Due to the volume of Christmas movies released straight to TV in the US every year, you would have been forgiven for missing the 2009 film Christmas Angel. However, in doing so, you will have missed one of the warmest and most satisfying festive movies of them all.
Introducing Christmas Angel
The Feel Christmassy website has been built on a passion for Christmas films, and when in 2012 we stumbled upon a movie we hadn’t before seen while surfing UK movie channels, we added a new favourite to our collection.
Christmas Angel – which still shows on TV each year in both the US and UK – tells the story of Ashley, a young woman out of work and out of luck in the run-up to Christmas. Ashley, played by Kari Hawker Diaz, is soon offered some work by her elderly neighbour Nick (Bruce Davison), on the caveat that she tells nobody of his work – a sort of secret Santa giving gifts anonymously to those in need.
The storyline is superb, possibly one of the most warm-hearted and original Christmas movie plots of recent times. Kari Hawker Diaz accepted the role in the film before reading the script, but was certainly glad that she did take it.
Speaking to Feel Christmassy, Kari said: “I auditioned and got a call-back before I really even read the script. I had always wanted to work with the director (Brian Brough) and thought it was perfect timing – when I finally read the script I absolutely fell in love with the character and story!
“I totally agree about the storyline (being great)! It absolutely carries the film.
“I hadn’t ever done a role like Ashley so I was very interested in it. She is simple yet complicated, and very strong. It was one of my very favourite projects to be a part of. And I love Christmas, so I was in heaven with all of the set décor.”
Mention of décor leads us to one of our favourite scenes of the movie, set in the very festive Diner. During the scenes, Nick and Ashley eat chili together, and the diner itself looks great.
Recalling the scenes, Kari laughs and says: “That was some of the funniest stuff to film!
“It is a real diner here in Utah- I believe it’s a different restaurant now but it was so perfect to film in. I have to tell you, I got pretty tired of eating chili though! I feel like every scene in that diner I was eating chili. I couldn’t even think about chili for a long time after filming.
“I love the scene where KC’s character eats the chili thinking it wasn’t going to be that spicy – it wasn’t at all, it was from a can – but it was supposed to be “Stan’s 3 alarm chili” or something- so that was all KC’s acting like it was burning his tongue off. The outtakes were hilarious!”
As a result of her new job with Nick, Ashley ends up meeting Will (K.C. Clyde), a local journalist with whom she gets romantically involved with until he decides to write a story about Nick’s secret mission. Both co-stars are exceptional in their roles, and Kari also reserved praise for the pair.
Kari said: “Both KC and Bruce are phenomenal actors and people. KC is one of the funniest people to work with so you are always entertained! And Bruce was such a light of inspiration. So nice. Professional.
“I remember filming our first scene together where we are in a park sitting on a bench and it was freezing and I was pretty nervous because I literally was just introduced to him right before we rehearsed. But he made things so easy! He really became that gentle, kind, loving ‘father figure’ role so easily. He was that same way in person.”
It’s a fantastic movie, and one that will warm your heart and really drum home the meaning of Christmas. As a result, there are some pretty emotional scenes to watch as well, and while excellently acted, they bring a tear to the eye. So what’s it like to film them, and how does an actor or actress get prepare for scenes such as these?
*SPOILER ALERT – If you have not yet watched the move, avoid the next quotes/paragraphs*
Kari said: “The emotional scenes are interesting. In this film my character is a very strong person-but started to show vulnerability towards the middle/end of the film.
“So when she finds out about Nick passing away, she would obviously be devastated yet strong knowing she has to carry on the tradition of secret Santa. So I tried to play it pretty true to that. I usually have to listen to music before an emotional scene so I can get to that place in my head. That’s been my tool – the songs and genres of music change depending on the situation but, music is definitely my go to.”
Christmas Angel took around three weeks to shoot and is set in Chicago, but as is common in the movie industry, save for a few parts, much of it was shot some distance away.
“We shot all over here in Utah – the city shots were done in Chicago though so it made the film look like a larger city. People are always surprised with that part – in fact the diner is here in Utah and has a background of mountains but they added shots of Chicago right behind it and you would never know it!”.
Whenever we have run features with people who have worked on movies here on Feel Christmassy, they always have some funny stories to tell us. So, we asked Kari if she had any, and we also wanted to know who Dash the dog belonged too.
“Awww Dash the dog! I can’t remember who he belonged to; but he was the nicest, sweetest dog ever! He was also about the strongest dog I’d ever met- a total gentle giant- and in between scenes I would get dragged right out the door with him excited to get his treats. I almost fell a couple times- I should have figured out how to just let go of the leash but it was just instinct of my character to hold on I guess.
“One funny thing, though not at the time so much, was in the snow sledding scene I think there was a mix-up in the wardrobe department because we literally had no thermals under our clothes. And filming a sledding scene for hours in the snow can get interesting without that! I think I had regular shoes on and not even double the socks.
“It had just snowed the day before and there were tons! I specifically remember going down the hill being face first on the sled and a GIANT pile of snow just funnelled right down my shirt/coat. KC and I totally laughed about the situation and still had a great time but I think there was a lot of hot cocoa after to warm up!
“One more funny thing – the scene where I’m buying like 50 burgers I had a trail of apple boxes (which are wooden boxes to make you taller) leading up to the cash register. Usually you will just stand on one but in this scene there was an entire path so when I walked next to KC (who is tall) we could be similar in height.”
One of the most under-rated Christmas movies ever?
Christmas films are always highly-anticipated by fans of the genre, and while we are treated to a strong new release on occasions, mostly we are left looking for classics to fill our TV hours over Christmas.
For example, some big-budget movies like Fred Claus were given cinematic releases, yet in reality were pretty poor and not very engaging. Christmas Angel on the other hand was recorded specifically to be a TV movie in the US, and we’re sure that once you see it, you’ll be in agreement that it’s one of the most underrated Christmas movies around. It’s much stronger than many big budget pictures that have come out of Hollywood, in our opinion.
So what does Kari think about our opinion of the movie, and was the reception when it aired in the US a positive one?
“Oh thank you!” Kari says of our love of the film.
“Yes people love Christmas Angel! I still hear from people all over the world about it. It always surprises me that it has reached so far across the globe. It really is one of the best stories of compassion that I think people can relate to.
“We all wish we knew someone like Nick or we at least want to try to be more like him. I think it really teaches us all the meaning of life not only during the holidays but to strive to be better people on a daily basis”
Talking of Christmas movies, Kari is a big fan of Christmas, and obviously movies are integral to a good festive period.
“I love Christmas. I live for it. I am one of those people who has Lifetime or Hallmark on 24/7 during the holidays!”
She counts It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone and National Lampoons Christmas Vacation as her favourite Christmas films, but we just had to ask which festive movie she would have loved to have starred in?
“Hmmm, this one is tough! Probably Love Actually. I love the feeling of the movie and the characters/acting in it are really great. It has such a cosy feel to it yet it’s very real with everyday life situations.”
Life after Christmas Angel
Today, Kari is still involved in television and film, working as a feature reporter on television in Utah, as well as taking other opportunities when they arise.
“I absolutely love it. I work for KUTV sister station KMYU, where I do sports interviews, car commercials, etc. It’s different every day and I love everyone I get to work with! I still do films and commercials through my agency also; so it’s a perfect schedule for me!”
And on the prospect of more movies in the future?
“I started in film and it’s my original first love. Depending on the project I will always make room for movies!”
UK movie channel Movie Mix (available on freeview) have been showing Christmas Angel this year, so check listings. Otherwise, buy from Amazon under the newer title of The Christmas Miracle.