Ashley Williams and Kimberly Williams-Paisley Talk Sister Swap
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Hallmark Channel switched things up this year with a “hold my eggnog” response to its own sequels to bring us Sister Swap: A Hometown Holiday and Sister Swap: Christmas in the City, an intertwined pair of holiday movies anchored by sisters Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Ashley Williams (my preview is here). This week, I chatted with them about the project, a labor of love that had been brewing for five years before finally filming this year.
“It’s a complicated idea and kind of innovative for Hallmark and they were so supportive and I think they were also trying to figure out, ‘Should it just be one movie and it’s the two girls or is it more the idea of them trading places?’ And that ended up working out well at the end of the day. And it means that we got two movies out of it. So we feel really lucky,” explains Williams.
Block shooting two films concurrently with the same cast and crew was a significant undertaking, and the sisters credit their Salt Lake City crew with nailing all the details. “We worked really hard. We had a genius script coordinator who had a really intense job on this, but from a filmmaking perspective, there’s a handful of shared scenes that you see in both movies.,” explains Williams.
“[Before we filmed], we kept going, ‘Shared scene alert!’ And then we sat down and prepped with the director, Sean McNamara and our DP [Jeremy Prusso] and we shot-listed to make sure that we were really, truly shooting both movies from different perspectives. That meant two masters, two pieces of coverage, so that you really had a different angle, literally, on what was happening.”
“Salt Lake City is such an amazing place to shoot. They’ve got a great tax credit, first of all. And second of all, the crews are so professional. In Vancouver, where Kim and I have shot a lot, the crews are good, but [there are so many concurrent productions] that everybody is stretched so thin.”
“In Salt Lake City, there are three productions going on at any given time. The crew was absolutely top notch. We had the entire crew from Yellowstone and a lot of the people from High School Musical, who were just really dedicated. It was a six-week long shoot, so we were able to really bond with them. And it worked for Christmas because of those snow-capped mountains in the background.”
The sisters had a blast working together and found levity even on the long nights. During a pivotal scene in both films, the sisters sit on the counter in the movie theater as they make significant life plans, and it took a while to shoot. “[Throughout filming, we just got to play and we have that history and that trust that we didn’t need to build. So it was really fun to just play off of that. Every time we were in scenes together, it was super fun. We added a lot of [little touches] ourselves just in the moment,” says Williams-Paisley.
“[When we shot the countertop scene], we actually had a generator fail that night and the fire department got called and it was a whole disaster, but the movie theater lobby was filled by the production designer with candy, the good stuff like Good & Plenty and Twizzlers and in the giant sizes, and boxes of Reese’s Pieces,” recalls Williams.
“And so as the night went on, because it was such a late night, Kim and I just started eating the props and just having the best time. We were snacking and we tried a lot of different candy. And then towards the end of the night my husband, Neal [Dodson, who also produced] looked at one of the boxes and we realized that all of the candy expired like four years ago, and we were too scared to tell Kim [until a few days ago].”
The films were a family affair across the board and the sisters turned to their late mother’s longtime best friend, Another World legend Anna Holbrook, to play their mom onscreen. “I wanted to be an actress from as early as I can remember. And Anna Holbrook moved into our neighborhood when I was about 12 and she was the first legitimate actor I had ever met. I didn’t know you could actually do it and get paid for it and it could be a profession,” explains Williams-Paisley.
“And she really took both of us under her wing. She used to take me to set with her where she worked on Another World. She was the first person who put makeup on my face and took me in the backyard to take my picture. She helped me get my first agent, but also more than that, she was a member of our family. She spent the holidays with us. Her husband, Bruce, would be flying for Delta on the holidays, so a lot of times she would just come over to our house and it would be a sleepover.”
“And our mother absolutely adored Anna. And of course our mom passed away about five years ago. Anna is a very, very dear close friend, still, and really like the closest thing we have to a mom. And so to have her in these movies playing our mother was so magical and so meaningful. I think for all three of us, not to mention all of our extended families who know the history. It was really an awesome thing. I’m just so glad she wanted to do it.”
Highlander the Series fans get the added treat of Jim Byrnes playing the sisters’ father in both movies. “He is such a force. Even in the jazz world alone. He’s an incredible guy. And two of our writers, Zach Hug and Claire Boyles, are actually siblings and their father used a wheelchair,” explains Williams.
“So it was really important to them to have the father figure in these movies use a wheelchair, but for it to not be a plot point. That was just their dad. So we wanted to make sure that we hired an actor who used a wheelchair, as well, and it’s not the most interesting thing about him. That was something that was really, really important to us as producers [and] as actors.”
Now that they’ve done it once, they’d love to work together again, maybe even in another twofer. “We’re never short on ideas in the Williams family, so given the opportunity, we will absolutely embrace it; we would love to do it again,” Williams-Paisley says. And Williams, who is also now a bona fide director, would leap at the chance to to direct their next team up. “I would absolutely love to direct a Hallmark movie. I would be honored,” she shares.
Sister Swap: A Hometown Holiday repeats now through the end of the month on Hallmark Channel in the US and W Network in Canada. Sister Swap: Christmas in the City premieres Sunday, December 12th, at 8 pm/7c on Hallmark Channel in the US and W Network in Canada.
Photos courtesy of Crown Media.
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