Interview With Mark Brandon, “Falling For Vermont”

By Ruth on September 24, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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I can’t recall the first time I noticed Mark Brandon in a Hallmark network film, but I know for certain that he was on my radar for quite awhile as over the past couple years, Hallmark has utilized his talents fairly regularly. Recently, a fan suggested that I should interview him, and once he agreed, we scheduled one as soon as possible. It was such a joy chatting with him. (And he was so kind to put up with me rambling on about so much of my life story!) While I had intended to share this interview prior to the premiere of Falling For Vermont this past weekend, I am grateful that my busy schedule has permitted me to share it with my readers now.

RH: Mark, it’s so nice to chat with you today, and I’m glad that one of the amazing Hallmark fans suggested I interview you. I think I’d thought about interviewing you before, but then I got busy and forgot.

MB: I’m glad it worked out, too, Ruth.

You have some pretty incredible credits to your name that I forgot about until I started researching your works again.

I have been very lucky. The last two years, things have really exploded, and the ironic thing is that I thought when I hit sixty, it was just gonna be downhill from there. But instead, it’s going uphill. It’s great. There’s more work now than there ever was before.

How did you get started in acting?

Oh my goodness, I’m such a dinosaur. Thirty-five years ago, I was a fireman in San Diego. I heard from one of the captains in the department that he was doing modeling on his days off. I thought, “Well, that beats construction.” So I got in touch with him, and he was really nice about it. He showed me how to put a portfolio together, how to get an agent and the whole nine yards. So I got an agent in San Diego and put together all my photos, and I started going out and getting modeling jobs. And for me, I thought it was a great way to spend my days off.

I got into acting because my agent also put people out for commercials. When I was asked if I would like to go out for commercials, I was like, “Are you kidding me?” So I landed a couple car commercials, and it was either a Chevy or Ford commercial where I landed my Screen Actor’s Guild card. So here I was in the union, and I tell you, Ruth, that’s when the bug bit me. And I thought, “I’ve got a Screen Actor’s Guild card, and I’m on commercials that air nationally. Why not go for broke and try out for series work?” That’s when I decided to get really serious about it and study acting. Up to that point, I hadn’t been studying. I’d just been taking people’s advice and falling into jobs. It took me eight to ten months to finally decide to quit the fire department and go full-time into acting. Every night before I’d go to bed, I would stare at the downturned fire pants over the boots that I would leave by my bedside in case the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night, and I tell you, I would stare at those things for at least an hour, trying to make up my mind to leave the security and go for such an unknown thing. It was really chewing me up badly. I felt like I was going to get an ulcer if I didn’t do something soon. I was going through a roll of Tums a day, trying to make my mind up.

I was reading books on goal-setting and motivation, and what stood out the most to me was, “You can never get to second base with your foot stuck on first.” And that’s when the light went on. I knew that come hell or high water, I had to go. So a couple of weeks later, I put in my resignation. I thought my captain was gonna tell me I was out of my mind. But actually, he came right up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, shook my hand with his other hand and said, “I admire your courage. I wish I could do what you’re doing.” It was amazing–such a great send-off. And I haven’t looked back.

Absolutely fascinating! Your story reminds me of another older actor I interviewed–Marshall Teague. He was a police officer, and he left that career to become an actor. Not quite the same story, but very similar. Thank you for sharing that. I just love to hear how and why actors started out in their careers. {pause} So your first official credit was on Mama’s Family?

Yeah, for sure. That’s how far back I go.

I grew up watching Mama’s Family.

Did I mention I worked with Harvey Korman? He was on my episode. Such a funny guy. In fact, when we were filming, just before we broke for lunch, I was eyeballing this plate of egg salad sandwiches that looked so delicious, but they were props. We were working in a nursing home. My character’s name was Bobby, and I was an orderly at a nursing home. Everyone started leaving the stage for lunch, and I was eyeballing those sandwiches and Korman walked up and says, “Don’t you dare touch those sandwiches. They’re props.” He promptly grabbed one, stuffed it in his mouth, and walked away chewing it. {laughs} I really enjoyed working with him. What a funny guy he was.

Well, even though that was just a guest spot, that is still quite a show to have listed as your first credit. 

Yeah, that wasn’t bad; I was quite pleased by that. Right after that, I had a recurring role on Days of Our Lives. They don’t have a record of it because it was so long ago. And what’s funny is my wife did some stand-in work for an actress who has been on the show for twenty-five years. She wanted to tell the actress that I was on the show. I said, “Are you kidding? I was on for twenty-five minutes.” So I said, “Tell her that. She’ll probably laugh.”

Do you happen to know what your first Hallmark credit was?

I think it may have been Wedding Planner Mystery. That one was directed by Ron Oliver. He is such a fun guy. Have you ever talked with him or met him?

Aliyah O’Brien, Mark Brandon, Paul McGillion, Rachel Boston, David Alpay Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Marcel Williams

I have not, but I have heard amazing things about him. Everyone I have talked with who has worked with him speaks very highly of him.

In that film, I didn’t get to work with a lot of the other cast. I was just the Reverend who married a couple, and that was it. Now, my favorite one I did was Ice Sculpture Christmas. I don’t know if you saw that one.

Oh, yes! I love that one! It was a couple of years ago. Great movie, great cast, great story.

 

I’ve got an interesting story about that movie if you’d like to hear it.

Director of Photography Tony Metchie. Tony’s a very hard-working DOP and a super nice guy. He was also my DOP on Ice Sculpture Christmas.

Well, of course, I would!

I played the father of David Alpay’s character. According to the plot, my character wants this son of his to join him in the business. One day, they were already set up to film at this country club, and I was down below the hill at Circus getting my makeup and hair done because my character was supposed to come in later. When it was time to go, they told me that the van was here for me and it was ready to go. Georgina, one of the drivers–she’s one of our favorites here in Vancouver–she picked me up and then suddenly stopped. The side van door opened, and six guys with suits and ties jumped in. The men were introduced to me as the VIP’s from Hallmark, and they were here to watch the show today. I just swallowed hard and thought, “Holy cow! These aren’t just my bosses, but they’re everybody’s bosses!” These are the “suits,” as we call them in the industry. So we continued heading towards set, and it was just dead silence. I was thinking to myself, “I’ve got to say something to break the ice.” It seemed so tense, and I wanted to say something. Finally, I got up the courage to turn and say, “Guys, I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but I just have to say–I know I speak for everybody in the industry here in Vancouver. Thanks for bringing us so much work.” Immediately, one of the guys went, “Are you kidding? We love you guys.” I tell that story to casting directors and other actors, and they love that story too. It’s so touching, but that’s Hallmark for you.

What a great story, Mark. Thanks for sharing. That is the perfect illustration of what I always believe about Hallmark. The people who work for the network are some of the most genuinely nice people around. 

Absolutely, you bet! They are wonderful people, and I can’t say enough good things about them. In fact, I hope I run into these guys again because I want to tell them how much that story has meant to me and how much I tell it to other people. But I also want to tell them how thankful I am as an actor to work in something so wholesome that….I had a truck driver who told me, “Mark, I saw you on Hallmark, and it was such a pleasure to sit there with my young daughter and not worry about what’s coming around the corner.” That story lit me up, and I thought, “My goodness, I’m associated with something this good.” It made me feel exceptionally grateful to make a living at doing good things as opposed to just something that might be considered dark and crazy.

I agree completely. I have a daughter who’s fourteen, and I am so grateful for the family-friendly content on the Hallmark network. We live with my parents, and we can all sit down and watch the channel together. And we don’t have to worry about something bad popping up on the screen. Now, don’t get me wrong; we do watch things that are darker and more intense. 

Does she watch Riverdale?

Actually, yes, I got her hooked on Riverdale. I got hooked on it, and then I told her she had to watch, too, and she loves it. 

I happen to be appearing in the second season of Riverdale. I play Xavier St. Clair, a billionaire.

Okay, well we’ll know to watch for you. It was actually Lochlyn Munro and Martin Cummins who were the original draw for me to Riverdale. And now I love the show as a whole, and I regularly recommend it to other people. 

Lochlyn is a great guy, and he’s very busy but so modest. He has this reputation as the nicest guy in town. Everybody loves him. He’s just a sweetheart.

While I have never met him nor interviewed him, I have been impressed with all my interactions with him as well as his social media posts. And everyone I have interviewed who has worked with him only ever has nice things to say about him. 

I have a good story about Lochlyn and Riverdale.

with Lochlyn Munro

Well, I’d love to hear it.

The day I was working with him on Riverdale…you know how they have those canvas chairs with the wooden frames and the names on them for the cast? Well, on one side of the tent, they had all the main actors: Luke Perry and the rest of the gang. And Lochlyn was included in that group as well. Then on the other side, there was about four of us for the guest stars on the show. And we just had “cast” written on our chairs. The locations department had set it up that the main cast was on one side of the tent, and we were on the other. You know what Lochlyn did? He said, “No, this isn’t right,” and he went around himself and changed all those chairs around so that they were all intermixed. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s a phenomenal person, and I will go to bat for that guy any day of the week.

That sounds exactly like what I’d expect from Lochlyn. 

Last year, on his birthday, we were working on a Hallmark film together. We were lawyers, and I played his boss. It was the movie All Yours. And from that shoot, I have a picture of the two of us with our arms around each other and a big smile. We look like two old buddies.

According to IMDB, you are listed as having a role in Christmas Detour, but I think the role must have been pretty small. 

Yes, I was the weatherman, and I had little snippets throughout the whole thing. But I’m just happy to get the paycheck and the credit. Every once in awhile, I do land a nice supporting role as a dad or a friend, and that’s when I get recognized. But other than that, that’s just the way it is. I’m just glad to be working.

You were also in A Wish For Christmas

I played a billionaire in that one, too.

Yes, I remember your role! A very memorable role that you did quite well, and I’m sure lots of the fans will remember you. And that one was with Paul Greene, a definite fan favorite. 

Paul Greene is an exceptional guy. I have worked with him on three Hallmark films. I love working with him. He’s kind and attentive. He’s not full of himself. He’s very present when you talk to him.

And you got to work with Lacey Chabert as well in that film.

Yes, and she was pregnant in that film. Pretty far along as a matter of fact, and the director, Christie Will, did a heck of a job masking her pregnancy. I thought Christie was just brilliant.

Yes, Christie is pretty awesome. I’ve gotten to interview her, and I am just so impressed with her as a director, writer, and person.

Oh, Christie is a sweetheart. In fact, I told her unashamedly after working with her on A Wish For Christmas that I was so glad she chose me to play this guy. I went on to say that when I was auditioning for this guy and Christie was giving me direction, I had thought that she was so warm and sweet that I knew I really wanted to work with her. Her response was a big smile and she told me that I had made a good Wilson.

I agree with Christie. I watch a lot of Hallmark films, and sometimes, I have to refresh my memory about certain characters, but with Wilson, you made the character very memorable, and I doubt I’ll forget him.

Ruth, I appreciate the acknowledgment, not that I’m so needy that I need a compliment. I would say for the first five or ten years in the film industry, I kept thinking, “Oh my gosh, they’re gonna find out I’m a fraud, and they’ll fire me.” I was so concerned that I wasn’t a real actor and someone would find that out and put an end to my career.

I kind of understand because I sometimes feel that way as a writer. I’ve had people try to say I wasn’t a real writer or journalist, but that’s okay. Those kinds of things happen. I’m just happy doing what I love to do.

Speaking of writing, I actually wrote a book and was fortunate to have it published in 2005. It’s an acting book, of all things. It’s called Winning Auditions: 101 Strategies For Actors. I find that when I work with younger actors, they often ask me how to do this or that, and I can always recommend my book to them. I came to the conclusion that until they change the rules in our industry, you’ve got to audition better than you can act. Once you get the job, things are at least easier for you because they give you optimum conditions to work in. Whereas in the audition, there’s pressure and competition, and there’s all sorts of considerations that make it tough.

I also think that a large part of your journey as an actor is just finding out how to be comfortable in your own skin. I think we actors are so worried about being one thing to one person and another thing to another person that your identity gets muddled, and it can be disconcerting and unsettling. I think a large part of my acting success has come from reaching that point that I am comfortable with who I am. I’ve talked to a lot of other actors who are relatively my same age, and they agree that’s a good way to put it. When you’re comfortable in your own skin, you audition better. You have more poise on set. You do better work all around because you are comfortable with who you are and you’re centered. You’re not scattered.

I noticed you were also in My Favorite Wedding this past June. 

Yes, I played Dr. Hastings. Another one with Paul Greene, who again was so wonderful to work with. He’s also a marvelous piano player. Sometimes during breaks in filming, he would jump on a piano and just go to work. And it was beautiful, beautiful work. I also have another story about him. We were chatting between setups on My Favorite Wedding, and I told him that the year before, I did a Hallmark film called Every Christmas Has a Story. I played a news anchor, and guess what name they gave the character.

{laughs} Yes, I know this one! Paul Greene!

Yes, I told him that I played a character name Paul Greene, and he was like, “Really?” We scratched our heads and thought, “How in the heck could that get past the writers?” Didn’t they even stop to think that this character shares the name of one of the major Hallmark leading men? They gave a fictitious character a real actor’s name. It was kind of weird.

I notice you have a credit listed for Chesapeake Shores as well.

Yes, I was cast as the mayor of Chesapeake Shores. A couple of Sundays ago, my character was supposed to debut, but it hit the cutting room floor. I wrote to the executive producer and told him I was reasonably bummed, but I sincerely thanked him for the job. He wrote back and said he was awfully sorry, but they were over time, and they had to cut. He said, “As far as we’re all concerned, you’re still our mayor. If we get renewed for a third season, we’ll see about adding you.”

Favorite script supervisor, Holly Atchison, seen with Mark’s wife Joanne. Joanne often comes in to do background on his projects. He loves it when she’s there. She’s his good luck charm. In Falling for Vermont, she played one of the “townsfolk of Hopedale.”

Good, I’m so glad I didn’t miss you. I saw your credit and thought, “How could I miss Mark’s character?” But now it all makes sense. 

As an actor, it’s very upsetting when you have put time and energy into something, and then your part gets cut. There’s a joke in the industry that with all the cuts that have been made over the years, when we get edited out of something, we could probably make a feature-length film.

Well, while I cannot say for certain, a season three of Chesapeake Shores does seem promising. 

I hope you’re right, Ruth, ’cause I adore that show. I seriously think it deserves to be as big as When Calls the Heart.

I think it’s definitely headed that direction. The ratings continue to be strong and increase each week. There’s even the possibility of a fan convention next year if the show is renewed, so we’ll see what happens. And I’m sure they will follow through with bringing you back if a season three happens.

Right, and I’ll come back with more to do and be more into the storyline.

With the star of the show, Ben Ayers. It was a great homecoming for both of us. Ben studied acting with me about 11 or 12 years ago. We hadn’t seen one another since. It was a treat not only to see him again but to work with him as well.

What can you tell us about your most recent Hallmark film that just premiered September 23rd?

It’s called Falling For Vermont, and I play Ben{jamin Ayres}’s character’s father.

Okay, that’s great. I talked with Peter Benson about this movie, too. 

He’s so friendly and funny, isn’t he?

Absolutely, he is. Now is there anything else you can tell us about the movie or your role?

I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t seen it, so I’ll just say be sure to watch it. My role is very simple, and it’s not a really large one. Ben’s character is very active with his mother and father in the town. The story revolves around an author who has amnesia. I loved the description of the movie so much that it was the first time in many years that my eyes began to well up after reading the script. I was actually moved that much by it. I love the writing. And it wasn’t my character’s story. It was the story between Ben and Julie Gonzalo–their characters. I have nothing but respect for Julie. She is so committed. In fact, Ben and I hadn’t seen each other in years, and we were talking about her the first night of shooting. Ben was, believe it or not, a student of mine when I was teaching acting in Vancouver. So it was a big hug fest when we saw each other again after all these years. I hadn’t seen him in about ten or eleven years. He had gone on to some great shows and successes. I asked him what it was like working with Julie, and he said, “Oh, she is just so there and so present. She works every little detail out. ” Sure enough, that night, the three of us worked together, and she was just so wonderful. I wish more actors were like her. She is just so there with you. We both had a nice cheery moment together.

That’s so good to hear. It sure is a great way to kick off the Fall Harvest block of movies on the Hallmark Channel. {pause} Now, I notice you’re also listed on the cast list for a show I’ve heard a lot about–Loudermilk.

Yes, I play the role of an ad executive. And if you remember Andrew Francis from Chesapeake Shores, I play his boss on the show. Now, I can’t tell you any more than that.

That is awesome! I think the first person who told me about the show was Viv Leacock.

Oh, Viv! He is such a busy guy, and his career has sure taken off.

I am so glad there is such a great group of people in the Vancouver acting community. It’s been a pleasure to discover that not only are they fantastic actors, but they are great human beings too. I grew up with the mindset that there weren’t very many nice people in the acting community.

With Director David Winning. A very kind and gentle guy. Quite witty, too. He often came up with some real zingers that kept us in stitches.

I grew up with that too. I had that same feeling, and yet, my experience has shown me just the opposite. Some of the biggest stars I’ve worked with have been utterly gracious to me. Going back to Falling For Vermont, I got to work with such great people–Ben, the lady who played his mother (Jenn Griffin), and the kids. And we were working under such tough conditions because for about a week of shooting, it was in the 90’s. We actually had some medical issues due to the heat. It was really tough. And the smoke in the air just exacerbated the conditions for us. But our director, David Winning, brought us through. He’s a heck of a director.

You’ve had this long career as an actor, and you’ve written a book. Any plans to write a script of your own?

Yeah, I wrote a pilot called The Sunset Grill. It was a sitcom shot in ’96 here in Vancouver. I also wrote a script kind of like Airplane, but it’s about zombies. I’ve been trying to shop that script around, but the problem with that is that zombies seem to have fallen off of everyone’s radar. It’s tough to sell something that’s just not vogue anymore. So if anyone is looking for a good zombie movie, let me know.

Are you thinking of doing any directing at all?

I actually did a little bit of directing for some short films, and I was so bad at it, I promptly quit. I’m not a director by any stretch of the imagination. I can compose shots beautifully, and I have a good sense of aesthetics, but when it comes to taking scenes to their logical in and out points, I just stink at that part. It takes a real skill to be a director. You have to think like an editor.

Back to my pilot, The Sunset Grill, I was also the executive producer of it, and I didn’t know when to quit. I’d go home and I’d still do things. I’d take phone calls and write stuff. Even when I was acting in the series, I would sit in the booth where my character sat for the pilot and I’d be filling out contracts for the other actors in between my scenes. It was just exhausting.

I am with you on that. I am constantly amazed at people who can do it all, and while I’ve done just a little bit of directing at different schools on little programs, I say the people who want to do all that and handle those headaches, more power to them. I’ll stick with the writing.

I agree with you. I encourage those who want to go for it to do so. If that’s their outlet, they should go for it. Whatever floats your boat.

When you do have free time away from acting and writing, what do you like to do?

My wife and I are big opera fans. We also love to travel, so we combine the two of them. Last year, we went to Prague and saw Carmen. The year before that, we went to see the opening night of The Barber of Seville in Barcelona.

That is amazing! As a voice major, I know quite a bit about opera and certainly have a love for it. I have sung many opera arias, and I love going to see opera, but I don’t do it as often as I’d like.

You know what’s weird is that in my car CD player, I keep opera in there constantly. Sometimes it gets me up if I’m on my way to a shoot or something. I might put on some Gilbert and Sullivan–anything rousing that can get me all pumped up.

I think you may be the only person I’ve ever interviewed who loves opera music. 

Well, I’m so glad to be one of the few.

I forgot to ask. Do you have any other works you’d like to mention?

You know, I also have a role on Man in the High Castle. I play the newscaster for the Propaganda Ministry for New York. Interestingly enough on that show,  we have a German gal on set who watches you work and watches your pronunciation and German phrasing.

I have seen some of that show, but I need to get caught up. One of my good friends just got a role on season three of the show–Giles Panton.

Oh yeah, I know Giles! We worked on My Favorite Wedding together. He was the boyfriend she broke up with. I remember at the shoot, his dressing room was next to mine, and we sat on the steps there, chatting away. I remember he told me he had just landed this role on Man in the High Castle. I said, “Congratulations, buddy, good to hear.”

So you are in season three of Man in the High Castle?

Yes, just briefly. That show has been really great for my credits. But I don’t think they’re officially talking too much about season three yet.

Mark, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me and telling me all the stories you did. It was just great!

Ruth, I thank you for reaching out. I’ve had a great time chatting with you, and I sure hope everyone likes Falling For Vermont.

I absolutely adore chatting with actors like Mark, who have labored in the business for so many years because one of the things they perpetually enjoy sharing is behind-the-scenes stories. Over the course of his career, Mark has encountered a multitude of adventures, and I could easily sit at his feet for hours and merely let him regale me with tales from the set and beyond. As a seasoned professional, he is well-versed in the business, and he has made an almost infinite number of connections along the way that are warm, genuine, and long-lasting. While I know he has experienced his share of disappointments and difficulties, Mark perseveres and prefers to view things through a positive lens as opposed to a negative one. Moreover, he is a lifelong learner who consistently hones his craft while inspiring other actors with his pragmatic insight. 

Notwithstanding, my respect for Mark extends far beyond his career and the works to which he has been attached. In his day-to-day life, Mark is one who goes out of his way to sincerely encourage and bolster those with whom he comes in contact. Due to his kindhearted, affable demeanor, he is one who is able to set everyone at ease from the outset, and he never misses an opportunity to lavish praise on those who are deserving of such accolades. There is no doubt that Mark is circumspect about never missing an opportunity to speak a kind word to one of his co-workers, and I believe it is that sort of “paying-it-forward” mentality that is responsible for the degree of success and overall peace and contentment he is experiencing in his life right now.

If you missed Mark’s movie Falling For Vermont this weekend, be sure that you check your local listings for the next time the Hallmark Channel airs it (probably next weekend) as the film and his role are ones not to miss. Additionally, I invite you to check out Mark at the links below and consider looking up his past and future works that may be of interest to you. While Mark appears to currently be having unparalleled success in his profession, I believe his career will continue its ascent as more people discover the talent which Mark brings to every one of his projects, not to mention his benevolence and grateful attitude.

 

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth

43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl
Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA
Entertainment Writer
Available For Interviews and Reviews
Substitute Teacher

1 Comment

  1. denise September 26, 2017 Reply

    wonderful interview.

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