Festive flick | 

Hallmark's 'Queen of Christmas' brings us on set in Co Clare as she shoots her 28th festive film

Lacey Chabert reveals the joy she gets from bringing people a little happiness
Queen of Hallmark Lacey Chabert in Christmas at Castle Hart alongside Stuart Townsend.

Queen of Hallmark Lacey Chabert in Christmas at Castle Hart alongside Stuart Townsend.

Deirdre Reynolds

UP to 135 cast and crew, 21 days, and one very hard-working snow machine - that's what it takes to bring Hallmark's famous Christmas magic to life.

It's a cold and rainy October Tuesday at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in Co Clare. Wrapped up in a winter coat and cosy scarf, strolling alongside Stuart Townsend through a twinkling Christmas market Lacey Chabert couldn't look any more festive.

Hallmark's Queen of Christmas, as the Mean Girls actress has become known Stateside, is currently charming audiences in new television movie Christmas at Castle Hart.

"Since I've been here the weather's been incredible," jokes the star from beneath a brolly in between takes. "It only started raining today so it has been OK."

Most famous for playing Gretchen Wieners in the 2004 comedy, the 39-year-old from Mississippi is this Christmas starring as Brooke Bennett, a young American divorcée who crosses the Atlantic for the holidays and - it's hardly a spoiler to say - ends up falling for more than just the west of Ireland scenery.

Lacey Chabert and Stuart Townsend on set at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park

Lacey Chabert and Stuart Townsend on set at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park

But it's the dreamy Irish setting, including Dromoland Castle which doubles as the Castle Hart of the title, that's setting hearts aflutter as well as leading man Stuart, who plays Aiden Hart, the handsome Earl of Glaslough, in the feel-good affair, launched as part of the channel's Countdown to Christmas schedule.

"I love doing Christmas movies for Hallmark Channel," Lacey tells Magazine+ during our exclusive behind-the-scenes visit to the enchanting set. "This is my 28th.

"The first one I did was called Elevator Girl, it was over 10 years ago and I never would have guessed it would have turned into me doing so many, but the fans are so loyal and wonderful.

"I always enjoy when we can do something abroad and feel like we're taking the audience on the trip with us, so Ireland really is a character in this movie.

"I think we've done a pretty good job of showing much of its beauty and the different locations where we have filmed have been really exciting."

"This is my first time here," continues Lacey, who has a five-year-old daughter, Julia, with husband Dave Nehdar. "I've always wanted to visit.

"Everyone has been so nice here, and I'm from the south where southern hospitality is a real thing, and I feel like you guys have that in spades.

"Everyone was very excited to take me to a pub and have a sip of Guinness. I had a sip - it's different and I think I'd have to have a little bit more to acquire the taste for it!"

Although critics often turn their noses up at the mulled wine of movie-making, that won't stop an estimated 85 million people curling up on the couch to binge on the 41 original films airing on Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries in the US this December.

Deirdre Reynolds pictured with Director / Producer Leif Bristow at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park on the set of Hallmark movie Pic: Don Moloney

Deirdre Reynolds pictured with Director / Producer Leif Bristow at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park on the set of Hallmark movie Pic: Don Moloney

And Canadian film producer and director Leif Bristow, whose movie credits for the company include Love, Romance & Chocolate, Love on Safari and now Christmas at Castle Hart, believe the warm hugs of movies have never been more important in the current global climate.

"I think that has different answers for different people," says Leif of the formula for the perfect Hallmark Christmas movie, sitting down with us for a coffee after the outdoor market scene has wrapped on the high-speed production.

"I almost hate to say 'formula' because I believe if you think of almost any successful genre of films, if you're talking about something that happens in three acts, they follow a particular pattern."

Working with the channel has given Leif and his co-producer wife, Agnes, the opportunity to jet to some of the most picturesque places on earth, from Bruges to Brookers Reserve in South Africa.

Deirdre Reynolds enjoys her time behind the scenes.

Deirdre Reynolds enjoys her time behind the scenes.

But he says the Banner County was a no-brainer for his latest flight of fantasy, which sees Lacey's character organise a show-stopping Christmas party at the eponymous castle after being mistaken for an elite event planner.

"The way I try to describe our movies to our cast and crew is: a great romance should happen in a snowglobe. If you ever pick up a snowglobe, once you shake it, there's no spot that isn't beautiful, and these have to be the same thing.

"When Hallmark asked us to make movies with them, we said we want to take the audience to the most romantic locations on the planet and let them live in a world that most people will never see, so hence that's why we came to Ireland," explains Leif, whose actress daughter Brittany Bristow is another Hallmark fan favourite.

Back in the make-up chair, real-life December 25 fanatic Lacey is keeping Christmas at Castle Hart's ending firmly under wraps, but promises only tears of the best kind this festive season.

"I think that's what it is, it's dependable," she agrees of Hallmark's secret to success.

"I think people want to escape the stress of the world and to turn on something that warms the heart and is good for your whole family to watch, and they know that there'll be a happy ending.

"More than ever, with all the different tragedies going on, it's great to be a part of something that I know will hopefully lift spirits. I feel really lucky to be part of telling stories that are positive and uplifting."

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