Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas begins this weekend, and Kristoffer Polaha answered the call.
He’ll be starring in We Wish You a Married Christmas with Marisol Nichols, and we caught up with him to chat about it.
Since he’s more than a one-trick pony, we also talked about his latest book release, and stick around until the end to see how you might be able to see him if you happen to be in the Nevada area this weekend.
We Wish You a Married Christmas follows a couple on the brink of divorce. It’s not very jolly from an outside perspective, but their marriage counselor has a surprise for them.
When Becca and Robby arrive at a cozy inn in Vermont to spend the holidays, Christmas magic intervenes, showing the couple they might not be as far gone as they thought.
Hallmark movies often start with long-lost loves reconnecting and finding a fresh start, but rarely does a movie begin with a couple contemplating separation.
Kris said, “Marisol and I read the script, we’re like, ‘How are you going to take a couple that’s literally on the brink of divorce…’ I mean, the opening scene is them making the decision to separate.
“How do you put that couple in the Hallmark bubble, and how do you get the audience to root for that couple without them being unlikable because they’re falling out of love? And the trick was, how do we get them back on track, and how do we get people to root for that and want to see that? And so it was a challenge.”
Kris said that he and Marisol decided to go big with their characters. “We were given the free range to make big choices and to show anger and to show frustration and to show a lot of emotions that you normally reserve for other projects.”
At one point, they engaged in a pratfall, and during a wholly unique Christmas parade, Kris got to show the audience just how much Robby loved the annual tradition.
“I mean, I love the fact that my guy just loves parades as much as he does and really just goes for it. And I remember Marisol, on the night, she was looking at me like, ‘What are you doing?’ [laughs]
“Some of that stuff is just her and I reacting off of each other’s actual acting and her being like, ‘What are you doing right now?’ I said, ‘You’ve got to trust. You’ve got to trust it.'”
The couple takes their family dog on vacation, and he gets to participate in the parade, adding another level of excitement for an already excited Robby. The dog, though, shows admirable restraint in the face of so much commotion.
“Yeah, that was something. That was definitely something. Anytime you work with an animal, you’re not working with just the animal, you’re working with the animal’s trainer, and you’re working with the trainer’s assistant, and it’s a team of people,” Kris said.
“It can do one of two things, it can slow the day down because you’re having to wait for the dog to hit its mark or to do its thing. But Nippy was cute; Nippy was a good little dog, and we had a good time working with each other.”
Hallmark Christmas movies offer views of many different holiday traditions, but the Polaha family is fully entrenched in their own traditions, with little room for expansion.
“Our Christmas is locked in. So we’re not really in the market for new traditions because of what we have, and we like what we do. But it’s always fun to add.
“It’s fun to jump into these other lives and to see these other traditions and to do the gingerbread competition or to do the little Christmas flea market thing, all of the stuff. It’s kind of a treat for me as an actor to go and be a part of that.”
Kris said, “So, Carissa, I don’t know if you know this or not, but if you catch Santa Claus delivering Christmas presents, he — because you know the gig is up, and you’ve seen him, and you know he is real — he just hand delivers Christmas presents to you and then to your children, and then to your children’s children and on and on and on.
“So a long, long time ago, my wife’s grandfather — he grew up in this little house in Florida — woke up one Christmas night, Christmas Eve night, and saw Santa Claus putting presents under the tree.
“His name was Tricky Lamere; I can’t even make this up. That’s truly his name. His name was Tricky Lamere. And because old Tricky saw Santa Claus, Santa Claus made a deal with Tricky, and then his daughter and her daughter, my wife, and then our kids. And I’m sure that our kids’ kids will then get to have actual visits from Santa Claus.
“So on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus comes to the house, he hand delivers the presents to us, and then he bails.
“But here’s the thing about Santa Claus. What you see on television is totally wrong about him. He’s not boisterous. He’s not loud. He is not this like, ‘Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas.’
“He doesn’t talk. He’s very shy. He’s very elf-like. He’s big. He’s a grown man size. And the reindeer parked in a place where you can’t see them on the roof, and he’ll just appear. He’ll just be in your front yard, and he’ll kind of come out of the darkness and hand you a gift, and then he’ll disappear for a minute.
“So it’s actually kind of scary a little bit. Like there’s a little bit of intensity to the night. And it’s quick. It’s like a 10-minute visit. And he just does his thing. He’ll let you take a couple of pictures with him, and then he’s off because he’s got, obviously, a big job that night. And so that’s what we do.”
It’s hard to imagine the Polaha family’s Christmas Eve getting any better than that, but after Santa goes on his elfish way, they have a feast and watch Christmas Vacation.
Naturally, I pressed Kris further about his visits with Santa Claus, assuming that he, in fact, was Santa. I was dead wrong.
“No, I’m telling you that it is Santa Claus. It’s not me. It’s not a friend. I’m telling you, Santa Claus. That’s the point. So you see him. He shows up. I mean, it’s kind of an amazing thing.”
This man is an impeccable storyteller. His tale continued when I asked how the kids enjoyed their first encounter with one of the most important figures of Christmas.
“Oh, they freak out. They freak out. They hide, and they cry. Because I’m telling you, it’s a little scary. And then the next year, they’re excited at the anticipation of Santa Claus showing up; you’ll hear the bells at first, and then literally, you’ll just see this figure emerge out of the darkness, and he’ll be jolly old St. Nick.
“And then his gifts come wrapped, but individual. I don’t know where he gets them from. He’ll like walk, and then all of a sudden, he’ll come up with a gift. He’ll go to a different part of the yard, and then he’ll bring a gift from it. So the gifts might be like…
“I don’t know if they’re manifested. I don’t know if elves are doing it. I don’t know what goes on, but he brings each kid a few gifts, and they’re wrapped for the child. I guess he knows which goes to what. I don’t know. It’s magical.”
I told Krist that I didn’t think Santa had ever come to my house because we never caught him.
“See, that’s the thing, you’ve got to catch him. Somebody has to catch him, and then you actually get to see. Yeah, it’s a special thing.”
It sounds wonderful.
“I married into it,” Kris said. “When I was a kid, I did not have Santa Claus. I did not have that experience. And so we would open up our family gifts on Christmas Eve, and then on Christmas morning, there were a few more gifts that Santa brought.
“And we would wake up early, and those would be under the tree. We would open those on Christmas morning. We would do midnight mass. We would do the whole thing, but I never had Santa Claus like I did until I met my wife. And then the deal, she told me about the deal, and I was blown away by it.”
And if all of you are like me, you, too, are now blown away by it. It’s the most magical thing I’ve ever heard described about an already magical night.
Our conversation pivoted to another wonderful thing in Kris’s life — his writing partnership with Anna Gomez, which has now produced two novels in the From Kona with Love series.
Their first book, Moments Like This, featured characters Andie and Warren, and they’re present in the follow-up, Where the Sun Rises. Kris said coming up with the story for Where the Sun Rises was easy.
“I mean, once we hacked our way through — and by that, I mean with machetes through a jungle, we had to clear a path for Moments Like This out of nowhere — we saw the characters that we wanted to write about.
“And as we were writing Moments Like This, this other story started to spring forth. It was kind of wanting to be told. And so we knew exactly what we were going to get into as soon as Moments Like This was finished.”
And they didn’t waste any time. Moments Like This was published in March of 2021, and they started writing Where the Sun Rises in May of the same year.
“We had a draft done a year later, so February, and then we had editors, editor notes. In March, April, we had a revision done, and we had our final book turned in in June of 2022, which is kind of amazing. So from June to October, we did the whole thing of getting it printed and all of that stuff. So it’s amazing. The book world is pretty impressive to me.”
There are another three books coming in the universe they’ve created. “We’ve already started book three, we know what book four’s about, and we know what book five’s about,” Kris said.
If you read Moments Like This, you’ll be introduced to who will be featured in the later books. The series will follow the same pattern until book five, which will be a standalone book and the conclusion of the universe.
Kris and Anna have structured all of the books so that you can pick them up at any point in the series without being lost. While the characters’ stories continue as the books progress, you can still enjoy them without reading what came before.
“What we’re doing is creating a universe. We wanted to create this environment that you enter into. Each book takes place on a separate island. So the first book takes place on Oahu. The second book takes place on Kauai. The third book is taking place on Molokai. The fourth book will be on Maui. And the fifth book will be on the big island itself.
“And we wanted each book to also be a standalone so that if readers enter the series, it wouldn’t be a must-read to have to [read the others]. If you jump in on book two, you’ll be able to pick up a book and read it from cover to cover and have a full story without it being dependent on Moments Like This.
“But if you were to then go and read Moments Like This, a floodgate of information will open up to you where you’d be like, ‘Oh, I understand where these people come from and who they are.’ So it’s almost like you’re looking at these characters from a three-dimensional perspective, book to book to book to book.”
Kris described his writing partnership with Anna as a lot of choreography, creating a blueprint for what was and what’s to come to ensure a flawless timeline.
For the first two books, they worked back and forth, with each of them writing and giving it off to the other for the next and so on. It takes coordination and open lines of communication. “We’re interdependent on one another, so we have to know where we’re going so the blueprint is sound.”
“This time, we took that a step further, and instead of breaking the story up into parts — it’s Warren’s POV and then back to Andie’s, and then all my writing is, of course, infused in Moments Like This throughout — with Where the Sun Rises, we decided, ‘Why don’t we do one chapter for Maele, one chapter for Adam, one chapter Maele, one chapter Adam. And we’ll just ping back and forth.’ Bing, bing, bing, bing, bing.
“And somebody wrote this really beautiful review that it creates an ebb and flow almost like the tides themselves. This energy that washes in with Maele, and then it washes back out. And then Adam rushes in with his own energy, and then it rushes out.
“So, as you read, you really are kind of pinging between these two people’s lives. And I’m proud of it. I think we did a really wonderful job. And unlike other books that I’ve read, I’ve never read a book like it. And it’s still light reading, but it still drops you into, I don’t know, some emotional territory that’s a little deeper than what you might expect.”
Kris explains, “I just love the fact that we’ve got these two broken people. She physically broke her neck six years before the book starts, and Adam, he got entangled with drugs and alcohol and kind of broke his soul six years before the book starts.
“And I love how love is this healing like a balm between the two of them. And all of a sudden, strength and courage and fearlessness and the desire for sobriety and self-control. All these things kind of kick in when they meet each other. They activate all these beautiful qualities in each other. And I love that because I think that’s what love can do.”
Kris said, “It’s a totally unexpected gift in my life to have met Anna and to have become a writing partner with her and to become an author. It was out of the blue. Just a gift, truly a gift, because it wasn’t a part of the plan.”
Kris has a lot going on with the holidays and writing with Anna, but that’s not all he has on his plate.
Kris will be starring in an upcoming Amazon show in partnership with MGM called Harlan Coben’s Shelter. He’s working with Harlan Coben, Allen MacDonald, and Charlotte Coben, who created the show.
“Harlan already did what we’re trying to do with Moments Like This; he created a literary universe. He has this sports agent named Myron Bolitar, who solves crimes and has over 30 books that have been New York Times bestselling books.
“He’s written a ton of thrillers and mysteries and created this really beautiful universe. And then Myron has a brother named Brad, who’s got a son named Mickey. And I play Brad, and this show, Shelter, is about Mickey, and sort of where is dad in season one.
“And so, being dad, I get to have a little fun in this universe. And it’s been a treat. We shoot in New Jersey, and we started in August, and I go back in a week or two to finish up the first season.”
Kris and Anna are also actively turning Moments Like This into a feature film. “We hired our screenwriter; her name is Erin Brown Thomas, and she’s wonderful. And she’s just got a knack for structure as far as screenplays go and has also got a gift for dialogue. And so we kind of hit the jackpot with her as far as writing goes.
“We hired her and brought her on. So she’s already adapting. She’s 80 pages into the script at this point as of this interview. And we have Michael Goldstein, Basset Hound Productions. Your readers would know him from Pearl in Paradise. I’ve worked with Michael on a few occasions now, but he has this production company, and they are also reaching out in every direction.
“So they’re pitching television shows to Peacock and NBC and making movies for Hallmark. But they’re also doing a whole lot of stuff. And when he read Moments Like This, he was like, ‘I think we can do what you want to do with this, which is a theatrical release as far as a movie goes, and I think we can make a really great movie together.’
“And so we’ve got a producer lined up who will co-produce with me. We’ve got our screenwriter, and so we’re off to the races. It’s just a matter of once that script is finished, we’ve got to secure some cash, and then we’ll make a movie.”
With as much as he has going on, Kris is always thrilled when he can lend a helping hand to his fans and to people who share similar viewpoints. If you’re a fan of his, you’ve likely seen his Polaha Chautauqua videos on Instagram or other interviews where he invites friends and colleagues to share their experiences.
It was on one of his videos that I learned about the work Marisol Nichols does with law enforcement to stop trafficking, which is also something close to Kris’s heart, and I cannot recommend enough listening to their conversation together. You can do it here.
This weekend, he’ll be sharing his time with another very good cause. Katie and Christina of the Down Syndrome Network of Northern Nevada reached out to him to ask if they could help spread the word about their work.
They weren’t quite sure how he could help, but Kris started coming up with ideas, ultimately landing on doing something in Reno, where Kris grew up. He said Reno has all kinds of exciting things going on during the summer, but come mid-September, everything shuts down because the weather gets chilly.
“I said, ‘But what if we put together a family day on a farm somewhere, or in San Rafael Park or someplace where people can come, and we’ll just do a giant fundraiser for your organization.’ And they were like, ‘Well, what does this look like? And so we just started hashing it out, and we just started putting together what this day would look like.
“So Friday night, there’s going to be a movie, and we’re going to screen Where Hope Grows. And my co-star David DeSanctis, who has Down Syndrome, is going to fly out with his family, and he’ll be there for the movie and all day for the fall festival.”
For the price of a ticket, you get lunch, a hay ride, a corn maze, and a pumpkin patch, and you get to hang out with Kris and David, all in the name of the Down Syndrome Network of Northern Nevada.
They’ll be joined by Western Nevada Supply, Rick Reviglio, and his family, who made a massive donation to kick things off, so the event is in the black right off the bat.
If you’re in the Reno area and would like to join Kris and David and have a very good family time for a wonderful cause, visit DSNNN.Org for tickets.
Later that night, Kris will spend time with his family watching We Wish You a Married Christmas, which comes highly recommended by Kris, who starred in it, and by me, who watched it.
You can pick up the first two books in his From Kona with Love series at your favorite booksellers, and be sure to keep an eye on his social media sites for more amazing interviews, thoughtful discussions, and news of what he’ll be doing next.
We Wish You a Married Christmas on Hallmark Channel premieres Saturday, October 22 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.