Karen David Chats About 1st Holiday Film and Original Song on When Christmas Was Young
This Sunday, Fear the Walking Dead star Karen David stars with Tyler Hilton in a CBS original holiday film When Christmas Was Young. Sheryl Crow wrote the title song, and Karen sang it in the movie.
Luke Dawson’s (Tyler Hilton) career is in danger, and he can only save his job if he can secure the rights to a homey Christmas ballad Melody sang years ago.
The problem is that Melody is a single mom who left her musical dreams behind. Soon, Melody shows Luke the true meaning of Christmas, and he helps her open up her heart.
We chatted with Karen about the movie, collaborating with Sheryl and her favorite holiday traditions.
Hi, Karen. I’ve been a big fan of yours from some of your other stuff. You have an impressive acting resume in television and film, but this is your first holiday film. What appealed to you about playing Melody Douglass?
You know, you’re right about that. I am a sucker for a good holiday film. I have my go-to’s with the family and my friends that we watch yearly from the classics I used to watch as a little girl with my dad. Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year because I can be fully present and spend time with my friends and family, whom I love.
That’s why I love Christmas so much, so doing a holiday film always appealed to me, but I feel so lucky that a movie like When Christmas is Young touched on so many things that I could relate to personally, especially with the music side of it.
I love that music is this movie’s star and the heartbeat of this film. It made me nostalgic and went back to my singer-songwriter days, and I know it was very similar for Tyler. We could relate so much together and with each other, our journeys, and our relationship with music.
So, to have that and this sweet storyline and then to have Sheryl Crow write the title track and having the opportunity to sing her music and original song and a Christmas song at that was a dream come true. It was a win-win. It was a very fast yes when I read the script and heard Sheryl’s song.
Yes, I saw that you sang the title song. Did you get to work with her at all on it?
Sheryl and I went back and forth, and she sent the demos. Another surreal thing was that I was in London at the time heading home, and I remember being on the train, wearing a mask. All you could see were my eyes popping out because I was so excited when she sent the demo.
She was doing the guide vocals, and she sounded so beautiful on it, and there she was singing away, playing on the piano, and hearing the raw vocals, and her vision from the beginning was magical too. So, I was nervous. I was so scared because I wanted to ensure that I did the song justice for her and that she was proud of it.
It was nerve-wracking, but she is such an incredible human being, and she’s so inspiring. Her whole journey is incredibly inspiring and to have this opportunity to work with her and record an original song by her was a dream come true.
And what was it like working with Tyler Hilton, and how did you guys play off each other so well?
Tyler is one of those human beings. First of all, he’s so kind, lovely, and open. You always hope for a scene partner that will come to play and show up every day and play with you and be there to cheer each other on and bring out the best in each other.
Tyler is that kind of scene partner, and I couldn’t have hoped for a more magical scene partner than Tyler. We could bond so much on many things because we both have music backgrounds and are actors.
We swapped many stories about the good struggle and all the rejections that make up part of that journey, and all the crazy stories that we’d have from touring or being on the road.
We could relate to each other on many levels, but we also shared a love of music and the gift of creating music and performing. So, we had so much in common when we met. He’s lovely and fun to work with and insanely charismatic and talented, and he made my job easier to be present and enjoy the scenes we filmed together.
I’m grateful for that because it doesn’t always happen that way. This truly aligned with us, and we hung out a lot. We spent time getting to know each other and trying to be accountable for one another and present for each other because it was essential for us to tell this story and be very grounded, genuine, and natural with our characters.
I remember the first time we rehearsed, and I told Tyler how I prepared. Because of my music background, compiling a song list is one thing I have always done with every character I’ve played in preparation. I pick songs that remind me of my character or what’s happening in a particular scene.
After I created this playlist, Tyler loved the idea so much that he did one too. Then what was lovely, which I’ve never done before, is that we shared each other’s playlists. That gave us an insight into where we were with our characters. I ended up taking a bunch of his songs and adding them to my playlist and vice versa.
It painted the scene where we were emotionally as far as preparing for these scenes. That was special. I love that the music unifies everyone and brings everyone together; it certainly did for all of us. And for the bond that Tyler and I had, it was all through this shared love of music.
On that note, what are some of your favorite Christmas songs to sing?
Where do I start? I love the old nostalgic classics like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to Chestnuts Roasting. One of the favorites that I would always sing was My Grown-Up Christmas List. Those are my top three, but now, I have my Sheryl Crow song, When Christmas Was Young.
I love that I have these sweet memories and such a fantastic experience attached to this song, which makes it so unique for me and dear to my heart.
Absolutely. It was such an excellent movie.
Oh, thank you. That means so much to us because, Laura, everyone showed up daily, cheering each other on and wanting to bring the best out of each other, and we were laughing and smiling. It was a dream knowing this was how we got to pay the bills. This isn’t a job. It’s something that we all enjoy.
We loved working on this together, and that’s just what made it so extra special. So, if that sense of community came across and translated onto the screen, that makes this so happy.
It did. I especially liked your relationship with the actress that played your daughter. She looks so much like you.
I know, the casting was so brilliant, and Grace, who plays Bailey, is so excellent. She’s such a pro, and she’s so kind and so lovely, and, and just so adaptable. Whenever Monica, our director, guided us in a scene, Grace would make those changes. She’s just such a talent at such a young age.
I naturally felt very maternal for her, and I got to know her and her mother and her beautiful family, and we all got along so well and had so much fun. We have many behind-the-scenes videos of us laughing, where she’s helping Tyler, and I run through some line changes and the scene again.
It’s just delightful. The dynamic between the three of us was exceptional.
Yes. The three of you were quite fun. So, for our last question, what are some of your favorite family holiday traditions?
The first thing when I think about Christmas or the holidays is I think of my mom when I was a little girl, she would take out these beautiful garlands, and she would painstakingly wrap these garlands around the stairwell, and that was the first thing she would do even before putting up the tree.
She put so much care and love and care and attention towards these garlands, and how she put the fairy lights and wrapped that over and layered it with the bows and the bobbles and made the house feel so magical and so festive. She would play her favorite Christmas songs, from Dean Martin to the Anders Sisters to Motown.
I’m so grateful to my parents and my sister because that’s where that love of wanting to sing started. It was from my family, so they played these Christmas songs, and it would be this family ritual where she had the music playing in the background. She would decorate, and then we’d put up the tree together.
She made that time together as a family so magical that now, my husband laughs at me because, as I said, Christmas is one of my favorite times. It is so special to me because it is an opportunity to catch up with friends and family and be together.
So, I do the same things my mother does, like picking out the music for putting up the tree and ensuring that we have friends and family and do it together. It’s just that ritual of putting up the tree together and that sense of community that I love so much and having good food and Christmas songs playing in the background.
I was so sad because we don’t have stairs and our house is all on one level. I can do the garlands again with what my mom did around the fireplaces. I’m excited about that. This Christmas is slightly different because we’re just moving into our home. We’ve been remodeling for the last 16 months.
So, I’m so sad because those things I told you about, which I love doing, and I obsess over and start doing just before Thanksgiving. I can’t do it because we’re not moving into the house until after Christmas. Maybe I can get a Charlie Brown tree and just put it on the table here in the guest house, and we could celebrate that way.
But I am so excited to get the house ready and looking forward to next year when we can do it properly in the house.
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.