This Sunday, musical artist Tyler Hilton stars in a CBS original holiday film, When Christmas Was Young, with Fear the Walking Dead star Karen David.
Luke Dawson’s career is in danger, and he can only save it by getting the recording rights to a Christmas ballad for his only client, Lindsay Wyatt. The problem is the original singer, Melody, is immune to his cocky charm.
Can Melody show Luke the true meaning of Christmas, or will he teach her to believe in her dreams again?
We chatted with Tyler about the appeal of this holiday film, working with Karen, and his favorite holiday traditions.
Hi Tyler. I loved your movie. One of the popular themes for Holiday films this year was a singer creating a hit song and someone visiting a small town to realize the true meaning of Christmas. Why do you think this theme resonates with viewers?
It resonates with me too, and I couldn’t guess why. There’s something about visiting a small town, and a small town does Christmas well. Maybe it’s the quaintness of it, but there’s nothing like returning to a small town at Christmas. We all do it somehow when we go back home.
Christmas seems like a time when we return to our roots or origins. But it’s like a check-in with who we were, who we are underneath, and whom we are trying to be right now. Christmas is like that great check-in with the larger walk-through of our life for something, and something about returning home in small-town sums that up.
And what do you think is so popular about singers creating songs and Christmas movies this year?
I didn’t know there were other movies doing that, but Christmas songs are fantastic and allow you to get in touch with that side of you that’s vulnerable enough to write or discover a Christmas song within you. There’s something about Christmas music that gets to us all. If you’re going to watch somebody find that, that’s amazing.
In our movie, the path to finding the song can also be like finding yourself and becoming in touch with yourself.
Absolutely. And why did this project appeal to you?
The director, Monica Mitchell, is a friend of mine, and she’s cool, and she’s one of those people I wanted to work with again, and I like showing off for her. If you have a director, you want to show off more, you do better, and she’s fantastic.
I like being around her, and it elevates me, and I can try new stuff, and if it doesn’t work, she’ll tell me, which only happens occasionally. Monica was a big part of it. And then Sheryl Crow and I used to be labelmates on Warner Brothers and at home with her several times in Nashville when I lived there.
I’m a huge fan, and our music is super similar. So, for Cheryl to be doing something that Monica was directing was such a shoo-in for me. I wanted it so bad.
That makes sense. And what was it like working with Karen David?
Oh, it was great. If you don’t know someone before you’re going to co-star with them, a lot is building up to the moment you meet because that’s going to be the person you’re hunkered down with for the next month or so. As soon as I met her, I knew we would be friends forever.
I texted my wife and told my family I could not have lucked out more with this co-star. We have a similar background; she was a musician, signed, had a single, and toured. She got off that train earlier than I did, started acting, has done so well with it, and has done a ton of musicals.
Only a few people I work with know that experience I’ve been through where you come at it from the musician side first and then transition into the acting, but she did. I did the music thing for so long that I still feel like an outsider on a film or TV set.
Even though I’ve done many movies and TV shows, I’ve made even more music, and all my family was musicians.
I grew up doing it, so sometimes I mention when working with someone, I’m going to be a little rusty. I’m mainly a musician on the road, and Karen knew what I meant. I never thought about whether I should do this or if something looked dumb around her. I never thought that around her.
I just did whatever came to my brain, and you only do that with somebody you feel super comfortable with. And so, I was so relieved, especially for someone like me, who doesn’t go from set to set, like she does, and I got to be with someone so cool and understanding.
Yes, you guys were a lot of fun. Without spoiling much, how do you think Melody and Luke played off each other?
This movie reminds me of the classic rom-com from classic Hollywood where someone’s like a stick in the mud, and they can’t get along. Many Cary Grant movies are like that too, which is funny. There was something about liking each other in person but getting to play annoying to her that I loved. It was just so much fun to do.
Once we found our groove, she’d call me cheeky after so many takes. She would let me go for it, and I would be so annoying and rude. She gave it right back, and it was so funny and opposite from our vibes in real life, but it was fun. It allowed us to dive right in and have fun with it.
And what was it like for you to interact with the rest of the cast?
It was great. Everybody in the cast was professional, and I needed to keep my game elevated the whole time, which is the best-case scenario. I always felt if I could be the dumbest or least talented, or least experienced person in a group. I’ve done an excellent job getting there and learned so much.
There was something about this movie that was different to me than the other TV Christmas movies I’ve seen every year, the ones they make like 100 of on many channels. This had a much more elevated vibe. The cast was so talented, and probably should have had my part or a better part, but it helped me become a better actor.
The Wardrobe was fabulous and expensive. The whole thing felt like a big important project while we were over there; sometimes, it felt different. But that went to the actors, and we collaborated right after the scene, comparing notes on new things to try.
I wouldn’t ask that of people that I didn’t trust, but I was conscious about everybody on there. I could be honest with them and be vulnerable.
That’s great. And what are some of your favorite holiday traditions?
I love those gifts that you get in an envelope on the tree, and then you open it, and it’s a scavenger hunt or a clue that goes to like another envelope somewhere. That’s my favorite. I don’t even care what’s at the end of it. The first time that happened to me, I was probably like nine or ten, and what was at the end of It was my first guitar.
I got a bicycle that way sometimes, so there were good presents at the end of something like that. But something about the build-up that feels so magical, and I love that stuff.
And since this was a musical holiday film, what is your favorite Christmas song, and what memories does it bring?
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is my favorite. There’s something sad and happy about it. I’ve recorded it and got to sing in many beautiful places with beautiful people and collaborate a lot. I love that song and singing it.
When Christmas Was Young airs at 8:30/7:30c and 8 pm PST on Sunday, December 18, on CBS and will stream on Paramount +.
Laura Nowak is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.