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

A person experiencing homelessness in downtown Nanaimo last week. (News Bulletin photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Change approach to combatting homelessness

Letter writers express frustration with status quo

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
Up to 15 cm of snow forecast for Nanaimo area this weekend

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo councillors like new sustainable buying policy

Finance and audit committee recommends council approve new procurement policy

Action at the Nanaimo Curling Centre. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo sports organizations qualify for COVID-19 relief funding

Province announces support for curling, rowing, gymastics, softball, rugby, squash, football clubs

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

SD62 bus driver Kerry Zado said it’s common to see drivers lose their patience and pass by his bus while he’s picking up students during the morning commute. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Concerned Island school bus driver says people still pass while red lights flashing

All buses in Sooke School District outfitted with stop sign cameras

The cost of potentially counting deer regionwide was among the issues that prompted Capital Regional District committee members to vote against pursuing a greater CRD role in deer management. (Black Press Media file photo)
Expanded deer management a non-starter for Greater Victoria

Capital Regional District committee maintains current level of support

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’

Aquaculture employee from Vancouver Island, Michelle, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Female aquaculture employees report online bullying, say divisive debate has turned sexist

Vancouver Island’s female aquaculture employees start #enoughisenough to address misogynistic comments aimed at them

Most Read