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Meet the Hallmarkies: How these Vancouver actors ended up in the Hallmark 'stable'

The community of actors that star in Hallmark movies are known as Hallmarkies.
Hallmarkies
We sat down with seven Vancouver-based Hallmark actors for a new series. From top left to bottom right: Antonio Cayonne, Cardi Wong, Adil Zaidi, Fiona Vroom, Matt Hamilton, Donna Benedicto, and Nathan Witte.

As Vancouverites, it's our prerogative to pause a movie or TV show and point out landmarks in the background. "That's Vancouver!"

Vancouver, B.C. has played Vancouver, Washington more often than it's played itself on-screen. It's also played New York, Chicago, Riverdale, and Starling City to name a few. But most often Vancouver and the surrounding areas of B.C. stand-in for charming small towns in nowhere-USA where a woman takes a break from her high-powered job and inattentive boyfriend to reconnect with the important things in life and perhaps even fall in love (she definitely falls in love).

Hallmark films 60 movies a year in B.C. and more often than not hires within the same community of cast and crew, creating dozens of opportunities for our local actors. So if you've ever seen a familiar face from a commercial or TV series in a Hallmark movie, chances are they're based in Vancouver.

We sat down with seven Vancouver-based actors who are Hallmark regulars and asked them how they feel about the genre, what a Hallmark movie is like versus other projects, and how the historically white Christian network is modernizing its formula to include more diversity. Check out what they had to say on each topic here.

Let's meet the actors!

Antonio Cayonne (Christmas in Evergreen: Bells are Ringing, The Vows We Keep, Matching Hearts)

How did you get involved in Hallmark?

"The way I got involved, is kind of the way everybody gets involved really, you're always fighting for whatever job is available. But when I first moved to Vancouver, I actually didn't even know about Hallmark. It wasn't on my radar. In Toronto, I'm sure there is a ton of Hallmark but I wasn't auditioning for any. And so when I got out here, I just started getting these call-outs for this type of show that was always extremely wholesome and that a stock structure to it. So it became something that was really interesting to audition for. I got lucky on my first one, booked it, ended up on set with a few Hallmark all-stars: Andrew Walker and Taylor Cole, who have been in a bazillion Hallmarks at this point, as well as Marcus Rosner. And that was it. Once I was in the stable, I just kept auditioning and kept booking and roles got bigger and bigger."

What's your favourite Hallmark memory?

"I remember the first time I had a director knock on the door before shooting a scene just to say hi and to say, 'you know, it's gonna be busy on set so we don't have a chance to talk to each other. But I just want you to know who I am. And I want you to know why you're here and I'm really excited to do this with you. And I hope you're comfortable. And if there's anything you need, let me know' and the door closed and my jaw dropped. I was blown away. Who does that? That was so kind. And like I said, the further I get in, the more I realize that that's actually what's normal.

Similarly, I was shooting something the other day and I had two people that were Hallmark executives messaged me on Instagram to say, 'hey, we saw the dailies,  and we just want you to know we love what you're doing.' That's crazy. Nobody would say that. So there's a kindness within the world that I think really explains why the network has done so well."

Cardi Wong (Christmas for Keeps, My Best Friend's Bouquet, Always and Forever Christmas)

How did you get involved in Hallmark?

"My first Hallmark audition was for All of My Heart starring Lacey Chabert and Brendan Elliot. That was a really cool one because I didn't know that Peter DeLuise, the director, was going to be in the room at the time. And it was just a small role in the kitchen where I like up something and then the chef yells at me, but then Lacey comes to my rescue. And during the audition process, Peter said that he enjoyed how I had a beat for every single moment of my character. And I found out I got it and I was just so excited because as a new actor you want to be there and you want to do all the work."

Donna Benedicto (Matching Hearts, Jingle Bell Bride, Sweet Carolina)

How did you get involved in Hallmark?

"I started acting in 2013 and there actually wasn't much representation in TV back then for Filipinos, and I really did think that the biggest role I could get would be a best friend on something. And unfortunately, it took me a little while for smaller roles to get going, but Hallmark was actually the first network that hired me as a supporting role, like a big supporting role. So that was pretty amazing. And it just kind of snowballed from there.

Because, basically, in Vancouver especially, it's a small city, and the industry is really tied together. So once you start working for a director that likes you and your work, then they start pulling you in onto their other projects, and I got really lucky to do a good handful of them."

Adil Christmas
Adil Zaidi and Laura Vandervoort in Christmas Together with You. Hallmark Channel

 

Nathan Witte (My Best Friend's Bouquet, A Christmas Treasure, Sealed with a Kiss)

How did you get involved in Hallmark?

"How I got into it was simply like any other actor: having an agent, auditioning, and then booking my first role on a Hallmark. Once you kind of get in with a company in the film industry and they like you, they still have you audition but they tend to use you more often. If you can perform."

What's your favourite Hallmark memory?

"One that I really am very passionate about one of my favourite Hallmarks I ever did was one of my most cherished experiences on set was my first lead in a hallmark called My Best Friend’s Bouquet and what drew me to that script, more than any other Hallmark script was that it was more of an ensemble cast. And it stretched deeper, with not only the one and two (me being number two on the call sheet for the first time on a hallmark) but the other characters three, four, five, and six, they also brought a depth and they also had some character arcs. So I felt like the script was a lot more rounded and supported the number one and two on the call sheet in their story because you have this other world going around. Whereas if it's just the two leads, it can seem a little staged."

Fiona Vroom  (Nantucket Noel, Deliver by Christmas, The Wedding Veil Trilogy)

How did you get involved in Hallmark?

"It was through the audition process. I just started through Jackie Lynn's casting, going out for these wonderful roles for women. And what I love about Hallmark is the women are always kind of running the show. And that actually goes through casting, the casting are all women. And I think my first lead was A Time to Dance when I got to play with Jennie Garth, I played her sister."

Adil Zaidi (The Perfect Recipe/Welcome to Mama's, A Christmas Together with You, My Best Friend's Bouquet)

How did you get involved in Hallmark?

"It all started with smaller stuff, smaller parts. One line here, one line there, kind of deal. I think the very first one might have been a Christmas movie way back when. And it is a small community where one thing leads to another and a lot of people kind of just know each other and they do tend to call you back and work with you more often if they like you and you get along well with everyone. I think it was a movie called Mingle All the Way or Christmas Bells Are Ringing, one of those was early on. Ever since then, it was a matter of continuing to stay in contact and have some people that like to work with me and one thing led to another thing."

What's your favourite Hallmark memory?

"We just shot a movie last year in Vernon called Christmas Together With You. This movie starred Laura Vandervoort, she used to play Supergirl in the Smallville series, and Laura and I went to the same high school in Toronto way back when; she was like a year or two older than me. I had met her when I first started acting and she gave me a little hand and gave me some advice and totally forgot who I was after that but I kind of kept this in my head, all this advice she'd given me. Fast-forward ten or twelve years in my mind, I was like at some point, someday in my career, I want to work with this girl. I booked the supporting lead on a Hallmark and low and behold I look at the call sheet and Laura's the lead. That's wild in itself. But after 12 years of being able to keep this advice she gave me in my head and keep going and 12 years later managed to book a job on the set.

It goes to show that one of the cool things about working on these Hallmark movies is that they'll go out and they'll get really solid actors for their leads and then the rest of it gets cast locally amongst local people like us, the supporting leads. It's given me tremendous opportunities to work with people that I don't think I would normally be able to get into a room with. They do bring together a large group of people. The Laura story was truly a career kind of landmark."

More Meet the Hallmarkies: