Romantic dramedy ace has new holiday film
Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Ashley Newbrough doesn’t need a Christmas tree farm in her heart. She has her parents’ house in Ontario.
In on a visit from the West Coast, she said, “My mom is incredibly festive when it comes to celebrating holidays. So, I have lots of fond memories of themed birthday parties – and just any excuse to decorate the house, she would do it. And Christmas, especially.
“Right now, it looks like our house is a store for Christmas. Everything Christmas really. She doesn't leave a table untouched. Everywhere you look, there is full-blown Christmas decorations. It's amazing (laughs).”
It’s no surprise, therefore, to find the actress starring in a new holiday-themed movie for Hallmark.
What is eye-opening is how adept Newbrough is at this film genre – at Christmastime or otherwise.
There’s not a great deal of variation in the general plotlines of Hallmark-style romantic-drama-comedy movies – and, frankly, that’s not why we’re watching anyway. Two people meet, develop an interest, quarrel, and eventually fall in love. It’s not complicated, nor should it be.
But the stories have to be believable, and the characters worth rooting for (or against). The success or failure in these films often comes down to an actor’s ability to deliver lines and craft authentic soulmates we aspire to find.
Psychology Today says there are “5 Essential Qualities for a Romantic Partner.” Among the traits are kindness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and an understanding that relationships take work. These are the qualities Newbrough brings to her performances – whether it’s as a psychology student sharing lessons on loss with a widower and his young daughter, or as an advice columnist tracking down a mysterious love letter in her hometown.
In a word, Newbrough is believable. Though having a classic movie star look, she comes across as accessible, relatable and real. Her delivery isn’t clunky or forced, but smooth and direct.
It’s like watching a real person play … a real person.
True love should ring true, after all.
Marielle Scott, Cardi Wong, Ashley Newbrough and Christa B. Allen in “Christmas for Keeps.” (Photo by David Astorga/©2021 Crown Media United States LLC)
This talent will be on display this weekend in Newbrough’s “Christmas for Keeps.” The film was written by fellow romantic dramedy all-stars Nicki DeLoach and Megan McNulty.
“ ‘Christmas for Keeps’ is about five friends that reconnect 10 years after high school,” Newbrough said. “Their beloved drama teacher passes away, so they all come together again for his memorial service. And in honor of him, they do a bunch of Christmas activities that he always did.
“My character, Sarah, is working to take over her dad's practice; and she's become a bit of a workaholic.” She has two boys, along with her high school sweetheart, and is learning to look to life outside the office.
“It's good to practice balance and moderation and all that good stuff. So, I think when she's brought back together with her friends, she is reminded that – that it is OK to have some fun.”
Newbrough shared more about her Hallmark experiences and holiday happiness in this edited Q&A.
Q: So, it’s life imitating art when we see you in these movies and you're surrounded by all of these Christmas things. It's not so far removed from your actual real life.
Ashley Newbrough: Yeah, we actually made a joke earlier. I was helping her finish up some decorations, and I told (my mom), “Props on the Hallmark movie.” They would have a heyday with her collection; they wouldn't need to get anything – they could just use what she has!
And it would work with one of their sets, because Hallmark has an impeccable standard when it comes to their set decoration.
I've actually texted her photos while shooting ones before, like for ideas, and she's taken them to heart. That tells you a lot right there (laughs).
Q: I've been fortunate enough to do a lot of work with (Hallmark Channel parent) Crown Media over the years. You're actually the person who got me into this particular genre of movie. I happened to be flipping through the channels one day a few years ago, and I was like, ‘Hey, this is not at all what I expected.’ And I really liked it. In December, I find myself watching two a day.
I don't know if you're a baseball fan or not, but there is a baseball player by the name of Shohei Ohtani. He is very famous because he's a great hitter and he's a great pitcher. And that's very unusual. Nobody is a great hitter and a great pitcher – you're either one or the other.
I feel like you are sort of the Shohei Ohtani of these romantic dramadies, because you're very good at the romantic dramedy, but you're also very good at this specific, holiday/Christmas movie, as well. You can hit and pitch at the same time.
What do you like about this particular genre? What appeals to you about this type of film?
Ashley Newbrough: What do I like? Well, I mean, I love Christmas. It's my favorite time of the year. And if I get an opportunity to be involved in celebrating that time of the year, I'm all for it. I especially love shooting Christmas movies, because it's like I get to celebrate the season twice in a year.
They're feel-good movies. And it's like you get to dive into a Christmas snow globe. It's a great time. The stories, they've got the heart and festive feeling.
What’s not to love? It's hard to say “No.”
Q: Again, along those lines, you've done this type of movie for several networks, which I don't know that everybody does. I find that people kind of stick to one or two. You've had the good fortune of working for many networks with this type of film.
We know there's going to be a happy ending; two people are going to get together at the end. And that's fine. That's what we expect, and that's what we come to enjoy about these films. But they're not all equal, right? Like, some of the plots are better. Some of the actors – like you – are definitely better than others.
So, when you're looking at these scripts, what are you looking for? You mentioned heart. I mean, how much does that play into it? How much is the script, the director, the people you're going to be starring alongside? What is the formula you're looking for when you decide to do a film like this?
Ashley Newbrough: That's an interesting question. The heart thing is crucial, for sure. It has to have heart, and if it could have a little bit of humor in there, that's always great.
The great thing with Hallmark is you know the people are going to be amazing. Everyone involved, they're on top of it. They know what they're doing; they’re pros – especially when it comes to Christmas. They have their method down to a science. …
If it’s Hallmark that's involved, it makes it a very easy “Yes.” Because I think, for me, I know Hallmark understands the assignment when it comes to Christmas.
At Christmastime, a close-knit group of childhood friends return home after 10 years to take part in the celebration of life of their beloved high school teacher. Pictured are Marielle Scott, Ryan Rottman, Christa B. Allen, Everick Golding, Cardi Wong and Ashley Newbrough. (Photo by Bettina Strauss/©2021 Crown Media United States LLC)
Q: Hallmark does a great job with this time of year. And as I said, I'm watching two movies a day, because they're such a perfect complement to the season. And a lot of it is because, these films, they're very easy and breezy, and they're just fun and they're comforting. It's like that macaroni and cheese or whatever you want to say is your favorite comfort food.
At the same time, for as easy and breezy as it looks for us, the audience, there's a lot of work that goes into that – which we don't necessarily see.
How do you make that hard work come across so that it looks so effortless, and so that it looks so easy and breezy on screen?
Ashley Newbrough: Oh, that is hugely thanks to the crew. That is the crew. That's the hair and makeup. We're exhausted; we sit in the hair and makeup trailer, and they make us look pretty. You know, it's the ADs that run and grab us water at any given moment.
That requires a team effort, for sure, because those shoots – it's usually a 15-day shoot. So, you're working really long hours; you're not getting too much sleep, because you have to learn lines for the next day and stay on top of everything. It's a grind, but I love it. And it's definitely a passion of mine. I wouldn't have it any other way.
I just stay on top of taking vitamins, that's for sure (laughs). I got to get those greens and everything else!
That looking easy and breezy, that is totally reliant on the team. You’ve got to have the director and the crew that's working their @sses off. That's what that is that you see: everyone working really hard together and making it look easy, when that's not necessarily the case. But we are having fun. Which is also very important. I think when you love what you do, you can work a lot harder. And it can look easy – or at least it should.
It is hard, for sure, especially, too, when you're outside and it's freezing, and you have to act not cold. That can also be a bit of a challenge. I've had it before where my face actually starts to freeze, and I can feel it not moving as much. And again, wardrobe, usually the moment they call “Cut,” they’ll come running in with like massive parkas and wrap them around us. And they'll have heating packets that they're warming up for us, and just putting under our wardrobes strategically. Everyone's on top of it, and really working hard to keep everybody happy and moving.
I had one movie we were shooting outside, and it was like minus-22. It was the coldest I have ever been in my entire life. I didn't think my body was ever going to bounce back, but it did. But yeah, my mouth, I can feel it start to tense up and freeze a bit. And that is challenging, because then it becomes very distracting while you're doing the scene, because you're wondering if your lines are going to come out of your mouth the way they're supposed to.
Liza Huget, Ashley Newbrough and Cardi Wong in “Christmas for Keeps.” (Photo by Bettina Strauss/©2021 Crown Media United States LLC)
More on “Christmas for Keeps”:
Ashley Newbrough: This is the first time I've done an ensemble. I think this might be the first time Hallmark’s done an ensemble cast for their Christmas movies, which really drew me to the script. That was the first thing that I loved about it, was that it was about a group of friends reuniting, and each of them had something to conquer. I love that. I love stories like that, because I think everyone will be able to relate to one character or another. I love that about the script.
We had a lot of fun with this one. I actually knew Ryan Rottman, who plays Ben, I knew him before – not very well, but we have a bunch of mutual friends. So, going into it, when I heard that he was also involved, I was really excited, because it's always nice to have a familiar face.
And then, Christa (B. Allen), she was the last one I found out about, and that was exciting, because “13 Going on 30,” amazing. And she was lovely.
And Mari (Marielle Scott), who plays Mia, she and I clicked right away. And when I met her, I instantly was like, “OK, I know we're going to be friends for life now. Whether you want that or not, I'm keeping you after this movie! (laughs).”
And then Cardi (Wong), who played Noah, was also just an incredible sweetheart. He lives in Vancouver. He was so sweet. When we were shooting a scene where him and I were dressed up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, there were a lot of extras who were kids. They’re super-young – they were like under the age of 10. A lot of them under the age of 8. And in between takes, he wouldn't drop character from being Santa Claus, because he didn't want to do that in front of the kids. And I thought that was amazing because, here I am, my wig is like super-tight, and I was holding it out. And there is Cardi, who's still got the Santa Claus persona – even when the cameras aren't rolling – all just to protect the kids and the magic of their Christmas, which I really admired about him. I thought that was incredibly endearing.
Ashley Newbrough (Photo by Pooya Nabei/©2021 Crown Media United States LLC)
Q: I have seen many of your films. As I mentioned, you're the one who got me into this genre.
Would Ashley rather have lunch with a snowman (as in “Snowmance”), direct a holiday pageant (“A Merry Christmas Match”), or embark upon a book tour (“Small Town Christmas”)?
Ashley Newbrough: (Laughs) You have done your homework! Wow; I'm impressed. What would I? I just came back from London, so I've gotten a taste of the travel bug; so, I’m going to say book tour. I'd love to see where that would take me.
“Christmas for Keeps” airs Saturday, Dec. 18 (10 p.m. ET), on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, as part of the network’s annual “Miracles of Christmas” programming event. It will air again throughout the holiday season. Visit https://www.hallmarkchannel.com/.