[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
I don’t think I can overstate the anticipation attached to Saturday’s premiere of Three Wise Men and a Baby. Even before the TikTok videos took off, Hallmarkies were clamoring to see three of their faves–Paul Campbell, Tyler Hynes, and Andrew Walker–join forces for a holiday comedy. Well, their wish has been granted and then some. I’m happy to tell you it’s not a one-off gimmick. It’s actually a really sweet, silly, heartfelt comedy about family, love, and healing with a generous helping of shenanigans.
And since Campbell not only co-stars as Stephan, one of the brothers, but also co-wrote the script with fellow Hallmarkie Kimberley Sustad, I of course went straight to him to answer the big (and small) questions about how we were gifted with this super-fun project about three semi-estranged, sort-of adult brothers taking care of a baby the week before Christmas. Read on!
“The concept itself actually came internally from Hallmark. They said, ‘Hey, we want to do a movie with you, Tyler, and Andrew along the lines of Three Men and a Baby. Do you guys have any interest in writing that?’ And we said, ‘Well, let’s see if we can come up with a story that makes sense, and if you like it, then absolutely,'” he recalls.
“We put our heads together and came up with this basic framework for the story, and they said, ‘We love it. Go have at it.’ And so we did. I think this movie, more than any that I’ve ever worked on as a writer, we really swung for the fences in terms of the comedy, in terms of the characters…the way that they exist in the world is not typical Hallmark.”
“[Some of them didn’t make the US version of the film], but the fact that they let [certain] scenes go and actually be part of the script [and be filmed] speaks volumes about where Hallmark is at in terms of the types of storytelling they’re embracing.”
Having the cast in place before scripting made the writing process significantly easier. “It was so much better. It was so much more fun. And I will say that, as much as we had their voices in mind when we were writing, the performances that they brought were even better than we imagined. Tyler’s pacing and his level of put upon-ness in the movie…I don’t know that we had imagined it to that degree.”
“And honestly, for whatever reason, the scenes with him when he’s so put out by having to look after this baby, because in the movie, he’s the least equipped, those were the scenes I had the hardest time getting through without laughing.”
“I ruined so many takes. I kid you not, to the point that the director and producers were just starting to get really angry. We’d get to the 11th hour, we have three pages left to shoot, and I can’t stop laughing. I think it comes across, but in the moment, people were not happy.”
“And Tyler was relentless. He wouldn’t back off. He wouldn’t compromise his performance so that I could stop laughing. He would lean harder into it and just make both Andrew and me laugh even harder. And Andrew also, in his earnestness, in his shininess, made me and Tyler laugh nonstop. I don’t know how we got through. If we shot six takes of a scene, usually there was one that was usable because I just ruined the rest by laughing.”
Aside from the footage that was unusable, Campbell says there’s easily 25 minutes of scenes that were cut for time, including the required Hallmark Christmas movie ice skating scene, which you can see a glimpse of here, so get those petitions going for the extended cut!
One of the roles not cast before writing was Margaret Colin as Barbara, the single mom who raised the titular trio of wise men. Colin has a deep bench of work and longtime Hallmarkies will likely recognize her from The Wedding Dress, one of my all-time favorite movies of the week which rotated across the Hallmark networks for several years and is now streaming on Tubi.
Campbell says getting her was a dream come true. “They sent the script to Margaret and she said, ‘I’d never really responded to Hallmark stuff before. And I read the script and I loved it and I thought, how fun would this be to come and play with you guys?’ And she just brought the most amazing energy to that set,” he shares.
“I have a little video that I’ll probably post before we air this week, and it’s just her entertaining the baby in between takes just making silly voices probably for five solid minutes just dancing with the baby and keeping that baby laughing.”
“Her performance was probably the biggest departure from what was originally imagined in the script. And I couldn’t be happier with what we ended up getting from her because originally the mom was written as really sweet and kind of demure and eternally upbeat and everything just kind of washes over her.”
“But Margaret brought such legitimacy [as a] grounded mom that has been through it with these boys and has had enough and it’s just so natural. She just felt like our mom while we were filming and she took the dialogue and she flipped it on its head and she did things with it that we never could have imagined. So what a huge, huge asset to this movie she was.”
Campbell and Sustad have previously collaborated on projects, and for this one, they sat down together and constructed a plausible series of scenarios to make the concept realistic and believable. “[We asked ourselves], ‘What’s the story here?’ Three brothers who look after a baby for the week leading up to Christmas. Then inherent to that are some issues [like], ‘Why does a mom leave her baby?’ You have to figure out a really, really good, grounded, sympathetic reason,” he explains.
“And then once you solve that, you [get into] the conflict of the brothers [and ask] ‘Where’s the conflict? Why don’t they get along?’ How do we root this in something that really resonates with people rather than just, ‘He’s kind of annoying,’ so we have somewhere to travel? [And we landed on] a single mom, three boys, dad left, and they all went in their separate directions. So the story sort of starts from there.”
“Now we’ll explore…each of their lives. We basically just break the story beat for beat. We put it up on the wall on cue cards and then Kim is phenomenal with story and with character, so she really leads the way in shaping the story and going, ‘Okay, in this act we need this to happen. We need to get to here by the end of this. And how do we get there?’ So we chart the course, and she really oversees making sure that all of these characters are real and feel real and resonate and have room to travel, room to grow in the story.”
“And then once we’ve broken the whole story and we’ve got the outline written, then I start writing the script. I’m really good with dialogue and I’m good at turning those ideas into action. Then I write a draft, she follows behind and she goes, ‘Okay, this is good. We’re missing this, we’re missing this, add a piece here,’ and I begin to reshape.”
“Sometimes she’ll write dialogue as well and she’s also really good at that, but generally I do most of the actual writing and then she comes behind and reshapes and gives notes and then I clean it up and we go from there.”
Campbell credits the homegrown social media juggernaut to Hynes. “It’s all Tyler. He’s a social media wunderkind. The guy is constantly filming and he’s so fast at stitching these movies together and he’s really, really creative. I mean, he’s directed his own stuff. He’s always interested in content,” he shares.
“Tyler is really fascinated with catching people in quiet moments. He likes to observe people living unobserved. So if you’re just eating a sandwich and enjoying that sandwich, he likes to watch you enjoying that sandwich. It brings him great joy to see people just living freely unobserved, except they are being observed.”
“And there were many times I would be going over lines or on a phone call and Tyler’s filming it because he just enjoys watching people live, which, maybe, is why his performances are always so strong because he is a true observer of life, and has such a great interest in it and he’s just really tech savvy.”
“With the elf costumes, we put those on and he said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna tell you when to come out of the trailer. I’m gonna knock on the door and then you walk out normally and I’m just gonna be there with the camera. So I said, ‘Okay, fine.’ So I walk out normally and I did a little stupid head shake and then he did it in slow motion. He showed me and said, ‘Okay, great, and now let’s get Andrew.'”
“And so he got Andrew and then I filmed Tyler and then he showed me what he’d been working on filming the individual trailer pieces and he’d already started to stitch this thing together. He just kind of set up a few more shots and put that thing together and set it to music and then off we went. And same with the skating thing.”
In late October, Campbell was part of a contingent of Hallmark stars who traveled to New York to launch this year’s Countdown to Christmas with the red carpet premiere of next weekend’s A Holiday Spectacular. “You tell me I’m going to Radio City Music Hall to watch the Rockettes and there’s no way I’m not throwing on a bow tie. I don’t know what everyone else is thinking, but I’m like, ‘This is the greatest night of my life. I’m gonna dress that part.’ It was extraordinary. I honestly can’t recall being part of an evening so magical, certainly in my professional life, ever,” he shares.
“It was riding through the middle of midtown Manhattan on an open-air double decker bus dressed up like a cozy Christmas sweater with 15 of your favorite people in the world looking like a million bucks and having people just stop and stare and take photos and wave and shout as we go through midtown traffic.”
“And then pulling up to Radio City Music Hall, where they have Christmas trees set up and it’s snowing and there’s a red carpet. It was just extraordinary. Being let inside through basically the kitchen entrance backstage to watch the Rockettes from 15 feet away warm up for the show and then watching the show…I’ll never forget it. It was truly, truly unbelievable.”
Campbell, Hynes, and schedule-permitting, Walker, will be in Chicago the first weekend in December for the RomaDrama fan gathering, where they’ll host a special screening of the film. There’s no firm plan, but Campbell hopes it’ll allow them to share an extended version of the movie. “It depends a little bit on what footage we’ve had released from the movie,” he says.
“Tyler was really pushing to get us some bloopers and outtakes. At the very least, what people can expect is a panel of us sitting around and talking at great lengths about our experiences. Our hope is to be pausing the movie during certain scenes and then just talk the audience through what was going on, all the behind the scenes stuff that they missed, how many times I ruined that take because I couldn’t stop laughing.”
“We’re gonna be down there mixing and mingling with the fans. I’ve never done anything like that, so I can’t wait to get there and screen this. And my hope is that we get a copy of the international version so people can see things like the ice skating scene and maybe Tyler in the bathroom with the exploding diaper. I don’t know what’s in that international version, but I have a feeling just some good stuff.”
If Campbell has his way, the band will be back together again on another project. “If you think for one second we don’t already have a plan…you’re mistaken. [Not for a sequel but] probably something different, We’re basically the Beatles of Hallmark,” he laughs.
Photos and video courtesy of Hallmark Media.
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