Hallmark Channel Christmas movies have a reputation to uphold.
They’re known and beloved for being as sweet as sugarplums and as wholesome as a Norman Rockwell painting. But one actor and writer who had a hand in three of this year’s Countdown to Christmas movies is encouraging Hallmark Channel to expand the kind of stories it tells and how it tells them.
42-year-old Paul Campbell first began pitching movie ideas to Hallmark in 2015 but it wasn’t until 2017 when one of the films he’d written aired on the channel. In 2021, he starred in “The Santa Stakeout” with Tamera Mowry-Housley and wrote “An Unexpected Christmas” and “Christmas at Castle Hart,” the latter of which was the highest-ranked Hallmark movie of the year.
In an interview with E! News, Campbell admitted that he tends to “take a lot of leeway” and “a lot of liberties” as an actor in Hallmark movies. He also explained how he’s managed to inject more realism and humor into Hallmark Channel films while still delivering the feel-good fun audiences expect.
Campbell Says He Was Given ‘Free Reign’ in ‘The Santa Stakeout’
In “The Santa Stakeout,” Campbell and Tamera Mowry-Housley play undercover detectives pretending to be a married couple. Campbell told E! News that the team at Hallmark has been good at giving him projects where he can experiment and bring some humor to the role.
“They have been really good casting me in roles where they think I can be off the leash a little bit. Not always, but this one, they really wanted it to be more of a traditional rom-com and they were like, ‘We think Paul could probably go and have some fun with it,’ and I certainly did,” he told the outlet.
When it comes to using sarcasm and snark in a way that isn’t off-putting, Campbell uses the late Paul Newman as his north star. “Even in (Newman’s) most sarcastic or cutting (moments), you never really felt cut,” Campbell told E! News. “You can deliver a snarky line, but if you believe enough in the person delivering it or you know that the underlying intention is warmer than that, you can get away with a lot. You get a lot of leeway to push in different directions if it comes from a slightly warmer place.”
Campbell Was Hired to Rewrite ‘Christmas at Castle Hart’
Lacey Chabert’s latest Hallmark movie, “Christmas at Castle Hart,” has a plot that’s pretty standard for the network. A New York City girl falls for an Irish Earl as she plans a Christmas gala at his family’s castle. With some hidden identities, a horseback riding scene, and a tree lighting ceremony thrown in, it’s traditional Hallmark fare.
But the film has real heart and some truly funny moments. Campbell was hired to rewrite “Christmas at Castle Hart” after Chabert requested that her character be funnier. He decided to make Chabert’s character a struggling waitress rather than a successful event planner and added in a subplot about finding her Irish relatives, one of the more touching aspects of the film.
Some of the film’s funniest moments occur when Stuart Townsend, who plays Aiden the Earl, first meets Chabert’s character, Brooke. Brooke and her sister are sitting in an Irish pub, gushing over how charmingly “Irish” the place is. Aiden can’t resist teasing the wide-eyed Americans, giving them directions to see the nearest leprechaun.
“A lot of Stuart Townsend’s delivery was really understated and it worked in such a lovely way,” Campbell told E! News. “But coming out of somebody else’s mouth you could go much harsher and those jokes are a lot more sharp.” It seems that Townsend also managed to emulate Paul Newman in this way, albeit unknowingly.
Campbell Has Noticed a Subtle Shift at Hallmark
Campbell also wrote the 2021 Hallmark film “An Unexpected Christmas” starring Tyler Hynes and Bethany Joy Lenz. At one point in the film, Hynes’s character drinks wine straight from the bottle, which Campbell doesn’t think he’d ever been seen in a Hallmark movie before. It’s a small example of how he’s slowly pushing the envelope of what gets shown on the network.
“We all know the sandbox we’re playing in and all I do as a writer is just find the very edges of the sandbox,” he told E! News. “I think as Hallmark expands its storytelling, the sandbox is getting bigger and the edges are getting further away.”
He told the outlet that until a couple of years ago, there was a formula for Hallmark movies. “A lot of script notes were like, ‘Ok, we have to have x, y, z holiday traditions. We have to do this, we have to see the character arcs go from A to C,'” he said. “It became really hard to differentiate between a lot of the stories.”
Since then, he’s noticed “a push for different storytelling and types of characters.” He says that the thinking at Hallmark channel now is “let’s start telling stories about really different types of people, who are maybe more relatable, we can go deeper emotional, we can have people who are slightly broken and we can start telling very different stories.”