Former Pretty Little Liars star Brant Daughtery will be starring with former Nashville star Clare Bowen in the upcoming Hallmark movie, #Xmas.
As the title suggests, Christmas goes viral when Bowen’s character, Jen, a talented up-and-coming interior designer who keeps to herself, enters a contest with a social media slant.
Jen’s best friend, Max (Daugherty), encourages her to enter the competition and joins her as her fictional husband to make the most impact. As Jen manufactures the perfect home and family, she grows closer to her mother and sister, finally sees Max in a romantic light, and realizes there’s nothing like the real thing.
We had the chance to chat with Brant about the movie, what he enjoys about the Hallmark universe, and a whole lot more.
I wanted to reach out to you about #Xmas because Max seems a lot like the you that I see on social media.
Like the me?
Yeah, like the you. Family-oriented, always with a camera in his hand.
I like that.
Why does this project appeal to you?
This project appeals to me because I think social media is such an influence in our lives right now. And to do something that explored how that impacts relationships and friendships and family was something really appealing to me, and a story about being able to find beauty and imperfection is something that I always respond to.
There’s a desperate need inside of me to be perfect in a lot of ways, and it’s taken a lot of time for me to let go of that. So this resonated with me.
I don’t think that you’re alone in that, and I don’t think social media has helped in any way.
It certainly hasn’t. You know what I mean? Comparison is the thief of joy, as they say, and all social media is just comparison.
That’s about right. And the movie’s actually quite sad. I’ve actually met somebody who’s done this before, and has faked their existence to be liked. And I think that’s just such a horrible, horrible consequence of what’s happened.
Social media, for someone to feel the need to have to do that, I think I would agree with you, is terrible because we should all be able to be ourselves and be authentically who we are.
And the fact that we feel the need to change ourselves to fit some kind of box; it is sad, but again, something that resonates with me as an actor always being told, “You’re too much this. You’re not enough that.” “Only more of this, you would’ve got the job.” It lends itself to being difficult mentally.
I can’t imagine that being in a position like yours where you’re in the public eye continually would make any of that any easier, especially if you struggle with it in the first place.
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with social media. As I grow older and I’m starting my family. I have a son now and a wife, and I’m really starting to think about what I put out there as opposed to just opening a window into my life.
Right, right. And I think it’s a good choice, too because whatever you put out there now is going to affect your family and your son when he comes of age to see, “What did dad put out there?”
Yeah, think of all the embarrassing photos that your parents probably had in a photo album somewhere. [laughs]
Those are just online now.
Right, right. Yeah, you’d need a lot of introspection to do it right, I would think.
Yeah, I think so. So we’re really trying, but that’s the reason this movie resonated with me is all of that wrapped up into a nice little 100 page script. I thought it was really interesting.
And how do you hope that it’s going to influence people who watch it? What do you hope that they get from it?
Honestly, I hope they feel uplifted. I hope they feel better about who they are and who they’re allowed to be. I hope they accept themselves, and I hope they realize that even if they aren’t putting out the perfect image and being 100% perfect all the time, you’re still lovable, and you’re still great. And that’s honestly better.
Than a like.
Absolutely. I mean, I would rather have an authentic person, warts and all, than some facade of a person that’s not real.
Absolutely. Absolutely, and correct me if I’m wrong, but this isn’t the first time you’ve played somebody who plays around with a camera on screen, either is it?
It is not. Oddly enough, when we first started reading this script, I did a movie last year called The Baker’s Son, which is all about my character being the son of a baker. And this movie opens in a bakery, and my mother’s a baker.
And I was like, “Wait, hold on. Is this an inverse of The Baker’s Son? What’s happening right now?” It turns out, no, it’s not. It’s much different. But that was my initial response. I was like, “Is this The Baker’s Son from her perspective instead of mine, maybe?”
Yeah. I also thought it was similar to Timeless Love.
Oh yeah, Timeless Love. That was the photographer you were talking about.
Yeah. It’s so fun to see all these little pieces that kind of come together through movies. It’s like a chain of events that you can’t stop.
Yeah, it’s interesting.
So what is something that you enjoy doing around Christmas in real life with your family? Especially now that you have a toddler? I saw your pictures for Halloween; so adorable.
What kind of things do you have planned for your family? You don’t have to tell me everything that you don’t want to share, but inspirational things that people might get excited to hear about?
We’re still figuring all that out as a family. My wife and I have been married for a few years now. This is my son’s second Christmas, last year was his first one. So we’re all dipping our toes in the water. We’re still figuring that out. We’re going to go visit his grandparents and spend some time with family. And that’s really our only plan.
I’m sure if you ask me again in 10 years, I’ll have a detailed list of things that we go do as a family, but as of right now, the list is number one and it’s visit family, and after that, it’s question marks. I trust we’ll figure it out together over the years.
I’m sure you will. And I’d love that about you and your wife. And like I said, this movie reminded me of the person that I see of you on social media and actually in looking at the projects that you work on because you do so much together.
And it felt like in the movie, the characters were going to have that future if they could just find their way to get there. They do everything so well together, but they haven’t quite come around to love.
And it seems like that you and your wife kind of mirror that in that you’re working together and raising this family together. It seems like you’re so together, for lack of a better word.
That’s interesting that you put it that way. Actually, it speaks to how people view themselves on social media and view others on social media.
I thought Max and I were quite different people just from where he is internally at the start of the movie. It really took a leap for me to put myself in his perspective. I’ve never had that long-term pining before.
And that was something that was interesting for me to explore. Like my wife and I met, it was a date, that was the deal, and we were together ever since. There was never that period of me wanting her from afar.
So this was really interesting for me to get into a little bit because that’s something I’ve never experienced. So I got to experience that through this movie, what it’s like to truly love someone from a distance for that amount of time.
I don’t know that I could do it. How about you?
Oh man, no. And maybe that’s one of the ways Max and I are different. He’s a lot more dedicated and stronger than I am. I would’ve given up a long time ago.
Stronger is a good word because I think it takes a very dedicated and caring person to stand by somebody that they love, that they don’t feel like they’re getting that same love and return.
I think what ultimately brings Jen around, in the end, is that stability and that strength that she’s been not not noticing, but overlooking, perhaps, while she’s been more focused on other things. And I think seeing that rock of a man next to her and really opening her eyes and seeing him for the first time really helps her step through to that next level.
Yeah, that makes sense. And #Xmas is also a very comedic movie. There’s a lot of comedy.
Yeah, that was something our lovely director Heather leaned into that from the start. She said, “We’re making a comedy. Everyone’s on board. I want you to know it’s a comedy.” So we’re like, “Great. Let’s take the chains off. Let’s open it up a little bit. Let’s have some fun.” I always love doing comedy.
Is there anything you had done comedically in this that you hadn’t done in another movie before?
Hmm. I’ve actually not actually seen the final cut of the film yet. I would be interested to see what was kept from our little improvisational journeys. I’ve done movies before. I did a comedy early in my career called The Starving Games. It was a parody of the Hunger Games.
And the directors told us, they were like, “We love improv. Improv all you want. We want you to feel like you’re part of this and you’re connected to the character. So anything comes to your head, say it.” And then they cut 100% of all of that out of the movie.
Actually, it was good because it did loosen us up and got us into it. They had no intention of using it, but it was a trick to get us into character.
So I would be curious because we went off script quite a bit in this movie, sometimes fairly drastically.
And was that during the funny moments?
Yes. I would say most of those are probably are the funny moments. I don’t think we ever improved any heartbreak or anything like that.
It seems like it would be easy when you’re having fun and your characters are being goofy to let stuff like that flow out. But I don’t know that it would be good if you were crying and considering the foibles of your life.
Probably not. And I got to give credit to Claire Bowen and Heather, our lovely director, who really fostered that environment. And Claire is so lovely to play off of. She made my job so easy and simple.
All I had to do was just ride her wave the entire movie. So I’m very grateful to her for setting the tone of that fun atmosphere where we could play around and have fun.
Well, that’s wonderful.
Yeah, it was. Thank you.
Of course. And can you tell me a little bit about Alone in the Dark, which also came out recently? And is that something that you worked on with Kimberly?
Kim and I wrote that together; we both produced it. She acted in it, and it was my directorial feature debut. So I’ve never directed a future before; it was my first one. I’m quite proud of it, and I’m very proud to say it premiered at number one on Tubi.
So we did it. We did what we set out to do, which was make a movie that connected with people, and the audience on Tubi is really, really loving it so far. So I’m very grateful for that.
And did you make it in conjunction with Tubi? Is that something that you worked on with the network specifically, or did you have a script in circulation first?
Kim and I wrote the script with a studio called Marvista Entertainment. They brought us on to develop an idea they had in-house about this woman in a lake house dealing with a stalker.
So we took it from there, developed the whole movie, and then when we had written the script, and I was attached officially as a director, Marvista started shopping it around, and Tubi jumped at the film. They wanted it immediately, which was surprising and very great for us.
Yeah. They said, “We’re going to take it to market.” And a week later, they called us and said, “Oh, we have a buyer.” And I was like, “What?”
And how long did that take before you had a buyer, and then it was actually on Tubi?
So they bought this in early 2021, and we had planned on shooting it in the summer of 2021 in Chicago. But we ran into a lot of logistical problems with locations and actors and things like that.
So in one of the most heartbreaking moments of my entire career, Kim and I were in Chicago location scouting, casting actors, doing auditions, and we got the call that we were actually not going to make the movie this year. And so we had to get on a plane and come home with our tails between our legs.
But after a few months of limbo, they were finally like, “Okay, we need to make this in the spring, so we’re going to wait till next spring, and then we’ll commit to making it.” And when March rolled around, that’s what they did. So very grateful to them for that.
We thought it was gone at a point for sure. I thought, “There’s no way we’re going to continue this.”
Well, I’ve talked to so many people who have started projects like that, and they just disappear. And it’s like their dream is still with them.
Yeah. To me, I was like, “Well, they already put up the money to fly us out here and do all this stuff. They’re probably just going to cut their losses and move on.” But to their credit, they stuck with us. I’m very grateful that they did because now I have my first directing credit and …
And a number one.
And it was number one. And I think there are some really incredible performances in that movie. I’m very proud of it.
The FAST model, as they call it, with Tubi and Pluto and others, is really doing big business.
Yeah. I did not realize how big Tubi was, but it’s massive. It has a gigantic audience, and the fact that they have connected to the movie is more than I could ask for; I’m very grateful. So is everyone who’s watched it.
It’s owned by Fox, isn’t it?
It is. And so now is Marvista, actually. So the whole thing was in-house at Fox.
Right. And so now you’ve got that “in.”
Yeah, I’ll tell you, it was really pretty cool coming to Fox Studios every day to edit the movie. That was a treat.
Yeah, that’s really exciting.
Driving by Homer Simpson. [laughs]
Oh, nice! And you’re always pursuing other interests. You still make time for holiday movies and other delightful romances on networks like Hallmark. Why is maintaining that connection important to you?
As I get older and as I watch my son get older, I want to make sure that I’m putting content out in the world that he doesn’t have to wait 20 years to watch.
Like, I am so proud of Pretty Little Liars. I’m so proud of 50 Shades of Grey. I don’t want him watching those things yet.
Very good plan, Brant. [laughs]
I mean, I’m not trying to get Parent of the Year over here, but I think no to showing my kids Fifty Shades of Gray.
Well, he’s not even two yet, is he?
No, he’s not.
Yeah, it might be a little too much if you plop him in front of the TV with that.
I don’t think his attention span could handle it, quite frankly. But when The Baker’s Son aired, and when a Royal Runaway Romance aired on Hallmark, he was right there watching it with us. And he would point to the TV and go, “Da-da.” And I’m like, “That was.”
Oh, that’s so cute.
That was a moment I’ll never forget. Like that moment in itself was worth every 4:00 AM wake up, every trip to Vancouver to film, and every long day on set. So that’s why I do it. I want to make sure my kid can see what I do.
It’s something that not only my 19-month-old son can watch but my 90-something-year-old grandmother loves too. She was not the biggest fan of 50 Shade of Grey, I’ll tell you that. [laughs]
[laughs] Oh, I don’t know why.
So she’s always ecstatic when I’m doing another Hallmark movie. So I’m happy to continue doing them. I’m putting that love and happiness out into the world.
And what’s your message to fans for the holiday season? I believe this movie’s dropping on Thanksgiving weekend.
Yeah, it’s really great time slot. We got the day after Thanksgiving when everyone will be home with their family. So hey, tune in to #XMAS. We’re currently writing a Christmas movie, and I just acted in a Christmas movie. I feel like I’ve been living in Christmas for six months. So come join me. Get on my level.
I would love that. Come join me in Christmas time. I’ve been living here for a long time, I would love some friends; let’s celebrate.
#Xmas premieres on Hallmark Channel on Friday, November 25 at 6/5c, and Alone In the Dark is streaming on Tubi.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.