Interview With Actress Alison Wandzura, “Christmas At Holly Lodge”

By Ruth on December 3, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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Some time last year, I had the opportunity to interview Alison Wandzura, and from the moment we started chatting, it was as if we had known each other all our lives. While her career has been quite diverse and she rarely (if ever) plays a leading character, her roles are imbued with a magnetism and a fervency that will ensure her on-screen personas are never overlooked. While Hallmark audiences may be unaware of her name, a quick look at her credits will remind viewers where we may have been lucky enough to see her in the past. With an upcoming Christmas movie (which premieres tonight) on the docket, it was sincerely a joy to catch up with this dynamic lady yet again!

RH: So nice to be able to hear your voice again. It’s been awhile, Alison.

AW: Same here, Ruth. We’re always reading stuff online, but it’s nice to make the connection again.

I have loved following all the stuff that has been happening for you. It’s exciting!

It has been a busy year, that’s for sure.

It has. We haven’t talked since season one Van Helsing. And I think it’s great that even though you’re not in the show anymore, you still support the cast and keep up with them.

You know, with that show, in particular, it just feels like family. When I hear about announcements and stuff going on, I still see us as family. I still feel the pride of being a part of that. That’s part of the gift when you’re part of a production that is so tight-knit and supportive.

And you made a great connection with one of the girls on there.

Oh, Avery Konrad? Yeah, we do some twitter banter back and forth. She and one of the other young actors on the show, Trezzo Mahoro, we were a sort of trio on the show. We were always making trouble and eating too much at craft services, and having more than our share of the cookies. We were a mischievous bunch on set. It’s still so fun to chat with those guys.

I know a lot of people look at actors and think they have such an easy and fun life, but we both know how much work it takes to get to where you are right now.

Oh, yeah, definitely. People see me on the red carpet or having fun like we’re talking about, but that’s the small part of the job that’s fun and celebratory. The other ninety-five percent of the job is grinding out the work.

But when you are asked to mentor someone, that is truly a great honor and accomplishment. Just recently, my agent said she’s got someone new on the roster. She asked if I would give this person some advice, and I was like, “Yeah, we could meet up for coffee.” But then I thought about how I was being asked to mentor another person. It feels not that long ago that I was the one looking up at all the other actors and actresses and wondering how they do it.

Another thing I’ve had to learn is the art of spontaneous readiness. Sometimes they’ll take an actor into the room, and I’ll be prepared to read. And then the director hands me something else sometimes, and he says, “Hey, would you mind taking these eight pages out into the hall and just take a couple of minutes and read for this instead?” “Well, sure! Sure I can do that. Yes, we can!”

That’s exactly what happened when I interviewed Beau Bridges recently. I knew he was going to call at some point, but I didn’t know when, and it happened quicker than I thought. But in the end, it turned out very well.

That’s amazing! Speaking of Beau Bridges, I just worked with his son, Jordan, on Christmas At Holly Lodge.

So cool! I actually have the When Calls the Heart convention to that for that particular interview. 

Oh, and speaking of that convention, my TV son, Christian Michael Cooper, was at the convention.

Yes, he was. He and his sister, Ava, were there. 

He’s a really cool kid. Did you know that he doesn’t eat much sugar?

Actually, I didn’t know that. 

He just doesn’t like sugar. He couldn’t care less for the candy and the sugar and the vices at craft services table. So I think that’s why he’s such a cool kid because he’s not hopped up on sugar. He break dances and is into sports. Really cool kid.

Sometimes I wonder–I don’t know if you do–if I had turned to acting at a very young age, I always wonder where I’d be or what my life would be like. I’ve gotten to know a couple of young actors here in Vancouver, and they’re working all the time. And when I was a kid, that wasn’t even in my realm of thinking. I didn’t even know there was such thing as an actor.

When I think back to my childhood, I was always putting on a show. That was my passion, even back then. I remember my mom telling me to stop acting up. I remember it would be my birthday and I’d be at the table doing my version of stand-up comedy. and my mom would say, “Alison, stop acting up.” If only she knew she couldn’t stop the tsunami, the tidal wave.

I know in today’s education society, the classes these kids take are cookie cutter for the most part. There’s not always as much access to the arts. I just hope kids have the opportunity to explore these things about themselves instead of just trying to dampen those things down and trying to become a normal adult.

Going back to season one Van Helsing, you were a pretty major part of that season.

Yes, but it didn’t end well for my character.

I still have to watch the rest of that season. But I know it’s on Netflix, so at least I know we can still go back and see you on there. And I believe you were on an episode of The Magicians–another show I have not had the time to check out.

Yes, it was a very physical role because it was a dancing security guard. We get hypnotized by one of the lead characters and we just hit the dance floor. It was really something different. I had never done a role like that before. I used to be a dancer actually, so that was the closest I’ve gotten to using my childhood dancing skills.

I did see you in a small role you tweeted about earlier this year. I saw you in the Lifetime movie Menendez: Blood Brothers. 

Oh, yeah, that was a great one to watch.

I honestly didn’t know that much about the case before I watched the film, but I sat there and learned so much.

Before this project, I didn’t know much about the case either.

I picked your character out right away. 

That was a good job for me because I got lots of days on set, but in the end, a lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s easy to blame yourself for them cutting out your scenes, but it’s really not about you most of the time. Sometimes you end up being a glorified extra. With projects, there are three variables. There are the very creatively fulfilling projects where the script and the story you’re telling is important. Sometimes you get to work with amazing people, and that makes me think instantly of my Van Helsing family. And sometimes you’re after a paycheck, and you’re not as involved in the other two areas, but you do the job to pay the bills. I think most projects lean more towards the first couple variables I named, but sometimes there are those jobs that pay the bills.

Had you not tweeted the information out about the film, I may not have watched it. I try to support the projects you and others are in, so when you promoted it, I was glad to watch even though you were not in it as much.

Today it’s almost an expectation that you will promote the stuff you’re in. I have a marketing background, so I enjoy promoting things. I know for some actors it’s like pulling teeth to promote anything. They just don’t want to do it. They feel it’s self-indulgent or they don’t want to be like “Hire me.” But I think when you’re part of something, it’s kind of our job now. One of the coolest feelings is when the devoted fans say, “I’m gonna watch this because you’re in it.” That’s a really cool feeling. I know we don’t want to feel like we’re throwing a party for ourselves or anything. It’s that fine line between promoting your business and seeming like a narcissist. I think sometimes we let the negative people scare us off and keep us from promoting what’s rightfully ours and celebrating our accomplishments.

I think I understand what you mean. What changed it for me is that when I share an interview, I’m not just sharing it for my sake but for the actor’s sake as well. So yes, I’m telling people to come read my blog post, but it’s not just for me, but it’s for the actor I interviewed. I like the idea of focusing on others. And also, you tipped me off about Story of a Girl.  I was so glad I got to see that one.

Yeah, it was really good. Caroline Cave played the mother. And I had a small role, but I am glad I got to be a part of that important story. Kyra Sedgwick optioned the book, I believe, and that was her directorial debut.

I got to see it on Lifetime, but it was not a typical Lifetime film.

It went to a bunch of festivals too, and it was well-received. I thought it was a really grounded, truthful look at what happens to someone at that age. And then you’re confronted with the reality of what we’re doing on social media now. It’s sort of a cautionary tale, and I think we need to tell those.

I am so grateful that you have steered me towards some works that I may not have looked up on my own. Typically, if you tweet it out, I look it up, and I make a point to watch. And watching things outside my comfort zone has been a good thing for me as I feel I usually come away as a better person as a result. Riverdale is a perfect example. I am a huge fan of the show now, but I only started watching because Lochlyn Munro and Martin Cummins were in it.

I got to work with Lochlyn earlier this year on a show called Haters Back Off. It’s a funny show, but of course, the demographic is targeted towards your daughter’s age. He and I were sort of in the same scene together. Now, I wasn’t familiar with his earlier works, so I didn’t know that he is so funny. I’ve always seen him do dramatic things since I’m more familiar with his recent works.

Sometimes when you work in a certain genre, you’ll get more work–it snowballs–in that genre. And people don’t always realize there’s a whole other side that’s actually sometimes more authentic to that actor. They’re not really like the roles they keep getting cast in.

It’s the same kind of thing that happens when you’re an actor and you go to auditions. It depends on what network you’re auditioning for. You paint it in a different light depending on the network you’re auditioning for. If I’m auditioning for a Hallmark role, I approach it differently than if I’m auditioning for a Lifetime movie.

Speaking of Hallmark, it was so great to see you in Darrow & Darrow

Yeah, that was fun. That was the second time I got to work with Peter DeLuise. My first time was on Garage Sale Mystery with Marcus Rosner. Peter is great. I call him an actor’s director. He is still an actor, but he’s doing more directing these days. He has this huge body of work as an actor. So one thing he does on set which is nice… as an actor, you always want to get a photo of yourself on set or with your scene partner. It’s kind of fun to get a photo. But you don’t want to be the bad actor who asks for someone to take your photo on set. But Peter gets it. I won’t even know he’s taking a photo, and he sends me an email later on with a photo of me on set. He’s great. He’s just so relaxed; he’s so confident as a leader in his environment. It seems like sometimes directors feel like they have too much to prove, but not Peter. He is just completely at ease.

While I don’t know him, he appears to be that way, and I have heard good things about him from others. And I know his wife is also an actress.

Oh, yes, Ann Marie. She’s a friend of mine. And both are such advocates for women in film. In fact, because of all the Harvey Weinstein news that has come out, the women of the Union here in Vancouver had a town-hall style meeting so we could tell our stories of harassment and mistreatment by others in the industry. But someone actually told the story of how Peter had gone to bat for them and had stood up for them on set. It seemed a certain situation wasn’t right. It’s just cool to know who those male advocates for us are out there.

Absolutely. It’s good to hear that Peter is how I imagined he would be. {pause} So with Darrow & Darrow, I know your role was small, but I think you had some interactions with some of the main cast. 

Yeah with Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who was the lead and Brandi Alexander, who’s her sidekick.

Recently, I worked on another Hallmark movie called Christmas At Holly Lodge. This movie was really special because I have never been on a Hallmark set before with a young female director like we had, Jem Garrard. Now while Hallmark is seeking to change things, the majority of Hallmark directors are still men. I’m not saying that’s bad or anything. It just is, and having Jem there was so refreshing. I actually had to do a double take at the audition.

I saw a short film she did about three or four years ago at a film festival I was a part of. And it was a great short film and a different genre than Hallmark. So when I saw her name, I knew right away she was the director of that film.

I just looked her up, and I have seen one of her films, a Lifetime one that starred two real-life sisters who played sisters, Ali Skovbye and Tiera Skobvye. 

It was particularly inspiring to see how confident she was as a leader and to work with her. She really owned the space, and I thought, “You go as far as you can with it.” Being honest, in the industry as a whole, we’ve still got mostly men directing, producing, and sometimes writing stories that are about women in their late twenties and early thirties. Doesn’t it make sense to bring in women that age who are decision-makers and can shape the story because they relate to it? I think the more we can get that, the better the stories will be. I applaud Hallmark for bringing Jem in to direct. Definitely a step in the right direction.

As for the film, this is Ali Sweeney‘s first Christmas movie in which she is starring and executive producing. She’s done executive production on other films, but this is the first Christmas one. When I was on set, I was in awe of how people balance all this. Ali is producing it plus acting in it, so she was on set when I was, but I didn’t cross paths with her while on set. I remember they did my makeup and hair and then took a picture and said they were going to send it to Ali just to make sure it was okay and get it approved. And I thought, “How does she do all that? She’s approving decisions on stuff. She’s producing on the same day she’s acting.” That’s a lot of hats to wear, so good for her. You have to be pretty much on your game to do all that.

What can you tell us about your role in Christmas At Holly Lodge?

I play the assistant to Jordan Bridges’ character. He’s our lead, and typically with Hallmark, they start in the big city and move into the small town.  We start out in New York, and we push deals through people acquiring property. So I’m the New York person, and I’m supporting him from the home office.  So we have some great banter and have a couple of scenes together. It’s a fine line to walk. When you’ve got a guy and a girl working for each other and there’s banter, it may seem kind of flirty, but it can’t be in this case because that’s not what this relationship is in that movie. As an actor, you have to make sure you play it the right way.

As I look over the cast list, I notice a lot of supporting cast that I know pretty well. 

Ultimately, it’s kind of like we are a part of the Hallmark family. We’ll work on things again and again together with this network.

And in the case of Toby Levins, until recently, we haven’t seen him in much Hallmark except Toby Levins.

I think he was in a Gourmet Detective if I remember right.

Yes, he was, but with the exception of murder mysteries, Hallmark audiences haven’t seen him much until this Christmas. He is in this movie as well as Christmas Homecoming.

I don’t know what it’s like at the headquarters of Hallmark, but I would imagine that eventually, they’ve got to get new faces in there.

I notice Adrian Hough is in there too, and we haven’t seen him in a lot of Hallmark either, so it’s nice to see he’s in this one. And speaking of Hallmark as a family, I see what you’re talking about even with the top executives at the network–Bill Abbott, the president, and Michelle Vicary, the vice-president. I hear amazing things about them from the actors that these executives are very approachable, and they’re willing to listen. And they are fan-friendly as well.

Well, I think they have that formula right. Nowadays, it is essential to be listening to what the fans want. And never before has it been so transparent because they’re telling you live on Twitter as the episode airs. The barrier between the big ivory tower and the fans is no longer there. You’re almost forced to adapt and react to what people want. And I think that only serves to strengthen the stories on TV because TV is better than it ever has been before. And maybe part of that is this instant feedback from the fans.

The thing I really appreciate about Hallmark, as I have said so many times before, is that it is family content that everyone can enjoy together, regardless of your age. You don’t have to worry about your kids seeing something you don’t want them to see, and there aren’t too many networks like that anymore.

Thinking about the value of Hallmark movies, last year I went home for Christmas. Now I’m a fan of shows that portray all sides of humanity, including the darker and lighter sides. There are times I would think, “Gosh, I wish Hallmark would be a little edgier.” But my mom is a big fan of Hallmark movies, and so we ended up watching one together, and it was something we could both watch together. It was actually kind of fun. And then we would watch another one. And then we ended up watching six or seven Hallmark movies together over the holidays, and that was an experience that brought us both together. And I thought, “Okay, that has value there for sure.” Families can come together and watch this stuff because there’s a lot my mom is not comfortable watching. And sometimes it will drive a wedge between us when I’m like, “Mom, just appreciate the realness!”  And she is like, “I’m not watching this!”

What I notice too is that since Hallmark has these two networks, their Movies & Mysteries network is a bit edgier. It’s still Hallmark, but they are pushing the boundaries, and I think it’s a good thing. {pause} Now, I think you also filmed a short film up in Whistler if I remember right.

Yes, it’s a horror film. It’s still being edited. But the horror genre is new for me. I’ve never done one before. In The Whistler, I play the mother of these two girls. You know, it’s funny. I never used to get mom roles. But now I’m starting to work a little bit in that area, and I really like it. If you have a family, you have stronger connections to the other characters. I think that’s something I’ve missed having in a lot of the roles I play. There’s not always been a lot invested in my relationships with certain people on screen. I’m usually the person who comes in and causes a lot of trouble or tries to survive on my own. But playing a mom, it’s just great because you have this amazing connection between the characters. And I think I’m hooked now on playing mom roles.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with playing moms because there is a wide variety of moms out there.

Yes, and I’m interested in showing the different kinds of moms out there because TV sometimes stereotypes what a mom is. I think it’s time to show that’s not what all moms are like. I like being able to push the envelope a little that way.

So according to the cast list, John Emmet Tracy played the father.

Yes, he and I are married in the movie, and we’re the parents in that film. It’s great because I’ve been wanting to work with him for a long time. I’m such a fan of his because he is a prolific theater actor. His level of craft is so high, and I think he’s one of the top actors in this town, and I’ve always wanted to work with him, so it was great we got to come together on this project. I have such respect for people who are doing theater and film at the same time.

I know you’ve done some theater.

Well, I started in theater. It was my foundation and what I did for my startup years. When I moved to Vancouver, I got focused on the whole theater and TV aspect. But we did a play this past spring.

Yes, I was going to mention that. 

Yes, we formed a collective and then my co-producers and I put on the play. And it was so rewarding because I think that’s what the core of being an actor is. You have a live audience, and you learn so much. Every time you go on stage, you learn something because you get that feedback.

I realize we didn’t talk about The Crossing. We’d better do that. I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this show.

Oh, definitely! It’s a huge ensemble cast. There’s tons of core cast just because of the premise of the show. It’s about a bunch of refugees that show up in this sleepy, little village. So there’s this small fishing town, and one day, two hundred bodies wash up. I guess some are still alive; there’s like forty-seven survivors. They struggle to get these people out of the water and figure out what’s going on. Then they start to tell the people of the town that they’re from the future. Of course, the government develops a way to confine them because they don’t want the word getting out. It’s a pretty catchy premise, and the whole futuristic thing has been done a lot, I know. But the way this show is done is very unique. It’s very real. I think a lot of it is based on examining humanity and what people do in situations where they want to survive. I think it’s gonna be really different than a lot of stuff out there.

This one comes out in January. It’s from the same producers as the show Lost. The lead actor is Steve Zahn. He’s done a lot of feature films, but this is a new territory with him being the lead in a series. He’s amazing, and I feel so lucky ’cause I get to act with him. He’s my scene partner wherever I go to work on the show. He’s a master of comedy; he’s done a lot of comedy. But this is very different. It’s very real. It’s refreshing to see a story about people who are trying to survive and maintain their connections with their family.

So Christian Michael Cooper is playing your son?

Yes, he is.

Hearties are going to be interested in this one then. 

Oh, that’s cool. The Hearties seem like they’re what I would call a good-hearted mafia. {laughs} The Hearties mafia! They support their family and come out for good things. They’re not gonna be cutting anyone’s fingers off.

Right! But Christian is amazing, and his parents are just fantastic too.

Oh, yes, Kelly. She was on set for The Crossing. I got to know her.

And then they’ve got his sister Ava also.

Yeah, sometimes the parents had to split up to be with their kids. The last time Christian was on set, his dad was there because his mom was on set with Ava. It’s almost a full-time job.

Most of the time, successful child actors have to have very supportive parents in order to make it. And their parents keep them very involved, not just in acting, so that they can explore their interests and hopefully be too busy to get into trouble. 

That’s very true. When a kid is ten, you don’t want to put all your eggs in the acting basket. You don’t know what they’re gonna want to do when they’re eighteen. Another great little actor I’ve worked with is Kiefer O’Reilly.

Oh, yes! I know him too!

His parents produce animated features, and they’re worked with some great names. Christopher Plummer, Ron Perlman. They’ve actually hired me as an animation voiceover actor. They’re a powerhouse family. They’ve got all their kids in acting, and Kiefer’s also playing hockey.

Kiefer was on When Calls the Heart too, so the Hearties love him and remember him. 

He’s a pro, that guy. And he’s another reason to watch The Crossing, because he’s on it too. And I really think this show is going to be addicting anyway. It is not full of gratuitous violence. It’s not one of those shows that puts a lot of gunfights on it just for the sake of violence. At its core, it’s going to be a really meaningful show. I think a lot of people are going to connect with it. Especially with the refugees being a big issue in the media right now. It will make you ask yourself, “What would you do if you had nowhere to go?”

I know you’re also listed on an episode of Ice for season two.

Oh, yeah, I’m playing another mean person on that.

They love to cast you in those mean parts, don’t they?

Yes, they do. {laughs}

Well, it’s a good thing we know you’re not mean in real life.

Or do you? {laughs} I would say I reserve my inner demons for the screen. I have to say I love playing the antagonist. It’s fascinating work. I’ve come to appreciate the fact that I sometimes get cast as the darker characters. It makes you think more. You have to get on board with why this character is doing this. It also makes you more sympathetic towards people who you otherwise might be quick to judge. You have to think, “If I was this person, what would make me behave this way?”  Humans are capable of things that they may not like to think that they are. It’s definitely a cool thing to examine as an actor.

Alison, thank you so much for your time today. It sounds like you have a lot of exciting stuff coming up, I’m proud to be a part of your journey.

My pleasure, Ruth. And thank you for your support. Looking forward to sharing this movie with all the Hallmark fans out there.

As a busy working actor who oftentimes plays the supporting roles (and even the more menacing roles), Alison has fully embraced who she is a woman, a professional, and an artist. Whenever I read her posts throughout the week, I know I will receive some remarkable motivation often intermixed with a delightful hint of humor. Additionally, she is circumspect about promoting all of her various works, and even if her part is relatively small, she has honestly never steered me wrong with her projects. I recognize I am delinquent in terms of watching her years of past works, but when it comes to her present works, I am practically on target, and I relish seeing her on screen in her assorted roles. 

Alison is also a team player. There are times I sense that networks tend to typecast some of my actor friends, and I will be the one who silently berates the network (in the comfort of my home, of course), and I long to solve the apparent perceived injustice of these networks not providing exceptional roles that speak to the strengths of my friends. Nonetheless, Alison perpetually has the appropriate attitude, as she is merely grateful for the work. Moreover, if the character she is portraying happens to have profundity and her castmates are positive, talented, exuberant people, she couldn’t be happier. Unbeknownst to her, she often reminds me of what is genuinely important in this life and instead of getting caught up what’s wrong with this world and the industry, she chooses to celebrate what is virtuous and excellent in this business as well as the world as a whole.

So please tune in tonight (December 3rd) to the Hallmark Channel for the premiere of Christmas At Holly Lodge. As Hallmark’s popular Countdown to Christmas programming continues to drive towards its pinnacle on December 25th, we can rest assured that the fare they are serving us viewers is consistently well-done, well-acted, and sprinkled with the delectable seasonings of the holidays. And I have no doubt that this movie tonight will continue that remarkable and fun-filled tradition. I would also invite you to investigate Alison’s links below and if you don’t follow her on social media, I would suggest you rectify that immediately! She is fan-friendly and treasures the respect she receives from those who support her career. Furthermore, she is an encouraging soul, and I view her as a sort of kindred spirit. In this world of shadiness and negativity, why not connect with someone authentic, fun, inspirational, benevolent and gifted like Alison? I can hardly wait to see what 2018 brings this phenomenal woman, and fingers crossed all of her dreams come true in the weeks, months, and years to come because if anyone is deserving of immeasurable fortune and success, Alison definitely is!

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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

2 Comments

  1. denise December 4, 2017 Reply

    loved the interview. Watched the movie last night and loved it.

    • Author
      Ruth December 4, 2017 Reply

      Thank you Denise! It was a fun film!

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