[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
It’s been a minute since 2020’s third Picture Perfect Mystery installment, but this Saturday we get Alexa and Carlos PenaVega together again onscreen in Love in the Limelight. Based on the real-life love story of Willie Aames and his wife, Winnie Hung, who co-wrote the script with Rich Tabach, the film follows the story of a pop singer (Carlos) and his longtime friend who began as a fan (Alexa) finally meeting after 15 years.
Alexa’s Summer is an HR manager at a local university in Salt Lake City. A teenage fan letter she wrote to Nick, who was part of a hitmaking boy band with his brothers, sparked a friendship that has endured, and when Nick has a potential PR disaster looming, his manager dispatches him to SLC for a gig. He takes the opportunity to meet Summer in person. What might be awkward and terribly uncomfortable instead blossoms into a romance as the two old friends find their chemistry wasn’t a long-distance fluke.
I spoke with the PenaVegas about the film in between concert tour stops for Big Time Rush, the pop music group Carlos was part of in the mid aughts that reunited last year. The idea for the film had bounced around for a while and then was tabled during the pandemic. When it came back around this spring, they embraced the opportunity to jump into the film, with the condition that Carlos be able to include original music. The film not only does that, but the music will be released on its own, too.
“I really wanted to write the music. They were so amazing and so willing to give me the opportunity to showcase some of my music that I’ve written over the last seven years,” he shares. “My goal right now is to have one out this Friday, but I think it’s gonna be next Friday. And then the following week, all of the songs will be available as sort of an EP. This is really the first time that Hallmark’s ever done anything like this.”
The film also reunited the couple with their Picture Perfect Mysteries producer and director. “It was a huge surprise. The first person that we found out was jumping on is Jim Wilberger. He produced all the Picture Perfect Mysteries. And we were so excited. And then we got a phone call from our overall producer at Hallmark, Liz, [who told us], ‘I have another surprise for you guys. We got Mr. Ron Oliver for this movie,'” recalls Alexa.
“Being able to have this group…we all work so well together. They know us so well. We worked very, very hard, but it’s so much fun and just easy and they allow us to explore, which is really, really awesome. And you don’t always get those opportunities on set.”
One of the neat things about the film is that it’s not just a love story between Summer and Nick, but also a familial love story as Summer’s family and Nick grow close despite their initial misgivings. “We were able to touch on a Hispanic family [that] really holds onto traditional values and it cracked me up,” says Alexa.
“Probably one of our favorite scenes in the movie is where Nick comes home to meet Summer’s family. And Summer’s father is a very typical Latino father who is worried about his child, making sure she’s making the right decision. And of course, untrusting of Nick. There’s a lot of hilarity and food throughout that entire house scene, but you also get to see the love, you get to see the excitement.”
“I also love that Hallmark gave us the freedom to really have some Spanglish in this movie, not just in the songs, Carlos has a lot of great Spanglish songs, but also we’re speaking Spanish in the household. It just feels very current and it like you walked into a family’s house.”
There’s a concert scene in the film, and Alexa shares that it was magical to watch it from the wings, and to join her husband for a duet. “The dinner table scene was really special. But as a wife I’m gonna toot my husband’s horn here. The first day of filming, I wasn’t even involved because they were shooting all of the performance sequences,” she recalls.
“But I happened to come in and, and catch it and it was phenomenal. It looked gorgeous. The lighting, the setup, I gotta give major shout outs to the crew, to the DP [Graham Robbins], because that scene just looks really big and beautiful. And also shout out to all the background performers because they listened to the song over and over and over again. And they learned all the lyrics that they’re singing along with Carlos. It felt magical.”
“I remember watching it and looking at Ron and [asking], ‘Is this the movie we get to make?’ And he said, ‘I know. Oh, I know.’ And it was that moment [that] we realized this is not gonna be a Hallmark movie that anybody had ever seen before. This is gonna be really different and really special. I really do think this is gonna be a major contender for the romcom movie category. I think a lot of people are gonna be impressed.”
“We always try to find projects where we can work together. This just worked out perfectly and these are songs that I’ve listened to for years. So to finally be able to have them see the light of day, it makes me really excited as a wife just to see Carlos showing off his other artistic traits.”
“My secret passion is to be a singer, but I’m so terrified of singing that I don’t think that passion will ever go further than the shower. But it was a really fun opportunity to be able to sing with Carlos. He is always trying to get me to sing with him and I’m always too embarrassed. But it was super fun. And I felt really safe. I didn’t feel like I had to worry.”
Touring the country by bus with the family and the band has also been fun for the family. “We’re in Texas today, yesterday we were in Arkansas, the day before we were in Missouri. Our kids are getting to travel the entire US, like almost every state. We were able to have a day off and kind of explored. It’s amazing,” Alexa explains.
The couple has moved into books, as well. Their What If Love is the Point is out now, and they have a children’s book coming this fall. “We’ve been working on the book for the last year and change and it’s just something that we always wanted to do. It took us about eight years to make that dream a reality. And for us it’s just a special way for us to tell a story and show God’s love through our life,” says Carlos. “Ocean’s World is coming out in October and is based on the lives of our kids and living on an island,” adds Alexa.
Photos and video courtesy of Crown Media.
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