We had a chance to talk with Christopher Russell, who is currently starring as a source of significant comedic relief on Syfy’s Day of the Dead.
You might know him from his many leading roles on female-centric programming on Hallmark and Lifetime, where he often has the opportunity to play the handsome love interest.
Day of the Dead seems like an abrupt change, and I asked Christopher how different it is to immerse himself in such diverse roles.
Since an actor can go to darker places for some roles, Christopher admitted it could stay with you when you leave set.
“They’ve actually done studies on this; the same brain chemistry that occurs in a real emotional response can happen with an actor if they’re convincing themselves to get to a certain place. So, doing the Hallmark and Lifetime movies is a lot better for the psyche, I’ll tell you that.”
Asking the question was of particular interest because Christopher lives a well-balanced life. “It’s nice to be able to experience different things, for sure. I mean, my daily routine, if I’m not working, is very regimented, but at the same time, it’s nice to incorporate all different elements of various activities and literature and hobbies and passions to keep a variety.”
Goal-setting is one of the ways that Christopher can stay on task mentally. His approach is to find something he can do early to get a good start on the day.
“If I can listen to an educational podcast and exercise before I’ve even had breakfast, then by setting even that small goal, I’ve already accomplished something. So the rest of the day doesn’t feel like I’m just at the beck and call of whatever else may be coming down the pipe, but I’ve already done something for myself. So I feel content in that way.”
Christopher also addresses his spiritual and emotional side daily, and family comes first.
“I’ve had my go at life as an individual. Now I’m part of a collective, that being my family, and it’s my responsibility to lead by example and guide, in the best way possible, my children to be able to make their own good choices and to have a broad understanding of all the different elements that go into how the world works.”
In addition to family, Christopher stays physically fit. It keeps him healthy and helps him stay on top of roles calling for it. And as a hands-on father, he needs to be fit to keep up with children.
Christopher’s spiritual journey came about because although he’d achieved many goals he had set for himself, he didn’t feel as though he was changing on the inside.
“I realized it’s because I had been placing values on external achievements to help me achieve internal achievements. But it just doesn’t work like that. Because outside, all around us, is constantly going to change, and things aren’t always going to work out the way we want them to.
“And even if we reach our goals, does that necessarily mean we’re going to be happier people? For myself, I found not so much. I was definitely grateful. But I realized that it was the inside that needed some work. So that’s where the spiritual stuff came in because I was still worrying.”
With every achievement, he felt inflated and deflated at the same time. He got a role, but it was only one line. He had a guest role, but why not a recurring? Even when he got the lead, he began examining why he hadn’t gotten other lead roles.
“So it’s just constantly moving the goalpost and changing perception, but not in a beneficial way. And so, by focusing more on just being content with today and what’s right in front of me and whatever else happens, happens. But as long as I’m present, it’s okay.
“So I started working on that and reading up on that and getting into meditating when at first I just thought it was a joke, but now I see its benefits. I’m in a lot more content of a place mentally because of it, that’s for sure.”
If inner change is on your agenda, Christopher offered some materials to help your journey. “The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, and a podcast. I listened to a lot of Russell Brand. When he first came on the scene years and years ago as a comedian and an actor, I just thought he was just a silly, funny guy.
“But someone recommended I listen to his podcast. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t what he had to offer. He’s probably one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever heard speak. And he interviews guests from all across the board; scientists, spiritual advisors, philosophers, all kinds of people.”
Feeling refreshed and rejuvenated by our deeper conversation, we moved on to zombies. Day of the Dead isn’t Christopher’s first experience with zombies or George Romero-influenced productions.
One of my first acting jobs was on George Romero’s Land of the Dead, which he directed and wrote and produced. And I remember meeting him. He was incredibly tall. I’m a pretty tall guy; I’m almost 6’3″, and he towered over me. I don’t know how tall he actually was, but he was like a gentle giant, I guess you would say.
“And even though the subject matter of his movies is pretty dark, he was a very lighthearted joy to be around. And as far as directors go, to be a new actor, I couldn’t have asked for more because he was just so kind and encouraging and just helped us where we needed to without ever feeling like we were letting anyone down because, as an actor, you can feel like that.
“Like if the director’s getting frustrated, cause you’re just not giving them what they want. Because they can’t communicate it or you can’t understand it. George is just so kind and encouraging. It was a great first gig, for sure.”
While Day of the Dead is an ode to George Romero or an homage to his work, there are some things that it gets right. George Romero’s work leaned heavily on social and political commentary as “the characters represented something specific in society that was going on in current events as the movie was released,” Christopher said.
“Day of the Dead does that really well; all the characters stand out as specific representations of either class of person or type of organization or whatever. So they got that down pat from what George Romero was doing. And then, essentially dead people come back to life.”
“So, a lot of zombie shows now they have all these different reasons why people are zombies, whether there’s a virus or you get bit by one, you turn into one, whereas with these they’re literally people coming back to life, which was Night of The Living Dead, where all the people rose from the grave and started walking around aimlessly. So they’ve incorporated that part of it too.
“But then the rest of it is sort of its own spin on the zombie genre. And I would almost say it’s a mashup of Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, and Shaun of the Dead, which is not a George Romero movie at all. But there’s definitely some Shaun of the Dead inspiring this TV show.
With its 1980s vibe, Christopher assesses that zombie and horror fans either love it or hate it. There’s also a comedic element, and his character, Trey, is at the heart of it.
“Yes. Yes, I am. That would be the Shaun of the Dead inspiration. Yeah. I couldn’t help it; that’s how they wrote it. So I had no choice but to do what they wrote.”
And Christopher had as much fun playing it as Trey comes across on screen. “It was an absolute blast! It’s probably one of the most fun roles I’ve ever played by far. Trey’s dialogue, I think, is incredible; he has wonderful one-liners. There are constantly characters in movies and shows that are your typical buffoon or mimbo or whatever you want to call it.
“So my approach to that with Trey, cause he’s clearly written like he’s not the most intelligent person on the planet, let alone in the town of Mawinhaken, is that he doesn’t believe he is the most intelligent but believes what he is saying. And he’s very genuine.
“So that was a lot of fun to play because the things that come out of Trey’s mouth are just ridiculous. But if you say it with a hundred percent belief that it’s true, and it’s a fact, that’s his way into the comedy, I felt, and it was a lot of fun.
We don’t want to reveal too much more than that, but that’s not the only exciting project Christopher is involved with these days.
“I’ve got Reacher, which is the Amazon Prime adaption of Lee Child’s first Jack Reacher novel,” Christopher told us. “Joe Reacher is the protagonist’s brother. Jack Reacher is the protagonist, played by Alan Ritchson. I play his older brother, Joe.”
Filming has already wrapped, but it was amazing to work on, and he thinks viewers will see it similarly. “It’s full of action, thrills, mystery. It’s kind of like — I don’t want to say Jack Ryan because people get Jack Ryan and Jack Reacher confused, but it’s in the same tone. I would say it’s something Hanna on Amazon Prime.”
If you’re familiar with the movies starring Tom Cruise, you might remember Jack Reacher as a bit of a wiseass. Will Alan Richtman carry forth with that portrayal in Reacher?
“Yeah. He has some one-liners, for sure. But not quite the way Tom Cruise did it, that’s for sure. It’s more in line with the books, where it’s just funny because he is so blunt.”
As for big brother Joe, Christopher said, “He works for the Treasury Department, and, growing up with Jack, he was always sort of the one telling him to never cry in front of everyone. They were always moving around from army base to army base, so they had that type of relationship where they had to adapt very quickly.
“And Joe helped Jack become — I don’t want to say emotionless because, inside, Jack Reacher is going through a lot — but he is able to keep it together externally. And that has a lot to do with the way Joe was almost like, I don’t want to say a father figure, but close to it because their father was constantly on missions, so he wasn’t around.”
He’s also got an upcoming movie with Jen Lilley and a movie for Bill Abbott’s new venture at GAC Family titled A Lot Like Christmas with Maggie Lawson.
If you’ve been reading the TV news lately, you know that GAC Family, while in its infancy, is in direct competition with Hallmark networks. Danica McKellar just signed an exclusive deal with the network.
In addition to that, GAC snapped up When Hope Calls from his former portfolio and reengaged When Calls the Heart stars Lori Loughlin and Daniel Lissing.
If there’s a war brewing, Christopher is currently happy to be sharing the love with Hallmark, GAC Family, and Lifetime. And after wrapping on A Lot Like Christmas, Christopher only has great things to say about GAC Family.
“I would say that working on A Lot Like Christmas is probably the best experience I’ve ever had,” Christopher began. “Making a movie in that genre, the production value is incredible. Everyone was so hard-working, but also so kind and generous. And there were no, for lack of a better term, weak links. Everyone was pulling their weight and then some.
“It was a treat to be a part of it; we were all saying it while we were there. This is going so well. So, hopefully, people enjoy the final product as much as we did making it.”
But that’s not all! “There are a couple of movies in the pipeline that’ll be coming out sometime next year — Love in Yellowstone, which is a western-themed Hallmark-type romance, and there’s another called Hot in Love; it’s firefighters.”
With his positive outlook and the care he takes with each facet of his life, it’s not a surprise that Christopher will be a very busy man for the foreseeable future.
You can catch Christopher Friday nights at 10/9c on Syfy’s Day of the Dead.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.