'tis the season

Lacey Chabert Is at Home at Hallmark

“I see myself being a lifer as long as I’m inspired by the stories and as long as they’ll have me. I have ideas for 50 more.” Photo: Fred Hayes/Hallmark Media

The Hallmark Channel unapologetically occupies its own astral plane of television. We don’t go there for complexity or nuance or a poetic skewering of the elite. The secret formula isn’t even a secret: Just give us a rom-com with warm characters, and bonus points if there’s a small town, a failing family business, or a bunch of gazebos thrown in. Lacey Chabert knows that, and it’s why she’s enjoying a long and cheerful reign as Hallmark’s empress. Since 2010, Chabert has completed 35 projects for the network, helping elevate it from a somewhat niche story outlet to a cinematic juggernaut during the holiday season. More than 36 million viewers tuned into Hallmark for its slate of Christmas films this year. That’s 36 million. Even a certain Game of Thrones spinoff would kill for those numbers.

While some of her colleagues recently moved their work to a more conservative family network, Chabert doesn’t see a traitorous finish line with her Hallmark partnership. (Although she would “of course” reprise her role in a Mean Girls sequel if asked.) Besides, Chabert now executive produces and develops films in addition to her frequent leading roles. “I found a real home in Hallmark,” she tells me. “I’m able to be more of who I am here than possibly anywhere else I’ve worked.”

What type of actor does Hallmark court for their films? I’m curious if you see any connective tissue, either from a professional or personal standpoint, between yourself and the other stars of the network.
A lot of us have been in the business since we were very young — we grew up here. I’ve been acting professionally since I was 7 years old, and I’ve been working for Hallmark pretty exclusively for quite a few years. My first film with them was about 12 years ago when I did Elevator Girl. I had bought Hallmark cards for all of my life, but I wasn’t familiar with Hallmark films. I understood that their mission was to spread love and goodness, so I did that film, and it aired.

They called me to do a Christmas film the following year, Matchmaker Santa. Again, it had a certain sweetness to it, and it reminded me of traditions I had with my family growing up. I love telling these stories. People talk about the formula of them or certain things we’re trying to hit, but it works really well. It’s my job to leave the audience a little bit surprised and try to find a different way into that story. I try to make the characters as human as possible, or create a character the audience can see themselves in. Hopefully it’s a bit different than the last one I played.

Does the formulaic nature of these films sometimes test your creative fulfillment?
I think we’re being allowed to take our storytelling outside this box it was put in. The Wedding Veil is the first time they did a true trilogy that aired consecutively, and now we have the chance to revisit those characters. A lot of times, these movies end with the people falling in love: the kiss or the quick wedding scene. With The Wedding Veil movies, we get to see what these characters are like in love, in a relationship, and in living real life together. It doesn’t have the meet-cute — you’re watching two people already in love exist within a marriage. What types of challenges does that bring them? We see the relationships of the three girlfriends in a deeper way: All three are married and in different directions; how has that affected their friendship?

Haul Out the Holly was a comedy. That’s not something we would’ve done at the network a few years ago. Last year, I did a movie called Sweet Carolina, where my character’s sister suddenly passes, and she finds out she’s the guardian of her niece and nephew. That was something deeper I had been wanting to do for a while. A more emotional story, if you will.

How has Hallmark’s vision aligned with what you wanted to achieve?
I always look for the sentimental or nostalgic part of things. That rings true in all of these movies, whether it be a mystery or a Christmas one or a romantic comedy or even more dramatic. I’m the kind of person who wants to sit down and watch something that makes me feel good. I used to watch those Friday-night “ripped from the headlines”–type shows. I can’t watch that stuff now that I’m a parent. I want something that’s uplifting or funny or moving. When I have interactions with fans, they say the same thing. You can sit down and watch something that’s going to leave you feeling good.

Look, I’m an actress, and I want to be as versatile as possible. I started in the theater. I did Les Misérables on Broadway, commercials, All My Children. I love working. I enjoy playing different types of characters, don’t get me wrong. Just look at Mean Girls. Gretchen is such a huge part of my work. But with Hallmark, I play characters that are more like who I am in real life than anywhere else. My values are my faith and my family, and I get to portray that.

What narrative depth do you think still needs to be accomplished? Could you imagine starring in a film where your character ends up happily single?
I don’t know if that’s something we’d ever do. Finding the relationship is typically an important part of the story. But I would say never say never.

Who are the audiences for your films? What are they looking for?
I just got to meet a lot of those lovely people at Christmas Con. It was an incredible experience to hug their necks, hear their stories, look people in the eyes and have them explain what the movies mean to their life.

And what did they say?
Something like, I watch these with my husband or my wife or my sister or my brother or my children, and they’re such a part of our family’s tradition. Or, My husband and I watched them, and he just passed, and now the movies still bring me comfort because it reminds me of something beautiful we used to do together.

It’s not something I take lightly, and it’s why I’m so passionate about making them as good as they can be. I mean, I’ve had people say to me, Oh, come on, give me a break. You can do this in your sleep. If I ever approach it like that, it’s time for me to call it a day. Because I still find myself feeling like I can’t sleep the night before the first day on set. It’s like the first day of school. I get excited about the experience and the collaboration. It takes a genuine village to make these movies happen. It’s unusual to shoot a movie in 15 days; every single one of these have been in 15 days. It’s fast and furious. You have to be incredibly prepared and flexible. If it’s raining and we don’t have a rain cover on set, then we’ve got to work with it. We end up rewriting on the spot if we have to.

Why is it lucky number 15?
I don’t know who chose that number, but it’s always been 15. I don’t think I would know how to do it any other way. I’m so used to shooting that typical page count every day. We never have too much time to spend on anything. You learn time management — you spend time on the more important scenes, and sometimes you have to rush other parts. And sometimes you don’t get to everything. But it works out every single time.

I think you’ve earned a White Lotus season-three role at a tropical locale for a few months.
Yeah, that would be perfect. But you know what? I’ve filmed in South Africa, Belgium, Ireland, Bulgaria, Italy, and Greece. Not all of them are in Vancouver. I really do enjoy being in Canada — we spend so much time there every year — but I’ve had the unique opportunity to travel the world filming these movies. When we can film abroad, the place becomes another character in the movie.

Can you tell me about the process of selecting your films and roles?
We have things in development pretty far in advance. There’s such a sense of ownership and pride when you have a stronger creative voice. I’m either involved in developing the project from the ground up or it’s something that someone brought to me and I jump on as a producer and continue to develop. I’m a producer on all my projects now. I’ve been in this business for 30-something years and I love that I still can learn every day.

Do you feel that directing or writing for Hallmark is the next step? Is that of interest to you?
I don’t know if I’ll ever sit down and write a script. I’ve co-written a story before, but I don’t know that I’m capable of writing an entire script. But directing is something I would love to do at some point in my career. I enjoy shadowing directors and watching the process. You’re involved in every decision that’s being made.

Clockwise from left: The Sweetest Christmas (2017) Photo: Courtesy of HallmarkA Royal Christmas (2014) Photo: Courtesy of HallmarkHaul Out the Holly (2022) Photo: Fred Hayes/Hallmark Media
From top: The Sweetest Christmas (2017) Photo: Courtesy of HallmarkHaul Out the Holly (2022) Photo: Fred Hayes/Hallmark MediaA Royal Christmas (2014) ... From top: The Sweetest Christmas (2017) Photo: Courtesy of HallmarkHaul Out the Holly (2022) Photo: Fred Hayes/Hallmark MediaA Royal Christmas (2014) Photo: Courtesy of Hallmark

Are there expectations from Hallmark on how actors should behave publicly? Maybe “morality clause” is too strong of a term, but you know what I mean?
I realize that I do represent Hallmark, so I do take that into account in all the decisions I make because they are such a huge part of my career. But, no, I don’t feel any sort of immense pressure to behave a certain way. Much of what the network stands for falls in line with my values.

How does Hallmark’s audience and values differ from, say, Lifetime, which I consider to be your main competitor? What is Hallmark doing right that Lifetime isn’t?
I can’t compare the two well because I don’t watch Lifetime very much. From my perspective and from what I hear from fans, it all goes back to the values and the feeling of the card company itself. It’s something that, quite literally, has brought people together for so many years.

What are your thoughts on several established Hallmark actors defecting to Great American Family?
You know what, I wish everybody the best. I really can’t comment on it further other than I care about everybody involved.

Did the network try to poach you?
I’m with Hallmark, and I work for them. I’m so sorry, but I’ll just have to leave it at that.

Candace Cameron Bure asserted that Hallmark is a “completely different network” than when she started because of “the change of leadership.” What has your perspective been on this supposed difference?
Any shift I’ve felt has been embracing our creative ideas. And it’s my responsibility to the audience who continue to tune into my movies that I give the best I have to offer. That’s always my mission. I’ll never abandon what Hallmark means for me, which is that everything is centered around the heart. I don’t think there are any plans for that to change anytime soon.

Do you have a dream Hallmark project that has yet to be realized?
I’m from Purvis, Mississippi, and it’s a small town. I think about how everyone in that town supported me when I was a kid when my family moved to New York and I started in the business. It’s been a longtime dream of mine to tell a real southern story where we have accents and everything. When I moved from Mississippi, I had a very thick southern accent, which is now, as you can hear, not the case. I have a few different ideas, but my favorite one is a story centered around southern characters in a Steel Magnolias kind of way, which is one of my favorite movies. Depicting the culture of living in the South and growing up there and film it in Purvis.

Do you see yourself being a Hallmark lifer, or is there a natural endpoint you’re anticipating in a few years?
I see myself being a lifer as long as I’m inspired by the stories and as long as they’ll have me. I have ideas for 50 more. I hope this is just the beginning.

Released in 2010, Elevator Girl revolves around a lawyer who inadvertently falls in love with a woman (Chabert) who’s not as professionally successful. A classic Hallmark setup: Chabert’s character starts to fall in love with her boyfriend’s best friend. The first Wedding Veil film, which premiered in early 2022, follows three friends after they discover an antique veil that purports to bring true love to its bearer. Two follow-ups aired in subsequent months. Chabert announced on The Tonight Show in December that the series was becoming a sextet in 2023; the first will premiere January 7. It also stars comedy veterans Stephen Tobolowsky and Melissa Peterman. Also known as Gretchen Wieners, member of the Plastics and Toaster Strudel heiress. The aforementioned Sweet Carolina. In addition to Bure, other notable actors who left include Danica McKellar and Jessica Lowndes.
Lacey Chabert Is at Home at Hallmark