Melissa Joan Hart's association with Lifetime, and Christmas, has been a long and fruitful one. If the talented actor isn't in front of the camera, she's behind it, producing and on occasion directing via her production company Hartbreak Films. For her latest Lifetime project, Mistletoe in Montana (co-starring Duane Henry and Jamey Sheridan), Hart (pictured above with Henry) left the directing in the capable hands of her good friend Kellie Martin. What made the film so special for Hart is a family connection to the story.
"This movie is actually inspired by my cousin's true-life experience in Wyoming going to a dude ranch," she explained during a virtual event promoting the film. "She met a wrangler and fell in love, so this is the flip flop of that.
"We were actually at her wedding in Wyoming last year," she added. "That's where my mother, who produces Hartbreak Films as my partner, and I were on horseback and I said, 'This would make a great movie.' She replied, 'Well, do you want to be the wrangler or the guest?' I was like, 'I wanna be the wrangler because I really wanna learn how to be a cowgirl'."
Hart stars as Merry, a cowgirl running the Paradise Ranch in rural Montana, where guests are encouraged to "check-in and check-out." To do so, she had to revisit some childhood territory, along with some new, to create movie magic. "When I was a little girl, there was probably one summer that I could afford horseback riding lessons and I did it," she recalled. "I rode a horse named Sprinkles, and just went around a ring in an arena, learned how to trot, and maybe canter a little. But I always wanted to get back into it, and in my years in L.A., I would do trail rides. So, I worked all summer on lessons, and lasso lessons. I knew there was archery involved, and square dancing, but I was like, 'I'll have to put that off for right now.' I just wanna get comfortable on a horse.
"I learned about different rein techniques and different ways to respond to a horse and how horses respond to you," she proudly shared. "I mean, I had very fast and furious lessons, and there were some when I told my husband, 'I'll see you in three hours -- if you're lucky. I might not make it back.' But I've never been so in love as I was with that horse. We fell madly in love. We had a wonderful relationship."
The former Dancing with the Stars contestant also got to brush up on her dance skills. As square dancing was never part of her DWTS routines, another friend was happy to lend a hand in that department. "Kellie Martin and I have a mutual friend in Christine Lakin," she revealed. "Christine is also a director and a fellow child star, and she stepped in. A few nights before shooting the square dancing [scenes], we were like, 'What are we gonna do? I don't really know how to do this!' I'd been watching YouTube videos, so Christine laid down some stuff for us, and we kind of learned a little bit of a dance. That was really fun, exciting and different. It was wonderful to have her help us out."
Hart said there were many special things about making this movie, and while each of her Lifetime holiday outings is special for different reasons, this one, in particular, will remain close to her heart. "This was really special for me, not only because it came from a real-life experience, but also because it was something that I kind of created from scratch," she said with a smile. "Then we got a wonderful writer in Don Perez, who'd written some other movies that we'd produced. So, we had this wonderful writer write this fun story that was a true-life event for me. Then the horses and our stellar cast."
Still, there were significant challenges for Hart as an executive producer of the film. "This one was really tricky," she revealed. "The location was difficult, as was finding an empty dude ranch in July. We couldn't find a place to shoot, then once we did, no Wi-Fi, no cell phone service, and with the shortages this year, no one had a rental car. Then there were fires and a heatwave that surrounded us. Being the executive producer and feeling responsible for my fellow actors and my crew, it was really hard to pull this one off.
"We had some breakthrough COVID cases at the beginning," she continued. "And we're in the middle of the mountains of Montana, so everyone was terrified the first few days of grizzly bears. Everyone carried bear mace, but we stayed tight as a crew. Despite it being really difficult to produce, in the end, we have a movie that hopefully people will enjoy, and we had a lot of fun, despite the heat. I know my co-star Jamey [Sheridan] can attest to the practical heat stroke we suffered on the set with how we were dressed in a heatwave in Montana.
"But the fact we made a beautiful movie out of this that will hopefully be seen by millions of people, is a wonderful reminder that these things have legs, and they can be enjoyed by everybody around the holidays for years to come," she concluded.
Mistletoe in Montana will be telecast Friday, December 17 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.
Click the social buttons to share this content with your friends and colleagues.
The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated writers.