[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Frequent Hallmark partners in crime Nikki DeLoach and Andrew Walker headline their own mystery (and potential franchise, we hope) with Curious Caterer: Dying for Chocolate this Sunday on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. The film follows a Colorado caterer and single mom who teams up with a new detective in her small town when one of her close friends is murdered. I caught up with DeLoach this week to chat about the project.
The network astutely sent the script by Erinne Dobson and John Christian Plummer out to the duo on the same day, and they immediately called each other and agreed (to each other) that they’d do it even if the script was terrible. “Luckily, the script ended up being great. Heather Overton was the executive at Hallmark and she had really shepherded this project since 2018,” says DeLoach.
“Developing a mystery takes a long time. I don’t think people understand. [Even] some Christmas movies take three years. But for the most part you can pitch a Christmas idea [and] move into production at a pretty fast pace, if need be. A mystery takes a much longer time. It’s very hard to develop. There are so many threads, so many different characters. You have to have the red herrings, but they did a really beautiful job in the script of not giving away the whodunnit.”
“When I read the script, I really had no idea. I was surprised and I knew I could get on board because of the smart writing. I knew Andrew and I could really bring something to these characters and really expand on what the writers had already done here.”
DeLoach is hopeful it kicks off a franchise, pointing to her experience on Awkward, where she played a character for six years, as a gift. “Oftentimes on movies, you shoot for three weeks and right when you feel like you really nuzzled yourself up into this character and you know who she is and everything about her, it’s time to wrap up the movie. And it’s hard because all you want to do is to continue with her and continue with the world and see where it goes,” she explains.
“I’ve been wanting to do that for Hallmark for a long time. I have stuff in development there that would lend itself to me being able to do that, should this really not hit. I’m really hoping that the audience loves this. It’s not too bloody, it’s not too violent. But your heart does race a bit.”
“Mysteries [feed into] that human instinct of wanting to figure out why people do the things that they do. And especially if they’re naughty things, things that are really unsavory or bad. Why would people do these things? We like to get really close when we’re watching these stories to the human psyche and try to answer those questions or to have them answered, whether it’s a 60-minute episode of television or 90-minute movie.”
DeLoach was thrilled to reteam with Walker (just peep their IG feeds) and loved the little investigative moments where the characters hit their stride after some initial missteps. “If we were to move forward, [I’d like to keep exploring] the tone of these two people,” she says.
“One of them not really knowing what she’s doing, but she knows the town and has incredible instincts and is really intuitive. And then this detective who has a ton of experience and absolutely knows what he’s doing [but doesn’t know the locals]…These two people trying to figure out how to solve a case together.”
DeLoach was also effusive about other cast members. “We got really lucky with Maesa Nicholson [who plays my daughter]. This is only her second acting gig and she was fantastic. She was really a revelation. If we’re lucky enough to be able to do more, we will do more storylines with her,” DeLoach shares. “Jason Schombing [who plays Dr. Owen Gentle] just had us laughing the entire time. Anytime you were in a scene with him, for me, it was just about keeping it together.”
“Lochlyn Munro [who plays my ex-husband, Richard] is phenomenal. I love that when you get to a certain age and you start working with people who have just been around for a long time and they just show up, they get on their marks, they nail it, they bring so much to every moment and you get to play opposite that. It’s one of my favorite things and he was just spectacular and I felt we were so fortunate to get him in this movie.”
“I’m usually not a fan of positioning two actors on a mark and setting up and having them just talk at each other except when you’re talking about something that matters, that hits home [but] I really liked the scene with him in the office where we talked about mental health. It was a simple scene of two people sitting across from each other, getting to have a conversation about something that’s real and that matters.”
“One of my favorite things about this script was that it was not only about mental health, but we also talked about addiction. One of the executives said to me, ‘These are two adults. This is an adult world. And we’re entering into that [acceptance of these issues]. Everybody says Hallmark is the network of love and I’ve always said it’s bigger than that. It’s more like a network of hope because if we say that it’s a network of hope, we get to tell bigger stories, and more stories, not just about people falling in love. And I think our audience is ready for that. They’re hungry for that.”
DeLoach adds that she oftens queries fans at events about what they want to see on the networks that they’re not seeing so far. “Every single person was saying, ‘We want real joys about real people. We want to see real people struggling with real things.’ When our audience says something like that, then I’m going to go back to the network and [ask for it.] Or as a writer and a producer, I’m going to begin to develop more stories like that,” she points out.
“Of course we still need the ones that make us laugh and make us feel light and allow us to just escape for 90 minutes to a different world where things are happy and everything works out. But I think we also want to see who we are reflected in the movies and the TV that we watch. As a little girl, the reason I fell in love with storytelling is because I saw myself reflected in some of these movies that I was watching and I didn’t feel as lonely. I felt seen.”
DeLoach is an avid mental health advocate, and has spoken publicly about her own postpartum and her late father’s battle with Pick’s Disease, a rare form of dementia. “I had really intense postpartum anxiety after my first son. That’s a mental health issue, and we are so scared to talk about these things. When I went on Home & Family after doing Christmas Land, I said I wanted to talk about it because nobody was talking about these things,” she recalls.
“When I was trying to work through it and terrified that I was never going to see my way out and was trying to find people talking about it online, I found nothing. So we had to talk about these things. It’s hard for families and people to talk about. When we talk about them, especially mental health, the more that we tell stories about it, the more we normalize those conversations. It’s very, very, very important. And I’m really proud of Hallmark for doing it.”
The film has a first-time director in longtime cinematographer Anthony Metchie, and it looks extremely lush onscreen. “We tried to do something different with the music, with the feel of the movie, with the look of the movie. I love movement. I love primary/secondary focus, like cooking and eating and scenes that you’re doing something in,” DeLoach explains.
“It’s really hard to do because you have three weeks. So every time you move, it could potentially be another camera set up. And the thing I loved about Tony so much is he was so dedicated to making this movie look fantastic. When I came in, as I normally do, with my ideas…a director like Tony, who truly knows what he’s doing and has done a hundred movies and has worked with this crew, he was game for all of it.”
“We worked 16-hour days, but we were so dedicated to making this feel different and look just extraordinary. All of us worked together as a team and [producers] Michael Goldstein and Alex [Coscas] and all of us did everything we could to make it feel more like a feature film. Tony was so wonderful to work with. I would love to do another one of these.”
Curious Caterer: Dying for Chocolate premieres Sunday at 9 pm/8c on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. Here’s a sneak peek.
Photos and video courtesy of Crown Media.
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