‘Perfect Harmony’: James Denton on Singing & Working With His Son in Hallmark Movie

James Denton, Sheppard Denton for 'Perfect Harmony'
Steve Ackerman/Hallmark Media

It’s another onscreen reunion for James Denton (who starred with his Desperate Housewives costar Teri Hatcher in 2021’s A Kiss Before Christmas) in a Hallmark movie in the October 16 Perfect Harmony: with his son, Sheppard Denton! The two previously starred in 2016’s For Love & Honor together.

James stars as the laid-back former pop star Jack Chandeller alongside Sherri Saum as the buttoned-up college professor Barrett Woodward, who have always been like oil and water but must set aside their differences to be their mutual friends’ Best Man and Maid of Honor. Sheppard plays Jack’s son.

“[Hallmark movies] are fun. you know what you’re going to get, you know it’s going to be happy. They’re — I won’t say predictable, that sounds negative or pejorative — safe,” James, who serves as an executive producer, tells TV Insider. He previews the movie below.

You’ve done a few Hallmark movies. What appealed to you about this one and the character of Jack?

James Denton: We brought this to the network as part of my deal from being on the series Good Witch. I had three movies in my deal that I got to produce. One I did about six, seven years ago called For Love & Honor, then last Christmas, I did my first Christmas movie, the one with Teri Hatcher, called A Kiss Before Christmas. This was the last one in my deal, and we wanted to do something really unique.

Hallmark does so many of these — they crank out about 80 or 90 a year — and there’s a certain predictability to them, which is desirable, but you want yours to be a little more unique. We got the idea to have a music-driven vehicle, because I play a little bit. Hallmark very generously allowed me to cast my son, and he plays guitar. We knew we wanted [Jack] to be a former, washed-up musician in retirement, then we bounced around ideas that might be fun and then over about three or four years, we created this story and finally got to do it.

Sherri Suam, James Denton in 'Perfect Harmony'

Steve Ackerman/Hallmark Media

Speaking of the music, you sing in this movie. Did you want to or did someone else suggest it?

Jon Eskenas, who’s the other executive producer who ran Good Witch for the entire 14 years — seven years of movies, seven years of series — knew that I played some. I played on Good Witch and I play in that charity band called Band From TV with Hugh Laurie and all those guys, so I sing a little but also the advantage here is you can go into the studio and sweeten it and doctor it a little bit and pitch correct it. We did do some live. There’s a scene sitting on a picnic table where I had to do one verse completely live with no correction, which was a little bit nerve-racking for me, but I think we ultimately won some points for doing it live.

You’ve worked with your son before. How did this time compare to last time?

Night and day. He turned 13 during the shoot last time. He played a cadet in a military academy, and it was a good role for him, but he didn’t play my son and we didn’t have a lot of dramatic scenes together, whereas this one we have a lot of great father-son stuff, conversations he and I have had in real life. There were a couple scenes we basically took straight from real life. And so this one was a completely different animal than the last one. I thought he was fantastic. And it was fun to have the college kid calling his dad out on burying his feelings and giving his dad a little bit of a speech. I was really proud of him.

James Denton, Sheppard Denton in 'Perfect Harmony'

Steve Ackerman/Hallmark Media

Talk about Jack and Barrett’s relationship. What can you say about their history and what we’ll see from them in the present?

I like the way the movie doesn’t just say, oh, these people are oil and water. You get to see their versions of when they met, those flashback scenes of, “Oh no, this is why you were such a jerk and that wasn’t –“ “No, you were the jerk.” And so at least you know why they can’t stand each other.

And then when they realize they have to work together, you see their reluctance and of course then the journey is to bring them together. The nice thing is both of them have their obstacles in that Jack hasn’t really performed since he lost the will really when he lost his wife and Barrett’s always been rejected, rejected, rejected, as so many writers are. And so both of them help each other to have the confidence to complete that character arc and come out of their shells and get out there and take a chance again. In that respect, they’re very good for each other.

You can tell exactly how they feel about each other when they first see each other again, just by the way they greet each other.

Yeah, thanks. That was a tricky one because they have to be likable. In the beginning, Barrett was much tougher on Jack when he sat down, and we realized even though Sherri is wonderful, you gotta be careful that the audience doesn’t turn on her too quickly. So yeah, it was a fine line to make sure we knew these people can’t stand each other, but you don’t want the audience to not like them.

Sherri Suam, James Denton in 'Perfect Harmony'

Steve Ackerman/Hallmark Media

The director, Stefan Scaini, had the brilliant idea — the movie originally began with them sitting at that table at dinner and then being asked to be in the wedding — and said, “Why don’t we open it with a big concert scene and just blow people out of their seats? This guy’s a rockstar, have the Jumbotron and all.” And I said, “because we can’t afford it. We can’t afford to do a concert.” He goes, “Trust me, I can do this with 80 extras.” And I said, “Well, I’ll believe it when I see it.” Sure enough, I think he did a great job with it and the audio of the crowd singing along sounds like a big stadium crowd. That was a great idea by the director to open with that concert because then you already have the image of him as one time being a big star. Stefan really improved our opening.

Then the way it connects to the dinner…

Yeah, watching it on the phone. That was a brilliant way to establish so much exposition without having to tell people, “He was a one hit wonder that had this big song called ‘Ooh Wee Ooh’ and he used to do concerts.”

There’s also the duet.

As they’ve become more tolerant of each other and Jack suggests, “Let’s just write a song for them,” which he really does for [Barrett] because he’s trying to convince her that she needs to get her poetry out there and have the guts to be published. He realizes that if they write this together, then that’ll force her to write something and he knows he can do it in the sleep because he’s written songs his whole life and it’s just a song for their best friends. But what he doesn’t anticipate is she digs into his past and finishes one of his old songs that happened to be about his wife at the time, that it really opens up an old wound, completely innocently on her part. It was his idea, but it backfires on him when she starts getting a little bit too close to home emotionally.

Sherri Suam, James Denton in 'Perfect Harmony'

Steve Ackerman/Hallmark Media

What was your favorite scene to film?

The karaoke scene, because it’s so romantic and she starts out so nervous — she has to get on stage without him because he’s gone to the bar and he’s like, “oh my gosh, she’s gonna die up there.” And so he grabs a mic and jumps in and they have this impromptu, very personal duet, one on stage and one out in the audience. I thought it was really cute and well done. Sherri was just priceless going from completely scared to death, the trepidation of trying to sing in front of people, to at the end, she’s just belting it out like Bonnie Tyler. She was great. That’s my favorite music scene.

My other favorite scene is probably in the guitar shop with my son when he says, “You want my opinion?” And of course I don’t, and he throws down the journal and he comes around from behind the cash register and says, “This is what’s wrong with you. You don’t wanna feel anything.” I seem legitimately confused about what his concern is and he goes into how depressed I was when my wife died and how I almost lost you and I’m trying to protect us here. It was a really great father-son scene.

Is there anything on your Hallmark movie bucket list you haven’t done yet?

Actually, there’s not. I wanted to do a Christmas movie, but I was determined for it to be unique and it’s just hard to come up with new ideas. They do so many. So last year we ripped off It’s a Wonderful Life a little bit, Teri Hatcher and I. That was a big one for me because I think we were able to find a way to do a Hallmark Christmas movie that hadn’t been done that still fit in the mold and would make people happy. There’s tears and not a lot of sad crying in Hallmark Christmas movies. Both Teri and I were in tears in that movie and it was very emotional. That was the big one for me, to get a Christmas movie under my belt that I was really happy with the uniqueness of and feel like we hopefully broke a little bit of new ground.

And you made people happy with the Desperate Housewives reunion.

Yeah, Teri and I had a ball. In fact, after that, we did an episode of Fantasy Island together that airs in this new season because we just love working together and for some reason people like us together. I’m such a big Teri Hatcher fan. She’s so underrated as an actress. But yeah, that was super fun. I checked a few boxes with that one.

Perfect Harmony, Movie Premiere, Sunday, October 16, 9/8c, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries