The co-writer and comedian talks playing Jane and defends Harper's happily ever after.
Jane Hive, stand down: Mary Holland, who plays Happiest Season's sci-fi loving, still-single-and-ready-to-jingle middle sister (and who co-wrote the movie with director Clea DuVall), feels the love. Although, being anything less than smothering in your love would be a very un-Jane thing to do.
Hulu's new Christmas rom-com debuted over the Thanksgiving holiday, scratching an itch for everyone unable to travel home for their annual fix of family drama. (And becoming a welcome addition to the queer canon.) Happiest Season stars Mackenzie Davis as the still-in-the-closet Harper, who brings her girlfriend home for Christmas to meet her seemingly picture-perfect family.
On Zoom with ET, Holland says she understands why some viewers are down on Harper but has a message for those questioning her happy ending. She also weighs in on Abby-Riley shippers, potential sequels and almost walking off with the whole movie as Happiest Season's biggest scene stealer.
ET: What has this reception to the movie felt like for you?
MARY HOLLAND: It has felt really overwhelmingly positive. I've heard from so many friends and family who are always very supportive but have reached out specifically about this movie and how much they enjoyed it and that it made them laugh and made them cry and that it felt like a really warm, celebratory holiday movie. And then I've also gotten messages from people I don't know that have been so moving, of how important this movie is to them and how they enjoyed it with their families. It's just been really so beautiful to see it received that way.
I believe this was an idea that Clea had and came to you with it. What did she bring to you and what did you want or feel like you could bring to it?
She had the outline of the shape of the movie. Like, she had drafted up this summary of like, "This is the plot of the movie," essentially. And I thought it was such a beautiful story, and as a fan of Clea, I was so excited that she thought of me to collaborate on this. She wanted it to be a comedy, and as somebody who I do a lot of improv comedy, I work in comedy, having that kind of sensibility and point of view and infusing that into this story was something that made our collaboration really, really fun for both of us. And Clea is such a funny person too. We really had so much fun finding those moments of comedy, but still telling a story that was honest and had heart and had a happy ending.
And then your script gets this all-timer of a cast to sign on. What was the most surprising character choice or direction that one of your co-stars brought to this?
Well, you said it: we couldn't have asked for a better cast. Every single person brought so much to those roles and brought them to life in these really amazing ways. Thinking of when we were writing Tipper and how biting Tipper can be and so passive-aggressive, I loved what Mary [Steenburgen] did with that role. She gave it this bright -- I almost want to say sprightly -- sort of sprightly energy, so those moments of her saying something that's a little bit harsh or cutting or something, they're so funny. Because it's in this buttoned-up sort of Hm, it's fine-kind of tone that I thought was so funny that Mary brought to that part.
And then there's Jane. Dear, sweet, lovable, misunderstood Jane.
And then there's Jane! [Laughs] Oh, boy.
You had the power to maybe write yourself any character you wanted. What was the impetus for our Jane?
When we were brainstorming Harper's family, we wanted her to have sisters, because I think that's such a great way to explore Harper's formation as a person. Sister relationships are really intense. Like, with my sister-- Which my relationship with my sister is not at all like the Caldwell sisters.
You don't brawl during the holidays?
Oh, no, we do. That part's true. But you're each other's best friends growing up. We were so close and for that reason would get in these really intense fights and knew how to get under each other's skin. And that was something we really wanting to explore with Harper. We wanted her to have multiple sisters -- one that she's super-competitive with and then one that has a very different energy than the rest of the family -- and once we decided that, I said I wanted to play her. I said, "I'd like that part." [Laughs] That was very early on, so I think as we were writing Jane, we really infused her with a lot of things that are true of me. Jane feels very much like a heightened version of me. That was sort of how she was born.
You seem far too humble to answer this question, but when you were filming, could you tell that Jane was going to be a scene stealer?
Oh my gosh! Look, Jane really just has such a different energy than the rest of the family, so I think within the context of the story, she sticks out in a way, because everyone else is so restrained and buttoned-up. She's very much not that, so when she comes into her room, it really stands out! I definitely felt like, "Oh, she's for sure a different vibe than the rest of her family." [Laughs]
I love the plotline woven throughout the movie with Jane's novel. You hear her giving the pitch at the beginning and think, "Oh, kooky Jane." Then I remember the point where I realized, "Wait, Dan Levy's character is in publishing. Is this going to happen?" And then at the end, I was just so happy for her. She did it. When did you know you would pay off what might have been a silly little bit in such a meaningful way?
I don't remember where in the process this came up, but I'm a big fan of fantasy fiction -- I share that with Clea -- and we thought it would be so funny to have her working on this, like, extensive fantasy fiction series that you would just hear little snippets of. It sounds completely so hard to follow, so detailed, like she has it all mapped out in her head but you're just dipping in with her here and there, so to a lot of people, it just sounds like gibberish or something. But it was so important to us to give all these characters a full story arc. As supporting characters, we also have our own journeys that we're on and Jane, spending most of the movie sidelined, seeing her step into her own spotlight was really a fun way to pay it off.
People are already calling for the Jane-centric spinoff or sequel. Have you heard those calls?
I have heard those calls, and I will answer! [Laughs] I mean, I would love it. That would be so fun. She's such a joy to play, so any chance I get to revisit her, I would love it.
The reason I need a sequel is because we have two of the Wild Horses in this, but we need the full quartet. Did we ever try to get Stephanie [Allynne] and Erin [Whitehead] little cameos in here?
I mean, the scene at the mall with the mall security guards, Tim [Simons] and Lauren [Lapkus], those characters felt so perfect for them. And of course, they are hilarious and knocked it out of the park. I really would love to have all the Horses make a cameo in this universe.
The Happiest Season Cinematic Universe.
Yes, exactly. We'll have to think of a great role for Stephanie and for Erin.
Another very vocal response to the movie has been from the people who think Abby and Riley should have ended up together. Was that something you and Clea could have ever predicted?
I really appreciate the debate that's happening, and that people are really invested in these characters and this story. It has been so moving to see that. Clea and I always wanted Abby and Harper to have a happy ending. In the course of being in a relationship and especially at this time in Harper's life, you encounter bumps in the road, and we wanted them to be able to work through that and come together and have a happy ending with each other. Clea talked about after Christmas morning and we have the chyron that says "One year later," within that year there's so much processing going on, there's a lot of conversations between Abby and Harper and also with the family, and there are so many dynamics that came to light over this particular holiday for this family. So, I think we always really wanted them to have a happy ending and to work through what they needed to work through to be together.
I feel like that's a nice message to the Harper detractors out there: Her work on herself did not end on Christmas morning. She had to put in the effort over that year to make it work.
Yes, you're right. I think that she recognized how hurtful her behavior was to her girlfriend and wanted to do that work. It's not like they got engaged the next day after Harper came out to her family. A whole year went by, and there was so much work that happened with Harper really experiencing growth. That was really important to us to convey.
And I guess the Riley of it all is just the danger of casting someone as cool and compelling as Aubrey Plaza. She's a babe.
Exactly! Listen, I don't blame anybody for having the response that they have to Riley. I would like to run away with her. I mean, she's so captivating. And she's just such an incredible actor. She brought so much to that role, so I totally get it. I get it.
That's the twist of the sequel, Jane and Riley end up together.
Oh my god! Can you imagine?
I think you just broke the collective brains of the entire internet.
[Laughs] I've been working towards it all my life. I'm so thrilled.
We spoke about how this movie has received such a warm embrace already. What are your hopes for it as we approach Christmas and beyond? What is your dream of dreams for what the legacy of this movie becomes?
Oh, man. I really hope that people continue to watch it. Some of the messages that I've gotten have been about people either watching it with their families or telling their families to watch it and then engaging in conversations and connecting over the story and having these moments where they're able to process things that have happened within their own family. That means so much and that is my hope as people continue to watch it over the holiday season, that we're able to create conversations between friends and family and loved ones, create an understanding with people who maybe didn't have an understanding before and people who relate to this story feel seen and feel represented.
Happiest Season is now streaming on Hulu.