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Interview: The Knight Before Christmas’ Josh Whitehouse

by Charles Trapunski

Which Netflix holiday release was quite moving and enjoyable? Twas The Knight Before Christmas. All throughout your house, your creatures should be stirring to catch a movie in which the titular Knight is played by the multi-talented Josh Whitehouse, and let’s say that if this name is less than familiar at this point, watch the film as see why Whitehouse is one of the names to watch (and listen to!) in the year ahead. But watch the movie first, it’s a pleasant surprise.

The following is a condensed and edited version of our interview with the charming Josh Whitehouse.

Brief Take: The Knight Before Christmas was such a sweet movie. What was your process like for becoming a knight?

Josh Whitehouse: I think that when I first heard about this film and I read the script, if I’m honest, I realized that I thought I knew a lot about what knights were about and what they did, and all I really knew is that they were chivalrous. I didn’t know much about their jobs and the fact of that life, so I thought it was important, especially…it struck me reading the script that in the same way as Enchanted, he’s kind of like a Disney prince. I felt like Cole was a little bit of a Disney knight. He’s not like a rough and tumble murdering people kind of knight. [laughs] I watched A Knight’s Tale, I watched every knight film that I could think of. There’s a film called Les visiteurs, which is a French film with Jean Reno I think in it, and I was trying to get a bigger idea of what it would mean to be a knight, be it watching documentaries about the more gruesome sides of their world, what it is to serve their kings and the rules by which they live. I thought that it was really important to feed the comedy aspect of the film and make it believable perhaps, just to understand really truly by what he was living his life. I turned the script into an audio book and I listened to that every day and I would listen to the Knight’s Code on repeat, kind of like some strange mantra while I was exercising. [laughs] It’s kind of difficult to actually go back in time and be a knight and prep, but I did what I could with research.

BT: And you had sourced Buddy the Elf as well, too, correct?

JW: The things that were springing to mind for me as I was reading the script and felt like…and that’s a lot of what appealed to me as well, I love the film Elf and I think that Will Ferrell is so great in it as well, and it was really fun to try and handle a character that was kind of in that vein. I was talking to (director) Monika (Mitchell) about it and she actually ended up hiring the same cinematographer as Elf, Greg Gardiner, which was really cool.

BT: What was it like filming in Northern Ontario and Ireland for the scenes in the 1300’s?

JW: It was great! It was nice to discover a new part of the world. It’s a tranquil place I found, and being able to stay at the resort that we were at and look out at the lake, and when I first got there, the lake was completely frozen over and then it was the most beautiful sunrises in that area. I thought it was a wonderful tranquil place and a great place to be able and go and focus and absorb yourself in a world.

BT: Your character’s interactions with technology were hilarious. Did you know that you’d be watching Netflix holiday titles?

JW: I knew it would be Netflix titles, but I wasn’t sure which ones it would be because that was all sort of CGI afterwards, the magic of movie making. [chuckles] But that was definitely some of my highlights in making the film – being able to have the opportunity to put yourself in a state of mind about not knowing anything about the world that we’re living in today and being completely baffled and kind of approaching everything with this character that even though he’s such a manly character of being a knight and all of his training, but stepping into the world as we know it, he almost becomes childlike and vulnerable in his confusion, and that really becomes fun to play with.

BT: You must have enjoyed working with Vanessa Hudgens as your scene partner and as your producer on the film as well.

JW: Yeah! Everyone on this film was really lovely to work with. Working with Vanessa was a lot of fun and I think that we became friends really quickly. We both have a very similar attitude towards working and wanted to make the best film that we possibly could. We were rehearsing together a lot and we’d go out and get dinner and made friends pretty fast. We had a lot of fun and a similar sense of humour. Days on set were very easy, and Emmanuelle (Chriqui) was wonderful, the kids were amazing to work with, and everybody on the cast was sweet and delightful. I think that it’s such a lighthearted film that if this is your focus every day, to make these really jokey, light-hearted tongue-in-cheek scenes, making a romantic film about love [chuckles] it’s not a bad way to spend your time.

BT: This movie is like going back in time a little bit because you cut off all of your hair since filming! 

JW: I had been asked to grow my hair for the Game of Thrones prequel. I’ve been growing it very, very long for quite a long time. But also, when it got cancelled, it wasn’t an act of rebellion, I realized that I have had long hair since I was about 15 years old. I have always had long hair and I cut it short once or twice and I thought that now, as an actor, I suppose it would be a good time. I am looking for something new, I don’t need to keep it long for anything, it’s a lot easier, and I thought that it would interesting to see how this…I feel like you can play more roles- a bigger variety of roles with an easy haircut. I’m trying it out.

BT: You make a few appearances in films set in the past. What would be your favourite time period to travel to?

JW: If I had one choice, I think that I would want to go into the future. As far into the future as possible, be that the year 3000 or 4000 and see what our world is in store for and see where things are going, see if there’s anything I can warn everybody about from the future and come back with that knowledge. If I was to go back in time, I figure that I would go to the 1800’s or the 1920’s.

BT: Even this coming year in the future has a lot in store for you. How do you feel about that?

JW: I’m very grateful and honoured. It’s such a tricky game in the acting world to just to be able to work and to do jobs of which you are proud, and for me to be able to work on this with such an amazing team, it’s such a huge honour for me. Obviously, also, to be able to be the person who brings laughs into people’s homes around Christmas all around the world? It’s kind of mind-blowing, really, and I’ve never had an opportunity like this quite before. Certainly the scale of it and knowing that it’s a Christmas film that might come back into people’s homes each year and I get to be a part of that bringing people together? That is something that Vanessa said that kind of stuck with me and a really lovely thing. And yeah, I’m excited that I’m in a position to have three films coming out at the moment, I’ve got Valley Girl, which is the eighties, which is a really fun decade to play, as well as The Happy Worker  which is another project which I am really excited about. And also in January, I have my album coming out with my band which is super exciting. And also, equally as exciting, I wrote a song for The Knight Before Christmas and I’ve been told that I’m allowed to release that the same day as the film, and some people are going to be able to download that and hear it which is all very exciting to me. It’s a good time to be alive.

BT: Do you intertwine your pursuits of acting with music as well?

JW: Yeah. I think that quite often to learn scenes, I write a piece of music that I think fits the mood of the scene and I’ll put a beat in and I’ll rehearse to that to find the rhythm of the language. Because I find that especially if you have longer blocks of texts, like a monologue or something like that, it’s important to find the rhythm and the performance in those words in order to execute them properly. I mean it completely depends on the material, but I’ve certainly been melding the two together and starting to write my music differently because of acting, and I act differently because of my music, you know? I think that there’s a rhythm to everything you do artistically, I try to use both to help one another.

BT: The Mr. Burberry film that you starred in, directed by Steve McQueen is pretty spectacular. What did that experience mean for you?

JW: That was right at the beginning of my career and I’d had Northern Soul come out and I got an agent at United (Agents) and honestly, it was two weeks after I got signed having done nothing since Northern Soul and the next job that I was going to be doing was with Steve McQueen to be the face of Burberry. I’ve been the face of Mr. Burberry for about 4 years now, and it’s crazy to me. That was honestly a very mind-blowing entry into my relationship with my agent. We shot it a year and a half before it came out and it was shot right in the beginning of things, and then things happened in between that was very exciting. I feel like I was very fortunate for the other people with whom I’ve worked and the team that I’ve developed.

BT: Hopefully now you have at least one nice black trench coat that can be used in the right season, say, while filming a Netflix holiday movie?

JW: [laughs] Yes, I do now have a really nice black trench coat. At least one.

BT: What kinds of Netflix content have you been enjoying?

JW: I mean it depends on what mood I’m in. Sometimes I like to watch something dark and scary because I want to be excited and I want to feel that way, other times, it’s nice to have something on to which you don’t have to pay too much attention and makes you feel good, or you don’t have to follow the storyline. Sometimes you are binging Trailer Park Boys because I feel like that I can come back and forth from you know…and other nights I will be watching any kinds of films. I’ve got a taste for kind of everything. Last night I was watching a film called Falling Inn Love which is a rom-com actually and I might not have thought to give it a taste, but I really enjoyed it. I thought that it was funny and heartwarming and really nice.

BT: How do you feel knowing that you’re going to become a heartthrob to many viewers and that people are really going to notice you as a result of this movie?

JW: I mean it’s a crazy thing, Charles, it’s a crazy thing to think that it’s so global, and even Burberry was so global for me and an unusual thing. But it’s something which I am fine with, I’m not fame hungry, I never have been, it’s never been my agenda. I just want to make good art. I love acting, I love making music, I love making art and creating. And I will do anything I can to create. But what is an artist without an audience? The bigger that I can make my audience, the happier that I am in that I am able to facilitate my creativity.

The Knight Before Christmas is now streaming on Netflix!

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