[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Hallmark Channel mixes it up a little Saturday night with My Christmas Family Tree, an ensemble story about a found family that spins off a DNA match discovered right before Christmas. Aimee Teegarden plays Vanessa, a foster care worker for a non-profit, who’s coaxed by her BFF, DeeDee (Aadila Dosani), into registering on a DNA site. When the site turns up a paternal match, Richard (James Tupper), for her, she’s both stunned and intrigued, having lost her mom as a young girl who was then raised in the foster system.
When she Google stalks him and finds out he’s just up the road in Connecticut and has a family, DeeDee suggests she reach out. She does, and to her surprise, Richard responds. They chat, and then meet in person, and because this isn’t a ripped-from-the-headlines cautionary tale, he turns out to be an exceptionally kind man and invites her to spend Christmas with his family–wife Pauline (Kendall Cross), daughters Emilia (Georgia Orchard) and Caitlin (Ava Marie Telek), and son, Aiden (Colby McClendon). She agrees and he arranges for family friend Kristopher (Andrew Walker) to drive her up.
Pretty soon, she’s dropped into a magical, perfect family Christmas. Pauline welcomes her with open arms, although the kids take a little more time–and Kristopher turns out to be a kindred spirit who Richard and Pauline welcomed into their family when he lost his parents at 22. Directed by Jason Bourque and written by Mark Hefti, it’s seriously a two-bingo-card holiday fest, y’all. Until there’s a wrinkle, but it’s not insurmountable. This week, I chatted with Walker about the film, his eighth holiday movie.
He enjoyed getting to make a film that was both jam-packed with Christmas and expanded beyond the usual premise. “It really is one of those quintessential big family Christmas movies like Christmas Vacation or Home Alone. You get that big family, festive-feeling movie, but then peppered in is the DNA [angle] and also foster care, which is also not something that’s typical of Hallmark to venture into,” he says.
“I really love that they gave us the ability to explore that world. And my character, Kris, has a big loss in his life, had this very tragic experience, and touching on that as well. This movie has so much heart to it. And I think that’s what really brings it all together.”
Walker and his wife Cassandra are very close friends with Revenge star Emily Van Camp, but he didn’t know until a few days into filming that Tupper had played her dad on that series. “Three days into shooting, I was telling my wife we had a great cast and I’m having a lot of fun. And I was telling her about James,” he recalls.
“I’m like, ‘I’m connecting with this actor. He’s amazing.’ And I told her the name, James Tupper, and my wife, not being a TV person at all, recognized the name and [then wondered if he’d] worked with Emily. I don’t Google anybody before I go to work with them. So I Google him and lo and behold, I [realized] he played our best friend’s dad on Revenge. I told him the next day at work and he [was shocked] so we FaceTimed and I sent her a message. It was great from that point on because we had already really [connected during a couple of important scenes for Richard and Kris]. And that relationship got that much stronger.”
Walker was particularly impressed by how Tupper plays Richard with such extraordinary grace. “When I was on set, watching James or seeing his approach to Richard, it was done with so much empathy and humility,” he recalls. “He was very honest in how [Richard] would react to a situation like this, where a daughter, a child that you didn’t know, shows up 30 years later in your life. I really loved the way he was playing Richard in these very awkward situations.”
He also loved the poignancy of Kris bonding with Vanessa, and there, too, the friendship behind the scenes helped inform that. “I loved being on set and as an outsider, watching that first reveal of the whole family when Vanessa comes down the stairs and the entire family is there. It was so honest, watching her walk through the room and saying hi to different people. And putting myself in that [space and] imagining it happening,” he explains.
“[The] first day Aimee and I worked together and the first day on set, [we go] to the Christmas tree farm where Vanessa and I are finding the hero Christmas tree. We had this really authentic and heartfelt conversation before we got into that scene. And it really helped set me up for how I was going to reveal that my parents had passed away. That was a really memorable day for me, because it was just her and I, being able to connect on that.”
Next month, Walker will be making his second appearance at Christmas Con in New Jersey, and he’s looking forward to visiting with the fans. “I have been as weary as the next person because of COVID. I feel like I do everything I possibly can from a health and wellness perspective to try to keep myself healthy, so I’m going into this with so much excitement and gratitude that we’re able to get back together again,” he shares.
“And I know that they’re taking every precaution possible on their end with vaccine cards and making sure everyone is vaccinated going in. I think that Christmas Con is going to be another great way for everybody to come together. Christmas, in my opinion, is one of the best holidays.”
“I’m not American, so I probably would, if I was American, say, Thanksgiving is one of the better ones. In Canada, it’s not celebrated the same way. But Christmas is such a loving and a celebratory holiday with family, everybody gets together. And so I’m really looking forward to seeing all these fans again and celebrating them, and just being around them again and giving my time to just say hi to people and thank people.” If you’re inclined to attend but December timing doesn’t work, he’ll also be appearing at RomaDrama in Florida in January.
My Family Christmas Tree premieres Saturday at 8 pm/7c on Hallmark Channel in the US and W Network in Canada and repeats throughout the year. Here are a couple of sneak peeks.
Photos and video courtesy of Crown Media.
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