Alison Sweeney’s new series, THE CHRONICLE MYSTERIES, premieres on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries on February 17, and the actress previews what to expect. “I love this series and I love playing Alex,” she says. “Her toughness and determination remind me of Sami.”
Digest: How did this new series for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries come to be?
Alison Sweeney: I approached Hallmark about doing a new mystery series after MURDER, SHE BAKED. We talked about what worked and what we loved about making mystery movies and what I thought my audience had really responded to. I, personally, have been so obsessed with this true-crime podcasting craze. I thought it was a great opportunity to present that. What podcasters are doing out there in the real world is amazing. I thought it was a great idea for a character for these murder mystery movies. Hallmark agreed, and I tapped Melissa Salmons, who used to write at DAYS OF OUR LIVES. We’ve worked together on a bunch of different Hallmark projects and so she got into it, too. I had to send her all the different podcasts I listen to, and she totally got it why it’s so interesting. All of a sudden, we started fangirling over DATELINE and 20/20. Through that, we sort of pulled together our own version of some podcasting cases my character could investigate. And now here we are! We’ve made three of them.
Digest: Did you know there would be three right off the bat?
Sweeney: So we went in and pitched the idea and the first movie. In the room, as they sort of took in all the specifics of the pitch and the stories and the characters, at the end of the hour they said, “Great. We want four more.” It was really awesome and yet sort of overwhelming in the room.
Digest: So how did you make it all happen?
Sweeney: From that moment when they announced to shoot three total, we were already late. We kept laughing that we just started and already we are behind. Essentially, we shot the first one in July of last year and while we were shooting, we were in prep and in development of the second and the third. There was never a moment that I wasn’t in three different stories at work. I’m still doing editing and post-production of the second one. There were days where it was quite stressful. I felt like I needed to clone myself, but for the most part, it was really exciting and fun. In the end, I think we got really great movies and great stories and fun, exciting characters, and some good twists and turns that will surprise people. It all came together really well, and I think in the end it served the overall story that they were all so compact and allowed us to really develop these characters almost sort of more as a series.
Digest: Describe your character.
Sweeney: My character is named Alex McPherson. She is a woman who was kind of a bit adrift, let’s say, looking for something new to focus on. She has a business degree. In the first movie, you find out that her mother had recently passed away and in sort of the last months of her mom’s life, they went traveling together. And that’s when this case came into her life, where this child went missing and she didn’t know what to do and she wanted to help. She threw herself into organizing a search. She obviously knew about podcasting and got on the podcast airwaves and started talking about the case just to get awareness out there. And it worked. They found the little girl. So then that gives her this idea, and she feels it’s a bit meant to be that she is out there reuniting families. She looks at another case that is from her childhood, a girl that she knew as a kid. She finds herself in this small town, Harrington, Pennsylvania, where she spent her summers as a kid and she goes into the newspaper to try to get some background information, and lo and behold, she meets a handsome journalist who gives her a hard time about getting the archives and teases her about podcasting in general. Drew is a bit traditional and old school in his journalist integrity, and he just sort of likes a pen and a piece of paper more than a smartphone. He is always going to look at things like old school is better. They kind of get to bickering right from the beginning, but sparks definitely are flying.
Digest: How was working with Ben Ayres (Drew)?
Sweeney: Ben was awesome. You go into it hoping it all works out because you want to make like, 10 movies. You hope that you’re going to like everyone you’re working with. He’s a very talented actor. It was fun to watch him work. He’s such a nice guy. He is just so enthusiastic about the work and excited about these podcasts and what people are really doing. Pretty much everywhere I go, I’m getting people hooked on these true-crime podcasts. Immediately, I think you can see there’s a really lovely chemistry between Drew and Alex and the whole gang of people who work at the Harrington Chronicle. It’s a really nice variety of people because they all have different skills. Rebecca Staab [ex-Elizabeth, PORT CHARLES] plays a gossip columnist, so she sort of has her finger on the pulse of all the people in town and their relationships. Drew is the journalist who comes from the big city and is now settled here with his college-aged daughter who is at the local university, and so you get a sense that there really is a softer side to Drew. Obviously he’s a good dad, but he kind of tries to put up a tough shell on the outside.
Digest: What is the second movie about?
Sweeney: The second movie is called THE WRONG MAN, and that’s a case also loosely based on a man who’s been tried for the murder of his wife and he claims he didn’t do it, and he wants Alex and her podcast to sort of help [sway] the public opinion. He wants people to believe that he didn’t do it because everyone thinks he did because they tried him for it. That’s a really interesting story where you come into it thinking maybe he did do it. She has to sort of start at the beginning of the case and figure out who had motivations for killing this woman.
Digest: You tapped Linda Dano (ex-Felicia, ANOTHER WORLD et al) for the third. How did that happen?
Sweeney: The third movie is VINES THAT BIND. It’s more of a family intrigue about this family that owns and runs a vineyard. Their patriarch ends up dead and no one is pointing the finger at each other and yet they’re all pointing the finger at each other. Alex has to come in and sort of unwind that knot and figure out whose motives are to protect each other and who really has something they’re hiding. It was really fun because I got to invite Linda Dano to come be a part of that movie. She has a wonderful role as a grande dame in the town that used to be quite prestigious and now it sort of sold out to the commercial enterprise and sort of bigger company. When I was thinking about the role and we were talking about who had that fabulous coming out of their pores, she sprang to mind and once it got in my head I thought to myself, “How do I even make this happen? I have to get her out here somehow.” It was so wonderful, because Hallmark agreed with me that she was the perfect person for the role. Obviously, Linda and I have known each other for many years. I had to beg her to come out of retirement to do this. She really loved it. I think I hopefully lured her into the world of Hallmark. You never know, there might be more opportunities.
Digest: Will we see more?
Sweeney: You will absolutely be seeing more. I’m in development right now for four more. We’re getting to work!
Digest: Do you have any time to return to DAYS?
Sweeney: I can’t answer that right now!
Catch the first movie, CHRONICLE MYSTERIES: RECOVERED on February 17. CHRONICLE MYSTERIES: THE WRONG MAN will air on February 24. CHRONICLE MYSTERIES: VINES THAT BIND will air on March 3.