Andrew Walker Talks Christmas Island and the Magical Hallmark Community
[Warning: Spoilers for Christmas Island.]
Now that the Screen Actors Guild strike has been resolved, we’re able to resume regularly scheduled programming and interview our favorites and yours. Up first, earlier today, I spoke with Andrew Walker about Christmas Island, which premiered last weekend and encores tonight and through the end of the year, the extended version of Three Wise Men and a Baby, this past weekend’s Dance Party to End ALZ fundraiser in Nashville, and his upcoming mystery cruise fan event with fellow Hallmarkie Kris Polaha. Settle in, kids. We had a lot to catch up on.
Walker’s had a packed week, heading to Nashville as part of the Hallmark contingent that came out in force last Sunday night to support Ashley Williams and Nikki DeLoach in their annual fan-friendly fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s a cause near and dear to the Walker family, who lost their matriarch earlier this year after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s.
“It took a village and really at the helm of it were Ashley Williams and Nikki. It just goes to show how much of a force they are, individually, but also together. And the two event planners for the Alzheimer’s Association that we were working with said they’d never seen a grassroots group of people come together … and especially actors, coming together the way we did on the Hallmark Channel and also the fans, how they just rallied with us all,” he shares.
“They said they had never seen so many individuals come together to support each other in this way. In the nine years they’d been working for the Alzheimer’s Association. And so it really is a true testament to my peers and all the actors on Hallmark who were involved in this. We all support each other. The fans and we are really capable of anything. Hallmark is such a force as a brand. And I think that it really is proof that when we need people to rally together, everyone comes together in this way. It really was amazing.”
Walker and his wife, Cassandra dressed up as Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love for the 2000s-area party, so I had to ask about that homage given that Cobain never lived to see that decade, and Walker says there’s a story. “So, originally it was supposed to be a 90s to two thousands themed party. We were going through people who had an impact, or were at the forefront of media at that time. And we just landed on Kurt Curtain and Courtney,” he explains.
“We ordered the gear, and then we just didn’t think about it. And then as the event got closer, it focused on the 2000s. So we just said, ‘Let’s just go with it, and then hopefully people don’t notice,’ but a lot of people did. And we said, ‘Just please, just go with it.’”
This week, Walker was back in LA for the strike-delayed formal kickoff to Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas, joining many of those same Nashville peeps on the candy cane carpet. Despite the back-to-back schedule, Walker says he loves all of it and counts himself so fortunate.
“Fresh off of the strike still ending, I started getting a flurry of all these messages of events that I’m gonna be attending. And I turned to my wife and I said, ‘I just have the best job in the world.’ None of what I do feels like work. Nothing that I do really feels like work with Hallmark. I’m showing up at Christmas Tree lightings and Christmas conventions and it’s all fun. I’m so fueled by the magic of it all. We just have such a great time hanging out with each other,” he says.
He’s equally ebullient about Christmas Island, his 14th holiday film. When we first meet Walker’s character, he’s very buttoned up as an air traffic controller trying to convince the pilot played by Rachel Skarsten that she needs to bring her plane in from a storm, and then once she and her passengers, a high-powered family desperately in need of a reset, land, he and his family grant them safe harbor, and an old-fashioned Christmas.
“He has obviously experienced a lot of heartache because of his brother-in-law being lost at sea because the captain of his ship didn’t take the weather report seriously. So it’s a very serious part of his life, his work. When he goes to the office, he puts his game face on and he is there to make sure that nothing happens on his watch,” Walker points out.
“But in contrast, he loves the holidays and I think it’s been an escape for him as well since he’s been kind of playing father figure to his nephew. I think that he’s really tried to overcompensate a little bit during the holidays or during any holiday for that matter. And he really tried to step in and be that beacon of light for him.”
“And I was trying to play with that a lot in this film and try to give some contrast and have him find his happiness. He’s been so closed off for years to love, and when Rachel’s character comes into town, she’s like this breath of fresh air in a way. And so it was the two of them discovering, you know, this side to themselves that’s been dormant for so long through the joy and the magic of Christmas.”
“And I don’t know if anybody’s been in a new relationship over Christmas, but man, is it exciting. It’s so fun to be able to spend the holidays with a new romance or when your heart is, just going pitter-patter with that person that you think might be somebody that you could potentially be with longer term.”
The movie marked his first shoot in the Canadian Maritimes, and he enjoyed getting to immerse himself in that community, reconnect with Peter MacNeill, Jefferson Brown, and Kate Drummond, who he’d worked with before, and make fast friends with co-star Rachel Skarsten and her then five-month-old son.
“Halifax is such a special place. When I was 12 years old, my dad took myself and my sister on a tour of the Maritimes because my mom was born in New Brunswick. And then we just continued on to Nova Scotia and then went through PEI, so I didn’t have any memory of it, really. And so going back and spending a month there was really special,” he shares.
“We shot at Peggy’s Cove, we shot it in Lunenberg where the famous Canadian sailboat, The Blue Nose, is docked. It was the fastest sailboat in the world for 30 plus years and it’s on the Canadian dime. In the scene where I’m on the dock getting the lobster traps with Jefferson Brown’s character, it was setting sail behind us, so that was pretty cool.”
“And the two background performers were real lobster fishermen, the woman and the guy. We were just talking with them between scenes and asking them all these questions [about that life] and there was another guy who had been working on boats for over 30 years, and he was telling us about the storms that he was caught in, out at sea and in 30-, 40-foot waves.”
Walker explains that the inspiration for the movie was a little bit Come from Away, about the planes grounded in Nova Scotia after 9/11, and Schitt’s Creek. “It was such a great script and Samantha Herman did such a great job in bringing it to life,” he says.
He loved the whole experience of the shoot. “To spend time in these landmark spots, like Peggy’s Cove, and to walk outside and just to have that lighthouse right there. And my mother-in-law is a huge fan of lighthouses so I kept sending her pictures. And then to be walking through the streets of Lunenberg and shooting in this really quaint town. And the weather was really on our side, as well,” he recalls.
Peter MacNeill plays Walker’s character’s father, the local postmaster hustling to return letters to Santa amid a mail ground stop. Walker says it was a treat to hang out with him again. “He is just a gem of a guy and he is really that grandfather role or that perfect patriarch to any movie. He’s so grounded in the way he plays these characters and his voice is this kind of grumble and he’s just such a sweet, sweet man,” he shares. “Any chance that I could get to work with Peter, I’ll just jump at that opportunity.”
The cast also riffed a take on Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way,” which Walker credits Skarsten with. “We had been talking about doing something fun for the movie. And it just so happened that we were trying to force things, and on the last day we were shooting in an airplane hangar. And I think it was Rachel and Kate who came up with the idea together. Rachel said, ‘We should shoot the Backstreet Boys video. It takes place in a hangar,’” he laughs. “And I wasn’t there, that’s why it was kind of cut together a little. Rachel did a great job in trying to make it look like I was there on the day that they were all there. They shot in the morning. I shot in the afternoon.”
Last year’s number one cable movie – on any network – Three Wise Men and a Baby – is coming soon to Hallmark Movies Now with bonus footage. Walker teases that fans can expect more of the merriment that the fans fell in love with.
“They can expect to see Tyler [Hynes] and Paul [Campbell] riffing on each other, and their brilliance as actors. Tyler, as people already know, is just such an incredible actor. And Paul, I always say it, he’s the John Cleese of Hallmark, and we were all graced with his presence to be working and writing for this network,” he says.
“In our scenes with Margaret Colin, there’s so much stuff. They would just keep on going. The director would have to say cut. He could’ve just sat there and continued to watch but you have to cut it at a certain point. And then there are a few scenes where I’m with them and there are some scenes where we’re just in the flow.”
“I feel like the best way to describe the three of us together is we’re all so individually different in our qualities. And we had said it the first day that we worked with each other after the first scene. When we were at the Christmas tree farm picking our Christmas tree, we said that this was gonna be so much fun.”
“We give each other such space to just be who we are. And it’s so supportive. I feel like I’m being elevated as an actor by working with the two of them. And it’s just so, so, so much silliness and off the cuff, just fun. You’re gonna see that. I’m so happy that Hallmark decided to do this.”
Next month, he’s back in New Jersey for Christmas Con, and then in January, he’ll take to the water again for a “Mystery at Sea” cruise with Kris Polaha, following a fan cruise last year. He’s looking forward to the chance to spend some quality time with the fans who make Hallmark what it is.
“They are going to [have] a ton of fun getting to know Kris and me a lot better. We are looking forward to getting to know the people who are coming on the cruise a lot better. This is the whole point of the cruise. We’re making it intimate and we are making sure that everyone gets time with us. We’re gonna be doing dinners together. We’re going to be doing excursions together. We have a live show that Kris is gonna put on one night. His son Caleb, who is a super talented musician, might even come with us.”
“We’re going to be doing competitions. There are going to be door decorating competitions. There’s just so much. It is gonna be jam packed. You’re gonna basically get on and then be getting off without even knowing what happened to you. It’s gonna be a whirlwind of activities.”
Check back after the holidays for more of my chat when we revisit Curious Caterer and A Safari Romance once they return to the encore rotation. Here’s my preview from last week for Christmas Island, which repeats tonight at 10:01 pm ET on Hallmark Channel and several times throughout the holidays.
You can catch encores of Three Wise Men and a Baby throughout the holidays, or buy it now on DVD. The extended cut will be available exclusively on Hallmark Movies Now beginning November 27th. All our interviews and coverage are here.
Photos courtesy of Jordan Strauss, Vortex Media, and Bettina Strauss for Hallmark Media.
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