[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Romance gets a little analog this Sunday in 14 Love Letters, premiering at 9 pm/8c on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.
The film follows Kellie (Vanessa Sears), who’s recalibrating after the death of her dad, living at her childhood farm home and launching a skincare line from her kitchen with milk from her beloved Pygmy goats. It’s a quiet life, and one that suits her.
Her only source of surface angst is Jackson (Franco Lo Presti), the neighbor across the way who bought the larger parcel of her family’s land adjacent to her home. He’s settling in, but it’s not beyond him to periodically ask her if she’d like to sell him the rest of it. She doesn’t, and she’s increasingly resentful of the question.
That soon takes a backseat in her mind when random, handwritten love letters with words from the romantic masters start showing up in her mailbox. Then it’s a mystery, as she seeks out the author behind the sweet missives. There are a few options, and her best friend, Sahara (Madeleine Claude), encourages her to enjoy the change of routine while her mom, Caroline (Kim Roberts), hopes that maybe the letters will get her back out in the world. Amy Force directs a script by Jennifer Snow.
I recently spoke with Sears about the film, her first foray into the Hallmark world. She appreciated the old-school throwback to the lost art of letter writing. “There is something so wonderful that really isn’t captured in this modern age of text and social media and people sliding into DMs. It’s really refreshing to go back to a world of poetry and language. I think that that really amplifies the romantic quality that Hallmark does so well. It’s nice to remember the complicated nature of love, but there’s also a beautiful simplicity,” she says.
“It’s really fun to get to go on that whole arc. My character’s trying to find stability. My father has passed, I’m coming home. I’ve been away for a long time. I’m trying to find this bit of normalcy. And then here is this new person that’s a threat, a very active threat who is trying to buy my land and trying to change what little foundation I have left to cling onto. So it’s a really active problem. And then of course, add to that, that he’s very attractive so there’s a little bit of butterflies in the air.”
“It’s really fun as an actor to get to explore those feelings of real conflict when what you want and what you need are at odds with each other. It’s juicy to dive into. It was so much fun to play with Franco and to have that relationship evolve throughout the shoot.”
Aside from the romance, the film also focuses on female friendships and family, and Sears loved that angle. “It’s really refreshing to get a B plot that’s a bit more about family and it explores the different kinds of love. It explores these really complicated relationships, but also shows this really well-rounded character having a support system. And that support system is imperfect. Sometimes they get it wrong, but they have her best interest at heart, genuinely,” she shares.
“There’s a lot of care in this movie and that really drew me to the script, but it doesn’t feel like surface-level emotion. We get to experience a lot of different kinds of relationships. We love falling into the romance, and we’ve got those beautiful, heightened moments between the two main characters, but it’s so great to see the mother-daughter relationship and how that can be complicated and what it looks like to try and mend that.”
“It’s just a really great way to explore different kinds of human connection and interaction and what it takes. I love that it shows how wonderful it is to have a village and a community when you’re trying to find herself, because I do feel like that’s a big part of what Kellie is going through in this whole movie. She’s just trying to get back to herself.”
Once Kellie and Jackson break the ice, they find a commonality in their respective grief over significant losses. “It’s really beautiful that it’s something really deep and really vulnerable that lets these two people open up to each other. It lays the groundwork for a very real connection between us that we both understand this feeling that not everyone gets and both of us have a hard time articulating that feeling,” she explains.
“Both of us feel a bit like we’re an island in an ocean and that we aren’t able to share that the way we normally would because of the loss, because of the grief. It shuts down something inside of you and there’s this beautiful reawakening and this beautiful cracking open of each other that allows us to feel trust.”
“And that’s what I think really shifts that relationship and allows us to then find more of the spark and the romance. It’s all actually coming from a place of trust that comes from an understanding of what that grief and that loneliness and that confusion looks and feels like.”
Sears has also been able to return to stage work, in person and in hybrid online theatrical productions, which allowed her to flex different muscles. “My background is in live performance and the pandemic propelled me into film and television because live performances ceased to exist. [Doing an online play] was actually in a lot of ways, a lovely way to return home and where I feel comfortable,” she says.
“I feel really in control and really able to make big, bold choices and have so much fun. But then of course, some of it is in this new kind of hybrid world where it’s online and it’s live, but there’s still a screen in between you and the audience.”
“It’s very, very interesting and I’m just so astounded by how creators and artists all over the world have responded to this moment in time and really risen to the challenge of, ‘Okay, here’s an obstacle. How do we work with this? How do we go beyond just doing what we’re doing, what we feel we have to do, and level that up to actually create something new and exciting that is its own its own art form?'”
“At the end of the day, I just feel so unbelievably blessed that I’m one of the lucky ones who’s gotten to continue working throughout this time because it has been so, so difficult for artists of all kinds to have things come to a halt quite dramatically.”
US audiences can also catch Sears recurring on the Canadian sketch comedy series TallBoyz, which is streaming on Fuse, and she had a ball. “I would love to do more of it. It is so much fun. I can’t say enough good things about Tall Boyz. That cast and crew, our phenomenal director. You really do get thrown in. It’s super fast-paced,” she shares.
“You’ve got your script prepped and you know what you’re going in for, but there is so much improv that happens on the day where you try [things out] or just do what you wanna do. You feel so courageous when you’re surrounded by people who are all on the same team. And I just laughed so much every day I was on set. It was borderline a problem.”
Sears has loved the mix of projects she’s been able to do since the pandemic started. “I think that variety is the spice of life, I really have a strong desire to be able to do it all and to be able to do it all well. And of course, a lot of that is practice. I’m so grateful and excited to do everything under the sun,” she explains.
“I really enjoyed stepping into the Hallmark movie of the week-type things. I think those are a very particular specific skill set that I think a lot of people underestimate. Those movies have such a fast turnaround and there’s such specificity and such care that needs to happen to get those kinds of projects to the finish line. And then you shift over to a dramatic TV series and it’s a different can of worms.”
“You’ve only got so much time to work on these tiny scenes that are two pages in the script. There’s specificity on another kind of level. And of course it’s just great fun. Acting is an exploration of the human condition. It’s just figuring out what makes us tick, and telling stories in an engaging way.”
“It’s so much fun to get to paint with all the different colors, all the different brush strokes, and really get to step into lots of different characters who are in all these different circumstances. I love comedy. I love drama. I love romance. I love sci-fi. I would love to just do more and more of it so that I can get even better.”
If you’re in Toronto in the next few months, you can catch Sears on stage in two shows. “I’m currently in rehearsals for two plays — King Lear and a new play called Queen Goneril and they’re running at the same time and they have the same cast playing the roles. We’re very busy. We’re all working hard. Our brains are exploding. It’s super, super fun,” she says.
Later this year, Sears will be onscreen in a holiday romcom, network TBD. “Sappy Holiday is about a city girl, a big-time chef trying to make her way up the corporate cooking ladder. And she’s on her way to visit her boyfriend’s wealthy family upstate. And of course her car gets stuck in the snow and who should rescue her, but a handsome maple farmer,” she teases.
“It’s this great story. She’s stuck with this family who are really rural and she has what she thinks her life needs to be and this wonderful man kind of disrupts that and shows her that actually that’s maybe not what she really wants in her true heart.”
14 Love Letters premieres Sunday at 9 pm/8c on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. Canadian friends can stream it on Super Channel Heart and Home. Sears will be live Tweeting Sunday night, so look for her online during the premiere. Here are a couple of sneak peeks.
Photos and videos courtesy of Crown Media
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