If you think it’s an absolute pleasure to watch Paul Campbell on screen, you can imagine how open and engaging he can be during a chat.
We had such a pleasure when we jumped on the phone with Paul to talk about Magic in Mistletoe, in which he stars with Lyndie Greenwood about a beloved author who makes a PR mistake that demands the services of a professional to set things straight.
The following conversation with this delightful man gave my facial muscles a real workout. I hope you find the same joy in reading it as it prepares you to encounter an entirely new character from one of our favorite actors.
Tell me, why Magic in Mistletoe? What did you love about it?
[chuckles] Well, I guess there are two parts to that question. The why is I didn’t really get a choice necessarily. I was offered the movie. I think the network thought the why was more, “Let’s put Paul in it. He’s right for this,” but then I actually really, really connected to the character in a very surprising way.
The character that I play, Harrington, is really different for me. I often find myself playing these really sort of likable, charming, fun-loving kind of guys. This is not this guy. He’s a recluse. He’s a Grinch. He’s grumpy; he’s disenfranchised. He wants nothing to do with Christmas — with the world.
I mean, he’s really, he’s not one of these sort of, “I don’t really like Christmas anymore.” He’s like, “I absolutely cannot stand it. I want nothing to do with it.” He’s really taken a hard position on this, and it creates this really fun, deep journey to find his way back into the Christmas bliss.
It was a challenge for me. Really enjoyable.
Yeah. He’s really salty. When you first meet him, I was like, ‘That’s not a Paul Campbell right there.’
He’s really salty.
That’s not him.
Did you see the movie?
And what did you think? I haven’t seen it. I’ll ask you first what you thought of it in general. How did you feel?
Oh, I liked it. I liked it, and I liked that you were different.
It’s nice to see people taking on challenges in their roles, and if you always play the same affable guy, then where’s the fun in that?
Where is the fun in that? There’s a little danger in playing somebody [like him]. When you start with somebody that unlikable, really the challenge is, can you bring them full circle? Can you win the audience back?
The line you have to walk is how salty can you be? How far can you push this without losing people completely in the first ten minutes?
I think perhaps at points we could have gone further, but I think we found the edges pretty well there. Yeah, it was really enjoyable. I really enjoyed this one — Lyndie’s so good in this movie, as well as a foil.
There were times when I felt so bad for her character, April, having to put up with Harrington, and Lyndie just had these looks on her face like she was so hurt. It was so sad! It all worked out in the end, of course; it’s Hallmark. But wow, you guys did a good job.
Thank you. She has that great moment when she kind of turns on him and just says, really puts him in his place about, “I didn’t choose to be here, and this isn’t what I wanted to do with my time, and I’m here to save your career, and the least you can do is sort of put on a smile,” but really gives her great agency in the movie.
I think if she hadn’t had that moment where she gets to put him in his place, you have a hard time respecting that character. But you see that she’s doing this for professional reasons.
It’s her job. She has to put up with this, but she’ll only take so much, and at certain points, she goes, “That’s enough.” It was a great turning point in the movie for both of those characters.
I think there’s a point where in everybody’s life where you have to work with somebody, it’s just not enjoyable for you. There’s just nothing you want to do less than go to work with this person, but you have to do it. In that respect, it did make perfect sense.
I’ve never had that experience.
No. Genuinely, I am so grateful. I genuinely have never had to go to work with somebody that I just could not stand to go to work with.
And that’s the truth. I’m not just saying that. I know! My streak is sure to be broken at some point, but I’m 20 years deep in this career.
Knock on wood!
I know. I feel like I need it to happen, just so I can say it has. It’s like visiting Niagara Falls. I mean, everybody’s talking about it. At some point, you got to go and say I did that.
I can’t think of anything that I would recommend less than having to work with somebody who you just don’t like.
I don’t know. Have you been to Niagara Falls?
[laughs]I have. I have been to Niagara Falls.
Oh, it was quite terrible. Did you do the Maid of the Mist?
I didn’t. No, I didn’t do any of the fun stuff other than stand around and look like Chevy Chase on the side of the Grand Canyon, which is also how I visited the Grand Canyon.
Oh, there you go. There you go. I’ll say this: the beauty of the industry that I’m in, particularly working for the Hallmark Channel, is even if I did find myself in a situation with somebody that I just did not get along with, these shoots are three weeks long.
I think about this sometimes. If you worked in an office place or some sort of workplace where this was your career, you were stationed this was 25, 30 years, and you’re having to work with somebody that you just can’t stand, it would be miserable. I can’t even imagine how difficult that would be.
Yeah, it is. It’s one of those things where everybody kind of bands together, though. It’s usually somebody that everybody doesn’t like, which is kind of like the Harrington character, where everybody’s just like, “Oh, come on. He’s just being…”
They all knew he was salty even though they still liked him, so they kind of all banded together to help, I would say, to help April figure him out.
I think that in a regular workplace, that’s what people do. You all band together and try to figure out what the heck is going on. Why are we having this issue?
Yeah, hopefully, there’s some compassion there. Right?
Usually, there’s a root of those things. When somebody is not very nice to be around, there’s something at the root of it.
If we have a little curiosity and a little compassion for that and try to understand, rather than just dismiss them as being rude or just write them off, then maybe there is a path to healing and a path to a healthier relationship.
I was just talking about that last week in my own personal life, and I put it on social media.
There’s a point where you have to just remember that whoever you’re talking to, whoever you’re dealing with, they’re all going through something, and you just never know what it is on the face of it. Don’t be judgy.
Don’t be judgy. Don’t be judgy.
Try to pull back a little bit; have some humanity.
Yep. I agree — 100% agree.
April had to have a lot of humanity.
She had to have a lot of humanity, and she wasn’t judgy. She was extremely patient. She was extremely patient with this guy to her credit, and she really did a great job.
That was a tough role for any actress because Harrington really does overtake so much of the first part of the movie, just with his attitude. His presence is so big and abrasive, but Lyndie’s performance lives in the subtlety and the reactions, and she did such a wonderful job.
Her presence is equally strong but in a different way.
That’s not easy to do.
The character itself, Harrington, here’s this guy who’s written these beloved books. The world just thinks he walks on water from his creative talent perspective, and then he’s just got this miserable attitude. How do you reconcile that in the character?
Well, I mean, when you have smart writing and those — like we talked about — those things are rooted in something very real. There’s a real pain there, and those feelings don’t come out of nowhere.
If you’re curious and you dig down, and you really define the root of it, where it’s all coming from, then you have a journey there, and you can justify the anger, the harsh words. They’re misdirected. They’re not actually coming from a place of genuinely disliking Christmas or genuinely disliking the books.
They’re his cover story for the true feelings that are going on, which are actually tough to deal with. When you don’t have a sounding board, you don’t have a community around you, and you don’t have an outlet for those feelings, often they come out in a completely different way.
In Harrington’s case, he has a lot of deeply rooted pain, and he has things, regrets and things that he’s been hanging on to, and they manifest into this outward dislike of Christmas because through Christmas, he associates or he associates these other things that he can’t really speak of and doesn’t maybe even really dig into until toward the end of the movie.
When you’re being a jerk, and you’re being salty, as long as you know that that’s coming from a place of hurt and a place of vulnerability, it is really easy to tell that story. I think we all, there’s not a person on this planet that can’t identify with that.
Somebody makes a comment that rubs you the wrong way, or that’s hurtful, and later in the day, you’re driving your car, and somebody cuts you off, and you lay on the horn, and you throw your hands up and yell at them, and you’re like, that moment had nothing to do with the person who was driving in front of you.
It had everything to do with that comment that made you feel small earlier. We all identify with that. It’s a very familiar feeling and a very familiar character type. We’re all that person in certain ways in our own way.
So you had fun letting loose with that kind of darker side of yourself?
A little bit. Yeah. As the Hallmark channel continues to evolve in tone and types of storytelling and push boundaries in those regards, there’s a real sort of fun discovery process of how far you can take things.
I think two or three years ago, I’m not sure that I would’ve been able to push that character quite as far. I don’t think I would’ve been able to be quite as edgy or quite as salty. I probably would’ve had a director or a producer asking me to warm it up a little bit.
But we had an incredible executive, Camden, who was in charge of this movie. We had a great director, and everybody kind of went, “No, this is actually, this is a very human thing. It’s not without reason.”
There’s a discovery of how far we can take this and still be human and still be relatable and still have enough room to come back to travel back. I like the process.
It must’ve been a little different, too. I mean, you’ve obviously had roles in other types of entertainment outside of Hallmark, so you’ve had that chance to sink your chops into something a little different. Did it feel kind of weird being that character in a Hallmark movie?
It did. Yeah, it did. It felt like you almost keep looking over your shoulder to get affirmation that you’re not doing something wrong a little bit. And again, there’s such an incredible creative community.
Everybody who pours themselves into these movies is so supportive, and everybody is very like-minded. It’s very rare that you come across somebody who isn’t completely on the same page as everybody else.
Had I done anything that wasn’t right in terms of tone or any of my choices had been wrong, I would’ve heard about it. You know that when your behavior is a certain way, nobody wants to be unlikable. I walk through this world personally, wanting to be liked. I think we all do.
It takes a certain type of person not to care at all what people think. Even though it’s fictional, the way that you’re saying these things, I get to the end of a scene with Lyndie and go, “I just wish I could just give you a hug and say, sorry, I don’t want to be that guy to you.”
I don’t want to be leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth here. But that is genuinely the character. You do kind of feel like, “I’m not sure that what I’m doing is great here,” but you rely and you believe that somebody would tell you if you weren’t.
You just kind of keep trucking along until somebody says, “Hey, let’s shift gears here a little bit.”
How long did it take you to find your rhythm with that kind of character?
Too fast, too fast. [laughs] Immediately, I was like, “Oh, I know how to do this. I know this guy.” Yeah, I’m certainly far from perfect in my real life.
I am big enough that when I speak to somebody rudely or when I have a moment when I fail, like when I speak to my child in a way that I go, “Oh, that’s actually not how we speak to people.”
Or when you have a certain tone, or, I find those things in my real life constantly and having an awareness of that I should not have spoken that way or reacted that way or that I overreacted and being able to apologize and mean things. That’s how we live happy, healthy lives.
I can see those moments with clarity in the script and realize I know exactly how that moment might come out or how that moment might be played, and whether he apologizes in the moment for that or immediately says, “Listen, I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that,” that’s a different story.
But I am very familiar with using the wrong tone, being grumpy, snapping at somebody, or having a bad attitude. I think we all are; again, it’s very human.
It is, indeed. I was looking at your Instagram page and watching people’s reactions to you saying that he’s not the nicest guy and stuff, and somebody pointed out that your hair looks different. Was that for the role, or are you just trying something different with your hair?
I didn’t see that comment. I have been trying something a little different with my hair. I’ve been trying to grow it out a little bit for the last year. After Three Wise Men — my hair was a little bit longer in Three Wise Men on top — I just kind of kept growing it.
I thought, “I’ve had the same haircut for 13 movies. Maybe I should try to take a page out of Tyler Hynes’s playbook and try something a little different.” It’s definitely longer in the movie. I’ve kind of hung on to it.
A little wavy flip. I like it.
I tried something a little different.
It kind of fits the character, too. It’s like you’re introducing a new Paul to the audience.
Well, yeah. The idea that he’s a bit of a recluse and you pick him up off the top, he’s living in the middle of nowhere. It’s a small town in the middle of nowhere, and he’s not staying camera-ready. Originally, he was written with a full beard — a full scruff, but just for production reasons, it’s really difficult.
You can’t shoot a full scruff and then shave it. But yeah, he was really unkempt. I think you can see as the movie evolves, his wardrobe gets a little sharper and a little more cleaned up. But the idea was he starts off pretty unkempt because he’s just kind of given up a little bit. I like that as well.
Do you have a favorite book series that you grew up with? Who was your Harrington?
Oh, man. I mean, yeah, Lord of the Rings. I grew up with Lord of the Rings. I’ve read everything. I grew up with the Hardy Boys. I grew up with Nancy Drew. I grew up with The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, which I’m reading to my son right now.
I read everything and anything that was within my reach, but I think Lord of the Rings was probably the first series that really changed my perspective on what writing could be.
I remember just being so engrossed, so enthralled by those books, and just absolutely taken away to another world, which was the first time, and it was the first time I had experienced literature in that way.
The discovery that you could be transported to a completely different world was so important to me and so influential to me. I think after The Lord of the Rings, that was it.
I just read anything and everything that I could get my hands on. I read the entire Babysitter’s Club series. I read Sweet Valley. My sister had all the books. I read everything.
That’s awesome because it gives you a wide picture of the world instead of just choosing one genre. Try everything.
I just loved stories — stories and characters.
Exactly. It really does. I think that’s why maybe writing has come relatively easily because I’ve just read so much. I have so much source material to work from, and I have just spent my life with my nose in a book.
I understand structure and dialogue and character and conflict, and I understand all those things very, very deeply on a cellular level at this point.
I’ve often enjoyed seeing how often you and your writing partner and fellow actor, Kimberley Sustad, work together on and off the screen. What are you writing now? Are you working on projects?
Couple things. We’ve had a couple of things we’ve been tinkering with. This has been sort of an odd year. We had both the writer’s strike and the SAG strike, which [affected] getting things through development and into production.
We have two things that we were working on that were both potentially going to happen this year and then ended up being shuffled around. Hopefully, a couple of things will move ahead for next year. But yeah, we’re always tinkering.
We’ve got a lot of ideas and a lot of roads we’d love to embark on. But we’ll see. I think you’ll probably be seeing a couple of things from us pop up next year. Fingers crossed.
How about your holidays? Is the family getting excited? Are you decorating yet?
Oh, the tree’s been up. November 26th, I think my tree went up and was totally ready. I haven’t done any Christmas shopping yet. [laughs] I’m going to leave that until December 24th. Then it’s probably just going to be a handful of gift cards. [laughs]
So you have good material for a future movie!
Exactly. It’s just called, ‘Oh, my God, Christmas is Tomorrow.’ That’s going to be the movie. It’s going to be real-time. Somebody scrambling. Actually, that’s a really fun idea. Could you imagine real time, 83 and a half minutes, somebody showing up? Okay, this is actually really good.
The 83 and a half minutes before you’re supposed to be at the family Christmas, and you haven’t bought a thing, and it’s your journey to come up with gifts. It’s like your journey through town going to the neighbors’ grabbing, and it’s like Christmas morning, just trying to show up and not be a total disaster.
That’s kind of a fun idea. You could do real-time. It starts at like 8:00 am.
So many people would understand that because as much as we want to plan, it doesn’t always work that way.
Yes. You were supposed to bring the casserole and have the gift, and you have nothing. That’s really fun. I don’t know if it would be possible to do it, but that’s a really fun idea.
Christmases, we’ve got the elf on the shelf is going strong over here. That little guy’s been popping up in all sorts of fun places. I think the holidays have become a little more relaxed for me. It’s not such a big thing anymore. It’s not such a big production anymore.
We still really love it, but it’s not like 20 family members flying in for dinner. It’s just gotten a lot smaller and manageable, which I’m very, very happy about.
That’s good! What’s been your son’s favorite Elf on the Shelf location? Where has he been so far?
Well, that little stinker, let’s see, today’s the fourth. He showed up on the first. Actually, we didn’t really find him until the second — he was buried. My son has a display of all of his little stuffies, and so the first day he showed up, he was up on the shelf amongst the stuffies, just his eyeballs peeking out.
But he’d taken this little snow hat from the Christmas tree that’s an ornament, and he pulled it over his head. He was just eyes visible that day. That was a fun one.
He’s been jammed in all sorts of light fixtures, and he’s been the favorite one, I think, because we’re up on the 26th floor of a building in downtown Vancouver, and one morning, we opened the blinds, and he was on the outside of the window looking in.
He was dangling from the outside, and he’d been out there, I guess, all night. But he was on the outside of the building looking in through the window, 26 floors above the ground. That was a big shock.
There was a big debate there about whether or not to reel him in, but ultimately decided to respect the do-not-touch rule and just left it up to the magic of elfishness, I guess.
[laughing] Oh my gosh. Do you have a balcony, I hope?
Oh, no, no, no, no, no balcony. He was just 260 feet above the ground.
Oh my gosh. Your son must have been freaking out.
Really. Really. Yeah, and there was a little wind. There was a little wind, so he was kind of bouncing around a little bit out there. It was pretty funny. But he survived the night.
Did you have a backup?!?
There was no backup.
Just in case?
Honestly, I realized it didn’t occur to me the wind would come up. I thought it would be pretty calm, but as soon as I saw him, I was like, “Oh man, this could go sideways real fast.” No parachute either. But it all worked out, fortunately.
Not that he’d know how to use it.
No, it’s so true.
[laughing] Or that it would do any good. He would land in the middle of traffic in downtown Vancouver.
Oh, don’t even say it. [laughing]
Car tire. Yeah. No, no. No.
Too much game for a little elf. He needs to be on his shelf where he’s safe.
He really does. He came back in pretty quickly after that night. That was his last foray into the world outside the building. He’s an inside elf now.
Oh my. There’s your story. That’s got to be part of your 83 minutes — the elf!
That’s so true!
Now that you’ve got a good idea of what Mr. Campbell is doing now and a peek into his brain about the future, be sure to tune into Magic in Mistletoe tonight at 8/7 on Hallmark Channel. It’s another one you don’t want to miss!
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 X and email her here at TV Fanatic.