Lacey Chabert & Will Kemp on the Spirit of (and the Injuries on!) 'Christmas Waltz'
Love, Romance & Chocolate costars Lacey Chabert and Will Kemp reunite November 28 in Hallmark Channel's Christmas Waltz, a story about learning to trust yourself and your dance partner. Chabert plays New York City lawyer Avery, who ends up taking ballroom lessons she purchased for her and her fiancé solo after they split before her dream holiday wedding; Kemp, who earned the nickname "the James Dean of ballet" when he starred in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in the late '90s, is her instructor, Roman. Here, they pair for a preview.
Why was this movie the right one for you this year?
Lacey Chabert: I thought it was just so romantic. I love the idea that this character finds herself at a crossroads with an unexpected circumstance that seems a setback, and in that, she finds she's exactly where she's meant to be. I knew from the very first time I read the script that Will Kemp was the best person for the part. He's such a wonderful actor, and he's such an incredibly talented, amazing dancer, and this role required both.
Will Kemp: Lacey, can you keep talking, please? I'm loving it. I, too, responded to the script. I've been very particular over the years about doing anything like this, that involves any kind of ballet or contemporary dance. I had never done this type of dancing before. Then when I was told that Lacey Chabert was going to be doing it, I said, “You should have just told me that from the very beginning!” She had been championing this script. There was no chance that I was not going to do it.
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How did you prepare for the film?
Chabert: I'm not a trained dancer. I trained for about three weeks at home, and then we had nine days of very intensive training before we started filming [with choreographer Jean Marc Genereux]. Will was so patient and kind.
Kemp: People think that when you dance, you dance [anything]. Ballroom is a different technique, so I was nervous. Lacey did tremendously—just so brave. The rehearsals were fun, particularly with all the COVID protocols: masks and visors and gloves.
Lacey, you posted a rehearsal photo with the hashtags “bruised ribs” and “broken toe.” Are these your first Hallmark-related injuries?
Kemp: That was all me!
Chabert: [Laughs] It was all Will’s fault! No, I’m just kidding.
Kemp: Hashtag “Not my fault!” [Laughs]
Chabert: Yes, hashtag not Will’s fault! I definitely did something to my ribs, and they were painful for about a month.
Kemp: That could have partially been me.
Chabert: [Laughs] Yeah, that was mostly your fault. But unfortunately, in quarantine—because we came to Canada, and then had to quarantine inside for two weeks before we could actually start rehearsals again—my toe caught on the wooden leg of the couch, and just snapped in two. I had no choice but to tape it up. The show must go on!
There's a great dance number on the street, when you're walking home from a holiday gathering with Roman's family. Was that a Singin' in the Rain homage, Will?
Kemp: Very much. That was put into the script when we were in production. I was told, “Oh, by the way, we put in this new scene,” and “Oh, just a little scene!” Technically, it was quite challenging. With streets, you always have very uneven surfaces, so for dance it's tricky. Then you throw in the snow, it was late at night, we had time restrictions. For me, that was a wonderful opportunity to explore the old kind of MGM musical number. How often do you get the chance to do that? I loved it.
Chabert: It’s one of my favorite scenes. There’s something magical about it. It's at the point in the story where the characters have really connected, having spent this beautiful night with his family. How fun and vivacious they are—it's different than the holidays are with Avery's family. I love that Roman encourages her to let everything go and just enjoy the holidays. It captures the Christmas spirit along with this romance that is clearly starting to bloom between the two of them. It's one of those moments where it's like there's no one else around.
Kemp: That's exactly it. It's a very public, but personal moment. They've reached a point where Roman can tell her he is not as confident as he seems. It's a moment of freedom, of “What if, right now, we lived in the moment?”
And you were actually filming on the street in Vancouver. Were there pedestrians watching?
Kemp: Oh, yeah. We had three lads strutting across to the bar across the street. They had lots of opinions on what we were doing at the time, I seem to remember. [Laughs]
Chabert: It was very late at night. [Laughs]
Without spoiling the twists, there is a climactic waltz that Avery is asked to dance with Roman. Avery seems very confident backstage. Lacey, how were you feeling?
Chabert: I felt like I was living my character's journey. We filmed at the Orpheum theater, which was just spectacular. Thinking of everyone that had performed there, I felt very honored that we had that opportunity. It was kind of emotional for me. I don't mean to sound melodramatic, but once we finished the day, I just felt such a sense of accomplishment. I was so grateful for all of the support along the way. It's one of those moments when my job is really cool, that I get to do something that I may not tackle in real life. I'm not sure I'd ever have taken dance lessons, but now I will.
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[Kemp excuses himself to run downstairs and let his children in the door, then returns, slightly out of breath.]
Kemp: This is what happens. I got into great shape, and now I'm getting out of breath simply running up the stairs. [All laugh]
Chabert: I feel you.
Kemp: I’m too old for this. I’ve either got to keep on it or stop. I can't do this stop-start thing. Back to the question: That whole day felt like a performance. To look out onto that stage, beautifully lit.
Chabert: I really felt like we were performing for the crew. Did you feel that way?
Kemp: Yes, absolutely. They were our audience.
Chabert: Because of COVID, we couldn't have an audience like you would normally have. Our crew knew how hard we had worked and they were rooting for us. It felt like real life.
Kemp: And the kids we performed with were just spectacular. I was blown away by JT Church [the young dance pro, above, who won Dancing With the Stars: Juniors in 2018].
Chabert: I was amazed every time he danced. I would have to stop and watch. This was his first film, and he did such a wonderful job as an actor. It reminded me of when I was acting as a kid.
Kemp: This is a very talented young man with an incredible future. I'm still out of breath, guys. Get this old man a drink, put his slippers on, and make him sit down. [All laugh]
Hallmark's "Countdown to Christmas" movies bring viewers joy every holiday season. What are you hoping they give people this year, in particular?
Chabert: A lot of people won't be able to be together with their families this year, and Christmas might feel different. I hope that something that doesn't feel different is being able to turn on the TV, watch a Hallmark Channel movie and know that your home will be filled with a little bit of love.
Kemp: I feel more and more that the spirit of Christmas—it doesn't matter your religion, your belief, your situation—there's a point where it hits you. It's the Christmas card that comes through the mail, or the Christmas lights you see, or the first little bit of snow. What I love about this is it's the spirit through dance. I do hope it brings the spirit of Christmas, and the spirit of coming together and trusting each other. That is something on the micro that we need on the macro.
Chabert: We do our best in every movie to create characters that the viewers can see themselves in. Maybe the story inspires someone to try something that they were hesitant to try and find a new passion. My character's fiancé breaking up with her right before her dream Christmas wedding could have ruined the holiday for her, but she doesn't let it. With everything going on in the world, it's important that we make the holidays the best that they can be. I'm honored to be a small part of that by bringing a little happiness into homes.
Kemp: Absolutely. I like to put on music and get my kids out of their comfort zones and jump around the kitchen playing “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree.” I hope that everybody just enjoys the people they are with, gets out of their comfort zone, puts on some music and dances like nobody's watching.
Christmas Waltz, Saturday, November 28, 8/7c, Hallmark Channel