ET spoke with Viv Leacock, Natasha Burnett and Viv's real life kids, Vienna and Elias, to learn about their experience joining 'WCTH.'
The Canfield family has arrived in Hope Valley!
Joseph Canfield, his wife, Minnie, and their two kids, daughter Angela and son Cooper, were officially introduced in season 8 episode 4, leaving fans of When Calls the Heart feeling full of joy and excitement -- and the best part is that their journey has just begun!
ET exclusively spoke with stars Viv Leacock (Joseph), Natasha Burnett (Minnie) and Viv’s real life kids, Vienna Leacock (Angela) and Elias Leacock (Cooper) to learn more about their experience joining the beloved Hallmark Channel drama, their strong bonds on and off screen and the importance of representation in media.
“Things went pretty crazy, for sure,” Natasha, a Surrey, England native, gushes of making her debut on the series. “As an actor, you're not really sure how your characters are going to be received. And, although we loved the story, you just didn't really know how else everyone else would view it. So when we started getting messages through and tweets through that night, it was a little bit overwhelming, actually.” It’s a sentiment shared by Viv, who was born in Montreal, Quebec and later relocated to Vancouver. He praises the loyal When Calls the Heart viewers, explaining, “The fanbase for the show is fierce. Everybody, they're up on all the information, they know every storyline, every nuance, anything that's ever happened and so welcoming, so warm, so giving and just supportive.”
Not only did the hearties welcome Viv and Natasha to the show, their castmates did too. In addition to the entire cast and crew, Viv specifically calls out Erin Krakow (Elizabeth), Jack Wagner (Bill), Kavan Smith (Lee) and Pascale Hutton (Rosemary) for going out of their way to make the newcomers feel especially at ease. “Erin Krakow sent an amazing email, welcoming us to the show. She wanted to make sure that anything we needed, she was on it and so excited to have us, and just that little personal touch was so nice,” he recalls. “They were saying, ‘We've been asking for this, we've been pushing for this.’”
The push Viv is referring to, is the inclusion of a Black family in Hope Valley. Both he and Natasha explain the experience of joining the series in its eighth season, praising showrunner John Tinker (who also joined in season 8) for making sure their presence was prioritized.
“Before we even got to set, we felt really comfortable with what was going to happen, and we felt like our opinions were heard, and they really listened to us. It really felt like a collaboration,” Natasha shares. Viv chimes in, adding that they were encouraged to share their own suggestions and stories. He explains, “They wanted us to be dropped into this story. Again, Natasha mentioned [showrunner] John Tinker, and [director/producers] Peter DeLuise and Mike Rhol, everybody was really, really excited to hear what we had to say. And that's not something that you really get a lot when you do other gigs.”
Viv continues, “What's most important to me is that people can get a sense that they are represented. I've grown up watching shows where I didn't necessarily see someone that looked like me included in a storyline. And while I still love the show, it does have an effect. And to know that we can be responsible for being the people that are being the first people that are coming into this show, this is a very well-established show and sharing this story. There's a huge responsibility attached to it, and we want to make sure that it was done properly.”
As for Natasha, she speaks to the importance of her and Viv’s specific storyline, playing a husband-wife team who acclimate to life with their kids in a new town. “Minnie's character actually, she went to a private school, which I also went to. And so, bringing in a family that was a well-to-do affluent family was really important for me because I wanted to see that,” she explains. “I wanted to see another African-American family that had succeeded. And there were some that did succeed during that time. And that was really important to me… they really honored that, they really did.”
The on-screen couple reveals they did not know one another prior to landing their parts on WCTH, but expressed how grateful they are for their chemistry on-screen and newfound friendship off-screen. The foundation? Natasha says it’s “good mutual respect and understanding” coupled with an ability to predict one another’s creative choices during a scene. As for Viv, he applauds Natasha for being “really laid back” and “super cool” coming into a new work environment where he and his real-life kids are already a unit.
“Kids don't have to like anybody. Kids are straight up, like, ‘I don't like…’ They're going to tell you straight up,” Viv says, laughing, before adding, “Everybody fell in love [with Natasha]. Thankfully, it all worked out. Just her ability to come in and just be herself, be easy… I thought I was cool, she's so easy going!”
And on the topic of kids, Viv tells the story of how his daughter, Vienna, and son, Elias, landed their roles in the series. Viv says after he scored the part of Joseph, and learned the character has a daughter the same age as Vienna, the actor put his feelers out and suggested his teenager read for the role.
Vienna reveals, “It was my first on-screen audition. I only did [voiceover work] before for about two years and so that was all I was comfortable with. And I knew on film, you have to remember your lines. You have to remember the actions you're doing. You have to wear different outfits a bunch of different times. And I was like, ‘No, I can't do this. It's not real.’” Viv further explains, “She didn't want to make a mistake. She knew that the character was blind and she knew there was a massive responsibility, as far as, there are loved ones who have blind people in their family, you got to do this right.”
Viv says that out of respect for the role of Angela, Vienna initially declined the opportunity to audition. What eventually convinced her to give it a shot? According to Viv, director/producer Peter DeLuise sent Vienna a video message saying, “Vienna, I won’t let you fail.” Shortly after Vienna auditioned and earned the part, Viv reveals that the crew suggested his son, Elias, also give it a go. He too won over the casting executives and that’s when Viv says he and his kids started working together, prior to filming, to teach them acting basics and techniques.
While Vienna admits it’s not her playing the piano on-screen, she reveals the ways she studied to embody Angela. In addition to doing her own research and watching videos, she committed to learning a skill that was crucial to the integrity of her role: reading Braille.
“It's really important to me. It's a big role,” she marvels. “You do have to know how to act and it's important to know all the little things that you have to do and how a blind person sees the world. You have to learn how to become that character.”
As for the Leacock kids, they gush over the chance to work with their dad. Elias, who admits he’s a big fan of the donuts at craft services, says, “It's good to have my dad as a coach and it just feels really nice to have family members beside me. I wouldn't feel that good by myself for my first gig, so it's nice to have my sister and my dad along beside me.” It’s a sentiment that Viv reciprocates, telling ET, “When Joseph is watching Angela play the piano with pride in his eyes, that is Viv watching Vienna with pride in his eyes… I'm not acting, I'm not acting at all. I am filled with so much pride watching these kids do what they're doing.”
Thus far in the season, fans have come to know Minnie as a protective woman who takes the role of educating her daughter very seriously. However, Natasha teases that soon fans will watch an entirely new side of her emerge.
“The audience will start to understand about Angela and her disability, and so therefore why Minnie is the way that she is, and I think they're really going to see the internal struggle that she does have, and it will start to make sense to them. So it doesn't appear that she's just cold,” Natasha says of her character’s evolving arc. “She can be quite witty and funny. She, right now, everybody sees her as fairly serious, and so you do get to see her own journey of wanting to find a way for herself outside of just focusing on her children and it's just a fun little section of the season where you just get to see her in a completely different light.”
And when it comes to Joseph and his journey, Viv says his character is at a crossroads.
“There's a business opportunity that he sees. At this point in the world, the future is petrol, gasoline. It is automobiles. It's going to be a massive, massive industry, obviously, and he's really good with his hands, but he wants to use his brain to further the family's position. But he also is a very, very spiritual man and feels in him, a calling to pastor a church, to do what he knows is in his heart, and it really is this thing where he really is being pulled in these two different directions,” he laments.
Regardless of Minnie and Joseph’s individual trajectories, both actors promise the foundation upon which their marriage was built will ultimately bond them and carry them through thick and thin. Specifically, they tease an upcoming moment in episode 7 that is not to be missed!
“[There’s a very important scene I think that really shows our deep connection,” Natasha says with a smile, before adding that it’s a “really beautiful moment” between her and her on-screen husband. After watching the episode, Viv says the hearties will “feel happy to a large degree” and promises that some of their questions will be answered. There's some questions that are already going to be answered I know the viewers have. “It very much unravels in the way that, it's the two of them, both Minnie and Joseph, really trying to figure it all out and that you see that they work as a team.”
When Calls the Heart airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Hallmark Channel