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Hallmark Channel star is tops in genre
Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Just like a football game with its four quarters, an episode of “Law & Order” that’s equal parts “the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders,” and “American Idol” eliminating a singer in each live episode, romantic TV movies have a proven formula for success.
These Hallmark Channel-type films – so named because the card company is the popular, oft-imitated genre leader – introduce two characters somewhat put off by each other at first sight … faced with a challenge … unexpectedly finding romance … fighting and separating … only to wind up together and in love for life.
And yet, while the path is similar with each story, the degree of success – let’s call it entertainment and inspiration – or failure – disbelief, boredom, laughing for the wrong reasons – rides on the actors cast in these pictures.
With this type of genre, it’s not uncommon to find actors veering off the path and forcing performances that feel either cheesy (too much) or underwhelming (too little).
Ashley Newbrough, on the other hand, hits the bullseye with a nuanced approach to her roles.
The Canadian actress is superb in striking just the right balance of real life and Hollywood dreams, crafting characters that are relatable and aspirational. Whether playing a girl-next-door antique shop owner, an in-demand novelist, a theater geek or a scientist, Newbrough’s characters are as approachable as they are venerated.
It’s easy to watch Newbrough on screen and get caught up in her character’s story. Even though we know what’s going to happen, we still want to join the journey.
Of the myriad performers who’ve tried their hand at a Hallmark-type movie, no one has mastered this world better than Newbrough.
BTS caught up with her earlier this week for a phone interview. Newbrough has a new title now playing on the Hallmark Channel (and streaming on Peacock), “Love in Glacier National: A National Park Romance.” She shared more about this film, and her approach to filmmaking, in this edited Q&A.
Q: Tell me a little bit about “Love in Glacier,” and your character, Heather.
Ashley Newbrough: I play a scientist, Dr. Heather Lawrence, and I've come up with this new technology to better predict avalanche activity and danger. And a friend of mine asks me to come to the mountain to teach their team about my new technology, and install it on the mountain; my only challenge being that I have to convince the director of mountain rescue. I have to prove to him that my technology is useful and necessary, because he likes to take a more old-school approach, and lean more into intuition, rather than rely on a piece of technology. And I arrive with my sister, played by Tegan Moss, because we were meant to go on a sisters vacation somewhere when I get this call for work. She tags along with me and then sort of acts as a bit of a matchmaker when she meets Chris (Stephen Huszar), who is the director of mountain rescue.
There's skiing; there's a dog on the chairlift; there’s snow; there’s an avalanche. It's very fun. It's an adventure movie with some romance in there. It's a great time.
Ashley Newbrough and Stephen Huszar in “Love in Glacier National: A National Park Romance.” (Credit: ©2023 Hallmark Media/photographer: Courtesy of Johnson Production Group)
Q: In talking to you before, and in talking with some of your contemporaries – correct me if I'm wrong – it seems like these Hallmark-type movies are short shoots, relative maybe to other projects. Is that accurate?
Ashley Newbrough: Oh, yeah, they're incredibly short. Our shoot was 15 days. That goes by quick.
It can definitely be exhausting, and that's where I think your crew is everything. Obviously, your director, your DP and your cast – everyone has to really work together to make it happen.
And we were incredibly fortunate to have such a strong team of people on this movie. Everyone had such a positive attitude and enthusiasm to make this movie, and we all got along so well right from day one. That also made it just so much more enjoyable and fun. We all felt like we were at this like winter wonderland camp in Fernie together.
For shoots like that, everything matters. So, luckily, we didn't have a weak link anywhere. Everyone was incredible.
Q: So, this is what I'm wondering – because you always have such great chemistry with your costars. As audiences, we're used to seeing chemistry in movies that maybe are shot over six months; in TV series that have multiple seasons over multiple years. How do you get that chemistry – how do you make that connection – in just a 15-day period of time?
Ashley Newbrough: That’s a great question. I honestly don't know.
You never know what you're walking into. Rehearsal obviously helps but, again, we didn't really get that. We had a table read, which was nice.
This one was very much luck of the draw, because when I met Stephen for the first time, right away we clicked. and I knew that we would develop a good banter and chemistry within the scene. I think we had the same idea of how each scene should go. So, that was incredibly helpful and exciting.
And Tegan, when I met her, I instantly had that feeling that I had known her for a long time. I thought, “OK, that's incredibly helpful,” because she's meant to be my sister – and we hit it off right away, and it felt like we've been friends for years.
It definitely helps shooting on location, as well, because you're around each other all day, every day (laughs), which is not normal circumstance. So, you do get to know people quicker than usual, especially when you're thrown into a bit of an extreme climate. In our case, it was very cold. And so, you get to see people in action under some stressful circumstances.
But again, everyone was really positive. We all were happy to be there, and everyone had a great attitude. That also really helps, in terms of creating chemistry. We would run the lines any chance we got in between setups and, after we would wrap, we would go through the next scenes that we were meant to shoot the following day. And everyone was very collaborative and supportive. And we all got along great.
I think I just get lucky, honestly; everyone I work with is great.
In the Hallmark Channel’s “Small Town Christmas,” in-demand author Nell (Ashley Newbrough) isn’t thrilled about reconnecting with Emmett (Kristoffer Polaha), a former colleague and supposed suitor who left unexpectedly just after their first big break. But upon visiting his hometown – the basis for her book – and meeting his niece, Marnie, Nell sees Emmett in a new light – and thinks she could fall for him. Catch it on demand, and as part of the annual “Countdown to Christmas.” (Photo credit: ©2018 Crown Media United States LLC/photographer: Ryan Plummer)
Q: I think you are the Michael Jordan of this genre – and let me tell you why. I see you put in the work. I see improvement from project to project to project, from year to year to year. I see that there's certainly a demand for your work. I mean, I don't even know how many networks you're working with nowadays. I know I saw five of your holiday movies, and I think every one of them was on a different channel. But there's also nuance in your work. I think, with these movies, we kind of have a good idea of how they're going to turn out. But I think that there's a fine line – and a lot of actors, either they're over the top or they're not putting in enough work. There's a very fine line to making these movies not only entertaining, but aspirational. I think that's a big part of it – particularly with Hallmark. I think that they want their movies to be aspirational.
So, how do you approach these roles, and what continues to interest you about this type of genre?
Ashley Newbrough: I think my interest in them is I love to be part of a story that can serve as an escape for the viewers. Whether it's just mentally checking out and enjoying a beautiful, cozy atmosphere; or it's going on an adventure; or it's falling in love – I love to be a part of that.
I'll go through the scripts and I'll try to find where the funny is, and where the heartfelt beats are meant to be; and I really just try to do the story justice, and the character justice, the best I can – and hope that it works. And if it's in line with what the director is seeing, even better. That’s a crucial piece of it, really. And that's again, working with (director and producer) Christie (Will) on this last film was incredible, because she was very collaborative; an attentive listener; and was so willing to do whatever she could to make our jobs easier, and to properly represent the characters and protect our characters.
Because sometimes the scene, you know, certain drafts of the script – different scenes might not always work for the character, in particular moments of the story. So, sometimes you have to kind of tweak it. And again, luckily, Christie was incredible for that, and was able to roll with anything we threw at her, and make it work. She pumped up the dialogue and made that more natural, and funny, and she kept it quick.
I try to ground it somewhere in reality, and have fun with it, as well. I think the biggest thing, for me, is I just try to understand where my character is coming from. That’s how I approach those movies.
Q: I think grounding it, like you said, and finding the funny – I think that's key to making this successful, which you have done many times.
Let's do a couple of rapid-fire questions based on some of the things I've seen in your recent movies. Can you ice skate or ski?
Ashley Newbrough: (Laughs) Well, the answer is yes – but … not well.
So, ice skating, sure; I can skate around a little rink, but I can't stop in a way that makes me look cool – or Canadian. My method is more kind of go into the boards and hope for the best!
Skiing, very much an amateur. I wish. Tamika was my stunt double in this last film, and she was incredible! She looked so cool. She's been skiing all her life, and those shots they got are just absolutely incredible. And I wish I had that skillset but, unfortunately, I'm very much somewhere in the amateur realm, at best.
But I will say, after filming this movie, it really reignited my curiosity to do it more – and I do really enjoy it. I’m not the type that's going to go down any black diamond mountains. I would love to stick to the blue and green runs, and like, nice, gradual slopes for me.
But also, we did the cross-country skiing scene in the movie, and so we learned how to do that. Stephen actually took Tegan and I out the night before we were meant to shoot that scene.
I guess that would definitely contribute to just getting to know your costar, cast members. Because, again, we're thrown into something we're not used to, and we're learning something, and that was really fun.
It's an incredible workout, too; I was pouring sweat, despite the weather being freezing. So, doing that also that made me realize that I need to get into cross country skiing, because that would be an enjoyable winter activity.
There's possibly potential for me to do it more. But my skill definitely needs work.
Q: Do you, in fact, enjoy hot chocolate?
Ashley Newbrough: No.
Q: Wow! OK.
Ashley Newbrough: I know? Isn’t that crazy. Actually, I would if it was made, I think, with oat milk. I've never tried it with oat milk; I've always used regular milk. Every time I've had it, it like hurts my stomach. So, the movies that I've done where I've had to drink it, I'm like, “OK, well, hopefully they’re just using water.” Usually, they have just used water. And that's actually where I figured out we could do that. But I forgot about that until just now.
Q: Wow, that's like George Wendt not drinking beer on “Cheers.”
Ashley Newbrough: (Laughs)
All right, last one: You have been a writer in at least three of your films. Now, I know, obviously, you're an actor; and you’ve become an executive producer in recent years. Are you inclined in the skill of writing?
Ashley Newbrough: No, but I would love to try. I love the idea of being able to write a script, start to finish. Because I've read a lot of scripts throughout my career, and I have a lot of respect – huge respect – for writers. So that's a challenge I would love to take on.
And it is funny; I played a writer a few times. Thank you for noticing that. Yeah, it's something I would love to get into and learn more about, for sure.
In the Hallmark Channel’s “A Merry Christmas Match,” Corey Calvin (Ashley Newbrough) dreams of being a theater director in the city – but that means abandoning her late father’s antiques shop in her small hometown, as well as leaving the local Christmas pageant as director. When LA hunk Ryder Donnelly (Kyle Dean Massey) visits her shop, more than Christmas lights twinkle, and their affection grows. Does she owe it to her dad’s memory to stay in Harmony, or owe it to her heart and finally listen when love calls? Catch it on demand, and as part of the annual “Countdown to Christmas.” (Credit: ©2019 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: The Ninth House/Tina Thorpe)