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Interview with Nikki Deloach from “Cranberry Christmas”

When I tell you that Nikki Deloach must be one of the kindest people in the Hallmark universe, that is not hyperbole. I say it because in my experience it is 100% true. Tomorrow night (Oct 31, 2020), Deloach stars in “Cranberry Christmas” on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. And despite being one of the busiest women I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with, she set aside some time to chat with me via a Zoom call – despite having no power at her house at the time and at least one sweet child that was craving some candy corn for breakfast (they reached an agreement in which Nikki held onto the candy and agree to dole out pieces throughout the entire day versus his choice: eating them all at once).

In the end, rather than the 30 minutes I expected the interview to be, we talked for almost an hour. And the time flew by.  Through the entire chat (and it really did feel more like a chat than an interview) she was gracious, open, engaged, and delightful. There’s a reason her fans love her so much – she has a light that shines from within and spreads joy to anyone lucky enough to see her work or meet her. Am I a fan? I am. Even more so now. And you should be, too.

Nikki Deloach
Photo by Inda Reid

Jane: Well, Nikki, people love your Hallmark movies. I know I do. I always have.

Nikki: I can’t even tell you how much it means, because you know, for me, I did my first Hallmark movie for my grandmother, because she was so in love with Hallmark Christmas movies. I was on a show called “Awkward” at the time. And all she wanted me to do was be in a Hallmark Christmas movie. So I told my agent, I said, “Hey, could you contact Hallmark? Can you just see, you know, if they’re looking for actresses for movies right now?” And sure enough, I got an offer for one of their movies and I’ve never made my grandmother happier.

Jane: My grandmother – Hallmark Channel was the only channel she watched, but she didn’t know how to use a remote control. We set her TV to Hallmark Channel and then taped up her remote so that all she had access to was the power button and the volume button. She loved it.

Nikki: That’s amazing.  I think that is a lot of people’s experience – that they can just put it on and it’s a happy feeling.  Warm and fuzzy. And I think in a world right now where everything feels so divisive, it’s nice to be able to rest inside of something that feels safe. And I think our content feels safe for people. I think that’s really important.

Jane: I agree. Now, you started your career at six years old, and looking at it so far, it has been a varied career. You did Mickey Mouse Club, and you were in the girl band Innosense.  By the way, I recently watched “Boy Band Con.” Great documentary.

Nikki: Isn’t it phenomenal? I don’t talk about my experience then, because it was so painful.  I’ve been asked to do a lot of interviews on it. And the only reason I said yes [to the documentary], was because Lance Bass is one of my best friends and I knew I could trust him. And I knew that he would do a great job with it. So I said yes, and while it’s really hard to talk about some of that stuff, I think it’s really important. It’s a cautionary tale of when you’re ‘knowing’ tells you that something is off or something is wrong…it probably is.

Jane: And you said it yourself in the documentary, you said, [paraphrase] “My lawyer told me this is the worst contract he’s ever seen and I still signed it.” So there was something about that Svengali thing that [music producer] Lou Pearlman had, that even though my guy is telling me don’t do it, Lou got people to do it.

Nikki: It’s so crazy, but it’s also so desperate. I think it so deeply speaks to a struggle that we all go through as human beings saying ‘yes’ to things, even when we know they betray who we are. Glennon Doyle, in her book Untamed, she talks about never betraying herself again for another person or relationship or institution.  It’s such a beautiful book.  And I think that the documentary speaks to that.  I knew deep down, even my lawyer told me what was going to happen, and I betrayed what Glennon calls your knowing.  I also call that my God voice, the whispers that say, “This is not going to end well for you.” And when you’re so focused on success, and when you’re so focused on your self-worth being dependent on these exterior circumstances, you often betray yourself to get there.

Jane:  And that speaks to the stubbornness of the human heart.

Nikki: It really does.  And I think we all know that feeling on some level.  We’ve all done that at some point in our life. And I think that if we can raise our kids and our grandkids to really trust what their body is telling them and really trust what their know, or what the God inside, is whispering to them, then I think that they will grow up and not betray their truth. So thank you for taking the time to watch that documentary. I appreciate it.

Jane: So then continuing on to your career, when you look at your IMDb page, at some point you have a bunch of one-offs like “Cold Case” and “Without a Trace” and “CSI,” and all these other shows, but then Hallmark enters your life. And you’ve already spoken about how your grandmother was the impetus to get you to seek that out. When you were doing the one-offs, was there something you were looking for in your career to avoid being stuck as an “it’s that girl!” character actor?

Nikki Deloach in “Awkward”

Nikki: I actually was a series regular on a bunch of shows during that time as well. I did a show called “North Shore” with Kris Polaha. We went for 22 episodes and it was shot in Hawaii. And then I did a show called “Windfall.” Then I did, “Awkward,” which went for five seasons and won a People’s Choice Award, which is very coveted.  It was very critically-acclaimed in our industry.

And you know, that was the first time that I had been a part of an experience like that, where I was on a show that was critically-acclaimed. That was the very first time. I was 30 years old when I got that show, and when I got off that show, my team, my manager and agency were really confused as to why I wanted to then pivot and go full force into Hallmark.

They said, “Wait a second. You just got off this hit show. We can get you in rooms that you couldn’t get into before, and you’re telling us that you want to go to Hallmark movies?” And I said, “Yes,  I want to go do Hallmark movies.”

And of course, I want to do all that other stuff. But when I did my first Hallmark movie we wrapped on December 3rd or maybe even later. It was the last movie that was going to air that year. It was “Christmas Land.” And with my husband and kids, we went home to Georgia to be with my family for Christmas. We were at the Christmas Eve service and the pastor got up and said, “We’ve got to get everybody out of here! We’ve got to let you guys go home because Nikki’s on Hallmark tonight. We’ve got to watch!” So this congregation of 1500 people all went home early from the Christmas Eve service to watch my movie. And the reaction that I got from the people in my hometown was unlike any reaction I’d ever gotten – and I’ve been in this industry for years and been on hit shows and in other movies.

And yet, this was the thing that got them. And I thought, huh, something’s happening here. These movies make people feel a certain way. And I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be a part of making people feel really good. That was really the impetus for me. I wanted to just make people on the other side of that screen, in their homes, feel warm and fuzzy, and good and happy. And also make them keep the faith and hope alive.

Jane:  It seems like you pick projects that aren’t typical Hallmark movies. You picked a script that has a woman who’s dealing with severe grief. You picked “Reunited at Christmas” where your character is already in a relationship with someone and they’re having some difficulties and trying to figure out what they want. And then even in your new movie airing this weekend, “Cranberry Christmas,” the main characters are a separated couple who has to fake it for the community.  You pick stories that have a little bit of angst to them but find their way to a happy ending. How does Nikki DeLoach end up being the go-to for stories where the characters have a little bit more meat to them.

Nikki: First, thank you for saying that. I really appreciate it. I am very lucky that Hallmark trusts me with those roles. And I take it very seriously. I really do. I take my craft very seriously. I take the act of storytelling very seriously. I develop a lot with Hallmark and now my writing partner and I write for them as well.

When I take them an idea, normally the idea is very much within the brand, but there’s something a little different about it.  And when I look at projects that they want me to do for them, the same applies. I’m very fortunate that they trust me with roles that have a little bit of the angst, that are a little bit deeper.

And they know that I will work my hardest to make it the best movie that it can be. And it’s true. I ask for a table read with the director and my co-star before every movie. And we go through that script and we build character and we build the story and we figure out where the holes are and we fill them in with something that will really work. We work on the tone – whether it’s a little too heavy or if we need to bring levity to it.  Hallmark Movies & Mysteries is different than regular Hallmark Channel. So “Sweet Autumn” can exist on regular Hallmark Channel, but “Two Turtle Doves” is on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries because it has a little more weight to it and the tone is more serious.

So depending on which network the movie is going air on, that tells me what tone I’m working with. I’m excited for people to see “Cranberry Christmas,” because I feel like we really hit a sweet spot with that. Once I realized that my co-star, Ben [Ayres], was really funny and that his comedic timing was perfect, I knew we were really going to get to play. I knew we’d get to push each other and push the story into a certain place because what we wanted to achieve with the tone of that movie with that separated couple was: are they going to stay married or not going to stay married? And that’s a very serious thing.

But I also wanted to bring levity to moments and we got to do that by using comedy that wasn’t on the page. We put it on the page in the performance and I feel like we hit a really nice sweet spot with balancing the drama and the humor in that movie. I’m really excited to see how people react to it, because that’s the only way I know that we nailed it.

Before “Two Turtle Doves” came out there were people that were very suspect as to whether the audience wanted it or could handle it.  There were people that were a little nervous about that movie. And when it ended up on the number one list for almost every single person reviewing Hallmark movies, it showed us that not only can the audience handle that they’re hungry for it. They’re ready for it. And so that’s the other thing I do – I always think of our audience. I want to treat them as the smart, intelligent, emotionally, deep adults that they are. That’s important to me.

We can make it funny and we can bring the humor, but I want to treat the audience with the respect that they deserve. That’s really important to me. I think over time, when you show people that you’re willing to do the work to get it there, the people in charge of things start trusting you with those characters.

Jane: The other thing that I noticed about a lot of your Hallmark work is that you tend to gravitate towards working with the same people. You’ve worked with producer Stan Spry a lot.  Michael Rady – obviously you two are like the perfect pair.

Nikki: I’m just obsessed with him.

Jane: And then you also work a lot with Andrew Walker. And director Steven R. Monroe. Do you just get lucky that you’re with these people or is it one of those “Let’s get the team back together!” things?

Nikki: Yeah. I really push for my people. In Vancouver, there is a whole crew of people that have worked together for years and I’ve done four movies with them. And there’s one Director of Photography who is incredible. He lights women so well, and he works so fast. But yet, he trains. He always picks a new person to train on every single movie. He’s constantly teaching. I’ve been a teacher for 12 years. I appreciate the devotion that he puts into not just showing up and doing a job, but training the future so that when he steps away these people can pick it up and carry it forth. I think that paying it forward, like that is really important.

So I’m always looking for the people who are not just showing up and doing an incredible job at what they do, but what kind of human being are you, and how are you showing up in the world?  I’ve worked with that team four times, including on “Cranberry Christmas.”

The second I know what the movie is and where I’m going I start trying to put the team together. And sometimes I get my way, and sometimes I don’t. But I always try. First of all, I love working with Stan Spry. He is a fabulous producer. He will never tell Hallmark, “no.” He’ll just say, “We’ll figure it out. We’ll make it work.” He’s so honest, which I think is incredibly important in our industry. And I appreciate that so much about him. There’s just no BS and he takes care of his people.

So when I went to do “Sweet Autumn” and I knew it was Stan, it was a big “yes.” I knew also that he was going to really take care of his crew and his people amid the pandemic. And boy, did he. I was so impressed with the lengths he went to take care of all of us. I was so grateful.  I love working with him. The “Sweet Autumn” turnaround to “Cranberry Christmas” was crazy. I had two days to drive to Winnipeg with my whole family and it was a 28-hour drive.

And when I arrived we hit the ground running. I didn’t get all the prep time that I normally get for a movie, so I had to really be able to trust the team. And [director] Gary Yates is someone I trust implicitly. I trust when he comes up to me and says, “It wasn’t quite there,” or “You may think you did what you should have done, but I didn’t see it.” And when he comes up and tells me that I trust him and I think, You know what? Let’s do it again because I want to get it there. And then, as soon as he gets it, he moves on. He knows, and he puts together a beautiful movie. He’s also a beautiful writer. So somebody who’s a director who knows the story so well – for me is important.

And then Andrew Walker. I texted Stan and said, “Do you have your guy [for “Sweet Autumn”] yet? Can we get Andrew?” I love Andrew. Stan called the network and they said, “Absolutely!” So I’m always pushing for people that I love to work with.

Cranberry Christmas
Image: Hallmark Crown Media

And you know, now Benjamin Ayres from “Cranberry Christmas” is one of them. I absolutely just fell in love with him on this movie. He’s such a good actor. He’s a theater nerd, like I am. Because of that, we talk about techniques and we both very much care. We were so committed to making the characters real and authentic. We worked really, really hard on doing that, but he’s so funny. And anybody who can make me laugh – they’ve got my heart. If you can make me laugh, you’ve got me until the end of time, and he makes me laugh so hard all the time. He’s on that list. And so is the director on “Cranberry Christmas,” Linda-Lisa Hayter. It was her first movie, and I had the most incredible experience working with her. I want to do more movies with her.

Jane: I was going to ask you how it was onset as far as dealing with COVID and having to be in close quarters with your castmates, but you already spoke a bit about that.

Nikki: It was pretty good. Because of my three-year-old, who has had three heart surgeries, we have been extraordinarily careful inside of all of this.  And so for both of the Hallmark movies, the second I went to set, I started wearing a mask at home. All the time. It only came off when I slept. That’s how careful I was being. And, you know, these production companies – the ones who are doing it right in Canada – there’s no place safer.

I was a little nervous of what that would be like here in the States where our numbers are just so high and climbing every day. But they make sure everybody’s okay, too. I see production companies being so careful and it makes me really hopeful and grateful that Hallmark can continue to bring the fans 40 Christmas movies despite the pandemic. Can you believe what Hallmark was able to pull off?

Jane: I did not think they would. I figured we’d get 10 or 15 new movies at most.

Nikki: They pulled off 40 movies. We have to give it up to the executives over there, like Michelle Vicary and Randy Pope, and every single executive working under them like Heather Overton, Jen Phillips, every single one of them. They are working seven days a week inside of this. They’re working harder than they’ve ever worked in their lives to bring movies to the fans and to keep us actors and crews working. I applaud them. I think it’s absolutely incredible what they’re doing. And they actually were the leaders in this industry because the Hallmark movies were up and going before almost any other production.

Jane: I think a lot of people were very surprised but very, very happy, that they managed to figure it out because especially as we come to the end of this crazy year, we’ve felt like we are just slogging along. So to have movies with happy endings and people falling in love and being kind – that’s so needed right now.

Nikki: Oh my gosh.  I listened to a podcast by Kate Bowler (“Everything Happens with Kate Bowler”). She’s a Duke divinity professor and a beautiful writer and one of my favorite humans. She had Michael Bishop Curry on to talk about love and kindness and humanity. And that really what is truly at stake in all of this, is our humanity and remembering that there are human beings on the other side of their opinions. There are human beings on the other side, in pain and suffering.

And I thought, How do I want to show up? What is necessary? And much as I want to rant and rave and be angry sometimes, I have to be steadfast in my kindness.

Jane: You have talked about how there’s power in positivity and it’s our job to be that beacon.  I totally agree.  Everything you post on your social media – even when it’s criticizing something, a system or whatever – you’re doing it not to be a troll but to bring light to the darkness so that we can affect positive change. That’s why I love your social media.

Nikki: The fact that you see that means the world to me. And I really appreciate that.  I think that we, as a society, we have to get to that place where it’s like, I don’t care what side you’re on. There are no sides.  And I think the quicker that we can get there as a society, that’s when we’re really going to start to see positive change happen for all of us, you know?

Jane: Well, let’s shift gears now and let’s talk a little bit about your public work that you do. I know because of [your son] Bennett, you do a lot with the children’s hospital there in Los Angeles, and I know you have a charity walk coming up in a week or so.

Nikki: Yes! The walk to end Alzheimer’s is on November 7th. Kimberly William Paisley joined the Williams-DeLoach team this year. So it’s truly the Williams sisters and me. It’s something that Ashley and I started doing together years ago. Ashley Williams and I have been friends for a really long time. Her mother got Alzheimer’s and then my dad got Alzheimer’s and I leaned on her.  So she and I decided to join forces.

I always feel like we’re better together. That’s my motto. And I like working on a team. I don’t ride alone. I have a writing partner. I have a producing partner. I enjoy doing everything more with other people and I feel like there’s power in numbers. And also, any excuse that I can get to spend more time with Ashley? I will take it every day of the week.  I just think she’s one of the most incredible human beings that ever walked this earth.

As for the walk, every year we try to up the ante on the money that we want to raise and, it’s to bring awareness and also to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association, which is obviously a cause that’s really near and dear to our hearts. [Click here to donate to the Deloach-Williams team!]

Jane: So what do you do in your downtime? You do movies, you do you work with the hospital, with Alzheimer’s, and you have your website, Welcome to What We Are, which focuses on women’s issues. What do you do when you’re just relaxing and you’ve got a few hours to kill and no appointments that you need to keep. 

Nikki: You know, I will say that, yes I need to carve out more time just for me to just be and not do. I’ve been working on that my whole life and it’s just felt like an impossible feat. But I really love what I do. I love to write. I love to produce. I love to act. I love to be active on social media, doing these interviews, especially leading up to the ALS walk. This year, my thing was that people are donating their money – what can we give back to them? They have questions that they need to be answered. Caretakers are going through this even more so than ever in isolation, so what can we give back to them? So I worked with the Alzheimer’s Association to pull in people to interview to say thank you for donating to this cause.  I love doing that. I love working with Children’s Hospital LA. Everything that I’m doing —

Jane: It’s not a chore.

Nikki: Yeah. In fact, the hardest part of my life is taking care of my two children. They don’t want to do anything that I tell them to do! And sometimes I do need a break. Just last night, I talked to one of my best friends while I was sitting in a bathtub, eating my dinner. It’s my favorite thing to do. I talked to her while I sat in the bathtub for an hour, and that actually is the best. That’s what I will do if I have an hour where I can just relax – I’m usually in a bathtub with some food, either watching a show or talking to a friend.

And then television.  I love TV. I love a good show. We just finished watching “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV. If you want a show about kindness, watch “Tad Lasso.” It is phenomenal. The lead character is just so full of kindness. You think you might explode from it and he’s so earnest and it is a case study for what happens when just one person cannot be moved from the way in which they have decided to show up in the world, and how infectious kindness can be and how infectious forgiveness can be, and mercy can be, and grace can be.  I want everybody to watch it because I’m like, yes, that’s what it looks like to be a good leader.

Jane: Well, let’s do a little rapid-fire to close out.

Nikki: Okay, cool. Let’s do a little rapid-fire.

Jane: Do you put up a Christmas tree?

Nikki: 100%.

Jane: Do you put it up before Thanksgiving or after Thanksgiving?

Nikki: After Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving. That’s the rule because it’s a real one and it’ll die by the time Christmas gets here.

Jane: That was my next question. Is it real or artificial?

Nikki: It’s real. I grew up with artificial trees. My husband grew up with real trees and so one of the stipulations of our marriage – I think it was actually in our vows – was that we had to have a real tree and I can’t get enough of them now. It’s a thing that we do. We go to the Christmas tree farm. It’s like in the Hallmark movies! The kids pick our tree, and then we make a day of bringing it home and putting the lights on.

Another thing that I love is all of our ornaments are very special. They’re either ornaments that I had as a kid or ones I collected from every city I go to.  They all have a story. So that’s what my Christmas tree looks like. And it’s a tradition that we’ve been doing for years.  By the way, there are two artificial trees that I also put up in my house. It’s a compromise.  I put one in my son’s room, and I put one somewhere else and those are artificial. The real one is the one the gifts go underneath. I want to start putting stuff up a little bit. Early too, because I love Christmas. I love the lights. It’s so beautiful and just makes a house feels so warm and cozy and nice.

Jane:  So with regard to gift-giving, do you do all your shopping last minute or do you do it throughout the year?

Nikki: Yep. I’ve already started. I learned that from my mother. We’re both planners in the sense that like, and we’re both OCD. And I know that if I don’t start buying at the beginning of the year, if I see something that I like, I know I will not remember it in December when I’m buying gifts. So I’m going to get it now and then put it in a closet so that I have it for later.

Jane: Do you send out Christmas cards?

Nikki: Yes.

Jane: Do you do email or real cards?

Nikki: Real. When people send out the cards, I put every single one of them up throughout the whole holidays. I have this door that I literally tape up every single one of them that I get. And I look forward to it so much.

Jane: I know that you’ve mentioned that you like drinking tea. What is your favorite tea type of tea?

Nikki: I start drinking tea by noon, and I start with mint. And then I move into rose and then I move into chamomile. But in the mornings, after I have my one cup of coffee, I do black tea or an English breakfast. I really truly just like all tea. I love the act of it. I love that there’s something very sacred and very, very proper about it. I love trying different artisan and local honey. There’s just nothing that makes my heart so happy as when I’m about to take my first sip of tea that I just made.

Jane: Thanks for chatting with me. Hopefully, we’ll get to see each other at the Christmas Con next year.

Nikki: From your lips to God’s ears! I really missed doing that [this year]. That was such a lovely event [last year]!

**     **     **     **

Nikki Deloach
Image: Hallmark Crown Media

Nikki and I went on to talk for a few more minutes, just chatting like pals rather than Hallstar to blog writer. Truthfully, the interview that I have posted here is but a fraction of the conversation she and I had.  That fact is that Nikki lives and breathes her life motto: we’re better together. It’s plain to see that in how she speaks of the people in her work life, of the work she is passionate about, and by her clear love for her family.  Even during the interview, she took a few moments to be a cheerleader on my behalf. She is definitely someone that excels at the very thing she seeks: treating others with kindness and having a generous spirit.

Be sure to check out “Cranberry Christmas” on Saturday, October 31 on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries at 10 p.m. ET.  If you want to find Nikki online, she can be found on Twitter at @nikkideloach and at Instagram at @nikdeloach. She’s worth the follow!

I've been a fan of Hallmark movies as long I can remember. In 2018 I decided it was finally time to write about it, and thus this blog was born.

One thought on “Interview with Nikki Deloach from “Cranberry Christmas”

  1. Oh, how I loved this interview! We were able to meet the real Nikki, more than most TV or print interviews, because of your thoughtful questions, and the time you allowed her to give uninterrupted or edited answers. Next to the one recently shown on Home & Family where I teared up a bit when she talked about her Dad, I felt you made a way for us to really get to know Nikki, her personality and passions. Well done, Jane, and thank you!

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