Since his first movie on the network in 2014, Macfarlane has co-starred in more than a dozen on-screen romances with most of Hallmark’s leading ladies, including Bethany Joy Lenz in “A Valentine’s Match,” Nikki DeLoach in “Christmas Land,” Heather Hemmens in “Christmas in My Heart,” and Erin Krakow in “Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen.”
But in “Notes of August,” which premieres on September 16, 2023, Macfarlane, who came out in 2008, will get to star in a Hallmark romance playing an openly gay character for the first time. Hallmark has proactively expanded its stories and casting to be more diverse over the last couple of years, including incorporating LGBTQ+ inclusive storylines.
But Macfarlane left the network in 2022 to explore other roles and didn’t expect to be welcomed back so soon — if ever. Here’s what you need to know:
Hallmark Exec Says Relationships in New Movie Are ‘Handled With Tenderness, Compassion’
“Notes of Autumn” has a house-swap premise with the potential for two separate romances to emerge. In addition to Macfarlane, the cast includes longtime Hallmark star Ashley Williams playing his best friend Ellie, who swaps houses with him for a change of scenery, and Marcus Rosner, who plays her love interest.
Given that Macfarlane had announced last summer that he was moving on from Hallmark, fans were thrilled when Williams posted a funny video with him in June, hinting that he was returning.
Their new movie, which is executive produced by 80s pop icon Debbie Gibson, will also feature the return of Peter Porte, who hasn’t appeared on Hallmark Channel since 2019’s “Cherished Memories: A Gift to Remember 2.” Porte, who is openly gay and married Jacob Villere in 2018, has also only played straight characters in his Hallmark movies, but will co-star opposite Macfarlane as his potential love interest.
Hallmark hasn’t specifically addressed Macfarlane and Porte’s upcoming LGBTQ+ inclusive pairing, choosing to treat it as just another love story. But Bart Fisher, Vice President of Programming at Hallmark Media, said in a statement, “The journeys of these characters and the paths their relationships take are handled with tenderness, compassion and explored in meaningful ways.”
In December, Jonathan Bennett starred with Hallmark newcomer George Krissa in “The Holiday Sitter,” which was Hallmark’s first movie centered specifically around a same-sex couple. Bennett, who’s openly gay, also appeared in 2020’s “The Christmas House,” which was the first time Hallmark had included a gay couple in one of its storylines, per the Los Angeles Times.
Though the “Notes of Autumn” cast can’t discuss or promote the upcoming movie due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, many LGBTQ+ media outlets are drumming up excitement for the movie, celebrating that Hallmark is continuing to evolve in its storylines and casting.
Pride.com wrote, “The film sounds like a gay Hallmark Channel version of the Kate Winslet/Cameron Diaz rom-com ‘The Holiday’ and we’re here for it!”
Out Magazine’s writers declared, “We’re so ready for a new LGBTQ+ rom-com from Hallmark” and that “Notes of Autumn” sounds like a “super cute, feel-good romantic comedy.”
In an August 2022 interview with Vanity Fair, Macfarlane recalled being hired for his first Hallmark movie, playing a straight character.
“I sometimes wonder if Hallmark even knew I was gay when they first started to put me in the movies,” he mused. “I remember reading the script and being like, ‘What is this? It’s very light, and there’s flannel, and a canoe ride. And it’s delightful!’ I didn’t understand.”
He continued, “I always felt like I’d kind of wink at the camera a little bit because I knew that the most provocative thing they were putting on air was a gay man playing everybody’s fireman—that satisfied me for a while.”
Macfarlane told Vanity Fair he didn’t expect the network would want him back after making those comments, but Hallmark and its fans seem happy to have him return.
Luke Macfarlane Hopes to Continue Playing Both Straight & Gay Characters in Future Projects
After filming “A Magical Christmas Village” with Alison Sweeney in August 2022, Macfarlane told the Los Angeles Times that it was time for him to step away from Hallmark Channel and focus on other projects.
“They’ve been very good to me, but I think I’ve told my story for now with those folks,” Macfarlane said. “I mean, how many firefighters can I play?”
Macfarlane went on to co-star in his first-ever feature film, Billy Eichner’s “Bros,” which was the first gay rom-com by a major studio, according to NBC News. He also landed a recurring role in the AppleTV+ series “Platonic” with Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, who plays his wife. He also became a first-time dad this summer, welcoming a daughter with his partner, sports agent Hig Roberts.
Macfarlane told The Hollywood Reporter in July that he hopes he can continue playing both straight and gay characters, and is grateful for opportunities to do either.
“Anybody that knows anything about me, knows I’m an openly gay guy,” he said. “The fact that that can still work in spite of what we think of the performer shows that our audience is more open-minded. I recognize I’m not a household name by any stretch of the imagination, but that it doesn’t need to be alienating that I can play a straight guy that is in a healthy relationship, that shows something about where we’ve come.”
He also said that he’s proud of how far Hallmark has come in incorporating the LGBTQ+ community into its storylines, characters and crews.
“Hallmark is absolutely making efforts to create queer content, and I applaud them for that,” he said. “They’ve been often the butt of jokes about the sort of limited nature of their cast, but they’ve really changed that, and they’re really continuing to do that.”
“Notes of Autumn” premieres September 16 on Hallmark Channel at 8 p.m. Eastern time.