see all of those familiar faces [and] even just getting to hug some of my castmates was a delight. It was really good to be back to work. Because we were all so grateful, we were incredibly careful.”
In the current climate of so many viewing choices, it’s rare for a series to get to eight seasons, and Krakow is very grateful that WCTH has achieved that. “It brings me so much joy to know that our show resonates with so many people. And that it has brought people, in various stages of their lives, such peace and happiness and joy,” she says.
“We really run the gamut of emotions on our show. I’ve seen reaction videos of people yelling and crying at their TVs. I’ve seen the videos of people just overcome with joy, watching things like [the] weddings that we’ve had. It’s just so gratifying. And I’m really incredibly proud of what we get to continue to create and the stories that we get to share.”
As the new season begins, Elizabeth is recognizing that she’s ready to pursue a romantic relationship, but you’ll just have to wait and watch to see with whom. Finding just the right balance of tension and tease between Elizabeth, Lucas, and Nathan has been no easy feat, and Krakow says they wanted to do the story right, in a way that’s both respectful of Jack and also not unnecessarily dragging it out. “It was very important to me that we not have Elizabeth jump immediately into another relationship after we told the story of Jack’s passing. So that was something that I wanted to make sure of,” she points out.
“And that was really Season 6. It was getting to see Elizabeth with her newborn son and figuring out life as a single mom. She was so focused on that baby and really continuing to gently mourn the loss of her husband, but she wasn’t focused on romance. And it was a very slow burn with these guys. Friendships developed and a real deep care [for each other].”
“And truthfully, a love triangle can only be stretched out so long before the fans want to revolt. It felt like, alright, we introduced these guys in Season 6, we got to get to know them there. We explored the flirtation in Season 7. It felt like Season 8 was really the right time, both for just the logistics of our show and what the Hearties might be willing to handle.”
“It was also the right time for Elizabeth. A couple of years have passed. And I think she’s really ready to open her heart again. And it was just a matter of figuring out which guy was going to be that next great love for her.”
Elizabeth’s story is just one of many this season, and the show takes steps to explore more arcs among its large cast of characters. “One of the wonderful things about Season 8, which I am sure our fans will enjoy, is that we’re actually getting to know a lot of our ensemble players a lot better this season. We’re exploring more of the characters that we don’t necessarily get to learn as much about,” she says. “This is a year where we’re getting to know people better than we ever have before and see what fuels them, excites them.”
Hailey Dean Mysteries fans are in for a treat when Viv Leacock joins the show this season–and brings along his real-life family. Krakow was thrilled to have them come onboard. “We’ve got the Canfield family that we’re introducing this season. They are fantastic. Viv and Natasha and Vienna and Elias are playing the Canfield family. And we’re just so, so excited to have them,” she says.
“Viv’s character, Joseph, is really bringing a kind of grounded spiritual presence, which we’ll learn more about as the season progresses and Natasha and her role as Minnie is just this incredibly strong protective mother. Their daughter is blind and they have spent an awful long time trying to find a hometown that will be welcoming to her and to them.”
“They’ve moved around a lot, and that’s an area where we see Elizabeth’s passion as a teacher really come through. She is just desperate to bring Angela Canfield into her classroom and teach her as one of the class, regardless of whether or not she can see. And I think Minnie understandably feels very protective about her daughter. So there are a lot of interesting storylines there and we’ll see how that conflict [plays out].”
Teryl Rothery also recurs this season as Lucas’s Mom, Helen, and her character is integral to Elizabeth and her novel. “She brings such an interesting kind of spitfire vibe to her character of Helen. She is going through something that she’s keeping secret when she gets to town,” she explains.
“So, in addition to her being just a very intimidating presence to someone like Elizabeth, there’s also something more emotional, something deeper that’s going on with her. And it’s when Helen confides in Elizabeth about that thing, that things get a little complicated. So we’ll get to see more of how that plays out [as the season progresses].
When Calls the Heart Season 8 premieres Sunday, February 21st, at 9 pm/8c on Hallmark Channel in the US and Super Channel Heart and Home in Canada. The second part of our interview for It Was Always You, which premieres Saturday, February 27th at 9 pm/8c on Hallmark Channel, is here.
Photos Courtesy of Crown Media.
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