Justin Hartley is getting back into the Christmas spirit. After crushing it as Kevin Pearson in the critically-acclaimed TV 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 holiday-themed movie after “A Bad Moms Christmas”.
“I love the idea of families coming together and sitting down and watching Christmas movies,” Hartley tells ET Canada. “Every single year, I watch “Christmas Vacation”. I love to watch “A Christmas Carol”, “A Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”. These are movies that I have seen hundreds of times. I have always been a fan of that Christmas genre.”
Directed by Father of the Bride’s Charles Shyer, “The Noel Diary” finds best-selling author Jake Turner [Hartley] returning to his childhood home after a long absence. His mother recently passed away and Jake’s back to settle the estate. However, an encounter with a young woman named Rachel [Barrett Doss], and the discovery of a diary, sends the two on a quest to unlock the truth regarding their pasts and mend their hearts.
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“You have this character, Jake, that appears to be a certain way and have everything under control and have a great life,” Hartley says. “You peel back the layers of him and you realize he is running from his past. The things that he kind of figures happened to him and shaped him along the way, might not be the way he remembers.
“He has this estranged relationship with his dad,” Hartley adds. “It’s kind of non-existent. He goes on this journey to figure that out. I love the character. I love the story. I love Charles. He is such a legend. He is such an old-time, great filmmaker and storyteller. That’s what drew me to the project.
“It is an actor’s dream when you have a character who discovers things along the way, and then in turn discovers more things about himself… whether it be his past or future, or why he’s doing what he’s doing,” he adds. “I love the fact that Jake is willing to pour into the relationships of his past. I love how he realizes that everything is not fine. He has the guts to dig in and do the work. Anytime you get an opportunity to play a character that starts a certain way and goes through this journey of self-discovery.”
“The Noel Diary” unfolds around Christmas, a time of snow, cold and festive decorations. That was all Hollywood magic. The truth is production took place during a sweltering summer heatwave in Connecticut.
“It was June or July,” Hartley recalls. “It was very humid. The car we were in had no air conditioning. It looked so cool. I remember when Charles and I were talking about the car. We found this car and it looked so awesome. It didn’t dawn on me that it wouldn’t have any air conditioning.
“It was pretty brutal,” he continues. “But, it wasn’t the heat necessarily. Have you ever tried not to sweat? It’s virtually impossible. You will explode. The makeup artists were coming over every few seconds and blotting us down. It was a challenge, but fun nonetheless.”
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Hartley also serves as executive producer on the project. He jokes those added responsibilities were welcomed because “I don’t like to be told what to do.”
“I am kidding,” he says with a laugh. “It’s important for 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 I just did with Ken Olin, “The Never Game”, it was the same thing. Ken Olin is a monster talent and he’s been doing it forever and forever. When you can get a lesson like that and go to school with someone who is the best at what they do, that’s the opportunity of a lifetime. I’ve been really lucky in the last couple of years to be able to do that and step in the director’s chair and do all this stuff with the best in the business.”
The popular holiday song rings true: Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a big deal for father and newlywed Hartley, too, who cherishes being surrounded by loved ones.
“I try to, in my daily life, remind my friends or tell my family how much they mean to me and how much I appreciate them and that I am 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, as well. But, for me, it’s another opportunity to slow down and have some fun.”
And there’s no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas, although some traditions might be considered controversial. Indulging in too much fruit cake? Hartley admits he’s never tasted the treat. As for when it is socially acceptable to chime up the seasonal tunes, Hartley offers, “Any time you want.”
“You can start in June,” Hartley concludes. “You can start in January. You can start in November. It depends on when you want to. You want to get in the car and blast Christmas music in October? That is totally fine, too.”