[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Last year’s number one movie on any cable network was Three Wise Men and a Baby, a very funny and affectionate straight up comedy that threw out the mold for the holiday romcom. That film walked so Catch Me If You Claus could run. Premiering Thanksgiving night, the movie is delightfully silly in the very best way and I’m saying it here that it will be a fast favorite this year and a longstanding favorite in the years to come.
Initially developed by frequent Hallmark screenwriter Nina Weinman Swift over a decade ago, the project had to wait to shoot its shot. It was well worth it to have Italia Ricci, in her first Christmas movie, and Luke Macfarlane, one of our forever faves, in the title roles.
Ricci plays Avery, a crackerjack news researcher who really wants an opportunity to move in front of the camera at her TV station. Her mom is a well-recognized journalist whose fame has set a ridiculously bar. Macfarlane is Chris, also a second generation hopeful, only his dad is famous around the world — as Santa Claus.
When Avery gets the chance to go on air Christmas morning at the drawn of crack, her hopes for a good night’s sleep beforehand get derailed by Chris, who lands in her living room planting presents under the tree just as the city’s on edge about a burglar making the rounds as, you guessed it, Santa.
From there, mistaken identity begets shenanigans begets Avery investigating the story that might just get her the bump she needs to prove herself. All against the ticking clock of Chris needing to finish his rounds by dawn and her needing to be on the air by 5. It’s fast, it’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s kind, and it’s so, so good.
Last week, I chatted with both Ricci and Macfarlane about the film. I’ll have Macfarlane’s interview tomorrow. First up, here’s what Ricci had to say. For starters, she was thrilled to get the call to add a holiday title to her Hallmark library. “It came from somebody who knew me from Chasing Life and had me in mind. And I think it’s because of Avery’s sarcasm and snark, probably. I had never been brought a Hallmark Christmas one before,” she explains.
“I love them and I’ve always wanted to do one. I love Christmas. And then when I read it, I was just blown away by how different and fresh and funny it was. And it just felt like something that’s gonna surprise the audience in what I hope is a lovely and delightful way. And Luke really is just so solid and so funny and so talented. I could see him doing it as I was reading it, and it was a yes before I was even halfway through the script.”
As I mentioned earlier, the film doesn’t follow the normal mold, and Ricci enjoyed that it was a different take on the “romcom,” and that the question of whether Chris is who he says he is is resolved early on. “I liked that the love story isn’t the primary story until sort of the end-ish. You don’t really see those moments. Obviously if you really look, you will see a couple of glances and double takes and stuff like that. But I think that we really leaned more on the adventure of it all,” she says.
“It was really fun to play Avery, who’s such a sensible girl, and she’s smart and she likes to put things together that make factual sense. And so for her to be moving so quickly because of the time crunch, she really doesn’t have time to question every single moment the way that I think she typically would.”
“That switch for her [to believe him] happens pretty quickly and then she’s just in. And I think when she sees real Santa for the first time she’s like a child again, and just all these moments, the reindeer and the sled … it was just so fun to be able to turn her from this very grounded and sensible woman into one in awe and wonder and just pure enjoyment of what’s happening without having time to question it because they just gotta get going.”
Y’all know that I’m not a fan of having to read cell phone text onscreen, and Catch Me If You Claus is mercifully devoid of that device as the duo navigate the night without a cell phone and with an old school PC. “That is part of what helps Avery’s journey, where she starts to believe that she can be the journalist that she’s telling everybody else that she can be, and she wants to be. This puts her to the test,” Ricci points out.
“And I think it’s also just more enjoyable for the audience to watch. It’s like movies that were made before we had cell phones with Internet on them. Because almost every movie, if there isn’t a way to shut down cell service, would only be two scenes long because they’d call the police and the movie would be over, everything would be fixed. It’s kind of an easy way out. If you pull out his old cell phone and you’re looking at too much technology, it tends to date the film. So the less you use, the longer the film will seem relevant.”
One scene late in the film is a fun nod to the iconic scene of Joan Cusack desperately trying to deliver a tape to a newsroom in Broadcast News. “We literally didn’t know what we were doing. We had the idea of her flying through the hallway and at the last second I grabbed the producers [and said], ‘Let’s make this as difficult as possible,'” she laughs.
“And the background performers were so on it. We got it in a matter of 20 minutes and they hit every single beat at every single moment. Everybody pulled together. It was like a beautiful dance. We were so pumped when we finished that scene. I was out of breath, but we were very excited. It was really fun. It was a really good moment.”
Ricci says the film wasn’t just a blast for the cast; the crew got in on it, too. “The whole crew, the full cast, everybody was just cracking up the whole time. The entire shoot, we would be gasping for air in laughter. It was actually our first [assistant director, Anthony Lefresne, who tipped me] that we were really doing something a bit different,” she recalls.
“His wife is our stand in and he was our first AD and he came up and said, ‘You know how I know this is gonna be a good movie? We’ve done 500 of these Hallmark movies, and after the first day of shooting, the entire crew read the script because they wanted to know what the heck was going on here.’ And they loved it. Some of our supporting characters could ad lib and Luke can ad lib and go on and on. And that is a level of intelligence far beyond my comprehension.”
“Also, can we talk about how good looking his dad [Andrew Jackson] is? He walked into the makeup trailer and they painted his hair white, but it was sort of falling over like 90s heartthrob style and kind of blonde with a white blonde beard. And I was like, ‘Are you the hottest Santa on the planet? What is going on here? This is insane. We got the world’s best looking Santa.’ And he’s a huge dude, because Luke’s also huge. And so there were just these gorgeous two human Santas in this scene. And I was in the background drooling,” she laughs.
Ricci took a little bit of the movie home, snagging the plaid coat Avery wears throughout the film, which popped up recently in her IG feed — and would 100% be in my closet if it wasn’t wool. “I stole it. It’s from Simon’s. If anybody wants to get one, it’s current and it’s comfortable and it has massive pockets so I never have to carry a purse,” she says. “I asked for it at the end of the shoot, and they were kind. I also wanted Chris’s jacket, but they wouldn’t let take that one.”
While I had her on the phone, I also took a minute to ask her about the equally wackadoodle one-and-done Netflix series The Imperfects from The Order creator Dennis Heaton. “That was a really fun shoot and it was really nice because the three kids were so talented for their first time being regulars and they really carried it. And I got to kind of just be the Giles and watch it all happen,” she shares.
“And Dennis’s brain is just such a terrifying and hilarious and warped and interesting place. I was so delighted to be a part of it for the four months that we shot that. And it was just so cool. It was grungy and stylized and it was shot differently than I had shot a lot of my stuff. It was just a real trip to do and I’m glad that it happened. I’m sad that we didn’t get to do more of it, but I have no doubt that I’ll be working with Dennis again.”
“I just adore him. I could talk to him for hours. We’ve talked about a couple of other things that he’s done in the works [and] my brain just melts at how dark he can make things while still keeping them so interesting. It’s repulsive but addicting and tasty and very interesting. He’s a talented dude.”
While Ricci is no longer active on Twitter, she says she will respond if people ping her there, and you can catch her on Instagram. “You can @ me and I will happily answer anything. I’ll probably do a Q&A after [this film and husband Robbie Amell’s Ex-Mas, now on Prime Video] have been out for a minute and ask for feedback and [do] a couple of polls on Instagram. I’m not competitive at all, I swear,” she laughs.
Catch Me If You Claus premieres at 8 pm/7c Thanksgiving night on Hallmark Channel and streaming on multiple outlets in the US, and Saturday, the 25th, at 8 pm/7c on CTV Life in Canada. Here are a couple of sneak peeks. ICYMI my interview with Luke Macfarlane is here.
Photos courtesy of Albert Camicioli/Hallmark Media; videos courtesy of Hallmark Media.
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