[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Sunday on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Ryan McPartlin makes his debut on Hallmark Channel’s sibling network opposite Julie Gonzalo in Cut, Color, Murder, based on a story he conceived with writers Jason Filardi and Walt Becker.
The fun (Canadian HITG) ensemble film takes a page from Murder She Baked, with a heroine whose business is a town hangout, which gives her a keen insight that’s often helpful to the local police department, where her late husband was a detective. Gonzao plays Ali Bowden, and instead of running a bake shop, she owns the Monarch Beauty Salon, where most of the local community come through, take a seat in one of her stylist’s chairs, and dish on their lives.
And Ali pays attention. In Cut, Color, Murder, most of those folks are preoccupied with the annual Miss Golden Peak pageant. Ali’s younger sister, Chelsea (Grace Beedie) decides to make a run for it to help her college scholarship chances, following in Ali’s footsteps–she won the crown years earlier.
The buzz around the pageant soon takes on more hushed tones when pageant head Mitzi (Rebecca Staab) is murdered just as newly transplanted detective Kyle Crawford (McPartlin) hits town and takes on the case. The murder triggers Ali to relive her husband’s unsolved murder a few years prior, but she’s able to temper those memories to help Kyle out. He’s initially hesitant to seek her counsel until he recognizes her value in solving the case.
This week I chatted with McPartlin about the project, which he hopes is the beginning of a new franchise. He loved the idea of the stylist’s chair as a confession booth leading to a very specific kind of understanding of the way people behave. “There’s just something really vulnerable [about getting a haircut],” he says.
“Jason Filardi and Walt Becker are really well-respected writers and directors [and I said], ‘Let’s have a chat because I want to bring you guys the Hallmark world and I want you guys to come up with something with me that we could really just have fun with.’ And [it took a] while in development.”
“If you’re a detective, who would you want to go to that knows everyone and everything. And we just settled on a hair stylist. We all sit in the chair [and tell them things] that we don’t anybody else in our life. And we built out the story from there.”
“We came up with the characters. The experience that I’ve always read about [is] the diner that writers gather in and we did it, we had the same waitress. Nobody was in there when we were there and Sonia was our waitress and we just had a great time going over this.”
Outside of the salon, Ali and her mom and sister and the staff have a ritual of eating a large family meal together in a restaurant, and McPartlin loved watching those scenes come together. “That was my favorite part. [Director] Stacey N. Harding and I sat at the monitors with Kristofer McNeeley, who was also one of the executive producers and we just watched those dinner scenes,” he recalls.
“I love being at the monitor. [Those scenes are so] natural. And it doesn’t always happen. Some of those things are a risk. When you get people around the table, you don’t know if they’re going to have that timing and that chemistry with each other. And when it happens, it’s like lightning in a bottle.”
McPartlin also enjoyed the camaraderie of the whole creative experience. “There were so many people that came together with such a team effort. I come from an athletic background playing football and ever since I’ve been in LA and working in the industry, I felt like I was part of the team. Now, as I’m getting older, I’m getting into the management position, as well. And that’s a whole new thing for me, but it’s really fun for me to still be a player slash manager,” he shares.
“Sitting back and seeing the pace and what goes into the casting process…and Hallmark is so great to work with. They’re very supportive and want your voice to be heard, but they also [explain] the business stuff [and] sometimes you just can’t do what you want to do because there’s not enough time, not enough days, or not enough money, so you have to make some sacrifices and everybody has to come together [with a plan]. Everybody is after the same goal of making something great.”
The film marked McPartlin’s first time working with Gonzalo. “I’ve been familiar with Julie’s work but I really didn’t know her personally and we did have this really good back and forth. All these romcoms [I’ve done] had a life of their own,” he points out.
“They’ve been special because I’ve kept in touch with [my castmates and we’ve become] really good friends. We had this special working experience together and it doesn’t have to be a hit for you to be friends. It can be a TV pilot that fails and you’re still friends and that’s the best part.
One of those longtime friendships includes Eva Tamargo, McPartlin’s former Passions castmate, who plays Ali’s mom. “She was [perfect] to bring the sexiness and fun. I knew who [should play the role]. And the three of them together, I love. I just couldn’t be happier with [how it turned out],” he says.
While there’s nothing concrete in place yet, McPartlin would absolutely love this to be the first of many films with this group. “We’d love to do multiple [installments] and that’s kind of where it started,” he explains.
“A lot of times, we get into the movies with Hallmark and you do one and everybody gets to know each other. And by the time you wrap, you [realize] we have this great chemistry and now we’re leaving but I want what they call a mystery wheel movie because once you fall into that chemistry, it’s so fun to keep going back to that.”
2014’s Chance at Romance is a fan favorite among our readers, and it holds a special place for McPartlin, too. He recalls that the daily film footage from that production was submitted to the When Calls the Heart producers when co-star Erin Krakow was initially being considered for the lead.
“It was really something special. At the time, Erin and I weren’t really part of the Hallmark family. I just remember her saying that she was auditioning and I had just worked with Michael Landon Jr. on a pilot that didn’t go. And they sent in the footage from us and they fell in love with Erin and she hasn’t had to get another job since,” he laughs.
“I’m so happy for her. We talk all the time to try and figure out what we can collaborate on. Because we know the fans still show up. I just commented on her [Instagram post] with the poster for next season, and the fans went nuts on that.”
Cut, Color, Murder premieres Sunday at 9 pm/8c on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries in the US. It premieres Friday, February 11th, at 8 pm ET/PT on the W Network in Canada. Here’s a sneak peek.
Photos and Video Courtesy of Crown Media.
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