For years, One Tree Hill fans watched Tyler Hilton play musician Chris Keller. In his new Christmas movie for CBS, now he’s the one managing artists.
In When Christmas Was Young, premiering Sunday, December 18, Hilton’s Luke is in need of a hit for his only remaining client, only to fall for the gifted singer-songwriter (Karen David) from whom he needs to secure the rights to a Christmas song.
Hilton discusses why he had fun with this film, compares Luke to Chris Keller, and shares whether you’ll hear him sing (as he has in previous Christmas movies).
What drew you to this character and movie?
Tyler Hilton: I love these kind of characters. There is something about a totally sure of himself, cocky kind of dude getting put in his place and learning the lesson that knocks him down a peg that I love. I don’t know what it is about that. And I love the director Monica Mitchell. She’s a friend of mine and when I found out she was doing it, I was like, she’s the kind of director that I feel like makes me want to be funnier better. There’s something about her that makes me want to like show off for her or something, which I feel like is a good quality in the director. And then [executive producer] Sheryl Crow and I were label mates forever on Warner Bros. and got to hang and work together a little bit. So from all sides, I was like, this is literally like the perfect Christmas movie for me.
How is Luke’s life going when we meet him both professionally and personally?
If you ask Luke, he’s killing it. Everybody but him though realizes that he’s on a crash course to disaster, but he’s like high flying and thinking he can make it work forever. I think the audience, too, can feel like it’s pretty precarious and it’s gonna come falling down, but no one’s told him that yet. That’s what makes the rude awakening kind of fun. He thinks he’s all that, but his career is going down the tubes. He’s lonely. He’s just kind of like rich, successful and about to lose it all, honestly.
Do you think Luke is at all like what Chris Keller could be like today if he went into managing?
For sure. [Laughs] Oh yeah. The difference between I think artists and managers or agents is artists [aren’t] as manipulative because the world revolves around them, you know? So they don’t need to manipulate as much. They’re getting manipulated and they know they can get their way. When you’re an agent or a manager, I feel like you have to be a little more of a swindler, a salesman because you’re pitching ideas to people. You’re trying to get even cockier dudes than you, like Chris Keller, to buy into one of your ideas. There’s something a little bit more clever I think in someone like Luke, a little smarter, probably knows which fork to use and has better cufflinks and things like that than a Chris Keller would. He’s elevated. There’s class that I don’t think Chris Keller has that Luke definitely has.
Set up Luke and Melody’s initial dynamic.
They clash right away, which makes it so fun and classic to me. These kind of movies, it’s like a Cary Grant movie or something where you got these two people that are totally not meant for each other and you think, surely they’re not gonna ever make it happen, they’re just far too different, and how can you make that kind of scenario different each time? But the script had me laughing right away and it was so original.
Right away, Luke and Melody clashed so hard in such a fun way. We just tried to keep that going for as long as possible, which was really tough because when Karen and I first met each other, we liked each other so much, had such a similar backstory, became friends really quickly. And our first time reading through the script together with Monica, [it became a matter of us] telling ourselves, “OK, we definitely gotta make sure that we aren’t having as much fun with each other onscreen as we are offscreen because these two need to hate each other.” So that was the big thing. But we had so much fun with it. It’s fun when you get a mission like that because you’re like, “OK, so we can just have a lot of fun here.”
That comes across in the movie.
With comedy like that, when it’s a duo, it takes both people and I feel like she just set me up and I would set her up really well. I was so surprised how well we worked with each other right off the bat, from never having met to filming in like two days. It was such a relief because the truth is if you’re really professional then even if you don’t like each other, you should still make it work. But the truth is like, I’m not that professional. A lot of it is like, gotta hope this person’s cool and easy to work with. And she was, so I was like, this is gonna be a great game of tennis. I feel like that’s what comedy is with somebody else: You’re like playing tennis with each other and you need someone that’s gonna hit it back to you and receive it. It’s like a back and forth, and she was totally game.
How do things change for the better as they get to know each other?
I think so much of the change happens with Luke. I think Melody needed somebody to bring her out of her shell, and Luke can certainly do that. That’s probably Luke’s expertise with his artists and with people in general — how to liquor them up, how to charm them, how to give them a great time. I don’t think anyone’s not had a good time hanging out with Luke. I think Luke is used to changing people and giving people such a great time and surprising people. But I don’t think Luke is used to getting changed and I don’t think he lets himself be vulnerable enough to show himself to people. That’s what really was the powerhouse of Melody as a character is she’s so sure of who she is, has such heart, and none of the things that usually work on other people with Luke works on her.
And I think that’s jarring for him. I think it’s surprising to him that he appreciates that in her. I don’t think that would be a quality he would’ve picked out on a list of qualities that he would be looking for in somebody. And yet I think he was totally surprised by it and had never met anyone like her. So I think that surprise and that shock is what starts his journey into “uh-oh, I don’t think I actually know what’s going on.” And because everything else in his life is crashing down, I think it gives him the opportunity to be like, “You know what, let’s see what happens here. Because nothing else I’m doing seems to be working.”
What would you say to your fans hoping to hear you sing in this movie?
Yeah, I’m not singing in this one, but I sing in so many of the other movies and also I’ve got records and all that stuff, so you can always hear me sing. But it was funny to be in this and have the music written by Sheryl Crow, have Karen be such a good singer, and not sing. I think the whole time, the director, the writer, the producers, everyone was a little bit like, “Wait, this doesn’t feel right. We have to make you sing somewhere.” And it was always like, why are we gonna make Luke just start singing? It totally didn’t work at all.
But it did feel a little awkward for a second to be watching Karen sing and just not get up there and be a part of it. Plus all the other great music in it. Hayley Sales is another great singer that was in it. And I gotta be honest, I was feeling the itch to want to sing in the movie as I was watching everyone else do it. I was like, dang it. But it’s also really fun to kind of take that off and not have to do that and just be a guy.
When Christmas Was Young, Movie Premiere, Sunday, December 18, 8:30/7:30c, CBS