[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Heather Hawthorn Doyle has become a mainstay director on Hallmark, helming several movies between Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, including A Splash of Love, The Secrets of Bella Vista, #Xmas, and Make Me a Match in just the last 12 months. This Friday, she returns with The More Love Grows, written by Anne Abramowittz Junget, who wrote Project Christmas Wish.
Starring Rachel Boston and Warren Christie (yes, please and thank you), the film is a coming-of-middle-age story about Helen, a woman who gets an unexpected hard reset when her husband, Paul (Patrick Gilmore), announces that he wants out of their marriage just as they’ve dropped their only daughter, Aly (Roan Curtis), at college–and days shy of their 20th anniversary. Rather than derail her, it reinvigorates her.
Helen seizes on the opportunity to figure out who she is without a husband and the daughter at home–and more importantly, who she wants to surround herself with. She reconnects with her mother, Susan (Gabrielle Rose), and remakes a found family of her choosing–which includes Ben, a friendly vet and father of one of her daughter’s classmates, and Cindy (Lynda Boyd), who help her out when she suddenly becomes a first-time dog mom to stray Elmer, who she invites into the house in a moment of weakness.
I spoke with Hawthorn Doyle this week from Scotland, where she’s at work on an upcoming multi-generational family drama. Before she headed across the pond, the newly minted member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences got to cast her first votes for this year’s Emmys (which have been pushed to the winter with the tandem strikes) and she says it was a particular thrill. “It blew my mind. At a certain stage in my career, all I wanted to do was direct the Emmys. I thought that would be so cool,” she laughs.
“And now I’m like, ‘Ooh, one day maybe I could win an Emmy.’ Being a part of the Academy is a blessing. And then being able to watch every good show in the history of the world is a beautiful thing. That was pretty great.”
Hawthorn Doyle arrived at Hallmark after cutting her teeth directing event and reality programming. When her sons were grown, she decided to actively pursue a field change to scripted television.
“[I realized I was] actually at an age and stage where I can do kind of anything I wanna do, and I [had] always wanted to be a narrative director. I’ve always wanted to tell stories from writers that are scripted that try to touch people’s hearts. So I just went full on into it,” she recalls.
“And [I was told], ‘Oh, you can’t make the change. It’s too hard to make the change.’ But I am one of those people that feel if you wanna do it and you’re willing to work hard to do it, and you have just a tiny bit of luck, you can do anything you wanna do. I absolutely feel blessed because at one point in time when I was deciding this is what I wanted to get into, I said to a friend of mine, ‘I’m perfect for Hallmark. They don’t even know me yet, but I am perfect for them.’”
“I love stories that make people feel, I love stories that can make somebody laugh or that can really have you say, ‘Okay, I understand what they’re going through,’ or ‘I feel seen because they’re doing something I’m doing.’ Or when you’re having a really, really rough time, it’s nice to watch something that doesn’t make you think too hard and isn’t filled with gloom and stuff like that. So I do actually feel I’m built for Hallmark, and I feel so darn lucky that I’ve gotten to do so many really great movies with them.”
Hawthorn Doyle loved getting to tell this story of a woman coming into her own. “What attracted me to The More Love Grows more than anything else at first was this woman’s story and this woman finding strength, not in an outside force of a man making her feel strong. Rachel Boston, who is stunningly wonderful and excellent, is a woman who gets blindsided at a time in her life when she was kind of maybe complacent, maybe thinking things are gonna be okay. And through that, found strength,” she explains.
“She’s the middle generation. She’s got a mom above her and she’s got a daughter below her. And so that middle generation has it tough sometimes. And she was able to really help her daughter find some strength in some of the stuff her daughter was going through, repair her relationship with her mom, and more than anything else, she became the woman she always should have been.”
Lynda Boyd is one of my longtime personal faves and (catch one of my Canadian true loves, Republic of Doyle streaming on Freevee). She’s more recently familiar to fans for her work on Virgin River, and Hawthorn Doyle credits her with going all in to get the part of Cindy. “Lynda Boyd, for the actors [out there], gave the best audition of anyone I have ever seen,” she says.
“She’s playing the part of a 50, 60 year old woman who’s divorced, but reclaimed her power in music, in rocking out with her friend’s son’s punk band. So she did an audition and her hair and makeup and clothing just bodied this character. So much so that our production executive [said], ‘Make sure that you show that audition tape to hair and makeup and wardrobe.’”
“And she’s a singer and ‘Tub Thumping’ is featured in this movie, and Lynda sings it. She actually laid down the track and sang it. And also we had a writer, Dave Genn of 54-40, who wrote an original song for Elmer, our dog. Putting a punk rock band in a Hallmark movie was so fun. and all the actors just rocked out.”
“I love this movie. I love the people that worked on this movie. I think Rachel Boston is incredible and I would like to work with her many, many times. Patrick Gilmore, who some people might know from the comedy series Jann [and Travelers] had to dig deep for some of these scenes, and he did it beautifully. And Warren Christie, what can you say about Warren Christie? He’s so fantastic.”
Hawthorn Doyle was also thrilled to have Rose come and play. “Gabrielle Rose is Canadian Hollywood royalty. I have wanted to work with her for so long that I’m gonna be honest, I fangirled out. I love her scene with Rachel when she says, ‘Mom, I know you were the best mom that you could be.’ That’s gonna speak to many, many people who understand absolutely that your mom might be an amazing mom. Isn’t that fantastic? Or she might be a mom who did the best job that she could do,” she shares.
She was equally thrilled with the creative team that brought the movie to fruition. “This was produced with Front Street out of Vancouver. They developed it and our executive producer was John Cassini, who is an actor in his own right. I’m super blessed because he was able to tap into [his network]. I said, ‘I would love someone like Gabrielle Rose for this role,’ And they were friends.”
“I just feel lucky that he did this one and it was a really good partnership with everybody that was on this. “This movie was lovingly developed. And Rachel Boston was a bit of a muse for them as they thought about it. They just thought she would be the best person to play this role, as she was.”
After seeing the wave of cameos last Christmas, Hawthorn Doyle worked a fun one into a yoga class scene, which I won’t spoil here. “I got someone that I was blessed to work with before, and literally I just called her up and I was like, Hey I’m doing this movie. There’s a role in it for a cameo. And she immediately said yes. Like, I love her so much. And she had so much fun,” she teases.
“It’s really fun to have this sort of connection of all these women who knew each other [and] to have strong women who come together and can be both soft and strong. It’s the epitome of what we’re trying to do. And that’s what I found on set that day. We all just had ear to ear grins. And I will share the photo once the movie ends, but I couldn’t share it yet.”
Elmer has an integral role in the film, helping Helen find her new path, and Hawthorn Doyle had previously directed the dog-centric Romance to the Rescue and returned to that film’s trainer, Stephanie Stanton-Linder of Allstars K9 Training, when she signed on here. “As soon as I read this script, she was my first call. We talked about what kind of tricks are needed and what kind of dog might be good and stuff like that,” she points out.
“And then I met her in a park and she kind of auditioned them with me [and had them] do a couple of tricks. I wanna see how well they listen to her, how well they’ll do the tricks, do they have the personality we’re looking for? Right. And as soon as we saw Elmer, I was done.”
Hawthorn Doyle is grateful for everyone who worked so hard on the film, and plans to be live Tweeting it during the East Coast airing Friday night. “It’s a really beautiful thing when everybody comes together to make the same film,” she explains.
“And we always think, ‘What can we do that’s different that we’ve never done before,’ or that can just bring it to another level, yet make sure that we’re talking to Middle America and Middle Canada and people that have never heard of Hallmark or haven’t watched enough Hallmark. We wanted this movie to just really be something special.”
Photos courtesy of Heather Hawthorn Doyle and Allister Foster/Hallmark Media; videos courtesy of Hallmark Media.
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