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.

Just Posted

Conner Gilkin, 5, shows of some of his newfound loot to buddy Jax Dul, 7, during the Lake Cowichan treasure hunt on Saturday, June 5. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)
Weekly hunt has Lake Cowichan digging for treasure

Gold? Silver? Candy? Andrew Braye has stashed away a range of prizes for eager treasure hunters

A new laundromat is opening in the Peters Centre in Lake Cowichan. (file photo)
Peters Centre getting all cleaned up

Laundromat being developed at the Neva Road site

Robert's column
Robert Barron column: Skyrocketing house prices a tragedy

North Cowichan councillor Rosalie Sawrie brought an interesting perspective to a discussion… Continue reading

Soaker hoses laid down over corn seedlings, soon to be covered with mulch, will see to the watering needs of the bed through any summer drought. (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Investing in soaker hoses is money well-spent

No-till gardening has a distinct advantage during drought

Karl McPherson, left, and Mary Morrice are the new head coach and general manager, respectively, at the Duncan Dynamics Gymnastics Club. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Manager charts a new course for Duncan Dynamics

More recreational programs to join competitive teams

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read