Hallmark Channel star Paul Campbell (pictured above, left) joins two of the network's most popular actors this weekend in Three Wise Men and a Baby. Campbell, Andrew Walker (center) and Tyler Hynes (right) play brothers whose lives are turned upside down after firefighter Luke Brennan (Walker) finds himself entrusted to care for a baby who has been abandoned at the firehouse where he's stationed. It's not often we get to see three leading men in a Hallmark movie, and what made the project even more appealing for Campbell was that he got to co-write it alongside his frequent leading lady/writing partner Kimberley Sustad.
"This actually came to us from the network," he explained in an exclusive interview with MediaVillage. "Originally, the concept was doing a film along the lines of Three Men and a Baby with Andrew, Tyler and myself. Then they got [us] on the phone and said, 'We'd love to do a movie with these guys. Would you guys be interested in writing it? What can you come up with for a story?' They kind of planted the seed and then [Kimberley] and I grew the tree.
"So, from the outset, it was designed for the three of us," he continued. "But schedules are always difficult to work around. It wasn't a certainty that it'd be the three of us, but fortunately it worked out as we certainly did write it to our strengths and in our voices. Once we designed the story, we sort of figured out who the characters were, and it became really easy to assign the actors. I'm a middle child, so the Stephen character just made sense to be me. Tyler's [collective] energy, swagger and attitude just lent itself to Taylor, the younger brother, and Andrew Walker is kind of a superhero! It just made sense to put him as the oldest brother and the one carrying all the weight. It all happened pretty naturally."
When it came to delivering dialogue while shooting, as the co-writer Campbell wanted it to be natural as possible. He was never overly protective of the words he and Sustad had written. "There was a lot of adlibbing," he recalled of the shoot. "Both Tyler and Andrew's strengths are making any dialogue sound natural. My aim with Kim was to write natural-sounding dialogue in the way people speak, but that's not always the case. We know Tyler and Andrew, so we knew how they spoke and had their voices in mind. But I handed the script over, and as soon as we got on set, I was no longer a writer. Anybody that came up with something funnier than what was on the page won.
"And we messed around a lot," he added laughing. "I don't know how much of it made it into the movie, but it's impossible to be precious as a writer. You just clip people's creative wings if you're too precious about the words, as they're not always a home run. Having someone rephrase something so it feels more organic [often] works better. Both Tyler and Andrew had full freedom and liberty to do that, as did Margaret Colin who plays our mom. It was her first Hallmark project, and she did something completely unexpected and different. She delivered in a way we hadn't imagined when writing it and it was somehow perfect."
Regarding the mechanics of working behind the scenes, Campbell is thankful to have Sustad as a writing partner, as the magic they create together on screen is as organic off-screen. "Kimberley has an extraordinary gift for story and for character," he reflected. "And she is like an encyclopedia of '90s rom-coms. She understands story and what makes it compelling. I have a technical eye and am good with taking those ideas and turning them into dialogue. She's like a broad stroke [artist] who gives me a lump of clay and says, 'I think it has to [maybe] look like this.' I go, 'Oh, I can make a pony out of that,' and then we work together to kind of polish it. It all just works."
While the film is a comedy, the premise touches on the serious side of single parenting and how overwhelming it can be at times. As writers, Campbell and Sustad knew they had to tread gently. "We had to justify the mom dropping a baby off for a week at the fire hall," he shared. "That's a big, big, big deal! People might jump to a lot of conclusions, with a lot of judgment about that mother. But there are a lot of things that come with that like mental health and stability. The only way [to] make it work was to understand her plight, her journey and her desperation, and tell the story of what it's like to try and be a single parent and juggle a career and a baby -- all while staying physically healthy and mentally healthy. It's really difficult, but we had to have people say, 'Man, I get it. I understand how in a complete moment of desperation someone [might] leave a baby with strangers for five days.'"
Since joining the Hallmark Media family, Campbell is proud that as a writer he can explore subject matter that may once been deemed "inappropriate." Not too long ago, "a lot of the jokes we've written into Three Wise Men never would have made it to air," he said. "They just weren't right. But now the network can't seem to get enough of them. It's so fun to write these scripts and to be able to play in a bigger sandbox in terms of the types of tools we can use. I'm hearing stories about projects that are in development and being pitched that never in a million years would you imagine Hallmark [doing], and they are embracing them entirely. When I joined Hallmark, I never expected where it would go, nor did I think that I would love it as much as I do.
"I love the stories we are telling, and I love working for this company," he added in closing. "It is a family and every time we get together it feels like a high school reunion. When I did Window Wonderland in 2013, never did I think I would be writing movies, let alone starring in my 11th movie for this company. It feels like I won the lottery."
Three Wise Men and a Baby will be telecast Saturday, November 19 at 8 p.m. on Hallmark Channel as part of its Countdown to Christmas programming event.
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