We adore you, Hope Valley -- but it's time to get to know the babes in Brookfield!
When Hope Calls, the highly-anticipated new spin-off of the beloved Hallmark Channel series When Calls the Heart, is finally making its on-screen debut on Aug. 30 -- and only ET was invited on set to bring you the exclusive first look at all the romantic and heartwarming goodness.
We sat down with series leads Jocelyn Hudon, Morgan Kohan, RJ Hatanaka and Greg Hovanessian to discover all the behind-the-scenes secrets about their characters; including their love lives, the struggles that lie ahead and why #hearties will fall head over heels for this hopeful new show.
MEET GRACE AND LILLIAN:
The series takes place in 1916 in the fictional (and totally picturesque) town of Brookfield, which feels similar to Hope Valley but certainly has its own distinguishable charm. In the town is where we first meet sisters Grace Bennett (Hudon) and Lillian Walsh (Kohan), who were estranged until recently. Hudon explained, “We were orphaned at a young age and Lillian got adopted and Grace didn’t, which separated them.” Kohan added, “After years have gone by, I go on a hunt to find her and we finally reconnect which is when we decide to start our own orphanage, to right the wrongs that we felt happened when we were growing up.”
Hudon describes Grace as “pretty happy and smiley” and shared that she’s channeling Anne of Green Gables when she plays her part. “I just love how full of life she is, and she’s positive and she’s kind of crazy and funny and quirky,” she said, smiling. Meanwhile, Kohan says her character, Lillian, is “very pragmatic and responsible and organized, but she’s also independent and a little bit fierce every now and again.”
MEET MOUNTIE GABRIEL AND CHUCK:
It wouldn’t be a Hallmark series without some gentlemen who are easy on the eyes! Enter: Mountie Gabriel Kinslow (Hatanaka) and rancher-turned-veterinarian Chuck Stewart (Hovanessian).
Mountie Gabriel has recently returned to Brookfield, having been shot in combat a few months prior. Hatanaka says his character is still dealing with the aftermath of the trauma, and reacclimating to his old stomping grounds is a bit challenging. “He's a very curious guy so it's really interesting to watch how the different characters in the town react to it. Some are nervous about that, some are not too happy about it and some are thrilled,” he explained. “[Gabriel] kind of stirs the pot a little bit, just in terms of putting his job and the pride of wearing the uniform first and foremost… It complicates relationships and we'll see how that unfolds with Lillian as well.”
As for Chuck, Hovanessian says his character is at a crossroads in life torn between his two passions: his roots as a ranch-hand and his new career as a veterinarian. “Is he gonna take the veterinarian route for his passion for animals, and helping with that? Or is he gonna go and stay with the tradition?” Hovanessian teased.
The actor also revealed the unique inspiration behind his character. After putting his cowboy hat on and getting a bit more into character during the interview, Hovanessian explained, “My posture changes and then, you know, the character kind of comes out. I slouch a little bit. It's almost like Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born.”
MOUNTIE GABRIEL ARRESTED BY LILLIAN’S BEAUTY:
The Hallmark hunk calls his character’s on-screen romance with Lillian “very passionate” but adds, that they’re not exactly racing into a relationship. “They align on many issues and I think he has a lot of respect for her, for both the sisters and the orphanage,” Hatanaka shared. “As soon as [he finds out about the orphanage], he kind of looks at her in a different way.”
Kohan chimed in on her character’s perspective, telling ET, “I don’t think Lillian's love life is her first priority. It is definitely the children, the family, all that first, but a handsome man walks by and is interested, she can't help but be like, ‘Well, this might be interesting!’”
In real life, Hatanaka is thrilled to be working with Kohan, whom he describes as “a funny person.” In fact, from their first time meeting during the audition process, he recalled, “Sometimes auditions can be stressful, or painful… but not this one. It was just really really easy. We got a long really really well… so it created a very comfortable, family- like environment right away.”
“RJ is a gem,” Kohan said, reciprocating the compliment. “He is so kind, he is so lovely. He gets along with everybody. He is just like the most wonderful person to work with. I couldn't have asked for a better scene partner and potential partner in the show.”
How does Hudon feel about Grace’s romantic trajectory? “Pretty epic!” she exclaimed.
“We have a Romeo and Juliet-type situation, kind of like a forbidden, not too forbidden, love. [Grace’s] love interest is the son of someone who hates her new family,” the actress explained, adding that Grace wants to dive in, but she can’t. Hudon gushed, “It’s very exciting!”
Hovanessian echoed Hudon’s thoughts, assuring us we’ll see sparks fly between Grace and Chuck from their very first, flirty interaction. “We’re so drawn to each other. It’s two very opinionated people. Grace has got so much gumption, but she's also got big barriers up from her history in the past. Chuck's drawn to that right away, and throughout the series, Chuck doesn't really take ‘no’ for an answer, and she's got a lot of ‘no's.’ She makes him really work for it!” So, will all that work pay off? Hovanessian says, “That persistence is going to come to some sort of a reward.”
Like Hatanaka and Kohan, Hovanessian and Hudon have fostered an incredibly close bond. In fact, Hudon says she and Hovanessian are the most similar of the entire cast. “We take the same supplements, we both meditate, listen to podcasts and we're both afraid of radiation from our phones,” she said, laughing. “We're both very goofy and weird!”
Hovanessian added, “The moment we got [to set], there was just this bond, we just get each other… Rupert, her dog, we bonded great over him! We'd take him out for a walk. Sometimes, I like to take him and give her a break.”
LOVE TRIANGLES: THINGS GET COMPLICATED!
Like all great romances, they come with challenges, and our babes in Brookfield are no exception.
For Gabriel and Lillian, a character named Sam will apparently drive a wedge between them. Little is known about this role, but Hatanaka called him “a force” who’s trying to steal his thunder!
Kohan expressed that Lillian isn’t exactly used to this kind of attention right off the bat, explaining, “It's more like, this is someone to help me in getting this done and this and this, and it's fresh and it's new, and I think when she starts to realize that it might be heading down more a romantic path, maybe it's a little jarring and unexpected, but then you can't help but also enjoy a little bit!”
Grace and Chuck are also thrown a curveball with the arrival of a woman from Chuck’s past. “Poor Grace,” Hudon lamented. “I kind of have my eyes on her!”
“We have all sorts of different, interesting, good looking characters that come in. And even when we get the script sometimes we're like, ‘Who's this guy?!’” Hovanessian said, passionately defending his character’s glory. “Like, wait a minute, who is this guy?... because there's tension between everybody. They do a great job of keeping that tension alive… you never know who's a threat or who they're really into. It's very ambiguous,” he added. “I think that's gonna be the greatest arc of Chuck’s character: does he get the girl?”
GIVING YOU ALL THE FEELS:
Bottom line: if you want to feel warm and fuzzy inside, you’ll want to tune in to When Hope Calls. Each of the four lead actors has their own reasons why they think the #hearties will melt over their new series.
For Kohan, it’s simply about appreciating your loved ones. “I would love for people to just be able to watch beautiful relationships that are forming both within family and between friends and potential love partners as well,” she gushed. “It’s really going to give people a chance to appreciate their own families and the people that they have in their lives because you see other people from different views and different walks of life and the struggles that people go through.”
Hovanessian called out the show’s overarching theme of inclusivity. “We've lost that sense of community where we've all gotten individualized,” he expressed. “Acceptance is another thing… and I think, over time, there's this acceptance that comes in the hearts of all the characters.”
Hatanaka is all about giving back to the loyal fans, the #hearties! “I think it's a really wonderful world and a wonderful group of people,” he marveled, adding that he wants the #hearties to know they're “doing our best to give it to the audience because it’s such an incredible fan base, they deserve it.”
Hudon, echoed similar sentiments, calling out the show’s relatability and “family values.” More importantly, she hilariously added that it’s a show that won’t give you “nightmares at night after watching it” -- not to mention, there’s “lots of romance!”
When Hope Calls premieres the first two episodes Aug. 30 on Hallmark Movies Now.