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Interviews

Alison Sweeney Previews Love & Jane 

Alison Sweeney Previews Love & Jane

[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]

Saturday night, the Jane Austen-themed Loveuary continues on Hallmark Channel with Love & Jane, starring The Chronicle Mysteries duo of Alison Sweeney and Benjamin Ayres in a magical romance written and directed by David Weaver. This week, I chatted with Sweeney about the film, which shares some of the same sentimentality and whimsy as one of my forever favorites from her, 2016’s The Irresistible Blueberry Farm.

In Love & Jane, Lily is a staunch Austen devotee who works by day as an advertising account executive and copywriter and by night spends time rereading her beloved Jane and sharing that affection as president of a local Jane Society book club. She also harbors a past secret success as a burgeoning writer who shelved her own manuscripts in the interest of practicality. 

Love and Jane

When she’s on the receiving end of an unwelcome proposal, she makes a fervent wish that she knew what to do and asks Jane for help. Much to her shock and delight, the universe obliges. That this coincides with Lily having both a personal and professional meet-cute with Ayres’s Trevor, an app developer and tech billionaire who just bought her favorite brick and mortar bookstore, is a bonus.  

The project arose out of a discussion Sweeney had with Weaver back when they were filming the 2021 Christmas film Open By Christmas. Surprisingly, Weaver, a longtime Hallmark director, had not written a romcom for the network, which also surprised Sweeney. That was about to change. “The fun thing about the way it all happened was that I am a huge Jane Austen fan, and I am happy to watch any adaptation anytime. And David and I were doing a Christmas movie together that he was directing. And one night I watched this cute Keri Russell movie called Austenland with Jennifer Coolidge in it,” she recalls.

“That was just my escape when I got home from work that night and the next day I came in and I told [David], ‘I can’t believe I never had seen this Austen movie because I love Jane Austen and everything about her. So how did this escape me?’ And David said, ‘Wait a second, you love Jane Austen? I have a pitch for you.’”

“He hadn’t written anything down. He just had an elevator pitch of an idea. And I heard him out and I said, ‘We have to call Hallmark immediately. It’s genius.’ And so we developed the idea, we pitched it to Hallmark, he wrote this adorable script, and six, eight months later we were filming it.” 

Love and Jane

While the film traffics heavily in namedropping assorted Austen titles, it does so in a lovely egalitarian way that’s easy for non-readers to understand and that extends to the fun assortment of Jane Society members. Sweeney is proud that’s where they landed. “That’s what we wanted. And I believe that that’s what Jane Austen intended,” she explains. When you understand what she was aiming for, she wanted everyone to feel welcomed and included and heard and seen.”

Weaver is the latest in a long line of talents who got their first shot with Sweeney, including then first-time directors Jem Garrard and Nimisha Mukerji, who launched their careers with her projects. “I am so proud of that kind of development, being a part of that kind of development, introducing writers, introducing directors has been a big part of my producing career at Hallmark. And so bringing this from literally like the very beginning of the inception to now getting to see it finally air this Saturday is just beyond thrilling to me,” she shares.

Bringing Ayres in was an easy choice, and Sweeney says it helped her fall into Lily’s voice and mannerisms that much easier. “I had so much fun working with Ben. He’s so fantastic and talented. The role of Lily is a bit of a departure for me. So I was really thrilled to be able to work with Ben again because that wasn’t a new element,” she points out.

Love and Jane

“We know each other really well. We’ve done all these movies together. So we had a comfort and a familiarity of how we worked together so that we were able to really explore these characters in a completely different way because we didn’t have to do the meet and greet.”

“It was just so familiar. In some ways it felt like we had just stepped off the set of Chronicle Mysteries last week, and then we’re just tackling new characters. I think part of the success of the movie was having my relationship with Ben already established.”

She credits Ayres with a really quiet, heartfelt performance when Trevor tells Lily how he feels after his misguided attempt to lend her a hand backfires, and it’s a moment of awakening for her character, too. “Lily realizes his intentions were pure. That’s part of what I loved about the parallels with Jane Austen. This independence that she’s yearning for is of course valid and important, but having friendships and having people support you is also important,” she points out.

“And finding that balance of standing on your own two feet, but also allowing people to stand next to you, someone you love to be there and hold your hand, that’s okay, too. And you don’t have to go it alone. I thought there was a beautiful acknowledgement of him seeing [that his actions went] too far. He should have talked to her beforehand. He comes forward and makes that pledge so beautifully. He did that scene so lovely and in front of all our friends, willing to embarrass himself. I think that spoke volumes about how he now sees what her point was.”

Love and Jane

Lily’s sometimes flustered way begets moments of unintentional comedy when she speaks before she thinks and her words land in unintended ways, including a response involving crumpets that made me cackle because I am apparently 12. “What I loved about the crumpet joke was that it does come from that flustered moment that I think so many people relate to when you say something you don’t mean and you don’t realize how it sounds,” Sweeney says. “It is so sincere. It’s not intended to be a double entendre. She didn’t hear it in her mind before she said it. That’s totally Lily. She just blurts out these things without thinking them through.”

While there was no intentional double entendre, Sweeney laughs that it’s OK if there was, and she embraces that Hallmark is evolving a bit. In Love & Jane, there are other moments that reflect that Lily and Trevor are grown ups who have love and loss in their histories and a longing for something new. This isn’t an ingenue’s romance, and she enjoys being part of that maturing model for storytelling. “I think that Hallmark, at least in my experience, is bridging towards something,” she says. 

“Our sensibility is still true and we want the audience to feel, we want the audience to trust us. But I think there is room for a little bit of maturity in those moments that you can dance on the edge of that understanding without offending anyone, without getting into deep. You can just skate along the edge.” 

Love and Jane

Alongside, or in front of the love story, is the friendship between Lily and Jane that anchors the film, and Sweeney sings Kendra Anderson’s praises about how hard she worked. “Kendra is sensational. She’s so talented, she’s funny, and she brought so much of that to her performance,” she shares.

“She did all this research on Jane that she brought to the table to make it shine the way that she did. And when we first pitched it to Hallmark, David’s vision all along was that it’s a movie about these two women and their friendship. It’s not just a love story, it’s both. And I think that’s true of the relationships that Jane wrote in her novels. Often it was sisters, but it’s also women being friends and women supporting each other.”

Love & Jane premieres Saturday, February 10th, at 8 pm/7c on Hallmark Channel in the U.S. and W Network in Canada, and streaming live on multiple outlets in the U.S. Here are a couple of sneak peeks. In case you missed it, I also chatted with Sweeney about the next Hannah Swensen Mysteries installment, “One Bad Apple,” which welcomes Victor Webster to the series. You can find that interview here.

Photos courtesy of David Astorga/Hallmark Media; videos courtesy of Hallmark Media.

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