'A Heartland Christmas:' An Avalanche, Some Horses With Makeup and Nicholas Campbell
by Annette Bourdeau, posted Dec 6th 2010 5:00PM
Family favourite 'Heartland' is debuting its first Christmas special, 'A Heartland Christmas,' this week. The stand-alone film features the 'Heartland' gang banding together to help rescue some horses trapped by an avalanche in the fictional town of Pike River.
Veteran actor Nicholas Campbell ('Da Vinci's Inquest,' 'Haven') guest stars as a crusty old Pike River resident who makes life difficult for Amy (Amber Marshall) and Ty (Graham Wardle). Meanwhile, frazzled Lou (Michelle Morgan) is trying to create the perfect Christmas back at home.
TV Squad caught up with Marshall, Wardle and Campbell to get the scoop on the Christmas special. We chatted about everything from Christmas traditions to horse makeup to what it was like acting while having snow cannons shoot them in the face.
So why a Christmas special?
Amber Marshall: I think it's perfect. I don't know why we didn't --
Graham Wardle: Do it before!
AM: It's true. When you think of Christmas, you think of family, getting together, warmth ... You think of everything I think about our show. It was just a perfect fit.
Nicholas Campbell: Great-looking girls.
GW: That's why we did it?
NC: You need a bit of that at Christmas.
What can viewers expect from the Christmas special?
NC: I like to watch the show not only because of the attractive human characters, but also the animals. This is very satisfying in that respect. There's a great storyline regarding some animals. And they've designed it so fresh viewers don't have to have seen the whole series to know what the hell is going on.
GW: Yeah, it's a stand-alone film that can bring out the best parts of 'Heartland' in a Christmas movie.
Nicholas, what made you want to sign on for this?
NC: I'm just charmed by this show. I've never been in a Christmas movie. Every Christmas I go, "Boy, I've been an actor all these years. How come I don't have a Christmas movie?" Every piece of garbage, every Christmas thing is on and I got nothing. Now I'll be on every year -- they'll run this forever. It's a good, honest, old-fashioned Christmas movie with no ghosts or angels or anything like that.
Will any of the guest stars from the Christmas special become recurring characters?
AM: We haven't had them in Season 4.
NC: Except the old rodeo guy.
The old rodeo guy? You mean you?
NC: Well, that's why I'm here. I'm lobbying. If you put this on TV Squad it might happen.
GW: I think it was a stand-alone film with unique characters that came in for that movie, but hopefully we'll have --
NC: I'm around. If you need me.
AM: The majority is filmed in the fictitious town of Pike River, which 'Heartland' has never visited before. So we wanted to make sure we had completely fresh faces. We even made sure that all of the background performers used were never seen on the show before.
NC: So there's a spin-off coming: Pike River, Saturday night at 8PM. [Laughs]
Any other interesting anecdotes or tidbits about the Christmas special?
NC: They had horse make-up people. That was my first time working with horse make-up people. The horses looked amazing, though. When I first saw them I thought, "Well those horses don't look that great." And then I saw there was a lot of make-up on them.
AM: They have people come in who exaggerate rib bones and take special gel to make the horses look skinnier. They matted their tails and manes. Also, when the horses do stunts, we have doubles for them, so we have to make sure they all look the same. So if there's a black horse with white on him, we have to have another horse to match, so we'll either paint something on or cover something up.
How did they film the avalanche? Was any of that live or was it all worked in as effects?
GW: We had wind machines and all of that. I think there was some CGI done for the avalanche, but when we were acting they would blow snow and shoot cannons of snow at us.
NC: Oh yeah, they were shooting snow at us. It was good.
Was it distracting to act while having snow blown in your face?
AM: It makes it more intense and it kind of makes it easier to get into character. I find the most ridiculous thing when I'm acting is, for example, when I have to react to a bear coming to eat me or a cougar coming to chase me or something like that and there's someone there with a broom going "Rawr! Rawr!"
GW: [Laughs] There was this one time I was supposed to see a cougar and they shot my side of it before they shot the cougar. They drew a cat angry face on a bale of shavings and I was supposed to be like "Ah! Ah!"
AM: I think, for me, it makes it easier when they're blowing all of this snow at me, so I don't have to pretend.
On the special, the family has an unusual Christmas. Do any of you have unusual Christmas memories?
AM: No. My Christmases have always been fairly low-key.
NC: I've got three boys so, even now, Christmas puts a big smile on my face. I can't wait til they're all here. My one son's in Japan, another's in San Francisco and I've got my baby with me, who's 17 now. So they'll be here any minute. I can't wait.
GW: Every year is pretty unusual. I come from a big family. I've got five brothers and sisters, so it's always fun to meet up. We all like to make fun of each other.
Do you have any favourite Christmas specials?
AM: We never watch TV on Christmas. If the TV ever went on it'd be, "No, this is family time! We're supposed to be talking!"
NC: I think I've seen 'Frosty' 18,000 times.
GW: I like 'It's a Wonderful Life.' We always watch it on Christmas Eve.
Amber and Graham -- do you two have any projects lined up after this season's filming wraps?
AM: I don't know. We film such long days, we don't have time to audition or interview for anything.
GW: I like to focus on this and do my best work. Doing auditions on the side, getting ready for stuff ... I don't have time for that.
NC: Isn't this a sad commentary? The two hottest, most bankable actors in Canada are worried about auditions. What the hell is going on here? That's the biggest challenge being here in Canada, you're never through auditioning.
What about you, Nicholas? Are you done auditioning?
NC: Oh, I still audition. You almost have to sometimes. They don't see you for something you know you can do. If I'm talking to you for a role, I'd better come in looking and acting like it. I don't give anybody credit for their imaginations.
Nicholas, you've done a couple of guest spots on 'Republic of Doyle.' Any other guest spots coming up?
NC: I'm a regular on 'Haven.' Even though I got killed, apparently I'm coming back. Sci-fi's a wonderful thing.
What else can we expect from the rest of the season?
NC: Yeah, what happens with that jockey?
AM: Can't tell ya. Have to kill ya. Secret.
GW: We've done a lot of shows where we expand the show's world and what we see every day, storyline-wise, location-wise and relationship-wise. Everything is expanding.
'A Heartland Christmas' airs on the CBC on Sunday, Dec. 12 at 8PM, and Saturday, Dec. 24 at 9PM.