Justin Hartley is getting back in the Christmas spirit. After succeeding as Kevin Pearson in the critically acclaimed television series “This Is Us,” the 45-year-old actor can next be seen in the Netflix film “The Noel Diary.” Based on the novel of the same name, “The Noel Diary” marks Hartley’s second Christmas-themed film after “A Bad Moms Christmas.”
“I love the idea of families getting together and sitting down to watch Christmas movies,” Hartley tells ET Canada. “Every year, I watch “Christmas Vacation”. I love watching “A Christmas Carol”, “A Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”. These are movies I’ve seen hundreds of times. I’ve always been a fan of that Christmas genre.”
Directed by Father of the Bride’s Charles Shyer, “The Noel Diary” Finds Bestselling Author Jake Turner [Hartley] returning to his childhood home after a long absence. His mother recently passed away and Jake is back to settle the estate. However, an encounter with a young woman named Rachel [Barrett Doss]and the discovery of a journal, sends the two on a quest to discover the truth about their past and mend their hearts.
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“You have this character, Jake, who seems to be a certain way and has everything under control and has a great life,” says Hartley. “You peel back the layers from him and realize he’s running from his past. The things that he imagines happened to him and that shaped him along the way, might not be the ones that he remembers.
“He has this separate relationship with his father,” adds Hartley. “He is a bit non-existent. He goes on this journey to find out. I love the character. I love the story. I love Carlos. He is a legend. He is a great filmmaker and storyteller from the old days. That was what attracted me to the project.
“It’s an actor’s dream when you have a character who discovers things along the way and then, in turn, discovers more about himself… whether it’s his past or his future, or why he’s doing what he’s doing.” adds. “I love the fact that Jake is willing to pour himself into relationships from his past. I love how he realizes that all is not well. He’s got the guts to dig in and get the job done. Every time you get a chance to play a character that he starts out a certain way and goes through this journey of self-discovery.”
“The Noel Diary” takes place around Christmas, a time of snow, cold and festive decorations. That was all the magic of Hollywood. The truth is that production took place during a sweltering summer heat wave in Connecticut.
“It was June or July,” recalls Hartley. “It was very wet. The car we were in did not have air conditioning. It looked so cool. I remember when Charles and I were talking about the car. We found this car and it looked amazing. I didn’t realize it wouldn’t have air conditioning.
“It was pretty brutal,” he continues. “But, it wasn’t necessarily the heat. Have you ever tried not to sweat? It is virtually impossible. You are going to explode. Makeup artists would come by every few seconds and wipe us off. It was challenging, but fun nonetheless.”
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Hartley also serves as an executive producer on the project. He jokes that those extra responsibilities were welcome because “I don’t like being told what to do.”
“I’m kidding,” he says between laughs. “It’s important to me to work with great filmmakers, great minds and great artists. When you get to work with someone like Charles in that capacity, you learn and it shapes you. It certainly makes me a better producer. Going into the show that I just did with Ken Olin, “The Never Game,” it was the same thing. Ken Olin is a monster talent and has been doing it forever and ever. When you can learn a lesson like that and go to school with someone who’s the best at what he does, that’s the chance of a lifetime. I’ve been very lucky in the last few years to be able to do that and step into the director’s chair and do all of this with the best in the business.”
The popular Christmas song rings true: Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s also a big deal for father and newlywed Hartley, who appreciates being surrounded by loved ones.
“I try, in my everyday life, to remind my friends or tell my family how much they mean to me and how much I appreciate them and that I’m here if they ever need me for anything,” Hartley explains. “It’s a good reminder to stop and maybe make a phone call or invite people over to the house. I know that for some people it can be stressful and I understand that too. But, for me, it’s another chance to slow down and have fun.”
And there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas, although some traditions can be considered controversial. Too much fruitcake? Hartley admits that he has never tasted the candy. As for when it’s socially acceptable to play the seasonal tunes, Hartley offers: “Whenever you want.”
“You can start in June,” concludes Hartley. “You can start in January. You can start in November. It depends on when you want. Do you want to get in the car and listen to Christmas music in October? That’s totally fine too.”