Once upon a time, charismatic actors brought engaging characters to life in wonderfully uplifting stories of love and romance. If you’re feeling nostalgic for that precious magic, then you’re in luck because tonight at 7 p.m. ET, UP TV is premiering The Christmas Calendar, a delightful holiday film starring Laura Bell Bundy and Brendon Zub that has all the elements needed to make it a forever favorite.
Emily is a big city lawyer who moves back to her idyllic little hometown of Nelson Creek to settle the affairs of her beloved Nonna. While deciding what to do with her grandmother’s estate, she becomes part of a mystery when an ornate Christmas calendar in the shape of a house is discovered in her bakery. Hidden behind each door of the calendar is a beautiful message penned by a secret admire and intended for Emily. Soon, the entire town is abuzz — even her rival, Gerrard, a charming gourmet baker from New York — excitedly following the countdown to the last door when her secret admirer will finally be revealed.
“Nelson Creek has a little bit of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry to it,” Laura Bell told Entertaining Options. And it’s true, the biggest story before Emily’s secret admirer appeared was when The Nelson Creek Echo had “Bennet’s dog has 12 puppies” splashed across its front page.
A few years ago, Laura Bell played Shelby Sinclair in The CW’s popular series Hart of Dixie.
“Hart of Dixie definitely had that small town feel to it. Bluebell was filled with these really unique and quirky characters,” the actress recalled. “On The Christmas Calendar, it was the same type of thing. For instance, we have these two older women [Jacqueline Robbins as Edna and BJ Harrison as Pearl] who are obsessed with the calendar. They were so freaking cute! You should have heard these women in the makeup trailer, I was dying laughing with them all the time. The things that came out of their mouth? They were just so adorable. It was so much fun to have these two cute, unique characters in this film.”
It’s not just Edna and Pearl, Nelson Creek has an abundance of endearingly quirky characters: Gerrard (Brendon Zub), Chey (Paloma Kwiatkowski), Ivy (Frazey Ford), James (Jordan Ninkovich), Wally (Greg Rogers), Art (Steven Cree Molison), Eddie (Curtis Tweedie), and even the dastardly Chuck (James Pizzinato) and the sinister Adele (Johannah Newmarch). The townsfolk all fit together like members of a large, caring family, making The Christmas Calendar simmer with that familiar warmth that is so evident in UP’s original programs like Date My Dad and Ties That Bind.
Laura Bell noted that the enchanting atmosphere was all because of the director’s dedication to the movie.
“Allan Harmon is really special. He was invested as a producer as well, so he had his best team assembled for this movie. He hired the director of photography that he wanted. He hired the editor he wanted. When the director has that much involvement in a film, then you know his vision will be properly executed.”
Another reason this film works so well is the palpable spark between Emily and Gerrard.
“I definitely think that Brendon and I had some on-screen chemistry, for sure,” Laura Bell admitted. “We had a working chemistry, too, because we both work in the same way — we do our homework for a roll or a movie before we get there so we can jump right in. We didn’t even do a run through of the script, we just jumped right in and we started working with each other. And it felt really natural. Brendon is an incredibly nice human being and an amazing actor, he can slip right into a character and become that person.”
Laura Bell explained that The Christmas Calendar was shooting at the same time pilot season was starting to gear up. It wasn’t uncommon for her and Brendon to work a 16-hour day, then stay up and help each other create audition tapes for potential roles.
“We really became invested in each other and that kind of friendship definitely helps create a believable on-screen romance.”
Laura Bell Bundy is kind, personable, open, and genuine. She has that effortless charm that makes it so easy to root for her characters. Watching her play Emily, it didn’t even seem like she was acting at all.
“What was nice about this movie is it wasn’t a stretch,” she laughed. “I slipped right in, almost like I was just being myself. How would I have behaved in this situation? But again, that all comes back to Allan. I worked with him on a film called Season’s Greetings (UP TV). Once someone knows what you’re capable of, they trust you. We trusted each other. Since we already knew each other, we didn’t have to go through that ‘Hi, I’m Laura and this is how I work,’ ‘Hi, I’m Alan and this is how I work,’ because we already knew all that. The reason he hired me was because he knew how I worked. And that just made everything so natural and easy.”
“The Christmas Calendar is a really well crafted romantic comedy,” Laura Bell concluded. “If you like romantic comedies and you like holiday movies… and if you have an affinity for small-town humor, I definitely think this is a great film for you. It reminded me a lot of You Got Mail in terms of how Meg Ryan had the small bookstore and Tom Hanks was in the big Barnes & Noble superstore. They hated each other, but somehow they managed to connect in a way where they fall in love. This movie has a very similar kind of thing where there’s this fun love/hate relationship, which creates great stakes, fun tension, and comedy. So, if you like those good classic romantic comedies — there hasn’t been one of those in a while — then, this is definitely the movie for you.”
Fun Fact: The Christmas Calendar began filming in January, just a few weeks after Season’s Greeting premiered. “We all went right from Christmas to Christmas, so I think everybody still had that holiday energy while we were filming this movie.”
The Christmas Calendar, starring Laura Bell Bundy and Brendon Zub, premieres Sunday, November 19 at 7 p.m. ET on UP TV.