Actors Ben Lewis (left) and Blake Lee are shown in a scene from the film “The Christmas Setup.” (Bell Media photo)

Actors Ben Lewis (left) and Blake Lee are shown in a scene from the film “The Christmas Setup.” (Bell Media photo)

Canadian Ben Lewis stars in Lifetime’s first LGBTQ holiday film, ‘Christmas Setup’

Ottawa-shot film stars Ben Lewis as a New York lawyer who returns home to Milwaukee with his best friend

Canadian actor Ben Lewis admits he wasn’t that familiar with the holiday TV-movie genre before signing on to “The Christmas Setup.”

In fact, he and his co-star — and husband in real life, Blake Lee — had never even seen a holiday Hallmark Channel or Lifetime movie all the way through.

As such, they didn’t realize the cultural significance of “The Christmas Setup,” Lifetime’s first-ever LGBTQ holiday film, until reaction poured in from the cast announcement.

“So many people came out of the woodwork — friends, peers of ours, a lot of queer people — saying how they had grown up watching these movies and loving these movies, and how much the representation meant to them,” Lewis said in a recent interview.

“So seeing it through their eyes, it began to sink in. Then I think doing the rounds of press for the movie now and having the discussion has really made us, in retrospect, feel even more grateful to have been given the opportunity.”

Debuting Friday on CTV Drama Channel, the Ottawa-shot film stars Lewis as a New York lawyer who returns home to Milwaukee with his best friend, played by Ellen Wong.

Fran Drescher plays his mother, while Lee plays his high-school crush he starts to fall for — just as his work gives him a promotion that requires him to move to London.

Lewis said he and Lee, an American actor with credits including “Parks and Recreation,” were asked to star in the film “out of the blue” in August when they were in Los Angeles.

Lewis admired director Pat Mills’ work, which includes the 2017 film “Don’t Talk to Irene,” and felt he would be “great at balancing the heart and the humour, without it ever becoming too cloying or saccharine.”

“Our (executive producer), Danielle von Zerneck, described herself as the ‘Lifetime police.’ So we would just go with our own instincts and our own impulses, and we were really encouraged to trust and follow those,” said Lewis, who studied at Montreal’s National Theatre School of Canada and has starred in series including “Arrow” and “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”

“But if it was ever tonally going off the rails, she would be the one who would pull it back and make sure that it was still appropriate for the genre and for the audience. So I think what we ended up with is a really great blend of these esthetics.”

Of course, this being a TV holiday movie, there are some over-the-top elements in the love story written by Michael J. Murray.

“Let’s be honest, these movies are not known for their realism,” Lewis said with a laugh. “But I do think that Lifetime was committed to trying to make it as authentically as possible, which is a credit to them — from hiring a real couple, two openly gay actors to play the lead roles, which historically we’ve not always been afforded the opportunity to do.

“And it’s written by a gay man, it’s directed by a gay man, one of the executive producers is a gay man. So I think that within the genre, within the world of these movies, I think it’s as authentic as you could hope for — while still not losing that idyllic, escapist quality that makes these movies so popular, so beloved.”

Shooting took place under COVID-19 health and safety guidelines in September in Ottawa.

Lewis and Lee, who have been together for 10 years and married for five, weren’t the only long-standing relationship on set.

Lewis said he’s been friends with Wong since they starred together in the 2010 Toronto-shot film “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” And he’s known Chad Connell, who plays his brother in the film, for even longer.

Lewis and Lee had acted opposite each other in audition tapes in the past. But they’d never starred in a project together and were a bit nervous going into filming.

“Every time we do a self-tape together, we’re like, ‘We’re going to get a divorce,’” Lewis said with a laugh. “So this was pretty unpredictable. We didn’t know what it was going to be like. But luckily it was really just so purely joyful.”

So joyful, in fact, that Lewis is game for a sequel, should one be made.

And he’s working on an outline for his own gay Christmas movie that he wants to write.

“I’ve done such a 180 with the Christmas movie genre,” he said. “It won me over.”

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Trent (left) and Treyden (right) are two of the students in the Mountain Bike Academy getting underway in February, taught by Salmon Arm Secondary’s Chris Stromgren (middle). (School District 83 photo)
Salmon Arm Secondary Mountain Bike Academy ready to roll

Course will help develop students’ riding and leadership skills

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s first case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

The Okanagan Regional Library is holding a pair of online contests for its young readers. (File photo)
Okanagan Regional Library challenges young readers

Pair of contests online aimed at kids aged up to 18

Vernon Winter Carnival Cop John Fawcett (left) and Carnival director Paul Cousins are at Vernon’s Real Canadian Superstore on Anderson Way until 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24, selling raffle tickets for a 2019 Polaris Snowmobile plus $1,000 worth of gear from BDM Motorsports. Tickets are $20. Only 5,000 tickets are being sold. The draw will be made Wednesday, Feb. 17. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Vernon Winter Carnival prize sled on display

Grand prize in Carnival raffle draw is 2019 Polaris snowmobile and $1,000 in gear; tickets $20

Auldin Maxwell stacks the 693rd block on the top of record-breaking Jenga tower on Nov. 29. (Submitted)
Salmon Arm boy rests world-record attempt on single Jenga brick

Auldin Maxwell, 12, is now officially a Guinness world record holder.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders sits in on a COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, B.C. minister of health. (Birinder Narang/Twitter)
PHOTOS: Bernie Sanders visits B.C. landmarks through the magic of photo editing

Residents jump on viral trend of photoshopping U.S. senator into images

Metis Nation of B.C. President Clara Morin Dal Col poses in this undated handout photo. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Metis Nation of B.C. *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Metis Nation of B.C. suspends president, citing ‘breach’ of policies, procedures

Vice-president Lissa Smith is stepping in to fill the position on an acting basis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Payette shouldn’t get same benefits as other ex-governors general: O’Toole

Former governors general are entitled to a pension and also get a regular income paid to them for the rest of their lives

Crystal Johns used her lunch break to film her audition video for the Vancouver Canucks.
VIDEO: Former Vees anthem singer wants to bring her voice to the Canucks

Crystal Johns made her audition tape during a lunch break

Snow covers Main Street in downtown Penticton Monday morning, Jan. 25, 2021.
First snowfall of 2021

Chances of light snow all week

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News file)
Two Kelowna flights flagged for COVID-19 onboard

The flights were on Jan. 14 and 18

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

A Dodge Ram pickup similar to this one was involved in a hit-and-run in Lake Country on Saturday, Jan. 16. (Crime Stoppers photo)
Stolen truck involved in Okanagan hit-and-run

Incident happened on Highway 97 in Lake Country just before 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Most Read