Touching down on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries this holiday movie season, is Heaven Down Here. The movie stars Krystal Joy Brown, Tina Lifford, Phylicia Rashad, Juan Riedinger and Richard Harmon.
What’s wonderful about this project is it doesn’t solely focus on finding your soulmate during this season of Joy to the Worlds and O Come All Ye Faithfuls. While the characters in this movie are all striving to find their way, it’s not an easy journey they travel.
Ultimately, Heaven Down Here is more about four people coming together, each with their own stories and challenges in life. They’re about to realize they’re not alone after all. And with kindness and empathy and just an opening of the mind, their lives might change for the better.
The Synopsis for Heaven Down Here:
A Christmas Eve snowstorm strands four disparate people in a diner overnight. While no one planned to be away from their loved ones, it turns out each of them was exactly where they needed to be. Inspired by Mickey Guyton’s song of the same name.
Krystal Joy Brown leads a great cast in Heaven Down Here. She plays a strong woman who feels everything is going against her. However, she manages to remain largely optimistic. Can that outlook on life last even when faced with financial hardship coming at her from all sides?
The actress, who’s known for theater as much as TV and movies, recently chatted with TV Goodness to help us preview this emotional, uplifting, and ultimately, feel-good movie.
TV Goodness: What makes this different from the typical holiday Christmas movie?
Krystal Joy Brown: I like to say that this movie has a bit more grit. We really focus on grief and the vulnerability and trauma and the sadness that can occur during the holidays and how coming together with the community can really help change outcomes. I think it’s really special what we’ve done with this piece. It’s not as polished and perfect, but it still has that beautiful sheen, but it has a little bit more.
We weren’t afraid to go a little bit more deep and complex in this particular story because of the level of things that these people are going through. They’re going through so much alienation, loneliness, financial hardships, so many things that I think a lot of people can relate to in a very real way. And so I think that’s what is exciting about this particular film and how we decided how we made it.
TVG: What was your overall experience working on this film? Because not only did you get to play a character rich with layers who is dealing with a lot of challenges, but you got to sing, too, including the Mickey Guyton song this movie was inspired by, “Heaven Down Here.”
Brown: I come from the world of musical theater. I’m on my sixth Broadway show currently in Merrily We Roll along on Broadway playing Gussie. And so I was so excited and honored to see that [Heaven Down Here] was music affiliated. I always think that with musical theater, you’re kind of acting on pitch, and so being able to translate that to film and being able to be like, oh, this movie is inspired by this song. And then the song has really beautiful lyrics that kind of are weaving through the entire movie. And I love being able to do all the things at once. I mean, that’s why I got into this world. I love being able to sing, dance, act, and if I can do them all in one place, amazing. And if I can do them on film even better, because it’s always great to bring music to film. It’s sometimes really hard to translate that or to incorporate music storylines into a script and on film. But I think we did something really beautiful here.
TVG: Can you talk about your character and what some of the challenges Imani is facing at the beginning of the movie?
Brown: So Imani, she’s a mother of two, and her husband died a year prior around the holiday time. And she is adamant about making this Christmas and holiday season beautiful for her two young ones who are also grieving the loss of their father. They’re in massive debt because of medical bills and their home is up for sale because they can no longer afford it. She’s taken a job waitressing and she is in a bit of a desperate situation.
TVG: Imani ends up stuck with three other people at the diner, including Dan, her manager, who is no support for her at all. Why were these four destined to be holed up together in the diner? What do they end up doing for each other?
Brown: The relationship between Imani and Dan (Richard Harmon) is really interesting to me because Dan is her boss and you can work with someone and never know them in a real way and you don’t know anything about them because you don’t have passing conversation. You don’t get really deep. And so sometimes you never really know why a person is how they are because of what they’re going through. You never know what a person is going through. So this was kind of one of those things where it’s like if they could sit and talk to each other in a real way, their dynamic is going to change from that moment forward because you get to sit and see the humanity of them.
And then I think having Juan [Riedinger] ‘s character — the minister – he is estranged from his son and his family because he had to put his focus on work and kind of fell out of being a part of a family and taking care of his son. And I think him trying to find that unity or even just face someone who is really concerned about their kids and constantly checking on their kids and him witnessing that and being like, I wish I could have been there for my family and for my kids the way that Imani wants to.
And then we have Clara who’s dealing with empty nest syndrome and the loneliness that happens there. And she’s dealing with a really tough boss (played by Phylicia Rashad) as well, but she is searching and desperate for community and people to connect to, and she’s very hopeful and holding on to that hope. But I think she really is in a complicated spot. So I think it’s for people who are desperate to find community in this moment and to be able to be vulnerable.
TVG: And they really do start empathizing with each other once they find out each other’s stories.
Brown: Once you stop thinking about just what’s going on with you and open yourself to listen to what’s going on with others, it’s a whole paradigm shift. It’s a whole shift of consciousness and you actually can receive what other people are going through and how you can relate to them. And it’s all about compassion and empathy, while also being able to be vulnerable and open up.
It’s always hard to open up and especially because these people are talking about where their most tender spots are, where they have failed or where they feel the least ability to verbalize what they’re going through. And they’re all meeting at this really complicated time. And I think they’re forced by a divine power to address their vulnerabilities and where they are in this moment, but also to come together and to know that there are people that will hold them up and that will lift them up.
TVG: Can you talk about working with Tina Lifford? Because she’s awesome. She’s amazing.
Brown: She is very passionate about being motivational and how we live our lives. Wellness, well-being, how we perceive our reality is how we connect to other humans. So it was so easy to get into very deep talks with her sitting, waiting for lighting or pops or whatever. We would just sink into these really special conversations that at a time I so needed to hear. And share with her my experiences too. And we would always get into these metaphysical and existential conversations about being and existing and what our purpose is. Working with her was very deep. We don’t have a ton of time to do this work, but you get really close really fast because you just have to dive in.
TVG: Again, in your typical holiday movie, characters are usually moving around to different locations. What was it like to do the bulk of your scenes in one place, the diner?
Brown: As I come from the world of theater, it felt very of that world. That we’re in one space and that we’re really just focusing on the story that’s being told and how the characters are interacting with that one environment and therefore with each other. There isn’t a ton of distraction for multiple different places. It’s really about what these people are saying and how they’re connecting to each other, which feels more like a play to me.
And even a lot of it was filmed in a lot of long tracking shots, and our director was really adamant about getting our reaction. We would do several pages at a time, which is not normal for a lot of TV and film. You do a couple of pages, you do two and a half pages. But no, we would do 6, 7, 8 pages as one. And I think that you get something really interesting in that because it is just constantly flowing and you’re getting real in-time reactions to how everyone is together and how they’re all feeding off of each other.
And the diner grows even just the way the lighting goes from day to night and also from kind of dreary to extremely festive. And as the diner morphs, we’re morphing and it goes from being a really kind of tough place to be to a place where they’re almost like, this is exactly where I need to be, where I want to be. And it becomes this warm, cozy place. I found that to be a really interesting element to the story. And I loved the fact that we weren’t moving around very much.
I knew it was going to be about what we were saying to each other, how we were relating to each other, which to me is kind of my favorite movies. It reminds me of old movies where they just kind of talk to each other and relate to each other. And that’s the most important part of the story, is watching these people interact with each other.
TVG: I have to ask about the musical you’re currently in — Merrily We Roll Along. It’s getting great reviews. And in one of your instagram videos, you say it’s one of the best experiences of your career. Why?
Brown: Well, one is the cast that I’m working with. I just feel like they’re such exceptional actors. They inspire me to push myself and be better, and that helps. But then I also think being able to break boundaries and to be the first of anything, the first black Gussie is amazing to me. I mean, it’s historical. It hopefully will bring more people to the theater who sometimes don’t feel seen or feel like they belong there.
And so that feels like a very big win for me in my career and the things that I want to do in my life, what I want to be in the world. And also just getting to create this character who has typically been written off as a certain type of person. She’s a diva. She’s even been villainized. She’s very different from Amani, very different from Eliza, different from all of these people that I’ve played.
She’s larger-than-life bombastic, and she’s very ambitious. And I think it’s easy to play her as a stereotype and as this kind of a power-hungry woman or man eater or whatever. And I believe that everyone is so complicated and deserves to be showing all of the layers and all of the complexities that make them.
Heaven Down Here premieres tonight at 8/7c on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and streaming on multiple outlets in the U.S. and W Network in Canada, and will repeat throughout the holidays. Here are a couple of sneak peeks.
Photos Courtesy: Hallmark Media
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