Danica McKellar is known as one of the biggest stars on The Hallmark Channel. She recently signed an exclusive deal with GAC Family, and her very first movie with the network, “The Winter Palace,” is premiering on Saturday, January 8 at 8 p.m. Eastern. Before and after the movie, McKellar will be hosting a live watch party on Instagram. McKellar sat down with Heavy and shared why she signed up with GAC, along with her experience making her very first GAC Family movie.
Heavy will be sharing more stories from Danica McKellar’s interview in the coming weeks. To make sure you don’t miss a thing, follow the Heavy on Hallmark Facebook page or subscribe to the Heavy on Hallmark newsletter here.
“The Winter Palace” stars McKellar as Emily Miller and Neal Bledsoe as Prince Henry. In the movie, Emily’s a romance writer who’s suffering from a case of writer’s block that’s so bad, she might miss her deadline for her next book. But a friend gives her a chance to stay at a winter chalet. When the owners arrive unannounced, Emily realizes that the chalet is actually owned by a Crown Prince. Heavy was given a chance to watch a screener of the movie before interviewing McKellar.
McKellar Loved Working with Neal Bledsoe Again
This is McKellar’s second movie with Neal Bledsoe. The first was when they starred in a Hallmark movie, “Coming Home for Christmas,” in 2017.
“It’s great when you work with somebody who you already know and trust because we shoot [these movies] so quickly,” she told Heavy. “…The two of us and Tilson [Jennifer Wigmore] and Fritz [Luke Marty], we really bonded and we did so much rehearsal ahead of time.”
She said Bledsoe came up with some great ideas while making the movie, including a funny moment that happens at the end.
“He’s super professional and always full of good ideas,” she said. “He could do improv if he wanted. There was this environment on set that was more fun and collaborative than I think I’ve ever experienced before.”
She Said She Joined GAC Family Because of the Creative Freedom, Which She Enjoyed While Making the Movie
McKellar made national news when she announced that she had signed an exclusive, three-year contract with GAC Family. Bill Abbott, who was formerly the CEO of the Hallmark Channel, is now overseeing GAC Family.
McKellar told Heavy that while working on “The Winter Palace,” she had a more collaborative experience than she’s ever had with a film before, and she felt a lot of freedom to talk with the director about changes she and the other actors might want to see.
“That’s something I found doing GAC movies… Even on the movies that I executive produced before, it’s just a different feeling,” she said. “…There was this feeling of freedom, and they all said to me afterward, ‘Thank you for making it so collaborative.’ Well, thank GAC because that’s where I got my sense of freedom and collaboration from.”
Heavy asked if the opportunity for that creative freedom is part of what drew her to join GAC Family exclusively.
“Yes. But I mean, you never know what it’s going to be like till you’re actually doing it,” she said. “Bill Abbott is a friend, and he’s such a good person. And I jumped at the opportunity to help him build this new network. … It’s a smaller network right now, and we’re building something together. And that in itself is this great feeling of collaboration and teamwork.”
As an executive producer, McKellar was involved in every aspect of the film.
“I was involved in the rewrites,” she said. “As a producer [I was involved with] tons of notes, tons of changes and adjustments. And really felt like … my input was so welcomed… I was just included and I felt like a part of the team.”
One of Those Collaborative Moments Helped Bring About a Funny Montage at the Beginning of the Movie
Because of the collaboration that went into the movie, the actors were able to put together a funny montage at the beginning when we see Emily trying to overcome writer’s block at the chalet. She’s seen throwing paper airplanes and even reading a book about how to overcome writer’s block. McKellar said that montage was something she suggested they add.
“It wasn’t very long in the script; it was just a couple of minutes,” she said. “But it was like: ‘No, no, no, no, we need to go all around the house…’ Because that’s what it’s like. You try rooms, you try anything, really.
She joked: “And meeting a prince can help! It’s not always something we all have as an option.”
The movie emphasizes that if you’re not taking time to have fun, you’ll have a tougher time tapping into your creativity. McKellar said this is something she’s learned in her own life too.
“Because I am a hard worker, but … I’ll just get stuck thinking that the longer I work, the more work I’ll get done,” she said. “And it’s not really true. I think there’s a study that says that you’re supposed to only work or study something for 30 minutes and take a five-minute break … and that ends up being way more productive.”
She said they took pains to make sure that the characters’ motivations made sense.
“As soon as I read the script, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so much fun. I really want to do this one,'” she said. “And it was so well done too because the reasons for her staying [at the chalet] made sense…”
She Said the Movie Has a ‘Christmas’ Feel Even Though It’s Not a Christmas Movie
“Sometimes it can be a little bit of a letdown when the Christmas movie season is over,” McKellar said. “But [this movie] is so romantic and snowy that it has that same kind of Christmasy feel.”
The movie was filmed in Sturgeon Falls near North Bay, Ontario. One of the locations, West Nipissing shared, was the Saenchiur flechey Resort. McKellar said that anyone who wants to relive the feel of the movie can stay at the resort too.
“Where we were filming, the chalet itself, was this resort,” she said. “There were little cottages at the resort, and I stayed in one of the cottages. So I would literally wake up in the morning, get dressed, and walk outside to work. It was so fun… It felt like you were part of this little community.”
She’s Hosting a Live Watch Party on Saturday Night
On Saturday night right before and after the movie’s premiere at 8 p.m. Eastern, McKellar is hosting a live watch party and a birthday party all rolled into one. Fans are submitting their questions for the live event now.
McKellar, Bledsoe, a representative from RomaDrama, and a representative from GAC will all be at the event, answering questions. To ask a question, go onto social media and share a poster from “The Winter Palace,” and tag McKellar in your post, along with your question. They’ll try to answer as many as they can.
“It’s a watch party and birthday party,” she said, sharing that she’ll have a birthday cake too. “My birthday was on Monday … I’ve never really liked having a January 3rd birthday. It feels like everyone’s going back to work and everyone’s done celebrating. But this time around it’s different; there’s something to celebrate this week — there’s this big premiere. … So it’s a fun way to celebrate my birthday with the fans on Instagram Live.”
After the movie, they’ll return to Instagram to ask trivia questions and give shoutouts to some fans who get the answers right.
“It’s really fun to have this way of interacting directly with the audience,” McKellar said. “…I’ve done some theater and one of the great things is that your audience is there. You see their reactions… In film and television, you do your thing and then that’s it. But now with social media, we’re getting to bring in that theater experience where we have our audience with us too.”
To attend the watch party, fans are asked to follow a few party rules, like a dress code and a snack requirement. That’s all detailed on social media.
If you don’t have GAC Family on cable, there are a lot of ways to stream it online, which you can read about in Heavy’s story here. McKellar recommended the Frndly TV service because you can get a seven-day free trial to test the platform out while watching the movie. The movie will also re-air multiple times throughout the season.
Heavy also chatted with McKellar about the charities that are dearest to her heart, along with her personal experiences with Betty White. To make sure you don’t miss the next stories, follow the Heavy on Hallmark Facebook page or subscribe to the Heavy on Hallmark newsletter here.