why-the-stars-of-lifetime’s-first-gay-holiday-movie-hope-it’s-a-‘conversation-starter’-(exclusive)

The Christmas Setup is Lifetime’s first vacation movie fully centered round a homosexual couple falling in love throughout Christmastime. Starring real-life married couple Ben Lewis (Arrow) and Blake Lee (Parks and Recreation), the romantic comedy — filmed through the pandemic — is history-making for the community, a step ahead as Lifetime continues to cost forward in its objective of increasing the breadth of its inclusive storytelling. 

“We’re really hopeful that if the traditional Lifetime audience tunes in and embraces this movie, that’s just going to embolden and further deepen the representation in years to come for queer people of color and trans people and gender nonbinary people,” Lewis, who performs Hugo, tells ET, “because everybody deserves this kind of escapism and this type of representation.”

And The Christmas Setup just isn’t alone in centering LGBTQ romances in holiday-themed movies. “Being one of the movies that are being represented this year, like Happiest Season — and there’s five or six of them — it’s not at all a competition. Any representation is so huge for our community,” Lee, who performs Hugo’s former classmate, Patrick, tells ET of this yr’s swath of inclusive motion pictures. “We just feel very, very proud, and so many of the other actors and filmmakers from the other films have reached out to Ben and I, and we’ve reached out to them. We’re all supporting each other’s movies because it’s a great moment for the queer community.”

The Christmas Setup, which co-stars Fran Drescher (as Hugo’s mother) and Ellen Wong (as Hugo’s BFF), follows lots of the typical, tried-and-true tropes of the vacation film style, solely it is two males experiencing the ups and downs of an surprising vacation romance. Admittedly, Lewis and Lee have been self-professed novices to the feel-good motion pictures that dominate this time of yr, however have been intrigued on the prospect of leaving a mark when it got here to representing the LGBTQ neighborhood in a constructive gentle. Though there was some preliminary hesitation about bringing their off-screen romance onscreen, these nerves rapidly dissipated as soon as they stepped onto set. “It was really nice that we didn’t feel like we had to manufacture chemistry,” Lewis says.

Ahead of Saturday’s premiere, Lewis and Lee open up about how they unexpectedly got here to star in Lifetime’s first homosexual vacation movie; what they hope viewers (and in Lee’s case, some relations) take away from Hugo and Patrick’s love story; working with Lewis’ birthday twin, Drescher; and why they have been hesitant, at first, to convey their real-life relationship to TV.

ET: This is Lifetime’s first vacation movie centered on a homosexual romance. What was your response whenever you first heard they have been making a film for the LGBTQ neighborhood?

Ben Lewis: We had first heard about it when Lifetime made the announcement that they have been going to do their first LGBTQ+ vacation movie, and likewise their first Asian American vacation movie. At the time we thought it was nice that they have been doing it, however it was by no means on our radar, one thing that we might doubtlessly be requested to do. We did not know they might be searching for a real-life couple to star within the film, but additionally, even when they have been, we all know so many homosexual actor {couples}. We did not anticipate it and it was a pleasing, thrilling shock.

What does it imply to be a part of this second? 

Blake Lee: It feels unbelievable. The weight of all of it did not hit us till lately. When we acquired solid in it, we have been simply so excited to be part of the story, however then we have been so rapidly thrown into taking pictures the film that we did not actually have time to consider the importance and the burden of all of it. Since we have wrapped and we have been doing press, it is actually hit us. And I believe it is unbelievable. We really feel very fortunate to be representing homosexual folks on this film, and I believe that it’s hopefully the start of extra illustration being proven in these movies. I hope that extra hearts of the LGBTQ neighborhood get seen in these movies. So yeah, it undoubtedly feels prefer it’s an enormous step, however I believe it is a step. 

Was there some reservations about placing your hat within the ring, so to talk, as a real-life couple? What have been the conversations you had when it grew to become a chance that you possibly can be doing this movie?

Lee: We have been dwelling through the pandemic in quarantine. Then we acquired a name from our brokers being like, “How do you guys feel about going back to work? What do you guys feel about working together?” It’s not one thing that we had essentially thought we might do, not to mention, it really occurred the best way it did and at a time when it did. We took about three days to resolve if we needed to do it and if it was going to be good for our relationship. Once we learn the script, we realized we beloved how a lot the film did not steer away from the basic Lifetime system. And we beloved that the one distinction was that it was two males falling in love. We felt like that was an enormous step for queer folks. Once we realized that we have been like, “Yeah, let’s do this.” The undeniable fact that it was the primary made us wish to do it much more. We additionally have been like, “We need to get out of the house because we’ve been in it for five months.”

The Christmas Setup

Albert Camicioli/Lifetime

Are you much like the characters you play? In what methods are you totally different?

Lewis: It’s humorous, after they supplied the film to us, they stated, “We have Ben in mind for the role of Hugo, and we have Blake in mind for the role of Patrick. But if you guys read the script and you feel like we got it wrong, then you guys can swap.” Obviously by no means been in a state of affairs like that earlier than the place you had that kind of energy, or duty, or freedom. Luckily, once we each learn it, we naturally gravitated in direction of the roles that they’d meant for us. Blake really stated to me at one level, “I’m so glad you’re playing Hugo because he has to do all the really embarrassing stuff,” which is completely true and was actually enjoyable for me. That’s really what attracted me to the half as a result of in actual life, we’re each humorous folks, however Blake is certainly the humorous one. For him to be enjoying the straight man, for lack of a greater time period, on this, and the truth that I acquired to be the goofy, neurotic one was enjoyable for me. I do not suppose we might have had it another approach.

Did you convey any private touches or experiences to flesh out your characters extra? 

Lee: Danielle von Zerneck, our producer, and Pat Mills, the director, have been open to us giving concepts and enter and making it a extra collaborative atmosphere. Ben and I had just a few concepts sparked by studying the script. When we had that preliminary dialog with them, we have been like, “Can we email you guys some thoughts or ideas we have? Maybe things to make it a little bit more personal to make the queer community in this movie a little bit more real and have more depth?” They have been so open to the concept, they usually despatched all of our strategies to Michael Murray, the author, and he was so fantastic and carried out all of them into the script. During all the filming, each time we began a scene, whether or not it was me and Ben within the scene or if it was me and Ben and Fran, we might get along with Danielle and Pat and go, “OK, what is the meat of this scene? What are we really trying to say?” Especially within the scenes once we’re speaking in regards to the LGBTQ neighborhood, that was vital to Ben and I to symbolize queer folks in the easiest way that we might.

A romantic comedy lives or dies by the chemistry between the 2 leads. Obviously that is not a difficulty in actual life. But was it difficult so that you can guarantee that real-life connection translated onscreen?

Lee: (Laughs.) We each have just a few issues to say. I bear in mind we needed to quarantine earlier than we began filming for 2 weeks, and Ben and I have been getting nervous. We have been like, “What if we have horrible chemistry? What if this doesn’t translate onto the screen?” We’ve been collectively for 10 years and married for nearly 5. When you’ve got been along with somebody that lengthy, you are so snug. So Pat Mills, our director, was nice about reversing that and going, “We need to go back to when these two people didn’t know each other at all.” Because whenever you’re with somebody for 10 years, generally I do not even understand my hand is on Ben’s leg. We’re so snug with one another. He made us much less snug with one another in order that we might fall in love once more for the primary time.

Lewis: What Blake stated about strolling again our pure comfortability with one another was an enormous a part of it, however it was very nice that we did not really feel like we needed to manufacture chemistry, not simply with one another, however with the opposite actors within the core solid of the film. The actress who performs my finest buddy within the film, Ellen Wong, she is anyone who I’ve identified for, like, 11 years. We have been in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World collectively. The actor who performs my brother, Chad Connell, I’ve know him for even longer than that. The solely individual we did not know already was Fran, however anyone who grew up watching The Nanny, you are feeling like you realize Fran. She’s such a real individual and such a real performer. We, fortunately, clicked straight away. Particularly for me, the mother-son chemistry that we had was easy. 

What was your expertise like working with Fran?

Lewis: She really is the whole lot you need her to be and extra. When we have been quarantining at my household’s cottage in Canada for 2 weeks earlier than we went to Ottawa to shoot the film, my sister had the primary two seasons of The Nanny on DVD. Blake wasn’t positive that we should always watch it. I used to be like, “Come on, we got to watch it. We got to watch at least one.” But he was nervous that if we watched an excessive amount of of it, that we might be bizarre and starstruck once we met her. I used to be like, “I’m going to be weird and starstruck regardless. So we might as well enjoy this, you know?” Anyway, we ended up binging the primary two seasons, however fortunately the factor about Fran is that she’s so snug and happy with who she is and what her legacy is. She loves to listen to that folks love The Nanny and he or she needs to speak about that have. She’s an extremely open, beneficiant individual. She’s going to provide you the whole lot you need from the Fran Drescher expertise, you realize what I imply? You’re not going to fulfill Fran and be dissatisfied.

There’s a beautiful scene within the film the place you are all enjoying trivia, which appeared to seize the vacations completely.

Lee:  In that scene particularly, Fran had a bell each time somebody acquired a proper or mistaken reply. I could not cease laughing that total night time as a result of she was so simply bell pleased and it was so humorous. And her improv throughout that scene, I actually, I really feel like I’m in all probability not in that scene loads as a result of I used to be simply laughing all the time. She’s so humorous, and he or she is so heat and he or she elevates what’s on the web page a lot. She brings a lot of the Fran that the viewers needs. She works her aoff. It’s fairly unbelievable. She’s in a number of scenes on this film, and each single one, she was simply so skilled. She knew her character so properly, however she additionally introduced a lot extra as a result of she would improvise and he or she simply needed to speak in regards to the backstories and to deepen the relationships between her and Ben, and her and my character. 

The Christmas Setup

Albert Camicioli/Lifetime

What was your favourite scene to movie?

Lee:  I favored the group scenes as a result of it was a lot enjoyable to shoot with everybody. Ben and I, considered one of our first scenes that we shot collectively was when I’m delivering the Christmas tree. That was the primary time we have been seeing what one another was doing with these characters. Like, I bear in mind after our first take, Pat, the director, yelled lower, Ben and I have been like, “OK, this is what you’re doing. OK.” And I felt very excited after that first day to proceed the remainder of the shoot as a result of I used to be like, “Oh, this is going to be fun.” The scene the place we exit and we’re trying on the Northern Lights, that was simply enjoyable as a result of we actually have been in the course of nowhere and it was in the course of the night time and it was lovely. We acquired paid to make out with one another.

Lewis: Some of my fondest recollections from taking pictures the film have been on my birthday, which was additionally Fran’s birthday. Everybody has their movie star birthday twin who you share a birthday with, and Fran has at all times been that for me. When they first stated that Fran was their first option to play my mother, I used to be like, “It’s never going to happen. It’s too good to be true,” as a result of I knew our birthdays fell proper in the course of taking pictures, and the concept of celebrating my birthday on set with Fran Drescher was simply an excessive amount of to hope for. But then it occurred. We have been within the prepare station that day. I used to be taking pictures my climactic, emotional speech on the prepare station in regards to the variety locally and in regards to the hope that my character is feeling for the long run. And it was a extremely lovely second for me to be celebrating my birthday. It was reflective to be celebrating my birthday, starring in a film reverse my husband, reverse an icon like Fran, surrounded by extra queer actors and queer creatives and allies than I ever had been. It was a extremely nice life second for me. I’ll at all times bear in mind the scenes that we shot that day, very fondly.

What sorts of tales inside the neighborhood do you wish to see extra of, that you simply’re enthusiastic about and hopeful you will get an opportunity to inform sooner or later?

Lewis: We have been doing an interview and the author we have been talking to, he was saying historically, white cisgender homosexual males are at all times the primary ones invited to the get together in relation to illustration. We’re grateful for the platform that this film is giving us and we really feel a duty to go, “OK, next time there’s a party, we have to make sure that queer people of color and trans people and gender nonbinary people are invited.” We’ve been speaking about this film as an LGBTQ+ vacation film, however between the vacation motion pictures which can be popping out this yr, it is solely the L and the G which can be being represented. And I do not suppose that that is essentially correct illustration of the neighborhood. It’s not correct illustration of the neighborhood as a complete. When we get to the place the place we’re telling tales, the place the L, the G, the B, the T, the Q and the plus are all intermingling, then I believe that is the objective. Those are the forms of motion pictures and tasks we wish to be a part of going ahead.

Lee: Like Ben stated, there’s a lot. We wish to precisely symbolize our neighborhood. If we have been to do a sequel of this, it is vital to have extra illustration in our movie. I wish to see all the neighborhood represented in their very own movies. It could be wonderful to have Indya Moore or Trace Lysette or Mj Rodriguez or Angelica Ross. There are so many trans actresses on the market that must be the main girls in these movies. And there are so many tales to inform. Like Ben stated, we’re simply opening the door. The door has now been opened by these movies this yr and I hope that the remainder of the neighborhood is represented. I hope that the tales are advised as a result of each single individual deserves to see themselves represented.

It sounds such as you’re open to starring in one other Lifetime film or doing extra vacation motion pictures sooner or later, perhaps even a sequel to this one. Is that one thing you are each open to?

Lee: Yeah, we might be enthusiastic about seeing the place the characters that we performed, the place their story goes. As lengthy as it’s the similar group of individuals and including in additional elements of the LGBTQ neighborhood to make it extra progressive. There’s a dialog being had about it. Nothing’s set in stone but, however sure, we’re each undoubtedly  as a result of it was such a enjoyable expertise and it is such a contented style.

Lewis: I’ve to be sincere. We weren’t tremendous accustomed to Lifetime vacation motion pictures earlier than this, however we have actually fallen in love with the style. We’ve realized how a lot potential there’s inside the style’s personal myriad of various tales.

What do you hope folks take away from this film? 

Lewis: My greatest hope for this film, past what we stated about opening the door for extra illustration, is the queer child on the market who may not be out to their households but, however would possibly watch this film with their households and may be seeking to their household’s response to this film as a sign of how they’re going to be acquired. I believe that is actually significant for me as a result of once I was rising up, earlier than I used to be out to my household, I used to be continuously searching for these forms of [stories] — not just for illustration — however for indicators of how my household felt in regards to the LGBTQ+ neighborhood. As fantastic and as liberal as my household is, it was by no means a subject of dialog. So I suppose what I hope folks take away from it is I hope it will likely be a constructive dialog starter.

Lee: Like what Ben stated, it being a dialog starter. It’s so vital for it to be a dialog starter in houses with homosexual folks and homosexual youth. But I additionally really feel prefer it’s an enormous alternative for households, the place it is a heterosexual household. I grew up in a house that was extraordinarily accepting. My uncle is homosexual. It was by no means a dialog, however later in my life, now in my 30s, my sister and her husband have chosen to go in the wrong way they usually will not speak to their children about Ben and I’s marriage and about homosexual marriage and homosexual folks. My nephew is 11 and my niece is 8, so it has been a extremely heartbreaking previous few years the place my sister and I haven’t got a relationship anymore due to it. So, one of many causes I needed to do that film was to have this film to point out my niece and nephew that love is love and it truly is. Ben and I’s love isn’t any totally different than their dad and mom. I believe it is to inform this story to not simply my niece and nephew, however for different households like them, the place perhaps they do not know that they’ve a homosexual uncle or a homosexual cousin or homosexual neighbor. It’s actually vital as a result of it is that dialog starter. This film can change so many individuals’s views in direction of the LGBTQ neighborhood. I’m hopeful that it’s going to.

What’s subsequent for the each of you?

Lee: I’m doing a TV present for Freeform referred to as Cruel Summer. I really went proper from The Christmas Setup, actually straight from Canada to Dallas. So it has been an fascinating yr of working within the pandemic. I really feel very fortunate, however it’s been such a studying expertise.

Lewis: And I shall be becoming a member of him in Dallas. We’re really in L.A. proper now as a result of he had a few weeks off, however we’ll be in Dallas for the vacations. It’s humorous as a result of I’ve kind of fallen in love with the vacation style to the purpose the place — as a result of I write and direct as properly — I’ve been engaged on a top level view for my very own homosexual vacation film. Who is aware of what’ll occur with that, however it’s undoubtedly gotten me… I’m undoubtedly within the spirit. I’m undoubtedly in a a festive way of thinking.

Watch the trailer for The Christmas Setup under.

The Christmas Setup premieres Saturday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.

To keep updated on breaking TV information, join ET’s every day publication.

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