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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Administering naloxone to a person experiencing a benzo-related overdose event won’t help. Naloxone is used to neutralize opioids. (Jenna Hauck/The Progress file photo)
Northern Health warning drug users of potential benzo contamination

The drug does not respond to naloxone, and is being included in street drugs

Terrace continues to have a high rate of COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people, according to this map which shows data from Jan. 3 to Jan. 9. (BC Centre for Disease Control)
Terrace, Nisga’a regions continue to have high rate of COVID-19 cases

Two more exposure notices posted for Terrace schools

This concept artwork from July 2020 shows the inland port planned for the former Skeena Cellulose mill site in Terrace. (Image courtesy Hatha Callis, Progressive Ventures Group)
Terrace city council approves inland port OCP amendments

Project still requires zoning bylaw, development permit to continue

This copper frog pendant was made by Jamika Aksidan, a young Nisga’a artist who was recently recognized with an award for her work. (Photo courtesy Nisga’a Museum)
Nisga’a youth artist wins award

Award includes $500, exhibition in Nisga’a Museum

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

Cranbrook Food Bank coordinator Deanna Kemperman, Potluck Cafe Society executive director Naved Noorani and Sunshine Coast Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach join B.C.’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne on a video call about B.C. gaming grants, Jan. 19, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. gaming grants reorganized for COVID-19 priorities

Minister highlights community kitchens, food banks

(Pixabay photo)
‘Cocaine bananas’ arrive at Kelowna grocery stores after mix up from Colombia: RCMP

Kelowna RCMP recently concluded an international drug investigation after finding cocaine in local grocers’ banana shipments in 2019

A new video from NCCIH and BC Northern Health titled ‘Healing in Pandemic Times: Indigenous Peoples, Stigma and COVID-19’ was animated by Joanne Gervais. (Photo Provided By: NCCIH Archives)
VIDEO: Stigma against Indigenous people is a ‘social sickness’

A new short animated video is aiming to educate the public on the stigmatization

A pinniped was attacked by an unseen predator off the shores of Dallas Road Monday night. (Courtesy of Steffani Cameron)
VIDEO: Seal hunting, not being hunted in video shot off Victoria waterfront

Victoria woman captures footage of pinniped activity off Dallas Road

Most Read