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Interview: The Holiday Calendar’s Kat Graham

by Leora Heilbronn

Chances are you know that The Holiday Calendar (now streaming on Netflix) is a magical movie, and chances are you already know that actress-singer-songwriter-dancer-humanitarian-producer Kat Graham lights up every scene that she’s in. But did you know that Graham has worked for over a decade with GLAAD as well as numerous other philanthropic organizations to raise awareness for LGBTQ rights, heart disease and protecting refugees? These are just some of the causes that the activist (who clearly does it all) holds near and dear to her heart.

We had the honour of chatting on the phone recently with Kat Graham and the following is a condensed and edited version of that delightful conversation.

Brief Take: Everyone I know has streamed The Holiday Calendar more than once because it’s such a feel-good, sweet holiday movie. What first drew you to the project?

Kat Graham: It was the script. I had never been a part of a film like this but I also had never seen a film like this that centred around a biracial family. One of my favourite things about working on my second project with Netflix is that they have a way of removing the colour lines in their projects. In How It Ends, race is never discussed and in this film race is never discussed. I’m just so honoured that they’ve now had me in these two projects that centre around interracial relationships or interracial families. I think they’re absolutely raising the consciousness of the world and in such a subtle way. When I saw that they were going to be really inclusive in telling this story, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. Also it felt so good! Spending eight years on a TV show where every week someone was dying or I was dying, it felt so joyous to do this film. [laughs] While we were doing it the crew was just so happy, the director, Brad Walsh, the producers, everyone! It just felt like Christmas while we were shooting it.

BT: You can genuinely feel that joy while watching it too. You also feel the warmth from you and the other cast members in that it really felt like a supportive family unit. I know you had known Quincy for a few years, but had you known the rest of the ensemble beforehand?

KG: No. I had known Quincy from a few years ago because at one point we had the same music manager, so we had a show together when we first met. Then we also had similar circles and we had the same acting manager, so we knew each other, we were friends. I hadn’t known anyone else. A lot of the cast, especially my family, they were actually Canadian. Up until last year I hadn’t done much work in Canada, so that was my first time working with them. Then I was familiar with Ron’s work on This Is Us, but I hadn’t known anyone besides Quincy.

BT: As a Canadian, the movie holds an even more special connection for us here because we can watch the movie and point out spots in Niagara-on-the-Lake that we’ve been to. Plus it’s always nice to see Ali Hassan on screen, and we’re now calling Ethan Peck an honorary Canadian because he’s here filming his role as Spock on Star Trek: Discovery. So it’s great seeing Canada represented in this merry way.

KG: [giggles] Oh I love that! And I went to Niagara Falls and I love Niagara-on-the-Lake. Everyone was just so kind and so amazing. I can see why so many people want to shoot in Canada and it’s not just for work reasons, but the people there are known for their kindness. I can’t wait to go back and shoot in Canada!

BT: Going back to your cast, what was your experience like filming with Ron Cephas Jones?

KG: Ron is a pretty phenomenal actor and he’s also just a great person. He’s incredibly grounded in everything that he does and every line that he says. Even when he’s speaking to you in between takes, he’s incredibly grounded in the connection between two people. I loved our scenes together. We didn’t have a bad take, I don’t think, because everything was so connected. I have never had a grandfather in my life. I’ve had a grandmother, she passed a few years ago, but I’ve never had a grandfather. It’s really amazing to have this incredible connection with Ron and to feel even a little bit what it would be like to have somebody with that much of a caregiving energy. It’s really going to stay with me. I’ve never had a grandfather on screen or in life, so it was pretty magnificent for me.

BT: What sort of reactions have you gotten about the movie?

KG: Everyone has been watching it multiple times and the reaction I’ve gotten, even online, has been huge. I don’t know if I just underestimated it or what. I knew I fell in love with it and I know that I’m a hard sell, but the reaction that I’ve gotten for this film and how many people are obsessed with it. People are telling me that it makes them feel good or that they cried when they watched it and felt completely connected to it. It’s just blowing me away. I’m just so honoured and so happy that I could bring some joy into anyone’s life through this movie. I’m usually making people cry, but in a bad way. [giggles] So it’s nice that people are crying out of happiness and having a good time. No one’s worried about me, it’s nice. [laughs]

BT: It must have been nice to bring your talent for acting and singing to this movie. Tell me about crafting the song ‘Christmas Wish’ for the movie and then recording it with Quincy?

KG: I love creating music! What I love about Christmas, or the holidays around this time, is listening to Frank Sinatra and all of that kind of old school music, like something that would have been done by Desi Arnaz at the Tropicana. I love any sort of Rat Pack-vibe music, so I wanted to create that sound, my favourite sound of the holidays, and something that reminds me so much of the holidays, and put that into the film. I’d never written a song or done a song close to anything that I had done, but I knew I wanted it to be a duet. So I wrote my parts and then I wrote Quincy’s parts, and then I cut it and they fell in love with it. I might shoot something for it.

BT: What did you like best about working with Quincy?

KG: I like the fact that we were real friends. It’s very rare that I have that kind of connection outside of the industry. It’s rare. So I love the fact that in between takes, I just wanted to hang out with him, and I loved the fact that he has such an incredible disposition. He’s so great to share this movie with, you know? His kindness and his consistent willingness to participate in any rehearsal or in any sort of get-together involving the film; he’s just such a team player. He’s just overall such a really great person.

BT: And you’re a great person with the work that you do with GLAAD. Thank you for using your platform to work alongside GLAAD in helping the LGBTQ community.

KG: Yeah! That’s my heart and soul. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. I stayed in Georgia after the show wrapped, and a huge reason why I stayed here was because I felt like I could do more for the LGBTQ community here in Georgia than I could do in California. I started this journey deeply with GLAAD out here and there’s still so much discrimination and intolerance in the South, and I feel like I can continue to make a difference out here and raise awareness regarding issues out here. GLAAD is incredible. They’ve been so consistent in raising the awareness of the world and calling people out in regards to being more inclusive in film and TV, not just on screen but behind the screen – people writing the shows and network executives, just as examples. I think it’s important that there is much more diversity and that these stories are being told. I think it’s a huge way for people to understand the world better and not make decisions out of fear, you know?

BT: Who are some of your role models?

KG: It depends on who or what. Say for my work with GLAAD, my best friend, she’s an activist too, her name is Alyssa Brooks, she’s transgender and she’s my role model. Then there’s another girl named Leiomy, who I’ve never met but she’s an incredible performer, and she’s done some really great work with Nike. A lot of people pay a lot of attention to Michelle Obama and Oprah. Michelle’s book Becoming and just Michelle in general, is just so incredibly inspiring. Natalie Portman, I look at how she’s been so graceful in being Israeli and how she’s handled the ins and outs of what that means and what that means in the media. I was also always really inspired by Josephine Baker, who could act, dance and sing. But then I’m also inspired by people with such unbridled talent, like Jim Carrey, you know what I mean? I’m inspired by a lot of people. In fact everyone who I work with on my team deeply inspires me, otherwise I wouldn’t work with them. I only work with people that inspire me in a profound me.

BT: Speaking of Jim Carrey, I loved your The Mask Halloween outfit!

KG: Thanks! I’m hoping for him to call me at some point and say that he liked it too. Jim, call me! [giggles]

BT: You recently did a video working with Dior’s makeup line. As someone who knows little about makeup, what’s your number one beauty tip?

KG: I used to think that it was all about the makeup, and I wouldn’t pay attention to skin. So I would say take care of your skin first. See if you have oily skin or dry skin or combination skin, and make your makeup choices around what kind of skin you have. I think that’s why my makeup has evolved the way it has. I actually paid attention to my skin first, and I started eating better and drinking more water and hydrating. Even though I’ve calmed down with my makeup over the past five years, I’m still somebody who loves to try things like lace eyebrows or bright blue lipstick. I’m somebody who likes to figure out what I like. Unfortunately I’ve had to do some of that publicly and it hasn’t gone so well. [laughs] You know most of the time I think you just have to try new things. Don’t be scared of makeup. You can always take it off and try again.

BT: What do you like to stream on Netflix?

KG: I watch a lot of documentaries. I stayed up until three in the morning the other day watching Wild Wild Country. It’s really good. I’m about to get into the second and third season of Narcos, and I just started watching Bodyguard last night. It’s also really good! I watch a lot of Netflix, and not because I’m on it. I watch hours and hours and hours and it’s made me fall in love with film and TV even more so. I can’t wait to continue to work with them for many, many more years to come! They have not just a strong understanding of the industry and what people want and need, but they also culturally understand what is going on in the world. They’re doing what they can creatively to evolve the industry and evolve the mindset of people and open their minds and help the world heal. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of their family.

BT: What do you have planned for the holidays?

KG: I am going to Israel in a few days to go be with my family. Then I’m just going to stay home in Georgia, we have a house on the lake, so we’re going to have a bunch of family and sit around in our onesies, probably watching Netflix.



The Holiday Calendar is now streaming on Netflix

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Brief Take