“Is this how Lacey Chabert does it?” I wondered this summer as I checked into an extended-stay Canadian hotel, got my hair barrel curled, and pretended to wake up on Christmas morning in the middle of July. I was starring in my very first Hallmark Christmas movie, A Kismet Christmas. Underrated millennial icon Lacey Chabert has starred in 33.
The moment I agreed to be in a TV movie about a recipe for magical cookies that go under your pillow on Christmas Eve and make you dream of your true love (yes, it’s out now!), I fantasized about having Chabert as my Hallmark Christmas Movie Mentor. My personal creative aspirations have always leaned more towards darkly comedic, meta social satires — I once made an art show out of my childhood collection of photos I took with celebrities — so I knew I needed guidance from the face of a more tender genre. The Audrey Hepburn of Hallmark, if you will. That’s why, on a 75-degree winter day in LA, I find myself Zooming with Chabert as she drinks “cold coffee from six hours ago” on a New York press day. (Hallmark Christmas Movie heroine much?)
“Do you have any tips for how I can be the best Hallmark Christmas movie star I can be?” I ask, immediately sounding like I’m trying to All About Eve her.
“Well, loving Christmas doesn’t hurt,” she says, with a warm, easygoing laugh. It’s an answer so simple and charming it’s worthy of a pageant queen. As a cynical LA actress, I can’t help but think she almost seems too perfect, too polished.
Who is the thespian behind this mask of Christmas cheer? I resolve to find out.
Chabert had two catchphrases as a kid: Saying “I want to be in there!” to the TV and, “Why can't Christmas be longer?”
Today, her childhood dreams are reality. She’s been on our television and movie screens since 1994’s Party of Five. (Chabert’s Hallmark makeup artist is coincidentally the same one she worked with on the pilot.) She voiced Eliza “I can talk to animals” Thornberry in Nickelodeon’s The Wild Thornberrys, and, of course, played Gretchen “Brutus is just as cute as Caesar” Weiners in the generation-defining Mean Girls. She was even featured in the millennial bible, Vanity Fair’s July 2003 issue “It’s Raining Teens.” So I’m shocked when Chabert denies being at the forefront of 2000s teen pop culture. “Was I?” She demurs, “Man, I never felt cool. I always felt like I was behind the times.”
Perhaps this tender insecurity blossomed because, like a lot of former child actors (myself included), Chabert found the transition out of child stardom frustrating. For years, she struggled with feeling like she constantly had to reintroduce herself to the industry. Then, just over a decade ago, she found herself doing some career soul-searching at Los Angeles’ The Grove — “How many more times I could hear no? What was it I really wanted to do? Did this really inspire me still?” Chabert recalls wondering — when her phone rang. Hallmark had just sent her the script for Elevator Girl, which she rushed home to read and thought was “so sweet and charming.” (By the way, I also received my first Hallmark Christmas movie offer at an LA landmark: the Silverlake dog park.)
It’s through this partnership that Chabert has succeeded in her childhood goal of making Christmas longer. Literally: The Hallmark Channel runs their seasonal block called “Countdown to Christmas” from the last weekend in October until January 1. Over the past decade on the network, Chabert has been held hostage, married a prince, worked with Mariah Carey, ventured into the supernatural realm, and “discovered the meaning of Christmas and love” too many times to count. And unlike some of the genre’s stars, Chabert has been outspoken about being proud of Hallmark’s push to tell LGBTQ+ and racially diverse stories.
The adult Chabert’s love for Christmas runs deeper than her oeuvre. In her home, the holiday starts the day after Halloween, when she goes into “full Christmas mode”: putting the tree up and playing “Christmas music 24/7.”
For a moment, her unfettered Christmas spirit makes me feel inadequate. I grew up Jewish and only kind of celebrated Christmas. (My grandma did always give me a calendar. But not an advent one. Just a calendar.) I’m still learning things, like how to get my Elvis tree topper to not instantly fall to the ground and shatter. Why did my Hallmark Christmas movie premiere a full week before Halloween, before the queen even installed her tree? Does this make me a fraud? But Chabert shakes her head and smiles. “You kicked off the season for us!” My self-flagellating spiral is no match for her genuine holiday cheer.
For all Chabert’s positivity, the Hallmark filming process is no holiday. The scenes are almost always shot out of order, over 15 jam-packed days of 12-plus hours. That’s a lot of cheery banter to remember while bouncing between holiday plot twists and various stages of rekindling romance with a lifelong crush. I approached this challenge like I was Tracy Flick, spending weekends wandering around Victoria, Canada, joylessly memorizing all my lines for the following week. But Chabert is more intuitive, telling me she chooses to “study the script, get the emotional beats down” and then ultimately learn the actual dialogue the night before, so “it's fresh on the brain.”
After that? Act cold. This summer, Chabert and I both filmed in 100-degree heat in Utah and Canada, respectively. “If you're sweating in a wool coat in the middle of summer, you're definitely filming a Christmas movie,” she says. “You have to pretend to shiver and rub your hands together.” Dammit! Did I remember to shiver and rub enough? I chide myself, before Chabert adds comfortingly, “A couple times I caught myself fanning myself in the scene.” Her confession leads to another from me: that in one scene, it took me eight excruciatingly embarrassing takes to successfully throw a snowball at a target (a hot guy in plaid). Once again, Chabert commiserates. “I’m the same way. It might be a dozen times before I'm able to do it.”
There are so many takeaways from this interview — or as I like to think of it, the first installment of my Lacey Chabert Intensive Workshop. When off-duty, Chabert prefers a soft beach wave or even a messy top knot to Hallmark's trademark barrel curl hairdo (so it’s probably fine that I sometimes walk around dressed like Jonah Hill). She watched Lindsay Lohan’s Christmas movie with her daughter. She has a Home Shopping Network loungewear line! But the most enduring one is: stop trying to be perfect. Miss your snowball’s target! Drink old, cold coffee! Just have fun! That's the gooey heart of The Lacey Chabert Method, because, I realize, none of Chabert’s pageantry is an act. She’s just truly grateful to be doing what she dreamt of as a kid. (And, I might add, to be steadily starring in movies at a time when many claim the traditional “movie star” is dead.) Lacey Chabert and Hallmark Christmas clearly just fit together, like a present and a bow. But what about me?
Despite my initial hesitations, watching myself star in a Hallmark Christmas movie was hands-down the most fun I’ve ever had watching myself in anything. And engaging with the Marvel or Bravo-level fandom of the network has opened the door to an entirely new genre of pop culture fascination. (Chabert agrees that Hallmark is like Bravo, but “with a few more twinkly lights and mistletoe.”) If Hallmark called me again, I don’t see why I wouldn’t star in another Hallmark Christmas movie. But will they? Is there room for a cynical, sarcastic, meta freak like me at the cozy network? I suddenly feel as out of place as Chabert had in the 2000s, so once again I bow before the maestro for guidance.
“Embrace the thing that makes you different,” Chabert tells me, adding that it’s the same advice she would’ve told the younger, Y2K version of herself. “All of our differences, that we sometimes view as flaws, really are the things that end up setting us apart. They become our superpowers.”
I smile. My heart brims with newfound confidence. Then I realize: Oh my God. What Lacey Chabert just said is basically verbatim a monologue I performed in a scene from A Kismet Christmas. She just sounds like that off the cuff?! It will clearly be a long time before the princess can become the queen. But I will remember the wisdom she imparted unto me on this fateful day. If I can relax, act cold, and answer my phone when I’m at The Grove, I might just have a future in this small Christmas town after all.
Chabert’s next movie The Wedding Veil Expectations premieres Saturday, January 7 at 8/7c.