[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Emmanuelle Vaugier returns to Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Sunday night with a thematic cousin to her last Hallmark outing, 2016’s Love in Paradise. In Big Sky River, she co-stars opposite When Calls the Heart’s Kavan Smith as Tara, a recently divorced New York teacher who opts to spend the summer in Montana, hoping to recapture the idyll she found there as a young girl. Smith is Boone, the local sheriff, and, as it happens, her new neighbor.
What Tara finds goes beyond romance to include a community, a renewed sense of purpose, and common ground with her ex, James (Peter Benson, who also directs a script by J.B, White based on Linda Lael Miller‘s novel) as she tries to maintain a relationship with Erin (Cassidy Nugent), the teenage step-daughter she raised, without overstepping her father’s wishes. Boone is navigating his own loss, too, raising two young sons as a widowed single father.
Earlier this week, I caught up with Vaugier to chat about the project, which filmed in Abbotsford, BC, Canada in June, and gave her an opportunity to reconnect with a couple of Love in Paradise friends and bring her love of horses to work. “It’s a movie that inspires hope and has a message of joy and happiness. It’s such a great, feel-good movie. I love being part of the Hallmark family, so that was kind of a no-brainer [to join the project], but the fact that it involved horses [sealed it],” she says.
“They’re a huge passion of mine, so being able to go to work and work with horses and be part of a Hallmark movie…I was really excited The coordinator who handled all the horses was the stunt coordinator from Love in Paradise, Danny Virtue, and the horse that I rode in that film is the horse that I ride in this movie, which is awesome.”
“He has the most amazing movie horses and they’re just so well-trained and bomb-proof. It was nice to feel safe and that I could just gallop and have a great time. I was on cloud nine the day we filmed. I spent three hours on a horse, and it was considered work.”
Tara and Boone are characters who’ve each experienced loss and grief, and come out the other side of it, and Vaugier appreciated the kinship it gave them as the characters get to know each other. “One of the biggest things that attracted me to the script was that it was very grounded. It wasn’t just a story about young love and throwing caution to the wind. It’s very much grounded in the reality of what a lot of people are going through or have been through. It will be very relatable,” she says.
“It was something I could relate to, too. In the past bunch of years, we’ve all been through some life changes and things that have happened, good and bad. It’s been kind of a roller coaster and finding that circle of friends and that new community or that new person in your life who’s going to understand what you’re going through, and then standing up to the things in your life and facing the things in your life that maybe in the past, you hadn’t had the courage to do, and [finally saying], ‘Enough is enough, I’m gonna do what’s right’ [is very freeing].”
“It’s a very touching story that way. I think people will enjoy how raw and more grounded it is than what you usually see on Hallmark, which is great and fun and fluffy, but I think this sort of brings it into a different realm.”
That includes a significant scene between Tara and James. “It’s handled in a much more careful and loving way where it’s [a matter of], ‘How I can communicate with him and make him see what’s happening with our daughter, and how this [decision] is gonna be good for both of us and, and the best thing for her,’” she explains. “And we have to put our own differences aside in order to have the best situation for her to grow up in.”
A Vancouver native who’s returned regularly for work, Vaugier had a direct or tangential relationship to much of the Canadian cast, which includes familiar Hallmark faces Lucia Walters, April Amber Telek, Michelle Harrison, and Lochlyn Munro. That was just part of the formula for a wonderful camaraderie on set and a very easygoing shoot.
“It was wonderful working with Cassidy. She’s such a young, talented young actress. And she brought a lot to the table. It’s not always easy to find young actresses with an emotional depth that she could bring to the character. So that was really wonderful and beautiful to watch,” she shares.
“With Peter Benson directing, he’s such a lovely director because he’s also an actor. There’s a shorthand and there’s just an ease with how he’s able to communicate things. And he knows when you’ve got something. It was a magical set in that sense. The crew and the cast and everything. Kavan’s wonderful. Everyone just got along. Everything just got done. If we got behind a little bit, it was like, ‘Okay, well let’s just deal with this.’”
“Everything just worked and there was a beautiful sort of synergy between everyone. And Kavan just keeps the set so alive and fun, cracking jokes and his energy is through the roof. He’s just a lovely human being all around. So that always makes things great and keeps the energy really good on set.”
“And then having the backdrop of the animals on set every day for the most part of the film, just brings a sense of peace. Filming in the countryside, we’re looking around, [thinking], ‘Well, it doesn’t really get any better than this,’ It was stunning. We had a very wet June, which we didn’t anticipate, but God was shining down on us saying, ‘I’m gonna give you sun when you need it.'”
Outside of her film work, Vaugier also has a 501c3 charity, The Fluffball Foundation, that raises money and awareness for animal rescue. They’re currently working on the plans for their 2023 fundraising event.
Photos and video courtesy of Crown Media.
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