Merritt Patterson returns to Hallmark Channel on Thanksgiving night in Christmas at the Palace, her fourth movie for the network since 2017 and her second royal-themed project following last year’s A Royal Winter. Given she also had a starring role on the E! series The Royals, it's a career theme that seems to follow her -- and this latest movie only cements her status as Hallmark's own Meghan Markle. "I'll take that!" she said with a laugh when I compared her to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex during an exclusive interview. "I went from The Royals to A Royal Winter for Hallmark, and now another royal-themed Christmas movie, but what's funny is I have never played the royal.”
In the film Patterson stars as Katie, an ice-skating choreographer on tour in picturesque San Senova. While there she bumps into a charming gentleman named Alexander (Andrew Cooper, pictured at top with Patterson), unaware he’s actual royalty. As the two continue to encounter one another, sparks begin to fly.
When the skating troupe is invited to perform at the Founders Day Ice Pageant, the paycheck is exactly what they need to purchase a practice rink back home. But as Katie grows fonder of Alex and his daughter Christina (India Fowler), leaving San Senova becomes harder than she ever imagined.
While Patterson didn’t grow up with aspirations of marrying royalty (beyond a love of Cinderella), she understands what makes fairytale royal romances so irresistible. "I can definitely relate to these characters for the most part," she explained. "They're not necessarily familiar with royalty; in fact, [usually] they are completely unaware of who the king or prince is and what his role is. They are really just 'fish out of water' and have no idea what's going on or know anything about protocols. That's what makes them charming to royals -- they don’t know who they are."
Shot on location in Romania, Christmas at the Palace is grand in scope. Having worked there before, Patterson was eager to return. “I actually shot A Royal Winter there so it was my second time going there,” she shared. “I love Romania and had such a great experience the first time, I was really looking forward to going back to film this one.
“We actually used a few of the same locations,” she continued. “The locations there are so beautiful and really allowed for that ‘grandeur effect.’ We also shot in a studio; in fact the town of San Senova was actually shot on a lot. They created this beautiful magical town, but to see it you would never know it [wasn’t real].”
According to Patterson, as soon as she read the script she knew Christmas at the Palace was destined to become a Hallmark holiday classic. “I did get that feeling reading it,” she said. “The Christmas movies do so well and people really look forward to them. For me, there’s something special adding the royal element. I don't know what it is but it seems people find that attractive to watch. I still get comments about A Royal Winter on my social media and have a feeling this movie may have a similar effect. It's really relatable and it's magical to be in a palace at Christmas. Who doesn't want that?”
Playing a former ice skater, Patterson also got the opportunity to show off her prowess on the ice. However, she was happy it was kept to a minimum. “I am very comfortable on the ice because I grew up skating,” she laughed. “I was never very good but growing up in a town where the lakes would freeze over in winter, we would skate on them. So I am comfortable in a pair of skates, but I wouldn't say I was a professional by any stretch of the imagination.
“They actually hired girls to do stunts for me and Britney Bristow who plays my sister Jessica,” she added. “But Britney was a professional figure skater, so I don't think she needed a double because she was really good. I didn't have to do much so she didn't offer [me] any tips. I really just had to walk on and pretend I knew what I was doing.”
Another thing Patterson relished about the project was reuniting with an old friend. “I didn’t know who would be playing Alexander till I arrived in Romania,” she recalled. “Then I heard it was Andrew (Cooper)! We actually met when he was on The Royals, only our characters never interacted so we didn't share any scenes. But I remember hanging out with him on the set and he was lovely. And India Fowler, who plays Princess Christina, is simply incredible. We spent quite a bit of time together and the scenes we shared really did feel genuine. It's so great to work with people you get along with so well. We all keep in touch.”
Christmas at the Palacewill be telecast Thursday, November 22 at 8 p.m. on Hallmark Channel as part of its Countdown to Christmas programming event.
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