Haylie Duff and Aaron O'Connell star as a couple in love in Lifetime's Blending Christmas.
O'Connell's character decides on a Christmas proposal that includes extended family from both sides, which turns out to be a little more complicated than he imagined. Thankfully, with The Brady Bunch's Barry Williams, Susan Olsen, Christopher Knight, and Mike Lookinland around, complications didn't overshadow the love.
We had a chance to talk with Aaron about the movie, and his peek inside of The Brady Bunch magic.
Hi, Aaron. How are you?
Hi, Carissa. How's it going? I'm doing great here. How are you?
I'm doing good. Thank you for asking.
You've got quite a few Christmas romcoms under your belt. Why do you keep coming back to those?
I just enjoy spreading the holiday cheer?
I love doing the holiday films, because I just feel like, with all of the stuff in today's day and age and everything that happens throughout the course of the year, I feel like the holiday season is really an important part, where families and friends can come together and spend time together.
And these films, I feel like, are such a great way for people to do just that. So any time I get an opportunity to be a part of these holiday films, I try to jump at it. And yeah, fortunately, I've got a couple of them under my belt now.
Yeah, you do. And it looks like you have more coming.
I do. Yep.
Are there any storylines that you'd prefer not to be a part of? If somebody throws a Christmas movie your way, do you just pick it, or do you have some standard on what Christmas do you want to represent?
I'm fortunate because most of the scripts that I've been given have been good scripts that I've kind of fallen in love with the stories as they've come to me. My manager, Gordon Gilbert, knows what I enjoy doing, and Blending Christmas is a perfect example of that kind of material.
But I wouldn't say there's really anything that's been a holiday film that's come across my way, where I've kind of been like, "Eh, I don't know. I don't know about that."
Usually, I've been playing a lot of the ad executives. I've been playing a lot of the kind of the guy that's just too busy and can't buy Christmas gifts for his girlfriend or wife or is trying to propose. So there's a little something in each one of these holiday movies. I feel like that that is something that I've really enjoyed playing in terms of the story.
But I don't think that there's really anything that I say, "That's going to be a deal-breaker," in these holiday films. It does have to have an arc, though. I mean, there has to have some sort of something going on, so it's not just ... What's the word?
So I guess, by the time you start it, you know exactly what's going to happen in the end. I like to have at least some stuff that gives it some arc and character arc as well.
A little bit of mystery.
Yeah. A little bit of that. Yeah. Yeah. And I like to obviously put myself in a lot of these characters too, which makes it more fun and makes it obviously more believable.
And fortunately, with Blending Christmas, the cast is incredible. And Haylie was such a sweetheart and great actress and so easy to work with. It really made it easy for me to fit into the character of Liam.
I've asked other people this as well. Because once you have a few of these under your belt, I mean, I wonder for you as an actor, do you sometimes feel like you're playing yourself in inserting more of yourself into the character than the character is? And how do you differentiate between them?
Yeah, that's a good question. So in terms of, when I get a script, to begin with, whether it's Blending Christmas or something else that I've done, I kind of make a little tree in a sense, the things that the character, I feel like, needs in this film.
I've obviously got my characteristics and the things that I've gone through in my life, where I can pull emotion, energy from those and kind of blend them into Liam or these characters.
I think basically playing more of myself into these characters always seems to make these characters more believable. And it probably comes with my acting education, acting experience in training and coaching growing up, because I feel like one of the books that I really, really was drawn to was No Acting Please.
And the whole premise of that book was to use your life and use your life experiences to draw emotion for the character or whatever it is you're playing.
Now, there may be certain experiences in the script that I haven't exactly gone through, but I felt that feeling of being down and out and having nobody to turn to before.
I felt different feelings throughout the script that I can pull from. So I try to put most of myself in these characters as much as possible, that way the emotion rings true.
That's a good way of looking at it. So describe Liam and his plans for Emma in your own words.
Yeah. So Liam is in love with Emma obviously. He's got this plan to secretly propose to her, and he thinks, "Hey, there's no better place than Hacienda de la Sierra, which is where Emma's character grew up spending the holidays together.
And his goal is to get both families to be there for the proposal, which is interesting. Because when I proposed in my real life, my whole goal was to surprise my now wife with both of our families at this kind of place.
I mean, there are so many parallels in the script. And so, I was like, pretty easy to pull some of these emotions because I've actually done this exact thing.
Yeah. So anyway, Liam's goal is to get these families there for the proposal, and it just becomes a big stress fest of trying to blend these families together. It really put the strain on Emma and Liam's relationship. And so, right before Christmas, everybody tries to get together, to reunite Emma and Liam back together.
And that's what I think is so beautiful about this film is that we've got the Brady Bunch on both sides of the aisle here, trying to make it happen. I know I'm kind of going off on a tangent, but what was so fun about that is that our first day on set, I mean, the Brady actors pick up right where they left off.
You can tell they are a family outside of the business. So it's funny to see them play on two different sides of the aisle, and yet they are all best friends. But yeah, I think that's Liam in a nutshell. It is interesting how there are so many parallels in my proposal compared to that in Blending Christmas.
That's really cool. It's like a written for you. It's funny-
Yeah, I watched it, and I thought, "Well, he's just such a good guy." Liam does everything right. I mean, their fight, their little spat was just so minor. You never had to worry about it because they were both so caring about one another without any explosive drama.
Well, I know what you're saying because, for a couple to break up, there's got to be something huge, let alone getting ready to propose. So I think it really encompasses the stress of trying to make this proposal perfect, trying to get all of the families and everybody there, and taking time out of their busy schedules.
And so, I think Liam wants the best for Emma, and he knows that he is capable of doing that.
But I feel like, when it's not going the way that you think it's supposed to go in your head and what you wish it would be for Emma, you kind of sit back and go, "Man, what am I doing? Should I be doing this? Is this the right time? Should I be proposing right now? Should I bag it for now and figure it out later?"
And I think that's what's beautiful about the families kind of coming together and saying, "Hey, we can figure this out. We're a family." And that's obviously in the title, Blending Christmas. Blending the families together can be challenging at times, but also beautiful.
And especially since the Brady Bunch was the ultimate blended family.
That's exactly right. That's exactly right.
You weren't exactly the target audience for a Brady Bunch reunion. So how much did you know about The Brady Bunch and the actors that were coming into play your family members before this movie?
Yeah, that's a great question. I didn't watch a lot of The Brady Bunch growing up, but when I knew I would be doing this film, I watched it. I mean, I had seen snippets here and there, but I didn't watch it religiously, like my parents growing up.
So I watched some episodes, and I got to kind of put names to faces. Again, I knew them, but I didn't really know them like my parents did.
And so, when I met Chris and Mike and Susan and Barry, I was able to see these actors that I had just been kind of, not really studying, I guess, studying a little bit, to kind of see what they're about and how they come off on camera.
It was kind of like they welcomed me right into their family, which was nice because, I mean, they've been doing this for so long. And I've been doing it for 13 years, and it was kind of nice to be able to kind of be welcomed into their family a little bit. And it all just fit right in.
I mean, they made everybody feel comfortable. I think were a bunch of laughs while we were filming, but I mean, our lunch breaks were hysterical.
Oh, I bet that's a good memory.
Yeah. Yeah. And I hope that comes off on camera as well, how well everybody got along and gelled.
So does it change your opinion of The Brady Bunch, having worked with these people now? They have this particular place in the cultural zeitgeist. That's for sure.
Well, yeah. I think that I didn't really know them, so I wouldn't judge them from their work or from media stuff. What I got to know of them was exactly what we talked about on set, and "Hey, my name's ... Here's what I'm interested in." And then Chris would tell me what he's interested in. And I felt like I was meeting people organically for the first time.
Yeah, which was important for me as an actor because it also, I feel like prepares me to do a better job in scenes. And there's no ego or stigma about anybody, and it rang true for the entire shoot. And it was such a fun shoot.
I thought it was interesting that they had Jennifer Elise Cox, who isn't a part of the original cast.
Oh, yeah. Who's my aunt.
She was in the movie. I thought that was a fun little addition, too.
Yeah. I thought that was great. I mean, I've worked with these producers before. And Brian Nolan and Jeff and Barry and these guys really do a good job in the casting process. And I feel like that's why a lot of these movies can be successful.
And I mean, shoot, when you're able to get The Brady Bunch, I mean, and Haylie on in there as well, you're kind of set up for success. So I was glad to be able to fill that role of Liam.
So you said it was fun working with Haylie. How did she blend in with the now blended cast that you've already discussed?
Yeah, easily. I mean, she is a true pro. She was really good friends with Marla, the director. She was able to kind of just make me feel at home as we were going through the script, and everybody was really communicative.
I mean, we all talked about the script and what we thought of the characters, and how we wanted to play the scenes. And Haylie was just so open to trying different things, and she was patient. There were certain things I'd want to try with Liam, or she'd want to try with Emma.
It was a great place to really practice your art. And I can't speak more highly of Haylie, who's involved in so many different things and has so many talents.
I remember her sitting in the chair, and I was looking at her in the hair and makeup chair. And I'm like, "Your skin is absolutely flawless. I mean, what is the trick?" You know? And somebody just got that skin. And it just was beautiful.
And this might have been on like day one. I'm thinking I probably shouldn't have said this right off the bat a little, but then she got started talking about all the peptides and got me all squared away on all my grooming gear.
So I think things outside of the script and just getting to know the person, which she was so open to that it really speaks highly of her, but also helps us do such a great job, the best we can possibly do on camera because it's just organic. And I think if you can get that organic relationship and chemistry on camera, then you're set up for success.
Since this is a Christmas movie, what's the most romantic thing you've done for the woman you love on Christmas?
The most romantic thing I've done? Let's see, trying to think. On Christmas, we always go back to my family back in Indiana. And so, our Christmas holidays are typically spent with all my sisters and brothers-in-law, and nieces. So it's kind of like a wild time, where we all do it together.
I don't know if it's Christmas per se, and I know I'm probably getting off track, but I think one of the most romantic things I've done.
It does have to do with Blending Christmas a little bit because, for my proposal, I flew my wife's family and my family down to Tyler Perry's private island -- he has a private island -- and I was working with him at the time. He has a private island, and we used it to get down to his private island, with her high school friends and my high school friends.
And I had to rush all these passports, and I was waking up at 3:00 in the morning trying to get all this stuff done, so she wouldn't see me working on it.
And I said, "Natalie, Tyler's interested in selling or actually chartering this island. He wanted to use us as his models to kind of show what it has to offer. So there are maybe some cameras there. Would you be interested in doing it?" And she said, "Sure, that'd be great."
And so, I flew her down. We did this whole excursion all day. And then when the time came for the proposal, the last scene that we were supposed to shoot was this dinner on the beach.
And that was when I was going to be given the cue by the camera guys to do the proposal. And that's when all the families and everybody was going to be able to come out.
Now, this place isn't easy to get to. You got to get passports. You got to take a seaplane. I mean, it's difficult. And so, some of the stresses that Liam had in his proposal, I totally get. And I didn't know if we could make it. I didn't know who was going to be able to make it because I rushed passports for people.
I didn't know who was going to be able to make it. And I didn't know if my parents made it. I didn't know her parents made it. So when the guys gave me the cue, I proposed. These fireworks went off; I turned around and out walked everybody.
And it was just like that absolute relief, where, okay, all that work, all that stress, it finally paid off. And she was so surprised. But I'd have to say, that's probably one of the most romantic things I was able to do that pertains with this Blending Christmas, which is about proposing.
It's all on video. I think it's on the internet somewhere.
Yeah, it was so special. I'll see if I can send it to you or have Tracy send it to you, so you can kind of get an idea of it. But yeah, it was remarkable. My Christmases are spent back in Indiana with my wife and my mom and dad.
Her family's based out here in California. So we spend Thanksgiving here, and then we do Christmas with the whole gang. So yeah. That's it in a nutshell.
That sounds pretty special. I bet she was really appreciative of how much work you put into that.
Yeah. I just was happy to be able to help, I guess, give people a trip that they may not have been able to do and to get a little rest and relaxation, but also kind of celebrate with us, which was beautiful.
With the end of The Haves and the Have Nots, where do you hope to focus your professional attention next?
I really enjoy doing TV. I love doing movies. So I continue to try to stay proactive in the TV and film realm. I love romantic comedies. I've got a romantic comedy called Love Accidentally that'll be coming out later. I think it might be early in 2022.
Depending on what the scripts are, I love romantic comedy. I love thrillers. I love the kind of the whodunnit and connecting the dots throughout the script.
But the beautiful thing about movies is that you get to work with a great group of people, if you're fortunate, a great group of people for a single story. And then television, you get to continue to develop that story, which I had done with The Haves and the Have Nots for seven or eight years, 200 plus episodes.
There are fantastic things about both. And I just continue to seek some of those projects that are fun, exciting.
I did see the Love Accidentally on your IMDB page and that Maxwell Caulfield is in it. That's another one that throws my old self back to Grease Two.
Grease Two. That's right. Oh, he was great. He plays Craig. Yeah. Max, he was so funny. He was so funny. I mean, he's just one of those guys that tries every take a different way. And you don't know what you're going to get.
And there was one take he did -- and I'm trying to remember my lines because I was laughing so hard -- I'm thinking, "Oh, my gosh, Max." He just carries this. And when he walks into a room, Max is here. I mean, you feel it.
I can't wait to see that too. Is there anything else coming up that you'd like to talk about?
Right now, I'm just doing press for some of the projects right now that I've been doing. We're getting into the holidays here. So things kind of slow down, but it'll definitely pick up here in the first of the year. Love Accidentally, I've been doing some stuff for that. But yeah, we'll keep an eye out for earlier this year, earlier in 2022.
People Presents: Blending Christmas airs on Lifetime on Sunday, December 12 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.