When talking about the cast of Lifetime's new holiday movie A New Orleans Noel, it's hard not to invoke the word icon. The film, which stars real-life husband and wife team Keshia Knight Pulliam and Brad James, also features legends Tim Reid and Patti LaBelle, and when all of that talent is set against an authentic, praline-filled, New Orleans backdrop, well, Christmas magic is made. In the film, Pulliam (pictured above, right, with LaBelle and James) portrays Grace Hill, a world-traveled architect, who lands a gig redesigning the traditional home of famed praline maker Loretta Brown (LaBelle), one of the city's first Black business owners. After arriving, all seems well -- until Grace comes face-to-face with her college crush Anthony Brown (James), who also happens to be Loretta's grandson and has also been hired for the remodel.
As their traditional versus modern tastes clash, it begins to look a lot like a Christmas filled with frustration. But, when Anthony and his family discover that Grace's Christmas is to be a lonely one, an invitation to celebrate in their praline-filled family traditions could be the foundation of a new working relationship -- and possibly more.
For Pulliam, the chance to get to work with Lifetime on another holiday project was all the invitation she needed. "I have a long relationship with Lifetime, and I love doing these Christmas movies," she explained while promoting the film. "I think they're just the loveliest, feel-good movies that transcend generations. They give hope and joy, and I was also really excited to have the opportunity to work with my husband. We just wanted to do a really great movie and [have] the opportunity to work together while doing it. COVID kind of pushed the project back. However, when things happen in their timing, it's always the perfect timing. So, it created the perfect storm for us to make a really great little movie."
In addition to working alongside her husband, the fact Pulliam got to work with two icons, is something she had to make mention of. "You can't leave Tim Reid [out of] that icon conversation," she shared. "Working with both of them was a pleasure. It was very exciting when we were rounding out this cast, and a no-brainer to include Momma Patti and Mr. Tim Reid. Just the legacy of the work they've done and the people they are speaks volumes.
"When the choices came down the line of people that we had the opportunity to choose, it was a clear and easy decision with Momma Patti," she continued. "I've worked with her since I was a very little girl. The opportunity to do it again; I absolutely jumped at that! I'm one of those people that even when you're starring in, executive producing, all those things, I want to surround myself and build a cast that is so amazingly talented in their own right. All that does is elevate the project as a whole. When you have so many icons, so many people who are masters of this craft in one project, you can't go wrong."
For his part, Tim Reid portrays Marcel Lirette, a retiree who moves back to town after years away and catches the eye of Lorretta. While he was thrilled to work with LaBelle, Pulliam was the major draw. "I'll say I was very excited about working with Kesha again," he shared. "We'd done a movie [together] a while back, and also working with Patti! I mean, I really was looking forward to that. I was thinking maybe she'd bring some sweet potato pies to the set, but no, we got no pie."
Reflecting on his own long and iconic career, Reid had this to say about his WKRP in Cincinnati character Venus Flytrap: "At that time, putting things in context, what made Venus stand out was the times," he recalled. "When that character was about, you had to fight for everything. I literally became the first Black actor allowed to wear a beard on television in primetime. Then I was the first Black character allowed to wear an earring. Who knew that would lead to 9-10 earrings today? Nowadays, actors are very fortunate as there's so much work and so many interesting stories to be told and I'm glad to see so many different roles because it really makes an actor love the work that much more."
In creating a recipe for the perfect holiday movie -- one that doesn't fall for the tropes so often associated with the genre -- Pulliam revealed her secret ingredient. "You have to start with authenticity," she explained. "Honesty, and authenticity were important for us to show. A lot of times, we'll do these movies, and they won't culturally reflect who we are as African American people. We have a culture that's all our own that is very specific. When my family watches it, they see themselves in it, and that's so important seeing the right kind of role models. It opens windows for people to show what's possible, or it opens windows that continue to empower people to say, 'Hey, that's like my family.'
"When you start from that real and authentic place, making sure that you're telling a very authentic story, you really can't go wrong," she added in closing. "If you're telling a story that is viscerally familiar to you, forwards and backward, it shows because instead of guessing or making something up, you're speaking from history and a place of authority and that's important."
A New Orleans Noel will be telecast Saturday, December 3 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.
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