Erin Krakow is a real-life Hallmark princess who has been integral to bringing romance and drama to the network with When Calls the Heart and many movies fans adore.
Tonight, she stars in The Wedding Cottage about a woman who makes a promise about a wedding venue without realizing it was no longer available and her efforts to convince its owner (Brendan Penny) that reopening the venue would be in everyone's best interests, including his own.
Gracious as always, Erin spoke with TV Fanatic about The Wedding Cottage and what's ahead for When Calls the Heart Season 10 (and 11!).
Erin loves working with Hallmark and what she's been able to create with the creatives at the network, so staying with them even when her successful series is not in production makes all the sense in the world.
"It's a really wonderful thing to be an artist and to feel like you have a creative home for your work," she said. "And Hallmark has really provided me and so many others with that home. I wouldn't even think about leaving because I am so happy where I am."
Erin has always been doing more than one thing while at the network. Her first project was Chance at Romance, but she had already auditioned for and been offered her role on When Calls the Heart.
Still, she couldn't have imagined that When Calls the Heart would still be going strong or that she'd have so many other wonderful opportunities.
"I couldn't have told you that with any certainty. I mean, absolutely not. But I will say that I felt the warm, loving embrace of Hallmark from very early on. And I knew that we had something special with When Calls the Heart from the beginning.
"Specific to me, it felt like a really good fit. I just felt like there was something right about it. But beyond that, I got a sense as we were making season one that we really had something special, and I saw a future with the show.
"I didn't know that it would create such an incredible fan base that the Hearties would rally around us and support us in the way that they have. And for that, I'm forever grateful. But I did feel early on that we had something special."
I had been covering Army Wives for TV Fanatic and enjoyed Erin in her role as Tanya Gabriel. To me, When Calls the Heart was an exciting departure from that role. Erin sees things differently.
"It's interesting to hear you say that because I saw these two characters as actually having quite a bit of overlap being these strong women who were brave and doing something that took a lot of courage, but there was a real soft center, and both could really show their vulnerable sides as well."
One thing the characters did have in common was that their characters grew exponentially through their dynamic storytelling arcs, and Erin has been thrilled with Elizabeth's growth on When Calls the Heart.
"People have asked me over the years, do you ever get bored playing the same character on a show that has been around for this many seasons? And the answer is really no.
"I mean, one because I just have a great time with our cast and crew. But, two, because Hallmark and our writers and showrunners over the years have given me a great gift in that Elizabeth has never become stagnant. It isn't repetitive. It's a real honest depiction of a woman going through these various chapters in her life.
"And sometimes those are grief-filled chapters; sometimes they're full of joy. But it's felt like every season, I've had an interesting new challenge or chapter to work through and that keeps me invested and challenged as an actor."
One such arc involved Elizabeth being courted by two fan-favorite characters, Lucas (Chris McNally) and Nathan (Kevin McGarry), which created two distinct camps that felt that one was better suited than the other for our dear Elizabeth.
As the story played out, Elizabeth chose Lucas, and Nathan fans were livid, some promising never to watch the show or Hallmark again.
Erin didn't necessarily see that as a negative experience, though.
"I will start by saying I think it's a real testament to Kevin and Chris and Penny Perry, our casting director, and all the executives and everybody who put a lot of time and energy and thought into casting these two roles.
"But Kevin and Chris especially brought so much to their parts that they made it a real challenge. I mean, our fans were torn; they were super passionate about their teams. They were invested.
"So I give a lot of credit to all of the people involved with bringing Kevin and Chris on board, but especially Kevin and Chris for what they brought to those characters. "I can understand why people were so passionate about it.
"Also, especially after what Elizabeth had been through, they wanted to make sure that she was set up with the right guy. And it makes me feel good that they were protective of her."
Despite all of that, she was less crazy about some of the negativity resulting from the story and still receives hurtful messages from fans, which she tries to ignore.
"For the most part, the negativity has calmed down. And I would say that our show is very much an ensemble. It's not just about Elizabeth's romantic journey, and so there's so much story for every viewer, regardless of what 'team' you were on.
"And I have found that even those who said that they would never watch again are still with us, and they're enjoying the stories because there's so much heart on When Calls the Heart."
Erin believes When Calls the Heart will deliver a lot more heart in "pretty major ways," but she wasn't willing to give up too much. With Elizabeth's relationship with Lucas growing, Rosemary and Lee expecting their first baby, and more new residents moving to Hope Valley, there is a lot of excitement on the horizon.
Here's what Erin could say about the upcoming season.
"As you said, there's a baby on the way, which is very, very exciting. We do have some new characters to mix things up a little bit. I know people are anxious for Nathan to find love. Lucas and Elizabeth are continuing to explore their relationship and the various challenges that come with it as they learn more and more about each other.
"Oh gosh, what else? There are some other new flirtations that you'll see in town. There's just a great sense of community. We have some music coming up in Season 10, which is a little new and different for us, and that was really fun to get to film."
"It's very validating," Erin said of the early renewal. "I mean, it feels so good. I'm super grateful to Hallmark that they are keeping us going. We're thrilled to be going back, and it's nice that we don't have to wait so long for a pickup.
"It's lovely for us and for the fans and for our writers because they're already hard at work on Season 11 coming up with new storylines for everyone. And I have been hearing a lot about them, and it's going to be a really great season."
Before we began talking about The Wedding Cottage, we wanted to touch on the enduring love for some of Erin's other Hallmark work, in particular, It Was Alway You, in which she starred with TV Fanatic friend Tyler Hynes.
"Yeah, it was a good one, right? I mean, there was just something about it. When I first read the script -- Kathy Clovis is a brilliant writer, and when I first read it, I thought, oh, this is good. It also felt unique. It felt a little risky, I'll say.
"It was kind of an interesting topic for Hallmark. And I was thrilled to get to work with Tyler; he's so talented. We were both going through some interesting times in our lives, and we were really there for each other to lean on each other.
"He's a good guy and was just very present, very present in every scene. He's super talented. And I mean, I'll speak for myself. I do continue to see the fan art and the petitions, and people are super passionate about that movie and want a sequel or want to see a Tyler and Erin reunion in another project.
"And we have both said we would be very happy to work together again on a sequel or on another project. So hopefully, it will happen sooner than later to satisfy the Hynies Facebook group," she laughed.
Time will tell if The Wedding Cottage will have the same traction as some earlier hits, but it has a lot going for it.
"This was another great script, super fun. She's tenacious that Vanessa, and she is just on a mission, and she has to win over Evan, as you said, played by Brendan, who was just a dream to work with.
"Yeah, she's like a little spitfire, and I feel like you don't necessarily realize it right at the beginning of the movie, but you learn more and more about her as we go. And she's going to stop at nothing until she's able to do what she needs to do to deliver the wedding of this couple's dreams."
Vanessa's journey finds her discovering that there is always a happy ever after at The Wedding Cottage.
"She learns that things don't have to be perfect in order to be good, which is a lesson that I am constantly trying to learn in my own life. She learns that she might be one of those happily ever after as well as she finds a love connection with the grumpy old Evan."
Grumpy Evan wants to protect his privacy and retain the cottage for himself, but Vanessa uses various methods to lure him into her corner.
"She's showing up and offering to bring him breakfast and coffee every day. She's bending over backward to make his life easier. So I mean, she's not a total pest," Erin laughed.
Speaking of laughter, it seems there was a lot of it on set, as Erin and Brendan discovered they share a sense of humor. Of filming with Brendan, Erin said, "It was a hoot. He is so funny. I cracked up so hard every day.
"There was just a lot of laughter on set. It was a great, great time. So joyful. He's super prepared and just on it. There's not a lazy bone in that body. I mean, he might disagree with that, but I feel like he's a real pro. And I was really looking forward to working with him.
"Obviously, I knew of Brendan; we have a lot of friends in common, and I knew that he was great from his work on Chesapeake Shores; it was really fun to get to have a little Chesapeake Shores When Calls the Heart crossover moment, bringing the Chessies and Hearties together. That's super fun. So I hope that that's meaningful for the viewers.
"But Brendan was a real delight. I was so thrilled to hear that he would be taking on the role of Evan because it felt like a great fit for him. But he exceeded my every expectation when we started working together on set and off. He's just pretty extraordinary."
As for the sense of humor she loved? "It's dumb," Erin said sheepishly. "It's just kind of dumb. He's just a goofball. It's not like you're sitting around, and he's telling me thoughtful riddles every day, and I'm just like, oh, aren't you a... I mean, it's just true silliness.
"And I think part of what I like about it is that he finds me to be silly and funny as well. So we kind of riff off each other, and there's a mutual appreciation for each other's dumb sense of humor. Yeah, I guess I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge that element as well."
That made me laugh, as I have what would be considered a dumb sense of humor, too, so I prodded her further for an example of hers, and it doesn't disappoint.
"Okay, I like really doing bad Photoshop of people. And so if Brendan made a comment about something, I might Photoshop an unflattering photo of his face onto something else, and then I'll text him that photo, and he'll just lose it laughing over this dumb, bad Photoshop. So that's an example of something silly I do."
I laughed, teasingly wondering if we needed to rally for more Hallmark roles if she's got so much extra time on her hands. She laughed, "When I say it's bad, this is not good. I'm, like, not a graphic designer, but I manage enough that you get the gist."
It's awesome that she shares a little part of her silliness in that way with others, and it sounds like The Wedding Cottage set was the perfect environment for it.
"It was a very silly fun time, and I got the sense from everyone involved, cast and crew, that we were all pretty sad when it ended because it was such a positive experience that everyone really wanted it to keep going."
To finish up the conversation, I wanted to chat briefly about the changes at Hallmark with regard to new initiatives and content. Erin is very excited about those changes and ushering in more diversity on camera and a new era of storytelling. Still, she feels for fans and creatives involved with Good Witch and Chesapeake Shores for what they lost, too.
"I think that's always sad because I know what it feels like to build a family on a show, and I don't even want to think about what it would feel like when, oh gosh, I don't want to say it, When Calls the Heart does one day come to an end.
"But I can appreciate that things have a natural moment where maybe they do come to a close, and I'm so excited for Hallmark about their new programming. I think it's a really exciting new chapter.
"Between The Way Home and Ride, which is on now, they're really exciting new shows, and they're pushing the envelope, digging deeper, going further, but still delivering those heartwarming stories that everyone wants out of their Hallmark programming."
"And truly, I think that we all show up to set every day with a real appreciation for what we get to do and the time we have together. So maybe it's just an intensifying or growing feeling of gratitude, which actually I hope manifests in the work as well.
"It's like they say, when people are truly friends off-screen, you can see it onscreen. I think that's the case with our show as well. But I hope that gratitude and appreciation are apparent as well in the episodes this season."
There is so much to look forward to this summer on Hallmark, and the next wonderful thing, The Wedding Cottage, airs tonight at 8/7c.
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.