Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas” event continues this Saturday, November 26, with A Tale of Two Christmases. Starring beloved Canadian actress Kat Barrell, Tis the season for wondering ‘what if?’ What if I took my dream job? What if I chose to go on that date with that stranger? What if I didn’t eat that second bowl of Christmas candy corn in front of my in-laws?
Barrell, well-known for her roles in Wynonna Earp and Hallmark Channel’s series Good Witch is back at it taking the audience on a messy, charming, and enlightening journey. And thanks to a little Christmas magic, Emma (played by Barrell), an aspiring architect gets to live two different lives over the holidays: one where she misses her flight home and celebrates in Chicago with her crush, Max (Evan Roderick) and the other where she travels back to Vermont to partake in holiday traditions with family and friends, including longtime friend Drew, who just might have some unresolved feelings for her. Emma’s dual holidays ultimately help her learn a lesson about what truly matters and what will make her happy in life and love.
Barrell chatted with me about her latest Hallmark movie and how these stories take place parallel to one another. She talks of her plans for the holidays and the importance of keeping up with traditions.
McKenzie MORRELL: A Tale of Two Christmases comes out on November 26th, I’m super excited to tune in. Tell everybody why we should watch it and give us your elevator pitch for this new hallmark film.
KAT BARRELL: I think they create a really fun lighthearted rom com that a lot of people will enjoy and identify with, being torn with two completely different versions of our lives — both which seem pretty fantastic but my character— Emma gets the opportunity to live out solely each one of those options without knowing the other exists, cause don’t we all wish we could do that when we’re debating between one choice or another? We thought it was really cool. Some people have compared it to the Sliding Doors movie, so it’s pretty cool. We struck a really fun tone with lots of comedic moments that I think people will really enjoy.
MM: Of course and thanks to some Christmas magic the movie splits off and we kinda see these two different paths for Emma. In real life, if you could’ve done something similar in terms of making a little or a big life decision would you have done something like that?
KB: Oh my gosh, there’s always that debate, even with big career decision and big moves; should I have stayed there, should I have gone there, and I’ve always been an overthinker so I really envy the people who are like ‘I just know this is the right decision’. I almost feel like I never know if I’m making the right decision and I think working in the entertainment industry, so much of it is out of your control, and there’s an element of surrendering to whatever happens that I still find incredibly difficult.
MM: And sometimes when you think you’re making the right decision it turns out that you had to go through certain things in order to get to the other side. The world works in mysterious ways. Everything happens for a reason.
KB: It definitely does.
MM: Hallmark audiences best know you for your role of Joy Harper, how does Emma differ from Joy? What is the most relatable thing you found about Emma while playing her?
RB: I think Joy has a quiet confidence in her. She’s relied on her magic to get out of sticky situations in the past, so she’s got this otherworldly confidence. She controls things that a lot of regular people can’t, and with Emma, she has a completely different energy, she is very indecisive, a chronic overthinker, a chronic overachiever, and we really watch her flounder, especially in her alternative life where she stays in the city of Chicago where she’s working and tries to fit in this lifestyle that isn’t quite her. It’s really fun to watch this fish out of water experience for her. They are very different energies of people; Emma is definitely trying to play the part and Joy has a quiet confidence where she knows who she is and she has extra special powers that most people don’t have to get her out of sticky situations.
MM: Without being spoilery– what was the most surprising thing you found about Emma while you were filming? Did she surprise you at all?
KB: That’s a really great question. The most surprising thing about Emma? I think her quirkiness. I was really happy. Our director Jason comes from a very indie film comedy world so I think when we were talking about the script we both wanted to make it feel very real, very grounded, and kind of messy. It still has glitz and the elegance that we know and love about Hallmark Christmas movies and that kind of special quality that they have— but I think one of the things that surprised me pleasantly about Emma was that she got to really feel her mistakes and be a lovable screw up and I love that about her. I felt that it made it feel much more real and acceptable and I could really see elements of myself in her that way, rather than it being this perfect TV story.
MM: Sometimes the messy ones are the best ones.
KB: Yes absolutely. I really liked that about her.
MM: You were recently in New York City to celebrate Hallmark’s countdown to Christmas kickoff event. Did you feel like the new hallmark kid on the block? Were you excited to meet all the Hallmark veterans? What was that experience like?
KB: Yeah! That’s so funny. It was really fun because when I started working for Hallmark it was 2018, just before the pandemic hit so actually I had been working for Hallmark for several years now but I never got to experience any of the in-person celebrations. Nobody throws a Christmas party like Hallmark. If you’re gonna go to the ultimate Christmas party, that’s definitely gonna be it. It was really fun and also fun to see the other actors that I know through the Canadian world overlapping. It was really fun to get to see and just celebrate with these other actors and people that are having a similar experience that I am working on these movies but so often we don’t get to actually see each other in person, so it was really nice to take a moment and step back and celebrate our accomplishments and the pride we have of the movies we’re making and the stories we’re telling. Also, it was very cool to hear some of their stories regarding their movies and their experiences. A lot of actors are getting behind the camera, and producing, and writing, and creating some of these stories which Hallmark is really championing right now—their talent getting behind the camera—and I think that’s very exciting and it makes it a really exciting network to work for.
MM: That’s so amazing. Your fanbase wants to know if there’s any hope for a Christmas movie starring you and Kyana Teresa!
KB: I would absolutely love that. Funny, I just texted Kyana literally a couple of days ago about this. I have a few ideas that I’m going to be pitching and we’re gonna make something together. It’s gonna happen soon so, it sounds like the fans would love it, we would definitely love it, and I definitely have a few options in the works that I’m hoping in the next couple of years we can get made. Please let the fans know that I have not taken my foot off the gas. It’s very much something I’m trying to make happen.
MM: Perfect, that’s what we like to hear and if Hallmark is listening, there’s definitely a need for it and the fans would be behind anything you guys come up with.
KB: That would be awesome, I appreciate it so much. You can’t do it without them and their support really means the world, and without an audience to watch there would be no stories so they mean everything to us.
MM: I’m sure they all appreciate that. Now if you could star in any Christmas movie remake what would it be and why do you have a dream cast for it if you have an idea of it?
KB: That’s so funny, I would love to do — I’m a big fan of ensemble movies just because I love actors so much and I love the process of acting. Love Actually is an iconic classic, but I’d also love to do, like, a Griswold family vacation. I would love to do a quirky messy family comedy. So National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with the Griswold family, I think if I could be in any remake it would definitely be that one.
MM: That would be something really fun to see on screen.
MM: We’ve all gotten questionably bad Christmas gifts over the years. What would you say has been the best and the worst gift you’ve ever received for the holidays?
KB: Oh, I know my worst one because I was joking with my husband about it. Literally two days ago we were at the mall. One year I got six pairs of leggings, four from him and two from my mother. I don’t know what they were thinking, I think it’s because I was about to go to Calgary to shoot Wynonna Earp so everyone got me these fleece lined leggings that were like too small and horribly itchy and I ended up wearing none of them and donating them all and we still joke that I opened these gifts and it was just leggings after leggings. I was like ‘are you guys trying to tell me something? You know they give you clothes with my costume right?’
MM: Leggings for days.
KB: Leggings for days. Yeah. That was probably the worst and then the best present I’ve ever received? Oh man, I’m a sucker for hand-made items, I think especially in our super disposable fast-paced world, if someone takes the time to hand make you something, anything, it could literally be anything, it’s just like the most beautiful gesture. One of my favorite things I actually love to receive because I love food, is I love receiving home made jams or chutneys or salsa that kind of thing because it’s such a beautiful gesture of somebody’s love that they put into something and maybe it’s a piece of their culture or flavors that are traditional in their family, I think food says so much about a person. We are going to make something for all of our friends and neighbors, little pasta packages, so that’s our plan this year. We’re gonna have a big pasta making day and just make fresh egg noodle pasta for all of our neighbors and our friends. I think that’s really going to be fun. So something like that is actually my favorite thing to receive.
MM: That sounds absolutely delicious and as you said the holidays really are about spending time with family friends and food, lots of food. Normally my signature question would be to have you construct a donut based on your personality but instead how about we put a spin on it and I’ll have you choose what Christmas dessert best represents your personality.
KB: Oh, oh man. Gosh, I’m a huge sweet fan. My family has Tiramisu, you know, the traditional kind of Italian coffee, ricotta cheese and whipped cream. That’s one of my absolute favorites, very, very nostalgic to me. I think that is probably my go-to and I’ll have it all year round. It doesn’t have to be Christmas. You put a tiramisu in front of me and I’m gonna eat it.
MM: Right? If it makes you happy, why wait?
KB: Oh yeah, why wait exactly but I also love my mom—we have a very good family friends who actually unfortunately recently passed, but she taught us how to make this traditional Jewish cooking called rugelach and it’s sort of like this rolled up baby croissant with a flaky pastry and then jelly inside and we still make those. My mom and I still make those every year to think about our friend who handed that recipe down to us. That’s another very holiday kind of Hanukkah/Christmas crossover that we did for years with her and we still carry that tradition on.
MM: Oh that’s beautiful. We did have a fan that asked a question that explained how the holidays aren’t always cheerful for everybody and people are struggling during the holiday season due to grief or their loved ones not being there, would you say that just making those memories and honoring those people would be a good way to help them get through those difficult times?
KB: I think the thing that we can do, even the little things about my mother in law I never got to meet her. She passed away 6 months before I met my husband, but we use her dishes during the holidays so we kind of have her with us. And actually a fan I was recently with at a convention and I asked people what their Christmas traditions were because now I have a young son and looking to start our own traditions, so I was looking for some inspiration and one of the fans told me they always set a place at the table for those who can’t be there. I thought that was just the most beautiful thing and definitely something that I’d like to incorporate. I think it’s important to talk about those people and share stories and it doesn’t have to be something that makes us sad but it’s okay to have a little cry at the Christmas table and open up with our emotions and talking about that person keeps their memory alive rather than pushing it away. Also, Christmas doesn’t have to be spent with blood relatives, you know, friends are the family that we choose for ourselves and I think it’s beautiful to have a hybrid Christmas with friends or holidays of different faiths or different backgrounds. That’s what makes it really special that you can make your own holiday.
MM: And that’s the beautiful part now that you are a mother, which congratulations by the way. Hopefully motherhood is treating you well. Now you can bring that to your child and hopefully those memories and those people will live on for decades to come.
MM: And what’s your go-to Christmas attire? Do you have any ugly sweaters or fun costumes in store for Bernie or the baby this year?
KB: Gosh, I don’t have a go-to sweater, I really should get one, I’ll try to find one at a thrift store, but ugly sweaters are so popular now, I feel like as soon as they’re out at the thrift store they’re scooped up. I’m a big, stay in your pajamas all day around the holidays, I think that’s just the most luxurious feeling, to not have the pressure to get up and get dressed, so I have a pair of very simple red pajamas that I like to pull out around the holidays and stay in them all day.
MM: That’s what we do on Christmas day, we have a pajama day and that’s just how we roll because it’s so much work to do anything else. Alright, so we’re gonna do a quick rapid fire round before we start winding down, so are you ready for it?
KB: Yeah, I’m ready.
MM: Alright. One Christmas dish you can’t live without.
KB: Sweet potatoes, smashed sweet potatoes.
MM: Christmas eve or Christmas day?
KB: Christmas Eve
MM: Elf or The Santa Claus?
MM: Favorite ornament from your collection.
KB: I have an angel that my mother bought when she was pregnant with me that we put on the tree and she said it was to pray for my safe arrival.
MM: One Christmas food or dessert you secretly hate?
KB: I hate anything with candied fruit in it. I hate Christmas cake, I love Panettone, the Italian dessert, but I would always take out the little dried oranges. I just find it disgusting. I hate it.
MM: And to kind of bump off of that, how do you feel about candy corn? Apparently there’s Christmas candy corn now.
KB: Oh really? I like candy corn.
MM: I do too, I don’t know why people hate on it so badly.
KB: I know! It’s fine but it’s not my favorite.
MM: Yes, if it’s there you eat it.
KB: Yeah, exactly. If it’s there I’m gonna eat that.
MM: Favorite Christmas movie of all time?
KB: Ugh, I mean I know I already said it but National Lampoon’s, I love watching it, it makes me so happy.
MM: Always a classic. It’s always a classic. Live tweeting during the premier, yes or no?
KB: Oh yeah, one-hundred-percent.
MM: Perfect. One Christmas song you’re sick of hearing every year?
KB: Ugh, God. So many. All of them. Christmas doesn’t need to start until December 1st.
MM: This is very true.
KB: Yeah, I like all Christmas songs and then by the time Chrismtas comes I hate them all.
MM: They started it right after halloween with Mariah Carey, so that’s definitely a nuisance.
KB: It’s too much.
MM: The movie looks like it’s gonna be super fun you know, people getting in the holiday spirit, hopefully a feel-good type reflection movie. As an added bonus it comes out on my birthday so I’m excited to tune in.
KB: Happy Birthday!
MM: Thank you, I appreciate it. And as we wind down, what do you hope the audience will take away from watching A Tale of Two Christmases this Holiday season?
KB: I hope the audience will be reminded that there is no perfect path and that you can lay out, you know, best laid plans for the life we think we should have but always remain open to be surprised by the path we actually go down.
MM: No, that is so true. Is there anything you want to add as we come to a close for the fans and anyone tuning in?
KB: Just wishing everyone an amazing holiday season and thank them for tuning in and I look forward to live tweeting. If anyone feels like joining me I will be there for the premiere so bring your Christmas cookies, your eggnog, your footie pajamas and we’ll have a good time.
MM: Some hot coco and a big ol’ bucket of popcorn maybe?
KB: Perfect, any treat. To each their own.