With more than two dozen Hallmark movies under his belt, Walker revealed to Heavy in a recent interview — conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike began — that his latest project marks the first time he’s received top billing on a Hallmark call sheet. While it’s a subtle behind-the-scenes detail that most fans aren’t even aware of, Walker explained why the distinction was “really special” to him during filming.
Andrew Walker Credits Female Executives & Talent With Changing the Landscape at Hallmark
Since his first Hallmark movie in 2012, “A Bride for Christmas,” Walker has played the lead romantic interest opposite many of the network’s most popular female stars including Lacey Chabert, Nikki DeLoach, Autumn Reeser and Jodie Sweetin. And in doing so, he’s accustomed to them receiving top billing in Hallmark’s female-centric storylines.
But for the first time ever, Walker told Heavy, he was surprised to learn he’d been given top billing for his latest movie, “A Safari Romance,” in which he stars opposite Brittany Bristow. Though being listed as the second star on Hallmark movies’ call sheets has never mattered to him, he said, Walker couldn’t help but notice how meaningful it felt to be considered the lead.
“It was really special for me,” Walker said. “I’ve always just assumed (I’d be second). My manager told me … ‘Alright, so you’re doing this movie ‘A Safari Romance’ in South Africa and oh, by the way, they’re making you number one on the call sheet.’ I was like ‘What!?'”
“Not that it matters,” Walker continued, “but it’s just a little nod, a little feather in the cap. It’s just (Hallmark) saying ‘Hey, Andrew, you know, we believe in you now and we want you to carry this movie.'”
Walker attributes that subtle but meaningful recognition to the nearly all-female executive team that oversees Hallmark Media, saying that they’ve made a concerted effort in recent years to not only expand the diversity of its talent and storylines, but to make sure its talent feel valued.
Though Hallmark Media president and CEO Wonya Lucas recently announced that, after three years at the helm, she’ll step down from her role at the end of 2023, she is one of multiple executives Walker mentioned as creating “the best place and the best time for all of us” to work.
“These female execs are all shepherding this company to where it is today,” Walker said. “The women that are running this network are all strong women that are so talented and have done such incredible things from the (networks) they’ve come from.”
In addition to praising Lucas’ leadership, Walker said Lisa Hamilton Daly, a former Netflix executive who’s now Hallmark’s executive vice president of programming, “has been the one that’s really changed the landscape of Hallmark over the last two years.” Walker credited Daly with advocating for pushing the envelope with 2022 projects that broke the mold of a typical Hallmark movie, from the Rockettes-themed “A Holiday Spectacular” to the comedy “Haul Out The Holly” to Walker’s blockbuster hit “Three Wise Men and a Baby” alongside Paul Campbell and Tyler Hynes.
Walker also gave props to marketing exec Annie Howell, talent relations exec Maureen Barrett, and programming development executives Samantha DiPippo and Liz Yost, along with the network’s top actresses, for Hallmark Media’s ongoing success. In July, Hallmark was the most-watched entertainment cable network, drawing 22 million “unduplicated viewers” during its Christmas in July promotion.
“All these women are the ones that are really behind it all,” he said. “It’s inspiring because it is a female-centric network. (They) have really put it on the map and made it what it is.”
Andrew Walker & Brittany Bristow Filmed ‘A Safari Romance’ in South Africa
In May, Walker spent more than a month in South Africa, first going on an actual safari with his wife, Cassandra Troy, and then filming “A Safari Romance” with Bristow and her parents. The script was written by her mom, Agnes Bristow, and the movie was directed by Leif Bristow, whom Walker called an “Energizer Bunny.”
In “A Safari Romance,” Bristow plays a research scientist living her dream in South Africa pursuing a Ph.D. in Ethology while working as a ranger on a nature reserve. Walker plays Tim, an American theme park designer, who “arrives to capture footage for an immersive, safari-themed attraction” with Megan serving as his guide.
The cast filmed and stayed in KwaZulu-Natal at the Phinda Private Game Reserve, home to lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhinos, as well as 436 bird species. During down time, Walker told Heavy, the Bristows arranged for the cast and crew to immerse themselves in the community, including spending a day renovating a local school. Walker said the school serves 66 students with just one teacher and that they painted the main classroom and built playground equipment for the school.
“A Safari Romance” premieres on August 12 at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Hallmark Channel in the U.S. and on W Network in Canada.