Kavan Smith strikes again with another red-hot movie. He stars as Boone Taylor in Big Sky River, a single father of two boys who is trying to provide the best life for his family.
He is doing that all alone without complaint, but when Tara (Emmanuelle Vaugier) rents the house next door for the summer with her stepdaughter, their two families grow closer as Boone and Tara discover that they might not have to go it alone, after all.
We caught up with Kavan about the movie (which you will adore) and for some When Calls the Heart chitchat. Consider this conversation your prep work before catching the premiere of Big Sky River on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries on Sunday, August 7 at 9/8c.
Big Sky River is such a beautiful movie, visually and emotionally. How did you get involved with it?
Well, as a matter of fact, I was planning a vacation. And anytime you plan a vacation as an actor, you can almost guarantee that you’re going to get a job offer.
I was actually on my computer, just about to pay for the flight, and I got a call from my agent asking if I would be interested in looking at this project.
We didn’t know who was attached first, and often when that happens, I just assume that it’s going to be Pascale Hutton who was attached to it. But in this case, they said that wasn’t going to happen.
But then, when I found out it was Emmanuelle [Vaugier], who I’d worked with before several years ago on a project called Mistresses. I was super excited because we had a really good time together. She’s super fun. So I was really excited about it.
And then I also found out that the director, Peter Benson, is another friend of mine. When he came on board, I’m like, “This is just going to be fun. It’s just like friends getting together.”
Like a vacation.
Yeah. Exactly, I got a vacation out of it anyway. The only thing I was a little weird about was the cowboy part because I’m not really much of a cowboy. Even though I come from Alberta, Canada, which is cowboy territory, and maybe it’s in my DNA somewhere.
But I told my kids about it, and they’re like, “Really? You? A cowboy?” I was like, “Okay, well, thanks for your support. But yes.” When I read the script, one of the things oftentimes with Hallmark scripts, there are some things that bump, and you’re not sure how it’s going to play.
And this one where there were no bumps at all. And it had me concerned, though. I was like, “Okay, where’s the what’s going on here?” And I realized that it’s not really a picture about boy meets girl, which a lot of the Hallmark movies are.
It felt to me that this was more like about two broken families that were getting a second chance. It wasn’t just one guy and one girl. It was this guy; he was trying to keep his family afloat with two boys struggling with the loss of their mother.
And then this other girl who comes to town, and she’s trying to piece together this relationship out of a divorce where her step-daughter is closer to her than she is to her father. I thought this is really about two families coming together more so than it is about the traditional Hallmark, one guy, one girl.
I really liked that. I thought that the movie would either sink or swim on whether or not everybody would have chemistry — if we could really connect as families.
If I could connect with the boys and if Emmanuelle could connect with the girl, and then if we could all connect together, this could be a really sweet and fun, natural movie. I haven’t seen it yet myself. So I’m hoping that’s what we got in the end.
Yes, definitely. It was one of my favorite Hallmark movies I’ve seen in ages. And I’m not just saying that because I’m talking to you. Whenever I was done, I was like, “I really enjoyed this.” It didn’t seem like a Hallmark movie.
There was a lot of that involved. I really do think they are branching out a little bit. So they’re tackling some things that they haven’t, or that they shied away from. the idea of divorce and stuff and coming together that way.
And because it was a lot less about just boy meets girl, it was these two families, like I said, coming together, that has not always been their thing. So this really felt to me that this was going to allow Emmanuelle and I to really see if we could put some chops into this and make you feel for these characters.
And I really enjoyed the scenes that I did with the boys. I mean, there were a couple of scenes with each kid where… I have two boys myself.
I know. How great is that?
Yeah, it was really exciting.
You are that dad.
Yeah, I am that dad. And I talk to them. I added some stuff that is the way I talk to my kids. And like I said, I haven’t seen it. So I don’t know how much of what I put in there was kept or not. But I know I added a fair bit of dad from my repertoire into it because I was hoping it would make it more natural.
When you’re dealing with younger performers, sometimes it helps them relax in the scene and just listen to you. I thought that each one of the boys that played my sons were so good at different things, and it really made it fun and interesting for me.
So I was definitely able to tackle some of that. And I haven’t had any of that in a Hallmark project outside of this one. So I was really excited to do that.
Yeah. It really worked. Both families were believable, and you felt for both. Good.
Also, from the boy meets girl perspective, you and Emmanuelle were obviously comfortable with each other from having worked together before. And it was a very adult and sweet meeting of two people who were afraid of love again.
Yeah. It was in the script, but it was very subtle. It was really kind of, “We’re not going to beat this over the head.” This is going to sink or swim on whether or not Emmanuelle and I can find a way to connect.
And one of the things that she brings to the table that is great, and it’s also one of the things I love about Pascale, is that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. And sometimes, with actors, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to do the performance that you’re going for. I get that. But sometimes, it’s exhausting.
Sometimes working with actors is exhausting, and this is coming from an actor. So she was so fun and uncomplicated and in the moment, and she’s a really nice actor, and she’s got a great sense of humor. And those things really speak to me as a person.
So I like it when I show up to work, and somebody is fun, living in the moment, doesn’t take themselves too seriously, and is a good performer who can work with improvisation. She can roll with things because I like to try and change takes up and stuff.
She was great with all of that. And I knew she would be because I’d worked with her a long time ago. And I knew we got along quite well back then.
But on day one, we just started making each other laugh right away. I never saw any of it on camera, so I don’t know what it looks like on camera, but I felt in front of the camera that there was definitely chemistry. So I mean, if you say it’s there, then I’ll take your word for it.
And there’s one particular scene on the romantic side that blew me away for a Hallmark movie.
It’s when the two of you were just leaning your heads together. You might have had a little kiss. It was very emotional. It wasn’t coy; it was so deep. I loved it.
I remember shooting that. I got to give a lot of credit to the director on that one because he asked for a physical move. I like the idea of coming together and being still, but he wanted a camera angle on that. So he wanted us to do that while we were slightly turning.
And I felt like, “Ugh, I don’t know, turning while we’re trying to have this sort of tete-a-tete moment.” But it really worked. Also, one of the things that you don’t get in a lot of these movies is time. We allowed that to develop.
It wasn’t just head in, touch, think, kiss, done. It was really kind of slow and sanguine. And it was really a beautiful moment. I’m glad you liked that. That was really cool.
And it almost came off like a dance.
You said you didn’t know if it would work with the turning. It worked perfectly.
Oh, I’m so glad. It felt a little weird doing it. But as soon as we landed from the turn, then it all felt really quite natural. And I think that if you’re … It’s not burned in love, because he lost his wife, she died, and Tara [Vaugier] was burned in love.
Sometimes the vulnerability of that moment where you open yourself up, there are no words. You don’t need to say anything. And you lean your head and you’re saying to the other person, “I trust you. I’m here. Let’s see where this goes.”
A lot of Hallmark movies don’t do that. And I was glad that we took that time, and that is all Peter. Peter Benson, who directed, that was all his idea. So I give him full credit for that.
If you show people what you’re feeling, as opposed to telling them, it goes a lot further.
It really does. It’s the same thing in writing and things like that. You can tell them stuff, but you don’t need to hit them over the head. In fact, the less you can say, the more impactful the moment usually is.
And it was the same thing with both of you as parents in the movie, the way that Boone was just playing ball with them out in the yard. I mean, you don’t see that very often.
And something as simple as a picture, the little girl’s picture was on Tara’s refrigerator, just things that speak volumes without having to say a word.
Yes. I think there was a lot of that in this movie. Not so obvious, but like subtle little things that made it feel a little more believable and a little more real.
Exactly. And you don’t have to tell me that you’re good parents because I could see it.
That’s exactly what we were going for. Nobody had to say, “Oh, well, he’s a good dad.” You can see him the way he talks with the kids that dads don’t talk to children like that unless they love them unless they really want the best for them.
You don’t have to have somebody in the background or in another scene say, “Oh, he’s such a good dad.” We’ve already shown that. Or vice versa, “She’s a great stepmother,” because she’s shown it. Yep. That’s exactly right.
You said you weren’t a good cowboy. Were you actually in those riding scenes?
I was. I did all the riding scenes except for the high-speed stuff. I’m fairly comfortable on horses because I’ve done a fair bit of that on When Calls, and I’ve done some Westerns in the past. But I’m getting old now. And my body doesn’t love banging around at high speeds.
Emmanuel is a serious rider. She is a show jumper and owns her horse, and she competes all the time. So the director and the producers really wanted to take advantage of having her on camera at those high speeds, doing some really high-end stuff. So I’m just not good enough to follow her in that.
Trotting around and doing things on horses, I’m good with all that. But the high-speed stuff, no. They brought in a real cowboy for that.
What’s funny is, as I was watching it, I was thinking, “That’s something I always wanted to do.” I had gone on trail rides and that kind of stuff growing up, but I always wanted to have that flat-out run. And what went through my mind was, “Now, with my body at this age, there’s no way. I’d be on the ground.”
The first phone call I got from Peter was like, “Okay, honest.” Because actors lie all the time about what they can do. I’ve been asked ’cause I ride motorcycles, and I’ve been asked so many times. They’re like, “Really? Really? Do you really drive a motorcycle?” Because actors just lie about anything to get the part.
But Peter called me, and he is like, “Look, I need the truth. How good are you on a horse?” And I was like, “Listen, as long as it’s just trotting around and little galloping here and there and scenes on horses, walking with horses, no problem.”
Real hardcore riding? And I already knew that Emmanuel was a real rider, and I knew they were going to want to take advantage of that. So I was like, “Listen, you’re going to need to bring in a cowboy if you really want to go for it.”
And they brought in a great guy. So he was terrific. And she was over the moon on that day. She was always happy and positive on set, but boy, that day, she was over-the-moon on horse galloping day.
And how neat is that? Because that was what her character loved to do as well.
Whoever cast her, whoever reached out to Emmanuelle, must have known that she was a rider because it was a perfect fit. And I think that we had a really great time together. I was super happy with the way this movie came about.
Okay, granted, I didn’t do the hardcore riding, but I felt pretty good about the stuff that I did do. So for a guy who’s not a cowboy, I was fairly comfortable just doing the cowboy stuff.
Yeah. Makes sense to me. And have we ever seen scruffy Kavan on screen before?
Well, not on Hallmark. No, I’ve done a lot of scruffy cabin stuff on other things back when I was younger.
I can’t even remember you from other things. You were clean-shaven on Eureka. You were clean-shaven-
Yeah, I was.
Yeah. There were a lot of clean-shaven roles, but I couldn’t find any scruffy.
There are a few out there, but yeah, a lot of the stuff is clean-shaven. And I have a ritual that when I was a kid, I would go through every year as an actor because you have to look a certain way, and you get tired of it after a while.
So every Christmas, I would grow a beard and shave my head. And then I would usually, by February, my hair has grown back, and then I’d shave my beard. And that was my little rebellion.
But in this one, I didn’t know he was a sheriff right away, but I did … When I heard the cowboy stuff, I was like, “It makes sense if he was a little more broken down,” like not so worried about his looks and not so worried about shaving every day.
So I was surprised when they okayed that because it’s not always been Hallmark’s thing. For me, they’ve always red-flagged it. But this one, I was kind of glad. It’s just a different look.
Yeah, I liked it. I liked it.
It’s the one place besides wrinkles because I have a lot of those, but I’m not gray on my head yet. But I am quite gray in my beard. So it’s the one place that gives me away beside the wrinkles.
But you know what? Those kinds of salt and pepper beards look good.
[laughs] I don’t know that women could pull them off, but men look really good in them.
Yeah. Well, thank you. Thank you.
Have you ever played a sheriff before?
On Eureka, I played Deputy Andy, and he wore essentially the same outfit. So-
I was going to say. But he’s a robot. So I didn’t really think of him as the Sheriff. [laughs]
He’s a robot. Yes. Yeah, no, he was a robot. I loved Deputy Andy. He was one of my favorite characters that I’ve ever played.
But it was funny, when I put on this sheriff’s outfit, I was like, “Oh, this takes me back.” Once they put the holster on me and all the radio and all the GAC, I was like, “Ah, this feels … ” Except for the cowboy hat, this felt exactly like Andy.
Yeah. It was fun.
So going away from this movie, I just have a couple of questions about When Calls the Heart for you. Lee and Rosemary are having a baby. How excited are you guys for this story to play out?
Well, I’ve joked about this in the past. I’ll take the credit, and I’ll say, “Oh, this is all because I pushed this forward.” [laughs] I didn’t really have anything to do with this. This is all Pascale.
We both always wanted these two to have a family. We didn’t know if there would be adoption or if it would be a birth, but we both wanted this in the earlier years. And then it kind of felt to me like, “All right, well, I’m not young anymore. So maybe this is not the right thing for these two anymore.” Pascale’s quite a bit younger than me.
But I was like, “Eh; I don’t know.” But she really, really dug her heels in with the network and really wanted this. I still think it’s the right decision, the right choice story-wise for these two. I didn’t think it was going to happen. I’d given up hope, but she did not.
She was tenacious, and at least she got her way. And I’m actually really glad because the way they did it is they red herring-ed us somewhere else. They start this newspaper, and we almost forget about it. There’s the odd reference here and there, but they forget about it.
And then, right when they get really busy doing other stuff, and their life takes a new direction, all of a sudden, it happens. I really did like that. I thought that was a fun way to play it. And now we’ll see what happens this year, this season, when we get going here, how that plays out. My fingers are crossed.
Yeah. I loved it in the middle of the season when they pretty much said out loud as they were walking to church that they were okay with their lives and that everything was all right. Then, it was no longer a worry. And I thought right then, “Okay. It’s not a worry anymore. They are going to get pregnant.”
Don’t you think that’s an odd echo because that’s sort of how it happens? It’s not a problem, but for a lot of people who go through that, having a baby is so seldom just, “Hey, you’re going to have a baby. The first time you get pregnant, and you have a baby.”
It’s just not many people’s story. Usually, it’s far more complicated. And in that complication, it seems to me that when you finally just say, “You know what, let’s stop trying so hard. Let’s just go on with our lives,” that’s when it generally happens.
It is. And they were so focused elsewhere. And without putting that pressure on themselves, their bodies gave into it.
Exactly. And I think that it’s really interesting because now we’re set up to have this really interesting scenario where they’re getting a newspaper going, they’re still running the lumber mill or the sawmill. They have a baby coming. So there’s pregnancy here. They’re sharing this space at home and the office. You’re just set up for craziness.
And that’s what me and Rosemary, I think, do best is that combination of humor and craziness and heart. That’s what we’ve always gone through with those two. So I think we’re set up for a great story arc, and I hope that’ll happen.
Was there ever a scene of you two sharing a bed before?
Yeah, we did do it once before. I think it was two or three seasons ago when she had Scarlet fever. I think when Rosemary gets Scarlet fever.
Right. I knew there were scenes at or on the bed at that point. I didn’t remember if you were in bed together.
No. And we had talked about that. There were complications with the bedroom stuff for Lee and Rosemary. Because of the property that we shoot on, we are limited in the number of buildings we can have. So it has to be a swing set. So, oddly enough, we used the church.
It’s a long, complicated process of setting up our bedroom in the church. That’s why it’s not something that’s done very often. So we’re just limited by how many buildings we can have on the physical set.
Well, it worked out really well, I thought. That’s where she told him she was pregnant. It was such an intimate moment.
Yeah, it was so fun, man. We were playing it kind of funny before like he’s falling asleep, and he thinks she’s alluding to something else. And when she tells him, and he just jumps out of bed yelling, we both thought it was really sweet. But again, you never know how those things will end up, how it’s going to work.
I can jump out of bed yelling and hope it works. And you just don’t know in the end. And one of the things that happened was that the crew was really enjoying it. Crews very seldom get involved in scenes while you’re shooting them. They’re doing their job.
They’ve got their own things to do, but they were really enjoying it and laughing in between takes. And you could tell that we were getting somewhere. I don’t know. I haven’t seen it myself yet, to be quite honest with you, but-
Oh, you’re kidding? Kavan.
No, I haven’t seen it. I’m a little superstitious about watching myself. I’ll admit that my ego is big enough that I look at the wrong things.
Oh, I understand that.
It’s really hard to watch yourself. I’ll watch myself a little bit here and there, just to make sure I’m not way off, but my ego’s big enough that I tend to sometimes fixate on the wrong thing instead of performance. So think of something stupid. So I prefer not to. Pascale watches them all, and she and her husband tell me how it went.
Good, good. At least you get an upfront there.
Well, my last question for you, is there any chance that Lee might still be able to take that editorial position from Hope Valley? I’d love to see him do something larger, but still with a smaller scope.
Yeah, you and me both. I think that would be a great fit for Lee. Nobody has talked to me yet about the story arc for this year. I’m hoping to have a conversation soon, but I think part of what will add to the dynamic of the baby is for them to each have their own world pulling at them. We set it up this way.
So now, continue that and have him pulled in that direction, have her pulled in a different direction, all while being in each other’s space and not being able to get away from each other. And while she’s pregnant, I think that it sets itself up for that.
And I really hope that is the case if he does have that. Because I’ve felt personally for Lee in the last couple of seasons, he’s been a little directionless. I’ve struggled with that personally, as an actor. I’ve kept asking to have some direction.
I didn’t want him to be flailing in the wind, and I’m really hoping that whatever it is, it’s something that manifests itself soon and gives him a direction in life.
And he was excited about being the mayor too. I really thought that was going to be his thing. I really did.
I did, too, I did too. I thought that’s where they were going with it. Nobody tells the actors where they’re going with anything. It is very seldom that we get any information before we get the script. Sometimes your ideas are as good as mine. I don’t know where they’re going from one second to the next.
So I hope that we establish some kind of inner direction. Because we set it up for him to be on this path. He has been looking and looking for a couple of seasons now, and he hasn’t found anything. So I feel he’s just flailing in the wind a little bit as an individual.
He’s still a strong marriage, good husband. He’s going to be a good father, all that’s there, but there’s something individual that seems to be missing from Lee that I’m hoping we can rediscover soon.
Right. And his editorial responsibilities at the small paper have really hit home with a lot of people, so why not take it on a bigger scale? It was dangled out there.
Yeah, I think so too. I mean, it’s set up for it. Let’s see what happens.
Well, fingers crossed. And I can’t wait for people to see this movie. I think you’re going to get great feedback on it.
Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I had a great time making it.
Don’t forget to watch Big Sky River on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries on Sunday, August 7 at 9/8c!
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.