“I mean, I think this is the biggest week I’ve ever had in my life,” he told Heavy on December 1, 2023 — the day that Angel Studios’ faith-based, sci-fi thriller “The Shift” opened in theaters, starring Polaha as Kevin Garner, a man swept into an alternate, dystopian reality he must escape to be reunited with his wife.
Just a few nights before, Hallmark Channel debuted “A Biltmore Christmas” — a grand production filmed in January at the famed Asheville, North Carolina, estate — co-starring Polaha as a 1940s actor modeled on some of his professional heroes like Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant.
“It’s a wild amalgamation of emotions in that I’m deeply appreciative, deeply grateful, extremely proud of the work in both cases,” Polaha said.
The fact that he got the call to star in “The Shift” while he was filming “A Biltmore Christmas,” and the “light” he said both movies offer viewers, have Polaha convinced that the synchronicity of it all was meant to be.
Here’s what you need to know:
Kristoffer Polaha Says ‘A Biltmore Christmas’ is a ‘Masterpiece’
Filmed entirely at the sprawling Biltmore Estate in January, “A Biltmore Christmas” premiered on Thanksgiving weekend starring Bethany Joy Lenz as a screenwriter who’s “transported to the 1940s set of the movie she’s researching, where she becomes close to the film’s leading man,” per Hallmark.
Polaha plays that leading man, Jack Huston, and said he loved modeling his character on some of his favorite actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
“You know, straight posture, very witty, fast-paced, fast-talking, matinee idol stuff,” he explained to Heavy. “Those are the movies that I grew up on. (Jack is) an homage to why I wanted to be an actor in the first place. Jimmy Stewart is my favorite. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is my favorite. So to be able to almost recreate that was such a gift.”
After starring in 18 Hallmark movies, Polaha said “A Biltmore Christmas” was a dream-come-true project for him.
“Everything I’ve learned about the genre of making films for Hallmark is put into one film,” Polaha said. “It really is a little masterpiece of the genre. We knew exactly what story we were telling and how to tell it.”
Kristoffer Polaha Says Being Cast in ‘The Shift’ While Filming His Hallmark Movie Felt Like a ‘Holy Spirit Moment’
The fact that “The Shift” premiered just days after “A Biltmore Christmas” is a case of art imitating life, given that Polaha also wound up filming the movies back-to-back due to a “crazy” twist of fate.
During the second week of the Hallmark shoot, he told Heavy, the creative team behind “The Shift” called to pitch him on joining the movie’s cast. The catch? They were scheduled to start filming in Birmingham, Alabama, just one week later.
Though they’d gone after different actors for the lead role, none could make it work. But, Paloha told Heavy, producer Ken Carpenter kept bringing up his name to the team and when they looked at some of his past work, they agreed he’d be a great fit.
Polaha said, “I was thinking it’s that late in the game, they just need me to come in for a small role, right? Little did I know that they couldn’t cast the lead of the movie. Just…God kept interfering and saying ‘No.'”
“A Biltmore Christmas” wrapped filming on January 27 and the next day, he was in Birmingham to start filming “The Shift.” Polaha, who shares three sons with his wife, Julianne Morris, said that even though he’d already been away from home for close to a month, she encouraged him to “go for it.”
“It was just one of those Holy Spirit filled moments,” he said of the way it all worked out.
Though Polaha insists “The Shift” is a “love story” at its core, its gritty action scenes and the chaos his character faces were a big departure from his Hallmark movies. It allowed him to put his acting skills to the test, he said, and try “everything I’ve never been able to use.” In fact, he told director Brock Heasley not to go easy on him.
“I told Brock from Day One, like, ‘Break me. Break my back. Kick my butt. Like, try to kill me with this thing. I want to give you everything,'” he said.
Of his character, Polaha said, “He’s a guy you would find in a Hallmark movie, but then all of a sudden he’s tried and tested. And what we don’t often see in a movie is our heroes doing heroic things in a way that align biblically. I’m gonna do good works, and I’m gonna try to shine a light, and I’m searching for beauty…so the message is encouraging for people.”
Polaha is hopeful that “The Shift,” which was financed by crowdfunding from Angel Studios’ fans, will do well enough at the box office to provide some financial benefit for the cast, which includes Neal McDonough, Elizabeth Tabish and Sean Astin. But he also hopes box office success will prove that audiences are craving the kinds of movies he loves to make.
“It’s going to indicate to the industry that people want more stories like ‘The Shift,'” he said. “If (you) love Hallmark movies because of their feel-good nature, ‘The Shift’ is like that, on steroids.”
Kristoffer Polaha Says His ‘Best’ Week is the Result of Years of Hard Work
Early industry reports on December 3 showed that while Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” premiere took the top spot at the box office over the weekend, “The Shift” beat industry projections. Box Office Pro had forecast the movie would earn $3.9 million in its first weekend, but according to Deadline, “The Shift” brought in $4.4 million in ticket sales and that the movie ranked unusually high “for a faith-based movie” by survey companies like CinemaScore, which tracks audience reaction.
Meanwhile, Polaha told Heavy he was thrilled that “A Biltmore Christmas” had reached four million viewers between live viewing and those watching in the couple of days after its premiere, which already makes it one of the most-watched cable movies of the year.
Since late October, Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas” programming has been crushing the competition in the ratings, according to Forbes, securing its status as the most popular entertainment cable network in the fourth quarter of 2023. It’s even accomplished the rare feat of besting many cable sports and news networks, including topping “ratings darling Fox News in the prime time cable race,” per Forbes.
In fact, “A Biltmore Christmas” drew enough live viewers on November 26 to rank only behind two ESPN football games, the outlet reported — a college matchup between the Florida State Seminoles and Florida Gators, and the Super Bowl rematch of the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s not lost on Polaha that this incredible week of back-to-back movies is the result of lots of hard work over the last two decades, saying this kind of success has come “with a huge ticket price.” In addition to the 18 Hallmark movies he’s co-starred in, Polaha’s career has included roles in theatrical releases like 2022’s “Jurassic Park Dominion” and “Wonder Woman 1984” as well as TV series including “Life Unexpected” and “Harlan Coben’s Shelter,” per IMDb.
“Like, I’ve spent 22 years working really hard on my craft and fostering relationships and still losing,” he told Heavy. “There’s been seven canceled shows and there’s been movies that people don’t care about. But what I love is telling incredible stories, which both of these are.”