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

Sadie, a long-term care resident at Mountainview Lodge in Kitimat was among those who got the COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccination clinic held Thursday (Jan. 21). Northern Health photo
Mountainview Lodge gets first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines

The first vaccination clinic was held Thursday (Jan. 21)

Brett Alexander Jones is wanted on several warrants province-wide, in connection with multiple charges. Jan. 21, 2021. Kitimat RCMP photo
Kitimat RCMP searching for man wanted on several warrants province-wide

Jones is described as a five-foot 10-inches Caucasian man, with blond hair and blue eyes.

Haisla Nation Council photo
COVID-19 vaccine supply delayed for Kitamaat Village

Supply could not be guaranteed for the Village with the current national Pfizer-BioNTech shortage

Bus routes for CMSD82 students in Cablecar and Kitamaat Village have been temporarily changed for Jan. 21 and 22. (Black Press file photo)
Temporary school bus route changes for Cablecar, Kitamaat Village

The two routes will be combined for Jan. 21 and 22 due to a bus driver shortage

Haisla Bridge traffic will be impacted overnights from Jan. 20 to 23 due to District work. (Clare Rayment/Kitimat Northern Sentinel)
Haisla Bridge traffic impacted due to District work

The bridge will be single lane traffic overnights from Jan. 20 to 23

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Mowi Canada West’s Sheep Pass salmon farm, the company’s final B.C. operation to receive certification from the Aquaculture Steward Council. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) is questioning a government decision to phase out salmon farms in the Discovery Islands. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada West)
Canadian Federation of Agriculture backs B.C. salmon farmers

Letter to prime minister calls for federal “champion” for aquaculture growth

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Vancouver flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

Most Read