Danica McKellar is one of our favorite people to chat with because she's so very alive when talking about what she loves.
That includes Hallmark, her son, and the holidays among other things. She talked a little bit about all of that and a lot more as she promoted Hallmark's Christmas She Wrote, airing this Sunday on Hallmark. She stars with Dylan Neal, who we also had a chance to speak with regarding the film.
Get yourself a cup of hot cocoa and snuggle up with a blanket and find out more from Danica with our interview, which has been edited for clarity and content.
I just got off the phone with Dylan Neal, so I'm all in Christmas She Wrote mode.
How's he doing? He says you had a really good time filming. We did. We did. I didn't know what it was going to be like. It was the first movie that I'd done in the era of COVID, and it was fine. Obviously, there were lots of cautions. Every morning you checked in, and we got tested every week.
And one interesting thing was that before... So obviously, I'm not ruining it by telling you there's a big kiss at the end. We had to gargle with hydrogen peroxide between every take, and it was like this whole thing.
And the first time they gave it to me, it was so strong I thought my mouth was going to be on fire. I was like, I don't think I'm going to be able to feel my mouth anymore, I don't know how this will go, but it was fine. I got used to it. It was a lot of masks, but it was fine. It really didn't cause that many delays. I was very impressed.
So I figure, as a writer yourself, you might've been able to connect with your character of Kayleigh. What can you tell me about Kayleigh and her journey?
Yeah, so even more so than being a writer, I do these motivational talks every Monday. I do make McKellar Motivational Monday, a live broadcast on my Instagram, Facebook Live, and Twitter, and I've been doing it for years, and I just pick a topic, and it's really about being your best self.
It could be anything. It could be that not holding on to anger. It could be about motivating to exercise, all sorts of topics. And my character Kayleigh King writes an advice column. It's a self-help column called Your Best Self.
And when I first read it, I was like, wait, did they write this for me? It was kind of crazy. But no, because they actually had given me a couple of different scripts to look at, and this just happened to be one of them.
So that's a really cool thing to have in common, but yes, I actually wrote an advice column when I was 14. When I was 14 until I was 18, and called Teen Beat magazine it was called Dear Danica.
I did; it was like Dear Abby, Dear Danica, yeah. And so I actually tried to get ahold of... I don't have... I wonder if my mom has an old magazine because I did that for four years.
I've always had this desire to connect with people and sort of anything that I've gone through in my life to share and philosophize about how we can really be our best self, the best version of ourselves.
We all have choices in every moment and every day of our lives and how we can do that and maximize that to have the best experience on this planet that we can.
So she's got an advice column called Your Best Self, and that's how it starts. She's got this advice column at a New York newspaper.
The paper business is struggling because everything is going digital. But right before Christmas, she finds out her boss has been fired and replaced by someone new. This guy, Tripp Wyndham, played by Dylan Neal, he fires me. He's been tasked with making budget cuts and layoffs, and without even reading my column, he fires me.
This one was of the "he said, she said" variety. I want to know what he said. What did Dylan say? He didn't even read my column. I mean, how do you fire somebody not even knowing what you're firing?
So I found that incredibly insulting. And during the week he fires me, I'm like, did you ever read it? And he ignores the question. So he doesn't know what he's done. My column was very popular.
His boss gets really angry that I was fired because the readers are really upset. You have to get her back. And now I've already left. I've already gone back home to Pineberry for Christmas to spend it with my sister and niece feeling incredibly insulted and disrespected.
The guy didn't even care what my column was about. He just was looking at the numbers and just cut me. And not even looking at my popularity, just like, oh, well we don't need a self-help column, let's just cross that one off the list. So he comes back, Mr. Smiley, trying to get me back.
I'm like, he can't just snap his fingers, and I'll come running back. There's no way. And I actually start my own column there in the local paper called Your Best Christmas Self and use it to inspire the neighborhood and help people find a Christmas spirit again.
And he sticks around, and I call him Scrooge at one point in the movie early on, and he starts to become a little less Scroogey as the movie goes on, and he's still trying to win me back. And things might work out really well. I'm just saying.
What a shock!
Yeah! It's really fun Christmasy stuff when they were just ice skating, snowman building. Actually, the ice skating, so I am on social media, as I mentioned, I'm also on TikTok. And on TikTok, I did a TikTok describing, because I'm not an ice skater. I can't skate to save my life.
I mean, if I'm holding onto the rail, I can do fine. And then after an hour or so, I'm warmed up, and I can kind of get around. But my character's supposed to be a fantastic ice skater.
Like he's saying, "Look, I want you to come back to the column." And I say, "Well, I'll think about it if you can catch me." And I get up, and I bolt across the ice; this was not going to happen. And when I read the script, I told the director, I said, "I love the script. So excited, but there's something you should know. This is not going to be me on the ice."
So we got a skating double, which is fine. But there's a scene, and so while I'm skating, they put me on this rig so that it could be a close up while I'm actually skating. I made a TikTok about this, and it went totally viral.
Like I don't do that many TikToks. They get a couple of hundred thousand views. This one has like 8.6 million views, all about me not being able to ice skate, which kind of funny. People love seeing what I can't do, I guess. I don't know.
Were you on the rig in your TikTok?
Yeah. It shows the whole thing, and it's like four TikToks ago. I only do a couple a month because they take me a while, but if I get inspired, then I'll do one. And I was inspired to do that. And Ava Telek, the girl who plays my niece, she is the one who filmed me.
I was like, "Here. You always go to young people if you want to do a TikTok because they know what's going on. Can you film me for TikTok?" "Absolutely." I didn't have to explain what it was. She was down, and by the way, everyone else, everybody, and I mean, cast, crew, you name it. They could totally skate because they're Canadians.
The director was even like, "Come on. I mean, it can't be that bad." So I stood up on the ice and I kind of made my way to him, and he's like, "I'll take your hands, " and he goes, "Yeah, no. We're not going to have you skate in this movie."
I bet you can run rings around them in the math department.
Yeah, everybody has their thing, Danica.
Everyone's got their thing. You can be good at everything. This is not one of mine.
You can't be perfect at everything!
You're funny. They edited it great; you'd never know except that I'm telling everybody in my video that has 8.7 million views, so everyone's going to know watching it, but it's kind of fun. People like that behind the scenes stuff.
Yes. Yes, and the movie magic and being in on it makes a movie more exciting sometimes.
Yes, absolutely. I agree.
So is the Matchmaker Mysteries series still a go? Are you going to do more of those?
Yes, yes. We actually shoot the next one in January.
Yeah, and so here's a funny thing.
Any hints you can give us?
Well, one thing I will say, I'm not going to give any hints about this coming episode, but in the previous episode, the guy who played my ex-boyfriend, Dan Payne, is in this movie [Christmas She Wrote] and plays my ex-boyfriend.
Well, part of the story I didn't mention, so part of the reason why I don't usually go back home for the holidays is that five years prior, my boyfriend, my fiance decided that he should, he's a doctor, he decided that he needed to go to Haiti to build hospitals and wanted to change his life.
And I wasn't moving across the world to a foreign country away from my family away from, at that point, my character was a therapist that just wasn't, it just wasn't going to work for me. And so I was kind of hoping he'd stay, but he did take the opportunity, and he left.
But he comes home for Christmas every year, and so I usually avoid being home for Christmas because of that. And sure enough, we run into each other, which becomes complicated because he's decided to move back to Pineberry. And it's a really fun love triangle on top of everything else. It's really fun. I love those awkward scenes.
It's like, oh, you were expecting to see somebody. And there's plenty of that in this movie. It's really fun. There's also a really fun scene where I make dinner. I make a holiday dinner, and my sister invites Tripp without telling me and then tells me at the last minute. And then Dan, my ex-boyfriend, shows up to return a scarf that I had left somewhere.
And so it was like both guys end up at this family dinner. So awkward. And my character is a terrible cook but doesn't really know how bad she is because everyone pretends to like the really horrible food. There's a lot of comedy in this movie. It's just a lot of fun. People are going to like it.
Does Dan feel bad that he's always in second place?
He's like, "So we aren't together in any of these?" But I'll be live-tweeting for the movie, and I'll be doing some giveaways, too. So on set, actors have what are called sides, and I write all over mine. I write notes about what my character is thinking when she says it and like references.
And so since this movie is called Christmas She Wrote, and I wrote all over the sides, and I saved them just because I'm a big nerd. I thought you know what, it'd be kind of fun to give away. There'll be an opportunity to win some of these for people who are watching live, tweeting with me.
I think they're going to have to answer questions about what's going on in the movie. It's going to be a lot of fun. I love Twitter parties. I'm actually really, really good at writing back to almost everybody.
I mean, I can't say everybody because I don't want to break any promises here, but I make it my goal to answer every person who tweets me. So basically, I'm tweeting the whole time. I rarely get to watch the movie, so it's good that I've seen it because I watch it beforehand.
You guys! This is the week! My brand new movie "Christmas She Wrote" premieres Sunday Dec 6th at 8pm/7pmC on @hallmarkchannel Join my Twitter watch party - make a plan to watch and tweet with me, using the hashtag #ChristmasSheWrote !!🎄🥰🎬@DylanNealStudio @actorDanPayne pic.twitter.com/1iXDQvozhl— Danica McKellar (@danicamckellar) December 1, 2020
It's really fun. You spend all this time preparing to shoot a movie and then shooting it and then watching it; it's so fun to involve the community and the whole country watching at the same time and answering questions and giving behind the scenes tidbits as people are watching stuff. So it's just a lot of fun, live-tweeting.
Last time we talked, you had mentioned that you were working with No Kid Hungry, connecting with fans using the cameo service. Are you still doing that, too?
I am. In fact, I had 11 cameos waiting for me to do, which I'll be doing when I get off the phone with you, actually. Yes, they're coming in. They come in a lot more when you get near the holidays. I remember last year I was doing; I don't know, a couple of different nights, like right before Christmas, I was doing 30 a night. That takes a long time.
Yeah, it's like three to four minutes for each one where I read it, think about what I'm going to say, and then record it, and then I have to upload it, but it's so great. I've been focusing on a lot of foster care charities and child trafficking charities now, in addition to No Kid Hungry or Project Angel Food.
If we're going to be accurate about it, these days, I've been focusing the cameo proceeds on places like Child Health, which is doing amazing work for kids, any kind of abuse whatsoever.
My Stuff Bags, a great organization that's helping kids who are getting pulled out of their homes, abusive homes, and getting thrown into foster care. They have nothing of their own, and you give bags of stuff, brings so much comfort to these kids. Every bag has a blanket and an age-appropriate book and a toy and a stuffed animal to hold on to, and toiletries, things like that.
My Stuff Bags, I love them. I've been supporting that charity forever. For almost 20 years, I first learned about them back in; I think it was 2002. So they're wonderful people, and I've been donating to them, and I have a whole bank account simply dedicated now to cameos money come in and sending out.
So I can actually tell you what my last few donations were. Yeah, No Kid Hungry, Help Erase Child Trafficking, Project Angel Food, Love 146, and Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
My pleasure! 🥰 RT @DTFA: Actress and author @danicamckellar recently hosted a livestream to raise awareness and support for the Foundation’s mission. Thank you, Danica! Your generosity will help find forever families for more children waiting in #FosterCare. pic.twitter.com/3BKhd3s1Og— Danica McKellar (@danicamckellar) December 3, 2020
It's kids for me. Baby to Baby is another one.
And that really makes doing the cameos much more special, I think.
Oh yeah. I mean, I have such an opportunity like somebody wants their favorite to say happy birthday or Merry Christmas and give a little behind the scenes tidbit about one of their favorite movies, and just like that.
So I charge $150, and Cameo takes 25%, and 75% goes to the bank account that I told you I use for charity donations. 100% of that goes. Just like that, $112 has gone to a charity, and I do 10 at a time.
Welcome to #TrainingTuesdays : https://t.co/hk2TbFLkpZ Learn the signs of human trafficking & send me a screenshot of your certificate so I can thank you for joining the fight! Let's create a world of watchdogs. 👊 #endchildtrafficking #EndHumanTrafficking @OURrescue @TimBallard pic.twitter.com/EKADCpR5tS— Danica McKellar (@danicamckellar) November 24, 2020
My grandmother, my late grandmother, used to say, "Danica, do you know that you can make people happy just by saying hello to them. Do you know what a gift that is?" And I do, and now I can take it even further than that.
Just not making somebody happy, putting a smile on their face during this weird year, and bringing smiles to kids' faces who don't have a lot to smile about necessarily.
We also had talked about you doing homeschooling videos with Penguin Random House. How did that go?
Yeah, I just made them on my own and then tagged them. It wasn't like a sponsored thing. It was just me wanting to help kids and parents who are struggling at home.
I mean, thank goodness a lot of the schools have gone back, but a lot of parents still need that extra help. And I knew that I could help beyond just my math books I've been doing for a long time.
I'm sure I've mentioned this to you before, I've got math books for ages zero to 16. They're all at KellarMath.com, and over the summer, my book The Times Machines came out. I don't know if you and I talked before then. We might have talked before that.
So The Times Machine is my 10th book. It came out over the late summer, and it finally closes the gap. So now, no matter how old your kid is between zero and 16, I have a book for you.
And The Times Machine is multiplication and division really grades second through fifth. Anyone who's learning their multiplication tables and learning long division, that kind of stuff. It's in there.
It's all in graphics, cartoons; it's like a graphic novel, kind of really fun little stories and silly stuff to help kids remember their multiplication tables, which I'd never seen before.
I've never seen a book that actually helped kids memorize multiplication tables with silly stories and silly fun poems and visuals. It was really gratifying to be able to do that because when parents are still struggling at home, they don't know how to teach the kids their lessons.
And yes, my books do have that stuff in it too, but also a great way to spend your time at home if your kid needs to learn her multiplication tables is to have them memorize the multiplication tables because that doesn't take a lot of... There's no strategy and big math concepts for parents to have to try to understand.
It's "here's a fun story, so you remember that six times seven is 42." Great. I'm really happy about that. So long way of saying the math thing has obviously been how I've been able to contribute to parents and help their kids get educated.
But now, just realizing how many more parents are dealing with school at home, I had something to offer there. So yeah, I made those videos back in April and May, maybe.
And they're still on my Instagram profile page. If you go to those circles, I think they're called highlights. One of them is called school at home for parents to see that.
Was there anything else that you dove into in the time that you had away from filming and stuff? Knowing you, you probably have three more projects in the works.
I'm working on a book that comes out in 2022, but I'm not talking about it yet. It's another fun book, sort of more somewhat like 10 Magic Butterflies, but it's more of a story with a little bit of math snuck in. It's not so much like teaching like The Times Machine's really teaching concepts. So it's going to be more of a fun book.
And looking forward to Matchmaker Mysteries coming up here and more homeschooling my little boy, just trying to enjoy every moment of motherhood that I possibly can. He's 10 years old now. I love every minute of it. Trying just to absorb him.
I'm going to brag about my child now. He's so smart, and he's so sweet and such a big heart. And so he's 10, so he's got all that intelligence and life experience now to really be able to have real conversations with, but he still just wants to snuggle at night.
And I know you guys have a lot of special Christmas traditions. You talked last year about your chocolate yule log that your mother passed down the recipe. What's on your agenda to make this Christmas feel more special?
Well, I mean, I'll do the yule log again, for sure. Decorating the house. We've already started decorating. It'll probably be smaller again like Thanksgiving was a little smaller, but here's a funny thing, actually. So my son has graduated in terms of Christmas.
I think he knows what that means, and I don't want to ruin Christmas or Santa for anybody, but so Elf on the Shelf is something that kind of started when he was already like a little bit older, but I just started it last year, and my son absolutely hates Elf on the Shelf.
I don't know what it is, but it's so hilarious that it's irresistible. So I can wait to start Elf on the Shelf again. He's like, "Mom, I know you placed them." "No, I didn't." "Come on, this is really stupid; I hate it."
[laughing]Is there something wrong with me? I love torturing my child with Elf on the Shelf!
#HallmarkStar @danicamckellar gives us a special glimpse at her upcoming #CountdownToChristmas movie #ChristmasSheWrote! Tune in for the premiere SUNDAY at 8pm/7c on @hallmarkchannel. pic.twitter.com/el1fRvH2G7— Home & Family (@HomeandFamilyTV) December 4, 2020
You know what, you're torturing him with Elf on the Shelf, that's a good torture.
I think he likes how much he hates it. I don't know if that makes any sense.
I think he likes how much I like torturing. It's so funny. I don't even know how to describe it. He's just like, "Mom, don't bring out Elf on the Shelf." I guess you could say it's a little bit creepy too, but in a funny way. Anyway, I can't wait. I can't wait to figure out the first hiding spot. He's with his dad right now; we share custody. So in a few days, I'll start.
On all the shelves!
We just have one right now, but that's an interesting idea. Maybe they'll multiply. Hey, look; there's more! It's like the 12 days of Christmas.
If you're going to have an evil streak, it's not so bad?
Yeah, that's not such a bad "evil" streak. Put a cookie or a candy in each one of his hands.
I can't wait. I'm going to be using my creativity to figure out some really fun, new things. I will say I'm very much looking forward to; I want to say I'm not just someone in Hallmark Christmas movies.
I love watching them. I've got my socks, and I've got my blanket that says, "Shh, Hallmark Channel's on," and I have a whole bunch of my friends' movies DVRed, and I am going to start. I wrap presents to Hallmark movies, and I brined my Turkey to Hallmark movies for Thanksgiving.
I just love it. It's just such a great time of year. It gets dark sooner, so I tend to turn the TV on earlier, too, kind of snuggle up sooner.
Do you have a favorite one? Did you have a favorite one that you've seen so far this year? I know you don't really want to single anybody out.
I don't want to single anybody out because I have friends in almost all of them, so I don't want to single anyone out, but they're all great. They're all great. And they're a lot more creative ones this year, too, I noticed. Some different storylines. It's really fun to see more variety, but it's all great.
It's always with that warm, happy glow of a Hallmark movie. You always finish watching a Hallmark movie feeling better than you felt when you turned it on. That's the magic of what I get to be a part of, and I'm so grateful to be a part of that. Especially this year.
We all need a little more Christmas this year, and we all need a little more Hallmark this year. That's how I feel about it.
People always complain about Christmas starting too early until this year.
Not this year.
This year, they're like bring on the Christmas.
Bring it on. Hallmark Channel shows Christmas movies in March for three weekends and then again, Christmas in July, of course, and starting before Halloween.
So yeah, you're right. Nobody complained this year.
Not a single complaint. Everybody's like, bring it on. We're ready. We're ready to escape.
Yeah, we're ready to feel good and remember the happy family connection and all those good things that Hallmark makes you feel.
Be sure to tune into Hallmark Channel on Sunday, December 6 at 8/7 to see Danica on Christmas She Wrote.
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, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.