Canadian actor Emmanuelle Vaugier has a long history with Hallmark Channel. Her relationship with them began in 2012 when she starred opposite Carrie Fisher in the dark comedy It's Christmas, Carol, and it continued in 2016 with Love in Paradise, opposite Luke Perry. It's been a few years since the busy star has done something for the network, but this weekend she's remedying her absence with the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries premiere of Big Sky River (co-starring Hallmark regular Kavan Smith, pictured at top with Vaugier) -- and she couldn't be more thrilled. "It's very exciting to be back," she beamed during an exclusive MediaVillage interview. "It's been a few years since my last, Love in Paradise, and I've only ever done two movies for them. One had horses, and the other had Christmas -- two of my favorite things! I have no idea why it took so long, but I'm just happy to be back."
Vaugier portrays recently divorced New Yorker Tara Kendall, who takes a break from the city by taking a summer rental in Parable, Montana. It's a place she fell in love with as a young girl and it always provided her with a feeling of sanctuary. Upon arrival, Tara meets town sheriff Boone Taylor (Smith), who is also her neighbor, and before long the two find themselves relying on each other for small favors. But when Tara's stepdaughter Erin (Cassidy Nugent, pictured below right) reaches out asking to stay with her, the realities of co-parenting a child after a divorce start emerging, and possibly complicate any thought of a budding romance Tara might be (reluctantly) entertaining.
It was those real-life themes that hooked Vaugier from the get-go. "The big draw for me was how much it was grounded in things that people can relate to," she said of the script. "As much as Hallmark is very much an escape for people, I think we can also talk about things that are a little messier, and how people manage and deal with them. Like healing from those [hard] things. It was nice to see Hallmark go down that road and tackle some of those relatable real-life issues like relationships not working out, and not wanting to enter something new and repeat things. Then when kids are involved you have to consider how [it] affects them and set a good example.
"The last few years have made us reflect on our lives and really face some things we've sort of brushed over and not dealt with," she continued. "[Life] has sort of forced us into a situation of ripping off the band-aid to a lot of things. I think that this movie helps send a message of hope to people that you can heal and move on. Life can be good, and even with struggle, it can still be beautiful and something good can come out of these things."
Vaugier was also taken with the British Columbia location that doubled for Montana as, like her character, it reminded her of her childhood. "As a child, I begged my parents to send me to this horse summer camp," she recalled. "I was like 11 or 12, and that was one of the most magical camps I ever went to. I love the water, but I was obsessed with horses, so I completely related to Tara going back to Parable, and the very special place it has in her heart, just like this camp did for me growing up."
As an accomplished equestrian, Vaugier effortlessly dealt with the horse riding required for the role. But getting comfortable opposite a brood of chickens for some of the film's lighter moments was another matter. "Well, after this movie, I feel like I've found a whole respect and bond with chickens," she laughed. "They're actually quite affectionate, and very sweet. We had a chicken wrangler who would hand me the chicken we named Henrietta, who was the star chicken for the close-ups. She'd end up falling asleep in my arms, just dozing off. I love all animals, but I'd never experienced that with a chicken, so it was pretty cool."
Another first was working opposite Hallmark veteran Smith, which turned out be as easy as riding a horse. "Our first meeting we did a little trial run to work out some stuff with the horses," she explained. "So, we got to rehearse ahead of time. He was great. He's lovely, full of energy with such a great attitude. He's also kind, gracious, and so talented -- the full package! It felt easy with him; like I had known him all my life.
"It was the same with Cassidy," she added. "It's often hard to find a young actress who has the depth to carry some of the [more] emotional stuff and be grounded in it because life experience is limited at that point. She's a very talented young girl, a consummate professional, so sweet, and she does a lovely job in this."
Now that she's back in the Hallmark fold, Vaugier is eager to return to those Christmas roots that began her association with them. "I'd love nothing more than to do another Christmas movie," she said in closing. "I love Christmas in July, and the whole month of Christmas that Hallmark does leading up to Christmas. I never get tired of it!"
Big Sky River will be telecast Sunday, August 7 at 9 p.m. on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
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