‘A Tale of Two Christmases’: Kat Barrell on Exploring Life’s Options With Holiday Magic

Katherine Barrell in 'A Tale of Two Christmases'
Craig Minielly/Hallmark Media

Emma (Wynonna Earp‘s Kat Barrell) lives two Christmases over the holidays thanks to a little magic in her latest Hallmark movie.

In A Tale of Two Christmases (premiering November 26), the aspiring architect misses her flight home and celebrates with her crush, Max (Evan Roderick) and his friends in Chicago. In a parallel universe she does make it home and enjoys holiday traditions with her family and longtime friend Drew (Chandler Massey) in Vermont.

Barrell tells us more about the side-by-side storylines and what drew her to the role.

The movie was so good and so fun.

Kat Barrell: Oh, thank you so much. Yeah, I’m really proud of it. I love this tone that we struck with it. We really hit this fun kind of rom-com vibe, which I’m really excited about. I think we’re heading that way on Hallmark. There’s a few more [with] a rom-com feel rather than the traditional romance structure, and I find that really fun and I think the viewers are gonna love it.

Is that what really drew you to the character of Emma and the story, getting the opportunity to do that?

Yeah, absolutely. Our director Jason [Bourque] comes from a real indie filmmaking world and he really loves indie comedy. So in our initial talks, we talked a lot about tone and bringing that kind of rom-com [feel]. I love working on comedy and what I really loved about Emma is she’s floundering. She’s at the stage in her life — I’ve definitely been there — where she feels like no matter what she does, everything’s just blowing up in her face. She’s been pushing this rock up a hill for so long, trying to get her career going, trying to make it work in this big city and just play along and fit the part of the person she thinks she’s supposed to be, when really there’s this pull to the person that might be a little bit more authentic to her.

But I think being such a dream board, goal-oriented person, she just wouldn’t let herself see that other side of her. I totally know that feeling and I really identified with that with her, but I wanted to present it and Jason also wanted to present it in a way that was fun and relatable and I think we did a really good job of that. I’m really proud of the tone that we got across with this movie.

I love how that’s exemplified in the story of the two different Christmases for her.

Yeah, it’s perfect. I love that we’re getting to see two possibilities without her being aware of the other possibility. That’s what I really love about the script is that we really felt like we were shooting two different movies. I would shoot with Chandler Massey and we would shoot the home storyline with Emma’s parents and going home and all her traditional Christmas memories and living those rituals out that she does with her family. And then we would shoot the Chicago storyline with Evan and it was amazing to be living in Chicagoland for four days and then Chandler would come back on set and I was like, “Oh right, this storyline.” You get so immersed in the one you’re working on and then you flip.

Evan Roderick and Katherine Barrell in 'A Tale of Two Christmases'

Craig Minielly/Hallmark Media

But what was so fun is Emma isn’t aware of the flip. She’s living genuinely in each of those storylines, which is cool because I think a lot of times we’re doing this like the character’s torn, they’re always thinking about the other opportunity, but in this one, she couldn’t make it home for Christmas. She was spending it in Chicago and she was living that experience and that option to the fullest.

But there’s a bit of that feeling of being torn… you need that part of it, but it’s not driving the entire movie.

I think the distinction is maybe that it wasn’t her choice. The universe put her in two completely different scenarios and she’s doing her best in each of them. How amazing would it be if we had that option? I’m gonna fully live in this scenario of my life and then I’m gonna fully live in this one and see which I like better, which feels more like home to me.

I also think it’s really cool to watch Emma kind of live her dream life. She has this perfect Christmas with Max, which, I think if you had asked Emma earlier in the year, she would’ve been like, this is exactly what I want for myself. This is what I picture for myself. And I think she got the opportunity to live it and then really reflect that, oh maybe the thing that I thought I was chasing this whole time is actually not [what I want].

Chandler Massey and Katherine Barrell in 'A Tale of Two Christmases'

Craig Minielly/Hallmark Media

Talk about her relationships with both Max and Drew because you can root for both of these guys.

Absolutely. I’m so glad that you felt that way because that’s something we really tried to do with both of these characters. I didn’t want it to feel like one was the good, obvious choice and one was the totally wrong for her choice. We really wanted it to feel like they were both amazing options, but it was Emma getting to the core of what she really wanted and that’s why I think it’s so amazing the relationship with both these guys is fun and romantic and honest and has its very obvious pros and very obvious cons. That’s one of the things that I’m really hoping rings true for viewers because so often in our lives, these big life choices are not easy and the reason they’re not easy is because both options can be great, so it becomes really hard to choose.

I think that’s what came across with both those relationships and I just loved working with both those actors. Chandler has such an incredible, natural ease to him. There are moments where you’re like, I’m not sure if you’re acting or if you’re just being really present and telling me a story. He’s such a seasoned veteran actor and he’s so present. And I really found that fun because I think for that relationship, it really made it feel like these are friends who have been friends for their whole life. I’m really happy with the way it came across.

And like you were saying it felt like two different movies, so many times in these films, it feels like there’s more time spent with the small town versus the city. But I do like that we got both worlds.

100 percent. Yeah, I like that, too. I think we really found that balance because I really wanted to say that the city life is an amazing choice, too. I think so many times it’s all about the home and the traditional life. But I think the fact that we saw that Emma really could make a go in the city and she probably would’ve been pretty happy there, but there’s another option that just is better for her and she figures that out.

What was your favorite scene to film in both Christmases?

For Chandler and I, I have two. I really love the big family Christmas. I come from a really small family, so our Christmases are lovely but they’re just a lot quieter. Whereas I always really love shooting the big scenes with the gingerbread houses and all the kids and all the decorations and we were in this beautiful location and it just felt so festive and special and having so many actors there on the same day was really fun.

And then I really enjoyed that scene that we shot in Drew’s old pickup truck. We have a heart-to-heart conversation about “why didn’t you tell me that you were in love with me when we were in high school because I felt the same way and you felt the same way, but we never talked about it.” I remember shooting that scene — I’m pretty sure it was actually our last day of filming — and it just felt so lovely to shoot with Chandler because they just kind of rolled the cameras and let us do our thing. It was really about the acting and about the storytelling and [with] our producer Kirsten [Hansen] and director Jason, we had built such a nice relationship at that point that we didn’t even really have much direction on the scene. Chandler and I really just got to do with it what we wanted and it felt so grounded and real and earned for those characters and that’s one of my favorite memories of filming with him.

And then for the Max storyline, I think the Christmas market. We had some really fun walk and talks through the Christmas market picking out different decorations. I just loved playing the push and pull of Emma trying so hard to say the right thing and do the right thing and like the right thing, but she’s so clearly not in her element or not totally comfortable and I loved playing the comedy of her trying to cover up for that. That was really fun.

A Tale of Two Christmases, Movie Premiere, Saturday, November 26, 6/5c, Hallmark Channel