Alison Sweeney Talks Hannah Swensen’s Next 2 Mysteries — Yes, Another Is Coming!
“They’re so fun,” Alison Sweeney raves of the Hannah Swensen Mystery movies. And so she’s just as thrilled as we are that the May 19 one, Carrot Cake Murder, isn’t the last! TV Insider can exclusively reveal that Sweeney will be back as the titular baker and amateur sleuth in another installment on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
In Carrot Cake Murder, a skeleton found in the rubble of a building under renovation reveals that one of Lake Eden’s beloved citizens isn’t who he claims to be; Hannah’s fiancé Mike (Cameron Mathison) is dismayed when she starts investigating.
Then, in the next film, Hannah’s mother Delores (Barbara Niven) is the one to find the dead body of a homeowner while house-hunting for her sister Michelle. Hannah will once again work with her friend Norman (Gabriel Hogan), and she becomes convinced all is not as it seems at the victim’s house.
Here, Sweeney tells us more about what to expect in these next two films.
Talk about figuring out the story that you wanted to tell with Hannah next, because it’s the case and looking at her personal life. She and Mike are still engaged.
Alison Sweeney: Yeah, that’s right. There’s so much that goes into choosing the next novel. The good thing is that Joanne Fluke has written 30-something novels for Hannah Swensen, so there’s a lot to choose from and a lot of delicious books that I get to read to prepare for each installment. I say that because if you’ve read the books, you know she writes all these recipes into each novel, and so you get hungrier as you read. It’s just really a fun element to the books, and we try to incorporate that in the movies with all the baking montages where you really get to see Hannah in her kitchen.
One of the reasons that led me to this mystery was the idea of it being an older body that they find. Then we talk to and work with Joanne Fluke about who Hannah is and how her relationships with Mike and Norman and her mother develop, of course; these are her characters. And so in partnership with Hallmark, we have to do a very delicate balance of trying to navigate the trials and tribulations of Hannah’s romantic life, which is definitely a rollercoaster, as well as her complicated relationship with her mother. And while juggling all of that, she also has a murder to solve.
How does this case challenge Hannah?
In some ways, she has more information than she ever has before because it is a cold case and so she does have access to some information in the same way that podcasters get closed cases. There is information [available] for the public, so she has a little more actual stuff from the case file than perhaps she has in the past. That’s really a new development for Hannah, where she’s coming along in her detective skills, learning a little more.
There’s a really fun scene with Mike where he goes over the clues, like, “Here’s what you know and so what are the possibilities that could make that happen?” Then she comes up with one theory, and he’s like, “OK, that’s great, but it could have been something else. So what’s something else?” Then she has to challenge herself: “What’s another way that could happen?” And she pitches him another way. She’s learning and figuring out how he does this job. It’s a really fun advancement for Hannah in her skillset.
How is still being engaged going for them? Where are they in terms of planning the wedding?
They’re not very far in planning the wedding — and much to Delores’ lament. She cannot understand how come they don’t have a wedding date, they don’t have a venue, she doesn’t have a dress. I think that Hannah is feeling a bit obstinate in regards to her mother. She doesn’t want to rush into it, and she feels pressured from her mom. I think that causes her to be a little more stuck in place.
What’s challenging Hannah and Mike as a couple when it comes to the crime solving and their relationship besides the wedding?
Mike is attracted to Hannah and her crime solving ways, her mind, the fact that she is so interested, the fact that she’s good at it. She does get people to talk to her in a way that sometimes Mike or other detectives aren’t able to get them to open up. She does have really good instincts and a unique way of getting people to open up to her. I think the cookies help. [Laughs] Mike respects that, and he loves that about her, but it causes him a lot of trouble at work, and for good reasons and maybe also not so good reasons, the sheriff isn’t too keen to have Hannah getting involved in the crime solving business. So that’s been a tricky thing for [Mike] to navigate. And unfortunately, I think Mike is a little old school, so he struggles with how much of that to share with Hannah.
Hannah and Norman continue to work well together. What are we going to see from that in this movie?
Yeah, Norman’s so great. He’s so funny. The movie starts — which is one of my favorite parts of the movie — with him planning a surprise party for his mom. Hannah’s really involved in that. Delores is really involved in that. Then you find out that Norman has a girl that he’s dating, and she seems perfect for him and super into him, and Delores is outraged. That’s a funny little side beat.
But of course Norman and Hannah are still friends. As the suspects unfold and as the murder investigation continues, Norman actually happens to have a personal interest in some of the aspects of what Hannah’s investigating. That pulls Norman into the investigation, into Hannah’s world again, in a way that brings them into close quarters, and you get a real sense of how much fun they have together. I personally am so grateful and lucky to work with Gabe Hogan. If you watch him on Tacoma, he’s hilarious and so talented and funny. And he brings so much great stuff to this character.
I think, again, back to the novels, that’s the push pull, that’s the triangle, that’s the fun of these stories is that Norman and Mike both have such different personalities, but they both really belong in Hannah’s world and are such big parts of it.
Does Hannah need the ease that she has with Norman?
Yeah, exactly. I think that Norman is just a little more of a pushover, so she’s able to talk him into something that Mike maybe would’ve been more resistant to or Mike’s not allowed to do because he’s a police officer. Sometimes she can bend the rules a little bit more with Norman by her side than Mike would put up with.
There’s going to be another Hannah Swensen movie after this one. Congratulations!
Yes, my producing partner Craig Baumgarten and I are so excited!
What do fans have to look forward to in that one?
One of the fun things about these stories is how they’re all so different, how they each have their own thing that they contribute to the series as a whole. But they’re all very different mysteries. I think it’s interesting because this one requires really more of Hannah’s skills of — her superpower is her gut instinct and her way of communicating with people that gets them to confide in her and tell her things and how she notices things that are misplaced or out of the ordinary or not how it was last time. She just has a way about her really picking up on the little details, the nuances. And I think this next mystery is going to have some fun elements like that that are there for the audience to notice, too, if you pay attention. So at the end you’ll be like, “Oh, it’s right there in front of me and I didn’t see it!”
And her mom will be the one to find the body.
Yes. We like to mix it up a little bit, but of course the series is based on Hannah [being the one] who finds the dead body, and Delores is the one who’s like, “Oh, Hannah!” as if it’s Hannah’s fault, she seeks it out, which is one of my favorite parts of Barbara Niven playing this role. One of the reasons I chose this book is that it’s one in which Dolores finds the body. I thought that was really funny.
Can Hannah have fun with that, be like, “See, it wasn’t me this time”?
Yeah. “See, it’s not me!” Yeah, exactly. “Mother, you found the body, how dare…” I don’t know. We’ll have to see how it plays out. We haven’t shot it yet, but it’s going to be fun.
Is there anything specific still on your bucket list when it comes to doing something in a movie with Hannah? Or are you crossing anything off with either of these?
I still think there’s so much more fun to have. Actually there’s a funny moment in this movie, in Carrot Cake, where we are very specifically searching for clues and we created a little montage about it, and we did a lot of ad-libbing of how you would just go and look. I find it funny. It makes me laugh every time. Gabe has some ad libs in it that just are so funny to me. I love it.
Then in the next one, there’s a scene I’m really looking forward to filming. I always imagined it would really be so cool to use the mysteries to help further the romance, the way that they tie together. I always sort of thought, “Oh, this would be clever to fit into a movie at some point.” And I think we’re finally going to work it into the next one. I think the romantic mystery fans will love it.
Carrot Cake Murder: A Hannah Swensen Mystery, Movie Premiere, Friday, May 19, 9/8c, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries