[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Paul Campbell reunites with The Last Bridesmaid co-star Rachel Boston Saturday night on Hallmark Channel and W Network for Dating the Delaneys, a multigenerational romcom about Michael and Maggie, two longtime friends who tentatively lean toward romance. Allan Harmon directs a script by Jennifer Barrow.
In the film, Michael is widowed and Maggie is divorced, and their sons are classmates together. Maggie also knew Michael’s late wife, so they have a friendship that predates each of them being single. When Maggie’s ex-husband, David (Brendon Zub), announces he’s remarrying, it’s just the nudge she needs to move forward.
Michael hasn’t considered dating yet, but when Maggie says she’s ready, he throws out the idea of them going on a pretend date as practice. Then he offers his PR skills to help her prep for a baking show that would take her bake shop to the next level with national exposure. And you can connect the dots from there. Alongside that, we see Maggie’s mom, Barb (Karen Kruper) and daughter, Emma (Zoe Christie), navigate new romances. Earlier this week, I spoke with Campbell about the film, his growing roster of written-by credits, and his dream Hallmark project.
He and Boston last worked together in 2019, and reteaming for the new film was easy, as joyful for them to play as it is for us to watch. “Rachel and I joked that this movie almost felt like a continuation of The Last Bridesmaid because we pick up at this place in our lives where we’ve both experienced love and lost it. She’s a divorcee and I’m a widower and we have teenage children now. And we’re both looking for love at later stages in our lives,” he explains.
“The energy between us was the same. We work really well together on camera. It’s just easy. And one of the beautiful things about this project was that the network had given us a lot of leeway to improvise, in a sense, and add little things that we wanted.”
“I’m constantly trying to find ways to make my co-stars laugh organically. I always have just a basket of jokes that I want to pull out, and things I want to try to get that organic reaction in the moment. And so I felt real freedom to just play, and we do that really well. Being able to go in and play and find new things is so fun. And I think we came up with something pretty special.”
“The scene that I liked the best was the sequence when I go up to pick her up for our first pretend date and I’m a little uncertain. They’re both out of practice, and I wanted to play [it so that] he’s just a little off his game and wanting to do well. This is still his friend, but it was a little awkward and we were really talking over each other and being playful and a little nerdy and the sequence of getting from her door to the car, I just really liked it. There was something really sweet and innocent and fun about that scene.”
“My favorite line that I added in the movie is when we’re baking, and she’s showing me how to make some cookies and suddenly the lights go out. She’s about to tell me her secret ingredient and the lights go out, and I ask if the secret ingredient is darkness. That was my favorite because when I tried it, I got the biggest laugh and that’s exactly what I wanted in that moment.”
Campbell loved getting to play a more grounded love story. “It’s such a different way of telling that love story because all of the insecurities, all of those, the big questions that we often find are sort of the driving force behind the conflict in these love stories [don’t] exist in this movie,” he explains.
“We find ourselves completely comfortable in our own skin. We know exactly what we want. What you’re looking for is compatibility, and all of the pretenses are gone. You are able to see yourself and see if it’s a fit. And so this anxiousness of the love story was not present. It was so nice to just be [able to say], ‘This is me, this is who I am. I exist in this space. If it works, it works. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay, I’ll find somebody that does want me.’ It was so fun to play in that space.”
It’s becoming a thing that several of the Hallmark family frequently pop up in cameos, and on top of his cameo in The Nine Kittens of Christmas opposite pal Kimberley Sustad was a very funny, surprise appearance in Love, Classified as the bartender who becomes a sounding board for Melora Hardin’s character.
“I did Holiday Hearts years ago with Ashley Williams and her husband Neal Dodson, has done a lot of independent stuff. He’s done some big movies for Netflix. He’s gotten into producing some Hallmark stuff and he happened to jump into that movie,” he recalls.
“He called me and said, ‘Hey, we need a bartender. He’s gotta be kind of cheeky, kind of sarcastic. We just need somebody that can be confident in that scene with our leading lady. Do you want to come in and do a day?’ And I said, ‘Yep I’ll be there.’ So I got on the helicopter over to Vancouver island, had a great little helicopter ride, and spent a day just playing around on set and it was so fun.”
“Anytime I get an opportunity to go and do something like that, I just jump at it. Why wouldn’t I go and play? I want to do cameos in all the movies. I just want be in all the movies. It’s not, ‘Where’s Waldo?’ It’s ‘Where’s Pauldo?'”
Campbell has also branched into writing scripts for Crown Media, most recently with Moriah’s Lighthouse, which was actually the first project he sold to them. He initially got into screenwriting when he developed some projects with Canadian network CTV, including a comedy series concept that was bought but didn’t air, and then expressed an interest in writing for Hallmark while working on Sun, Sand & Romance.
“[I realized] I really like this. And I had been talking with Elizabeth Yost, who’s one of the senior VPs over at Hallmark, about possibly developing some stuff. And then in 2017 I had pitched her something and she [passed] and said they were looking for more seasonal stuff. So I sat down and just banged out this idea for Sun, Sand & Romance.”
“I sent it in and she [said], ‘Oh, that’s really cute. Let me, let me sit with this,’ and then six months later, I got an email that they were going to make it. They hired some writers and I was so excited and went through that process with her. I had a really specific idea in mind for the voice of my character, and the writers weren’t really nailing it. A week before shooting, I asked [if I could] take the script and do the dialogue. She said, ‘Yeah, let’s see what you got.’ So I rewrote all of my dialogue and handed it back in and so we made the movie and it turned out well.”
“And then I didn’t really move forward with anything until I worked with Kimberley Sustad on A Godwink Christmas. She said, ‘I have an idea for a fun movie.’ And she pitched the basic idea for Christmas by Starlight. And I said, ‘Let’s just write the script.’ So we did. We spent six months writing that script and sent it into the top brass at Hallmark and they ‘Yeah, we’ll buy this. We’ll make this.’ And that was it. We made it and then Hallmark started sending me stuff to work on and rewrite and it’s just evolved from there.”
“I have no formal training but I’m obsessive about it. I finally see my pattern here. The first draft is always like a lump of clay, like the high school draft. It’s fun, but it’s not super deep and intelligent. It’s high school. And then the second draft is always college, where you get a little weird. You experiment with some things and go a little sideways. I always overcorrect on the second draft. And then the third one is this grown-up draft with the wisdom of a grown-up and being able to look back at high school and college and say, ‘Okay, here’s what I’d do differently.'”
“And the third one is always the draft that works out, but it’s a four-to-five-month process for me to write a script. It just takes a long time. Some writers can write them in three weeks or a month. It takes me four. And to really get the dialogue in the place that I want, and all the story pieces, it’s a longer process, but I just work, work, work, work until I’m happy with it. And it seems to be going well.”
“There’s a slight level of difficulty that’s added with writing the holiday ones because the network really wants to feel Christmas everywhere in the movie and they have these things that people really look for, Christmasy activities and traditions and things like that. Sometimes it can be a blessing and sometimes, these characters are telling a story for two acts that doesn’t involve baking cookies or something like that. And it’s hard to try and constantly pull your characters back into the world of being Christmasy.”
“What I really like about the writing is the structure for Hallmark. I like the act structure. I have a certain number of pages. I like the puzzle of fitting all the pieces in. In terms of the way that I tell the story or who the characters are and how they develop, it doesn’t really matter if it’s seasonal or not. There’s a little more freedom outside of Christmas. But otherwise, storytelling is storytelling. I’d like to do a Knives Out-style whodunnit [for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries].”
“My dream, dream, dream would be to assemble an all-star cast for a one-off special event, like set it up at a resort or on a cruise ship, get everybody in one place. That’s wildly ambitious. I don’t know if that’s something the network’s even interested in, but I would love to attempt something like that, because I love the puzzle pieces.”
“That would be such an incredible challenge. I was trying to convince the [network] to do an award show [called] ‘The Hallies’ and just have a one-hour evening event award show during one of the big fancy critics events, steal everybody for an hour and do the Hallmark awards and then air that as its own special.”
When we chatted, Campbell had just returned from his first Christmas Con, an experience he found extraordinary. “It was so much fun. It was exhausting because you are on for eight hours, but it’s a thousand points of light coming at you at every moment, every corner you turn. The most surprising thing to me was just how deeply impactful these movies are to people from all over the world,” he shares.
“That was the story that kept coming to me over and over and over was the healing power of these movies. It’s a very real thing. A lot of these people that I met had turned to Hallmark Channel for the healing power of these movies that are positive and joyful and optimistic. [They] had undergone surgeries or were suffering illnesses, or even just with this pandemic, had just felt this massive life shift and turned to Hallmark for that sense of healing.”
“And it really gave me a completely different perspective on the work that I do and a different sense of value for all of it. I’ve always really loved my work for me, but seeing how it impacts the fans, I [realized] we really are doing this as much for the fans of these movies as we are for our own enjoyment. It was pretty eye opening.”
Dating the Delaneys premieres Saturday at 8 pm/7c on Hallmark Channel in the US and W Network in Canada, and Campbelle expects to live-Tweet the west coat airing. Here’s a sneak peek, and his live chat with Rachel Boston from this afternoon.
Photos and video courtesy of Crown Media.
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