Interview: Michael Damian, Writer-Director of “A Princess for Christmas”

Posted on October 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Michael Damian played heartthrob Danny Romalotti on “The Young and the Restless” for 18 years, returning for the show’s 35th anniversary.  He is an award-winning singer and songwriter and more recently he has been a writer and director.  He and his wife co-wrote the charming modern fairy tale A Princess for Christmas and he directed it as well.  He took time to talk to me about directing Roger Moore and the surprise actress he added to the film.

How does your experience as an actor help you in casting your films? 

I know what the actors are going through when they go into the casting room, and I do understand that it’s very important to have a director who gives, off-camera, really good readings to actors. I think it helps tremendously, and we were very fortunate that our casting director London did a great job; she gives fabulous off-camera reads to the actors and really helps to get in on the character. I’ve been in casting rooms where the person reading with you is so terrible that it’s just like… “So what do you need?” and like, oh my gosh, please tell me they’re not going to read every line like that (in my head, of course, I’m saying it.)

You have to find a way to rise above that, but fortunately, we have really good casting people that worked with us out of London and when Sam came in, you know, he was amazing. Right away when we saw him we’re like, “Okay, there’s Prince Ashton. There’s our prince.” He was dynamic, he was charming; he had a sensitive side you could see, there was warmth in his eyes—it wasn’t very difficult to make up our minds once we saw his recorded audition. I wasn’t in London when it happened, I was in Romania in per-production, but I got the feed over the internet of the casting session and we were like “Wow, he’s fantastic!” And he’s even better in person and did an amazing job getting him on camera.

Tell me about working with Roger Moore.

Sir Roger Moore is phenomenal. He is so funny, you know? He’s got an incredible sense of humor, and that’s really wonderful because you’ve got to have that when you’re not shooting, because otherwise it can be very, very uncomfortable on a set when you have a star of his stature to be just not having a good time—and Roger Moore just really enjoys the process. He gave 110%, he was there for all the off-camera line reads, he was present, he was just a total joy. All the actors loved working with him and he treated them with great respect and kindness. And I’m such a fan of Roger Moore, I mean, The Spy Who Loved Me is one of my favorite Bonds. I had such high expectations just from a personal level, you know what I mean? He met them and exceeded them and it was just such a pleasure and honor to direct him and his lovely wife, Lady Kristina, was fabulous.  I put her in the film because she was so gorgeous—and I didn’t realize that no one’s ever asked her to be in a movie. And I said, “Lady Kristina, you need to be in the film,” and she was like, “Oh, I would love to.” And I was like, “You’re in the next scene…” so in all the ballroom scenes, you see this beautiful, elegant, radiant woman in black that he says hello to at the entrance, and then you see her reacting during all the drama that unfolds…that’s his wife, Lady Kristina, she’s gorgeous.  They’re a great couple, and they’re so in love with each other. I got to have dinner with them on their anniversary.

Tell me about Romania.

Well, Romania was an amazing experience. First of all, to find a castle like Peles Castle up in the mountains with this beautiful, I mean, just stunning.  And to have the natural snow falling and the setting was so inspiring…it was a bit cold, 14 below zero, but besides that, it was a thrill.

Sam also did mention the cold.

Did he tell you how cold it was?

Yes, he did—and I thought, “well, if an English guy is cold, it’s probably pretty cold.”

It was cold, it was a crazy cold. But they were brilliant, nobody complained, Sam never complained and I hope he had a good experience, I mean, we had a great experience.

What were you going for in the costume designs to strike a balance between modern day and fairy tale?

First of all we’ve got this castle with all the staff and I wanted to keep them proper and dressed proper as staff, like “Remains of the Day” or one of those great films, you know? You keep everybody pretty formal. Katie’s dress, we had the costume designer, Oana Draghici, make several things for her and sometimes Katie McGrath would come in with something and she’d say, “What do you think of this?” and I’m like, “Great. Where did you get that?” And she’d go, “Oh, it’s mine, I brought it,” and sure enough, she wore it in several scenes and I’ve had so many people asking where they could buy it.  I think it’s in some of the artwork or the press photos, it’s kind of a knit, sweatery dress or something that she wears and everybody keeps asking about it. I go, “well, it’s Katie’s personal dress, so I can’t help you with that, you’re going to have to call her.” You mix and match, it depends on which character. The great thing about Castlebury is that it’s our own—we created this small country that’s kind of like a Monte Carlo, so we were able to have a little more free reign with certain styles and things that people wore, you know, and the family starts in Buffalo so it’s pretty straightforward, there. I pretty much know how they dress in Buffalo and have a lot of friends that live there, so just try to keep it real…really each character define them and make sure they have their own style and that you just don’t, “Oh, yeah, put that on him, who cares?” I want to really make sure that it works with the character and that it works with the scene. Unfortunately, sometimes, it could be freezing cold but you’ve got to make it work. You put too many jackets on and it’s really unattractive, do you know what I mean?

What is it that we love about fairy tales?

Well I think, first of all, there are a couple of things here. You’ve got one of the most beloved holiday seasons, Christmas, and it’s my favorite. My wife and I love Christmas movies, and so we thought, “okay, what if we made a Christmas story/fairytale?” and it started with just a line. We were sitting in our office and and you know, “Once upon a time in a land called Buffalo,” and then we just started, “okay, let’s start from there, okay…” and we want to make it modern day, so we take a modern-day family—and what would happen if they found out that half of them were royal and didn’t know it? And went on this journey to this magical place, this beautiful castle and found the rest of their family that they didn’t know? What would that be like during Christmas? Could they come together and resolve all their differences and find love and find romance (I’m talking about Jules and Ashton.) So there are several different kind of stories running simultaneously. You’ve got Jules and her journey just to be a good adoptive mother.  She’s young and she really hasn’t experienced love.  There are a lot things in her life that she, I’m sure, was hoping to do and life sort of threw a curve at her and she now has to adapt and make it work. Without giving away too much of the story, you’ve got that and then you’ve got a lot of the things that unfold at Castlebury and one, being, of course romance. Which hey, come on, who doesn’t like that?  You’ve got a Christmas movie, you’ve got a fantasy, you have the prince kind of story, you’ve got the family story and you’ve got the snowy white Christmas setting, so…there’s are all the big things that we talked about. Those are all the things we love, can we put them into a script? And shoot it and have people enjoy it and enjoy the journey, because you know really, as a journey, it’s about family coming together, resolving differences, it’s about forgiveness, which is very important.

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Interview: Sam Heughan of “A Princess for Christmas”

Posted on October 16, 2012 at 11:10 am

The delightful fairy tale romance A Princess for Christmas is now available on DVD.  I spoke to British actor Sam Heughan, who plays the prince, about shooting in Romania, playing the son of 007 star Sir Roger Moore, and the very surprising part he played after this movie was completed.

Tell me first of all how you came to this project. Did you audition, did they call you, what happened?

I was working on a play in London.  I just went in to audition and after a couple of rounds with the guys the next thing I knew I was out in Romania with the whole cast.

It must be a challenge to play the Prince Charming character. Tell me about the role.

He’s quite uptight and was quite reserved and part of this very rich, very affluent family.  And I had to do horse riding and archery and dancing as well.  I added some dance moves of my own and I’m very proud of them, too. It really was quite fun, there was a lot of laughter on the set. It was very nice company to work for.

I have heard from other people who have made films in Romania that it is a very magical setting. Did that contribute to the feeling on the set?

Absolutely. I think Castlebury is sort of this magical place somewhere in Europe.  It is kind of a fairy tale place and we needed a location that reflected that.  This wonderful castle that we filmed at and the set, it was just beautiful, and I don’t think you can really get that anywhere else, certainly not in the UK and maybe not on such a grand scale.  It was great filming in that castle. The only thing was it was about minus 15.  Pretty, pretty cold. And actually by the end of the movie we had to try and get in some snow machines because it all melted and it was very warm–it went from one extreme to the other, but it was a great country to work in.

And I must ask you about Roger Moore. What was it like working with 007?

Wow.  We were all really excited to work with Sir Roger. He walked in the first day and really set everyone at ease. We just had lots of fun. He was very naughty, extremely flirtatious, with a lot of great stories to tell in between takes as well. He’s a real really great actor. It was kind of like a boy’s dream here to work with Roger, I’m sort of a huge fan of the Bond films and also “The Saint” as well. Playing his son is magical really, and I think everyone was really excited to meet him. There was a lot of photo-taking on the last day.

Would you say that you learned anything from him?

I watched him so much, especially during his own takes, and talk about the craft of acting, he did so little when you were watching him acting, but then on camera, it just was everything. There’s a scene where we are having an argument and we leave the room and he’s sort of left contemplating, holding a brandy glass, but it he made that moment so powerful and read a lot into it. It was a wonderful bit of acting. He’s just a real delight to work with.

What do you think is the reason for the enduring popularity of fairy-tales like the Cinderella story in this film?

The girl in this story is kind of an outsider, I guess, and she’s in this world that’s very magical and she doesn’t quite fit in. I think we all feel that, in life you sometimes don’t feel like you don’t quite fit in or you think there may be something destined for you.  And she stick to her own beliefs and be true to herself and I think that’s maybe the message that we were trying to put across. I guess that what happens in fairy tales as well, and hopefully, we all dream that that could happen in real life.

And what’s the next thing you’re working on?

Well, I literally finished, two days ago–I’ve been playing Batman on tour.  I just did Vegas last week, and I just finished now except I’ve been touring out for, since actually this Christmas, we’ve done the whole UK and Europe and South America.

So you’re playing another upper-class loner?

Another upper-class loner, yeah, not type-cast at all–but this one dresses up in strange costumes and flies around.


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