With Christmas just around the corner, it’s time to put aside all the stresses of life and work, with a Christmas movie! It will recharge your batteries, inspire you to throw snowballs, build a snowman, bake some cookies, facetime with friends and so much more. We’ve all been so distracted with this pandemic, that it’s easy to forget about the holidays… but we must forge on like we always have. We must not let a virus dictate which holidays we choose to celebrate and what we want to watch. Bah humbug to that! Christmas is coming and our spirits need lifting like never before, so bring on the Christmas shows and let’s light this candle!
Antonio Cayonne is the male lead in Christmas in Evergreen: Bells Are Ringing, the latest Hallmark holiday movie. Nobody does it better than Hallmark, when it comes to the holiday movies, including the cast they fill those roles with. Antonio Cayonne is best known for roles in Prison Break, The Magicians, X-Files, iZombie and many more. He also has a supporting role in the upcoming Mighty Ducks reboot for Disney +. He returns to his recurring role as Elliot but as the male lead in this budding romance between him and his best-friend, Hannah (Rukiya Bernard). They will be put to the test as they grapple with their individual growth.
Antonio is one of the first male BIPOC actors cast in a leading role in a Hallmark holiday movie. The film releases on Hallmark in the U.S. on December 5 and on the W Network in Canada on December 6.
I had an amazing chat with Antonio, mostly about food because he runs 2 restaurants when he’s not in front of the camera and because I love talking about good food, however we also found time to also talk about this charming Christmas movie.
HNM “You’re in Christmas in Evergreen: Bells Are Ringing. This is the fourth Christmas installment of this franchise. Is your character the same?”
ANTONIO “Same character, yeah. Christmas in Evergreen is one of Hallmarks franchises and it’s really been able to connect with people since it came out. The town of Evergreen is really important because it’s a town where Christmas is perfect and there’s someone in town that essentially, might be the real Santa. The town is so rich with the Christmas spirit, that everyone flocks to it – and when that happens, somebody falls in love. That’s been the premise of the franchise; when I showed up in part 3, I wasn’t new to town, I was a character that had lived in the town the entire time and had romantic feelings for his best friend, Hanna (Rukiya Bernard) … who had also been brought up in the town. What’s really magical about Christmas in Evergreen 4 is, we get to delve deeper into the lives of 2 people that have never left the town and are at a crossroads in their lives, trying to figure out what they want and how they’re going to make their mark in this world – and what that might look like.”
HNM “You’ve played many character’s in TV and film throughout your career. How difficult is it to be romantic when you have an entire crew surrounding you?”
ANTONIO “That’s a great question. When I first started acting, I found it very difficult. Like anything new, you tend to get distracted from noise easily… but certainly, the longer I’ve been in the business and the longer I’ve been on set – I’ve gotten used to the sounds and the smells. I’ve been able to learn to remain present with my partner and find something intimate between the two of us, that we can come back to in the event we go off center… we can find each other again to rediscover what’s happening between the two of us. It certainly has the potential to be distracting and we’re not above it (laughing), we get distracted all the time.”
HNM “Have you both acted together before?”
ANTONIO “We were both in Christmas in Evergreen 3, which is where we met. The fascinating thing is that our stories are very similar. She’s also from Toronto before moving to Vancouver. I grew up outside of Toronto and she grew up in the city. I moved to the city at 18 and went to a high school – that she also attended, 2 years later; we have mutual friends. I remember being in her trailer, running lines when I got a text message from someone telling me about a person, and she said it was her childhood best friend. It contributed to the feeling of knowing each other for a lifetime, which in turn, bled into Christmas in Evergreen with two characters that supposedly know each other all their lives, which we could easily connect to.”
HNM “When you’re in a Christmas movie, is there a different vibe on set in comparison to other film sets?”
ANTONIO “Yes, there definitely can be. Within the Hallmark world, who owns Christmas as far as I’m concerned – they make the best movies, they have the most thoughtful casting process, which results in the best cast and crews of people. When you arrive on a Hallmark Christmas set – most of the time you’re not shooting in the Christmas season, but yet you have this cast and/or crew that will do ugly Christmas sweater Fridays. There’re hot chocolate trucks that will come to set… so everybody really does get into the Christmas spirit. The more that everyone buys into it, the more magical it becomes and the more you slip into it. It’s the same thing with a Valentine movie, that you’re shooting in December – everyone’s in these romantic loving moods. There’s something that grows organically out of the set that has the potential to sweep you away. Hallmark really owns Christmas and Valentines.”
HNM “Was there any special preparations you had to do for this role?”
ANTONIO “I mean, learning lines (laughing). This was my first time as a romantic lead and what was interesting about it, was the amount of script revisions we got to go through. The eager person that I am in wanting to do a good job while making the most out of the opportunity to connect with Rukiya, we’d print off whichever draft we had and start learning through it, talking through it and figuring out the beats – trying to learn what the true moments were in the relationship, what the nuances were and what we could bring… then 2 days later we’d get a new script. Those scenes we had committed to memory were long gone. I don’t know if others use this term but it feels like there’s ghosts of other past scripts in current scripts, so by the time I got to the 6th script, I had all the information from previous scripts, which created a sense of history. You get a real glimpse for what the writer is aiming for, because you get to see them troubleshoot dialogue/scenes.”
HNM “Was this shot in Vancouver?”
ANTONIO “We actually shot just outside Vancouver, most of its in Burnaby, near the Shadbolt Centre in a small village called the Burnaby Village, which is a preserved/pioneering village. All of the Christmas in Evergreen movies have been shot there. I believe we also shot some scenes in Abbotsford.”
HNM “You’ve been in a lot of TV. What has been one of your favourite roles to play?”
ANTONIO “I don’t know if any of them stand out as a favourite, although I do have little moments I took away from each one that I’ve added to my bucket list; I make my bucket list in reverse. I really loved being on X-Files – when it first came out, I was properly obsessed with it. I followed Dechovny’s career, Julia Anderson’s career and I think they’re at the top of what they do, so I was in awe when I was in the scene with the two of them. I got to read Duchovny the riot act, which was a lot of fun. (Laughing) It’s an exciting thing to try and eviscerate somebody that I think so highly of. I also really enjoyed being on iZombie, specifically because I was put in a freezer and had all this frozen zombie looking make-up on… it was a lot of fun. When you sit in hair and make-up, you really get to see how skilled they are. They can make you look like a completely different person just by applying make-up, so that was pretty amazing. When I was on Psyche, I had a prosthetic hand made, and the experience of that was so amazing – I wanted to switch careers and do what they do.”
HNM “What are some of the more awkward scenes to play in a movie/TV series?”
ANTONIO “I think everyone has a superpower on set and everyone has a kryptonite. The thing that I find most difficult – is the combination of jargon that is far outside my comfort zone, paired with long choreography; walking down hallways, turning and stopping, turning and handing something… it’s doable but it requires a lot of rehearsal and getting to understand what a medical examiner might be going through. You have to wrap your mouth around these words that you don’t typically say. The other thing that can be quite difficult on set, is when something goes wrong and you get stuck. For whatever reason, you get stuck on why it happened or what someone thinks. It shouldn’t matter – but every so often, that narrative gets louder than the job you have to do. It’s a real skill to be able to calm your anxieties on the moment and ground yourself and connect to something. You need to be able to silence the white noise and show up authentically for the person I’m in the scene with.”
HNM “If you weren’t acting, what other profession would you be interested in?”
ANTONIO “I live an interesting life where I do have a whole other profession (laughing), so I think I’m living it. I honestly believe I’d be in hospitality, I really truly love people and connecting with them. I do a lot of outreach work and build initiatives within the community to try to help.”
HNM “What’s the strangest food you’ve ever eaten?”
ANTONIO “I’m pretty adventurous but I can’t even think of what’s strange anymore. This doesn’t fall into the strangest, but years ago I was in a restaurant called Cleo’s and I was introduced to a 63-degree egg. It’s quite common now, but it’s an egg that’s cooked in a circulator in a bag, so the water isn’t coming into contact. The egg cooks for 1 ½ hours at 63-64 degrees and what ends up happening – the yolk becomes like caramel, in terms of texture; you can roll it around in your fingers. At Cleo’s, I happened to be having a tasting menu with my wife and in the egg was this spice mixture that was so good that I started to get lightheaded. My wife didn’t care for hers, so I started eating it and I got more and more lightheaded and I was spinning. The server came over to me and put his hand on my shoulder, he asked if I was eating mine. I said no, I’m eating hers because it’s so good. He said, please stop (laughing). To this day, I don’t know what kind of spice it was, but it was truly an out of body experience and I felt like I was floating. I know it’s not the strangest food I’ve eaten but it’s certainly the strangest food experience I’ve ever had, where I felt like – something religious just happened to me.”
HNM “Would you rather ride the world’s tallest roller coaster or try bungee jumping?”
ANTONIO “I would probably do both… but the one that I’d be excited for, is the world’s tallest rollercoaster. It would scare the life out of me, but between the two, I’d feel a little safer (laughing), so I’m in.”
HNM “Do you have any special talents?”
ANTONIO “I have some quirky things that I’m into; I got into lock picking this past year, and it’s probably a strange thing to get excited by, but I’ve watched locksmith’s work and have always been fascinated by it. One day I was thinking that it’s 2019, there must be a community of lock-pics, so I googled it and there’s an entire subculture… so I got in.”
HNM “If we were to listen to your music selection on your phone, what would we find?”
ANTONIO “I’ve never been a person that’s been into just one genre, but I’m pretty eclectic when it comes to music and some of the thing’s I listen to surprise me, so right now I’ve been obsessed with the music from Hamilton. I love musical theatre and resisted it for a while because it was so popular and I thought it couldn’t be that good. I was on set where these kids were singing Hamilton and thought, I should learn this stuff, it sounds pretty good. I also have a 2 ½ year old, so I’ve got a ton of Sesame Street Raffi on the go. I’m starting to move into the Christmas season, so I’ve been loading up a few Christmas songs that I really like.”
Antonio was a delight to talk to and gave me some amazing tips on food. I’ll be sure to also visit the 2 restaurants he works with, The Mackenzie Room and Say Mercy. Be sure to watch Christmas in Evergreen because you deserve it.