WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Fans of the Hallmark Channel may recognize a familiar face around town in September. Cameras will start rolling in Wilmington on a new Christmas movie for the network, and Trevor Donovan is one of the stars who will be here for the production. For Donovan, who has starred in seven movies for the Hallmark Channel, it will be his first trip to North Carolina.
“As for now the running title is U.S.S. Christmas,” the 39-year-old actor said in an interview from his hometown in California. “I’m going to be playing a Navy pilot, working with an actress by the name of Jen Lilley, who I haven’t had the pleasure of working with yet but have heard nothing but great things about her.”
Most television and movie productions had to shut down for the first half of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic. A Task Force recently developed guidelines so crews can resume filming while taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Donovan has spent most of his hiatus around his hometown of Mammoth Lakes and was tested twice in order to be able to visit his parents. He’s excited to get back to work, but realizes the process will be much different.
“It’s going to be interesting, because I know there’s going to be a lot of added regulations and smaller crew, which should make the days a little more difficult to get through,” he says about working on the new film. “All of the crew are having to wear masks and things. There are going to be a lot of interesting and odd regulations put on the production, so we’ll see how it works out. But I know they’ve consulted with medical professionals and different people to make sure we have the safest set possible. We’ll see how it goes. I know it’s going to be a little weird, a little awkward. But I think we’ll pull it off.”
In a recent poll on the website ranker.com, voters ranked Donovan as the #1 Best Hallmark Movie Actor. It’s easy to see why he’s a fan favorite. This will be his fourth starring role in a Christmas film for the network. Donovan played a movie star in Marry Me at Christmas (2017), an NFL quarterback in SnowComing (2019) and a widower in Nostalgic Christmas (2019).
“Part of what I love so much is, I know my grandmother, my aunts and uncles, my young five-year-old niece, everyone can sit down and watch these (movies),” he said about Hallmark Channel films. “Especially around the holidays when the family is together. You can have these on the TV and there’s always an uplifting, moral message to it. There’s always a happy ending. The country, the world and life is pretty chaotic right now, and these types of movies can bring in those moments and raise a couple hours of positive energy, sunshine and smile, and reminders that family is most important. I get approached all the time since I started doing these things, and people love them. It makes me feel really, really good.”
According to Donovan, Hallmark Channel productions don’t waste time, either. He says the movies are shot in 15 days, a much shorter timeframe than other film projects.
“They definitely have a formula, and a formula that works very, very well,” he says about the productions. “You know, they take you to different parts of the world and different sort of fantasy situations and like you said, I got to play a movie star, I got to play an NFL quarterback, and now I get to play a Navy pilot. While they are similar in their themes and overall arc of the story, the characters are different, the dynamic between the actors and actresses are different. I believe they are also starting to push the boundaries of what they’ve done in the past with the formula and structure. Regardless, they have a way of hiring such amazing people. Like really good, down to earth genuine people. So the experience itself, we shoot these things in 15 days, and to shoot a full, almost two-hour movie in 15 days is quite a feat in and of itself, so they’ve definitely got a system going and they’ve got very professional, very efficient people who make a really good product.”
Donovan got into acting after working as a model in Los Angeles during his senior year at The Art Institute of California, where he graduated with a degree in graphic design. After taking acting classes, Donovan landed a role on Days of Our Lives in 2007. His breakthrough came in 2009 on the CW’s 90210, playing a character struggling with his decision to come out as gay. Donovan recounted to me how important the Teddy Montgomery storyline became to teenagers across the country.
“I’ve got to be completely honest with you, there was a bit of selfishness in that process because I was nervous and scared going into that,” he recalls about the role, which lasted from 2009-2013. “I’m playing a gay character on TV when it wasn’t prevalent eight or nine years ago. So, I was a little self-involved for a little while. I wanted to tell the story honestly and genuinely, and not have it be a flash-in-the-pan gratuitous thing, really show the struggle this kid had to deal with just coming to terms with it himself and then having to come out to his friends, and his family. No one had any idea. It was a very unassuming character shift. So when I started getting messages from not only teenagers, but adults as well, on how it helped them, then I started to realize ‘Oh wow, I need to quit thinking about myself and realize how much it’s helping other people’, which really added that much more into the soul of the character and the pride I hold in being part of it.”
Donovan has used a painful experience in his life as a spark to become an advocate for responsible breeding of dogs. His German Shepherd Dogbert developed Degenerative Myelopathy, a progressive disease that effects the spinal cord in older dogs. The animals slowly become weaker in their hind limbs and eventually suffer paralysis. Donovan appeared with Dogbert in videos and on talk shows as the disease progressed, to raise awareness of DM and to call on breeders to take steps to keep other animals from having to suffer through it.
“Prior to him (Dogbert) starting to show symptoms, I was completely unaware of Degenerative Myelopathy, I had no idea what it was,” Donovan said. “As I started researching it, it is devastating disease. It is so painful to watch, because the dogs don’t know what’s going on, losing feeling in their hind legs. It was so painful watching and, it’s preventable. That’s the biggest thing. It can be bred out. It can be detected. You avoid breeding two dogs that have the gene. It can be tested. It cost $60. That’s nothing. It’s absolutely doable, you send the test out.”
As Donovan glanced away and thought about his four-legged friend, I could see emotions welling up in his expression.
“Having to put him down when he was not even nine years old, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” the actor said while wiping away a tear.
Donovan has also spoken out against bullying, going so far as to visit a high school in Pennsylvania and speak to the student body. While there, Donovan sat in as a guest on a student-interview program and was asked what advice he would give someone struggling to find their way. He said “be ready to change your path or your trajectory because it never works out exactly the way you plan it”.
“That’s the definition of my life,” Donovan said when I asked him how often his life’s trajectory had changed from what he had planned. “I’ve been kind of a bouncing soul of sorts, with not much of a plan or structure but always sort of a positive outlook and a lot of drive and determination. I went off to college, got a degree in graphic design, aiming towards that way and then, when I started getting around the movie industry, I grew up in an area where stunts was a daily activity. Everything I’ve done has been outdoors and so I started going in the direction of the stunt world but somehow got pulled back into the acting. You know you’ve just got to roll with the punches and don’t be discouraged if things don’t come out the way you planned because, you know, these clinches are for a reason. One door closes another door opens. There’s going to be plenty of opportunities and you’ve just got to be ready and open-minded for them, and mine keep happening!”
My interview with Trevor Donovan covered a lot of other topics, including what else he wants to do in the film & tv industry, who he would like to work with on a future project, and why he veered away from skiing when he had a chance to compete for a spot on the U.S. Ski Team. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did.
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