Having a few Christmas movies to her credit, NCIS: Hawai'i star Tori Anderson is no stranger to celebrating the holidays on film. It's a season she loves and celebrates in a big way because her birthday falls on December 29. This year she's celebrating Christmas a little differently, starring in Campfire Christmas, the first Hallmark Channel Christmas movie set against their annual Christmas in July programming event. "I feel so grateful to be doing this, as it is the first scripted Hallmark Christmas movie [set] in July," she shared in an exclusive interview with MediaVillage. "It's so exciting to be a part of it. They've been doing Christmas in July for so long, and we are doing it in a whole different way. The fact there was a real camp that celebrated Christmas in July during the Great Depression makes this a fun story to tell."
In the film, Anderson stars as Peyton, a would-be writer whose parents run Camp Evergreen, a summer camp she attended as a teen, where Christmas in July is a big deal. With their impending retirement, and the camp's sale, Peyton heads home for one last hurrah and a 15-year reunion with some of her former fellow camp counselors. While she's thrilled to reunite with old friends like now-married camp sweethearts Janice (Caitlyn Stryker) and Dave (Matt Hamilton), current Broadway star Beckett (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and actor Chris (Alec Santos, pictured below with Bowyer-Chapman), the possibility her ex-boyfriend Thomas (Corbin Bleu, pictured at top with Anderson), now a school teacher, attending causes a problem. After high school he broke her heart, so unless Peyton can let go of her resentment, and Thomas his regrets, an encounter could be the downer that ruins both their campfire Christmas.
"The thing that I loved about this film is that it's a story about second chances told through the collective of every character," Anderson explained. "It follows a group of friends, and three separate storylines are going on [where] everyone is kind of trying to overcome something. With Peyton and Thomas, it's a past hurt and a miscommunication. With young love, everything feels so big and traumatic, so where we pick up [there's] still a wound. It's the first time they're seeing each other again. Communication is so important -- just listening, being present and talking to people. It's all nicely woven through everyone's storylines: The idea of sitting down, having it having a heart to heart and talking things through, and what you learn by listening."
Thanks to the film's diverse and inclusive story, some revelations are shared, especially with Beckett, who as a gay teenager never got to experience that first love at a summer camp. Anderson loved that aspect of the script. "I thought that was amazing," she recalled. "What we watch on TV should reflect the world we live in, and that is so beautifully done in this film. It's so nice to see Hallmark embracing everyone's stories. It's something that should be done, and they are going for it! There's no way forward in life without showcasing the world we live in, enjoying it and celebrating it, and the Beckett/Chris storyline is really beautiful."
After working in Hawaii for so long, one thing Anderson didn't anticipate was the chilly weather everyone endured on Vancouver Island. Considering most Christmas movies are shot in the middle of summer, for a December release, shooting in winter for a summer release was an adjustment. "It was so cold, and we had to be wearing shorts!" she laughed. "It was hilarious. Usually while filming you're wearing a scarf, gloves and a hat, pretending to be cold while you're sweating and professing your love to someone. This one… between takes, we were under blankets.
"I'm originally from Vancouver Island," she continued. "Going home was part of the allure. I love going home and there were some beautiful days, but it was unseasonably cold. Being Canadian I feel like I'm built tough, but shooting a show in Hawaii … I've acclimatized to Hawaii weather very nicely. Going back to those temperatures wasn't as much fun as I thought. But I love going home."
Thankfully her costar, with whom she had a blast doing crafts and dancing, was there make things fun. "Corbin is so incredible," she said. "He's humble, so sweet, insanely talented, and so willing to be there with you every step of the way. It was fun for us to kind of play that [animosity] we have and their competitive natures. He's just a delight to work with. I did some tap-dancing growing up, but he's a Broadway performer!
"There's a fun Christmas pageant scene that we had to rehearse for," she continued. "Corbin had it down in probably 12 seconds flat. And the costumes! We all got elf ears, glitter freckles and sequin outfits. Production went all out, so filming that whole thing was a blast."
Anderson is currently back in Hawaii filming NCIS but is hopeful her next Hallmark project is right around the corner. "I enjoy working with them because they are committed to telling stories that people love," she said in closing. "They're also committed to showcasing diversity and to changing their dynamic a little. You get to work with great people and feel you're a part of something people will love that brings a surge of levity. That's something everyone currently needs."
Campfire Christmas will be telecast Saturday, July 16 at 8 p.m. on Hallmark Channel as part of its annual Christmas in July programming event.
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