Ian Harding on Making ‘Ghosts of Christmas Always,’ Holiday Traditions, and More

Ian Harding stars as Peter in Ghosts of Christmas Always, which is part of Hallmark’s 2022 Countdown to Christmas. You can see all of the upcoming showtimes for the movie here!

2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: Patrick Randak

In the film, Katherine (the Ghost of Christmas Present) must help Peter rediscover his Christmas spirit, but this year has something unusual in store. To start the interview, I asked the actor what originally attracted him to the story and if the holiday genre was something he had always wanted to do:

“Yeah, actually it is something that I wanted to do. I remember when I was a kid, I loved almost all forms of television, movies, and whatnot, and so there’s this weird part of me, I think a lot of actors have a director that they want to work with or a certain actor that they want to work with and I have that too, but in some ways, I want to almost check every single genre box, you know? I was so proud of myself, I did this stint on Chicago Med years ago because I remember growing up, loving ER. It was something that I wanted to go and experience. So when this came my way, I was thinking like, ‘Oh my God, yeah.’ It’s a Christmas movie, it also happened to practically shoot in my backyard, which was lovely, and then Kim Matula, our lead, is a long time partner with a friend of mine from school and so I knew her. It just made all kinds of sense and then the script just felt like a lot of fun, and when I spoke with our director Rich, the way that he spoke about it was like, ‘We understand that this is a Christmas movie, but we’re basically shooting like a little indie film that’s going to air on Hallmark type thing.’ So I had a lot of leeway but there was also a lot of fun and so it was really a delight from start to finish.”

Ian continued to say, “Kim was sort of up for anything and we got so much leeway. At one point, we were gonna shoot this one scene in this one location, then that wasn’t gonna work and so we ended up shooting it in this long like bathroom and we just had to sort of make that work. It was so stimulating from like a logistical sort of standpoint, so it was just a delight. Our sound guy had the boom, he was laying in the bathtub and we had the boom up between us, so we had to do the thing where we had to like stay in the moment, stay connected, and then step over the boom mic, you know, like that kind of thing. It was great.”

2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Scott Holloway

Since he can now check the holidays off his list, what genre does he want to try next? Well, there are a few.

“I mean, there’s certainly an action component that I would love to explore, but also I would love to try horror just because it’s one that I’m actually afraid of. I don’t really watch a ton because I know they affect me so deeply, especially when they’re so well done and that’s something that I would want to do and then not watch. I think that’s something that would be the next thing I’d love to explore,” he expressed. “I haven’t worked with many green screens or sort of the sci-fi side of things. A buddy of mine has done multiple video games and that motion capture. He’s like, ‘It’s the best and perhaps most over-the-top committed acting you need to do because you have dots on your face, you’re in like a black leotard, and you have to sell that you have a giant ax in your hand and you’re defending a maiden or something,’ so that’s something that’s a challenge that I want as well, but you know, we’ll see.”

The movie has a lot of heart and the actor admits he was truly moved by the story while filming it:

“I had a sort of an actor hubris moment where I thought, ‘Okay, great, it’s a very fun script. It’s a Christmas movie, it’s gonna be a blast,’ and I ended up being a little bit more affected by it than I had realized. I had moments where I was really pretty emotional and I think some people are like, ‘Whoa, let’s relax. You have a reindeer hat on,’ because I think it was very much like, the whole story for my character is basically what do you want– not what do you think you want? What do you feel– not what you feel you should want? What do you want? And I think during the pandemic, a lot of people, it hit them in the face. I didn’t work for 15 months and I was thinking, ‘alright, so who am I without this hustle, this actor LA grind? Who could I be without that?’ I came to a bunch of realizations and that’s one of the reasons why, I don’t know if you notice, that’s not California outside. So I moved to the Northeast, I’m in a different phase of my life and it’s really solidified for me this sort of sense of just going for it. It may not be the thing that you always thought you wanted or the thing that you thought you should do, maybe it’s a little different, and so I think hopefully that shines through the performance. I don’t know, hopefully, my turtleneck is not too distracting, you know? There’s enough nice solid Christmas movie– I don’t know how many Christmas sweaters I had, maybe there weren’t that many. I mean, he was supposed to be like somewhat posh, but yeah, there’s some… turtleneck season, let’s just say that.”

2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Scott Holloway

“I think if you’re watching something and something really hits you or an actor’s performance moves you in a way that, especially you weren’t expecting like, let’s say— I’m trying to think of like a specific example but… oh okay, so I was watching She-Hulk: Attorney at Law a little while ago. It was great and Tatiana Maslany’s performance I think was so grounded and real, but also I think she only had like two episodes where she played the sort of drunk club girl that comes in and I thought she walked away with every scene, but I think it’s because she managed to take a trope and kind of ground it,” the actor explained. “So I think what I try and do regardless of the part, is how honest can I make it? How much can I connect to this person regardless of the circumstances? Like oh, I don’t know, three ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future showing up in your apartment and try and sell that realistically, you know? I think what I try and go for and what I will hopefully look for whenever I get a script or an audition, a meeting, or something is like, alright, who’s the person as opposed to the caricature or the character, you know? Like who’s the person and then just trying to do that.”

Harding has many notable acting credits, specifically his role in Pretty Little Liars. He was most recently in Long Slow Exhale and The Hater. We discussed what it means when someone recognizes him and shares what his work means to them or how it has personally impacted them.

“It does feel rewarding because I think, especially with some of the projects that I’ve done, you feel a little bit ridiculous or I sometimes have a very hard time believing myself, I’ll see myself on the screen or something and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know if I buy it,’” he mentioned. “I did this little movie called The Hater, that’s on Apple and my friend, Joey wrote, produced it, directed, and starred in it and I’m watching it like, ‘Okay, I really like this, I feel like I am acting the crap out of this scene.’ But I did meet somebody who was like, ‘I saw that and I really loved it, and I found myself empathizing with somebody from my opposite political party, which is like, a hard thing to do,’ and so okay, that really does mean something to me because sometimes while you’re doing it, you feel a little ridiculous or it’s cold out and you’re freezing your ass off in a parking lot while they’re setting things up. So the fact that somebody was like, ‘Oh I was really moved by that,’ and seemingly means it, and isn’t just like, ‘Hey, I like your stuff! Selfie?’ That really means a lot.”

We also reflected on how that carries into journalism and interviews as well as why it’s so important to have longer, deeper conversations that can be powerful for viewers:

“It’s also really important, I think especially these sort of interviews where like, the meaningful– especially now it feels far less presentational like with podcasts or sort of independent sites that aren’t just heritage media. As good as that can be maybe for publicity, I think it’s really good to find the places and the people that have unique sort of audience capture, niche followings that like, ‘I know that for Sophia, she’s going to get these kinds of people so I want to see that interview,’ as opposed to me going and doing a big press thing, and I’m going through the motions and just like, ‘I love Christmas movies, do you like Christmas movies,’ you know? I really love actually where– some people I think are lamenting it, but where modern entertainment journalism is going, I think it’s positive for the most part.”

2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Scott Holloway

Last time we spoke, he told me about his favorite filming memory from the set of Long Slow Exhale, so Harding revealed memorable moments from this experience:

“Well, there are a bunch. I mean, this one thing, this is something I want to convey to the world: I think Kim Matula, my costar, is like the most underrated actress, one of the most underrated because she is so funny. She has a great problem, which is because she’s so attractive, people maybe don’t think that of her. They think like, ‘Oh, you’re just kind of the hot chick,’ and that’s a good place to work yourself out of. She admits that herself, but she’s so talented and so she was really good at like, if we were having one of those moments where you’re looking into each other’s eyes and like, is this the moment they fall in love or something like that and they would either yell cut or something, she would make this noise. It was basically, essentially like someone breaking wind, and on multiple occasions, I think people thought it was me. You can’t be mad at her. Although we were shooting in a park of the Northeast that unfortunately is a sad horizon in crime and that’s very unfortunate, but there was this one poorly timed and also hilariously timed moment where I think she and I were having, I forget what the scene was, but it was something really like, ‘what do you want out of life,’ it was very emotional, and it’s interrupted in the most inopportune moment outside. It was like, only in Hallmark! So there were a bunch and she’s just a joy. I hope that that comes through because I think we were so determined to make this movie as funny as possible and keep the heart, keep that quality that people love in Hallmark movies while also saying like, ‘No, we don’t want to be cutesy smart or cutesy funny,’ like there’s a scene where I tried to play it where it looks like I’m going insane. I don’t know which cut they took, but yeah, we’re hoping that people love it as much as we loved making it.”

One thing so many people and families do is turn on Hallmark and keep coming back, year after year to get in the holiday spirit. Why is this such a huge tradition for so many? “I think, especially this time of year in the holiday season, I think people want– it is very much a feel-good movie, but also these movies are very optimistic, especially right now, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that over the past like, 5 to 6 years, Hallmark has sort of exploded in popularity,” the actor noted. “I’m actually working on this other thing that I can’t really divulge right now, but I know that it’s so beloved, and here’s an example: I was having dinner one night a couple of years ago, and there was another Hallmark thing that had kind of come my way, but I was like, ‘oh, scheduling-wise, I just can’t do it,’ and one of the attendees of this dinner was this female politician, who was like crème de la crème. She is such a badass and has made history in multiple ways, has been part of huge decisions that have shaped this country, the world, and people’s lives and she heard me say that and was devastated. She was like, ‘What? I love Hallmark movies.’ I was like, ‘What? Is this in between deciding the face of the fate of the nation?’ I think we just know that it is optimistic, it is playful, and I also like where it’s going. I think under all the new sort of folks that have come in and are running the thing, it’s increasing in the stories that are being told, the people who are being represented, and also it’s walking that line between like a little– not an edge, I mean nobody’s lighting up a joint in a Hallmark movie, but I think there’s something that’s really lovely about something that the entire family can watch and have fun with, and is funny and entertaining. So I think that’s why because I think people ultimately as much as actors love to do those hard-hitting indie films where I drop 20 pounds in a week to play like a sex-crazed vampire, a lot of people don’t watch those. They have a hard day, they look at the news and that scares them, they have all this other stuff, and they want hope and I think Hallmark is really good at giving hope.”

2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Scott Holloway

Of course, with this being a holiday movie, we had to talk about our own favorites to watch during the season.

“I think one of the many reasons that I’m an actor is my dad really loved movies and TV. For instance, when Jurassic Park came out, he took us out of school. He was like, this is monumental, he lied to the teachers like, ‘yeah, they’re both sick,’ and we went and saw Jurassic Park. So for a while, like Christmas Eve as a family, we would watch A Christmas Carol but with George C. Scott, which is the darkest movie you’ve ever seen. Finally, my mom was like, ‘I don’t think we should watch it anymore because Ian has nightmares and he’s 15 now,’ so I think that reminds me a little bit but mainly my sister made this playlist back when you had to burn CDs, and she’s added to it since then and put some more recent songs but it is not Christmas unless that is playing on repeat,” he answered. “I try and sing Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ or Shirley Temple’s ‘I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,’ and I have this whole thing where I’m like screaming at the stereo because it’s insane that you would want the most dangerous animal in Africa for Christmas. So yeah we have many a tradition that if someone suggests like, ‘Hey, we don’t have to do the cookies this year,’ it’s the equivalent of saying like, ‘You know what I think we should do, why don’t we burn the house down?’ It’s that level of blasphemy, but yeah, so we got a ton.”

As for actual traditions, there’s one that really sticks out:

“I do love, we used to because I guess my sister and I were too much of maniacs, we couldn’t wait for Christmas morning for the gifts, my parents started this thing that we do stockings the night before, you know? Because we got to give them something so they shut up and go to bed. Then we’d open them up like, NyQuil? And they’re like, ‘Yeah, chug this really quick so we can sleep,’” the actor joked. “But I think that even now, as an adult, someone will be talking and I’ll be kind of like looking at the clock, then look over the stocking, it could be a really deep conversation, they’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m having these health problems,’ I’m like ‘I’m so sorry, we gotta wrap this up because I gotta get to my shortbread cookies in the shape of a snowman.’”

He then added, “It’s just been great, especially as I’ve gotten older and now can introduce Christmas to my child, and now living back on the Eastern Seaboard, there might be snow on Christmas. We’ll see. It’s always different in LA when you’re like, ‘It is 70 degrees.’”

As for what Harding is most excited for fans to see when it comes to Ghosts of Christmas Always, that’s simple:

“I’m most excited for folks to hopefully just laugh with their family and again, have as much fun watching it as we did making it and hopefully see something that’s a little different than the other Christmas movies that have been on, but otherwise, I think folks will enjoy this one. I still don’t know how you have a bad time making a Christmas movie. I mean, unless you’re shooting it in July or something in like Burbank and you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s blustery outside.’ Yeah, that’s probably miserable. But, no, I hope that folks have as great of a time watching it as I did making it.”

Working on the project also put him right back in the Christmas spirit. “Well, we made it, speaking of the Northeast in February, I guess it was maybe March, and so the Christmas spirit had already departed, but I got to revisit it and it was just a joy, I think. I got to kick the winter misery can down the road,” he concluded.