Movie Stars Enter CBS' 'Valley of Light'
Two such performers didn't waste time in agreeing to make the celebrated Hallmark Hall of Fame's 229th entry. Chris Klein ("American Pie") and Gretchen Mol ("The Notorious Bettie Page") prove an affecting match in "The Valley of Light," a new adaptation of a novel by Terry Kay ("To Dance With the White Dog") that CBS airs Sunday, Jan. 28.
The deliberately slow-paced drama casts Klein as a Southern soldier who is very much alone upon returning from World War II. With his parents deceased, his brother incarcerated and the family farm sold, he sets out to make a living with his fishing skills. Eventually, he meets a mute youngster (Zach Mills) who draws him together with the widow (Mol) of a recent suicide.
Not unexpectedly, a romance is in the cards, but the relationship is complicated by the woman's ongoing grieving and the military veteran's general sense of mistrust. Robert Prosky ("Hill Street Blues"), Jeff Perry ("Prison Break") and Jay O. Sanders ("JFK") also have prominent roles in the film.
"When this came my way," Klein says, "I remember thinking what a lovely story it was. It was right at the time I was inspired to make a story like this -- about a guy who has grown into a man, has seen some crazy things along the way and is really trying to make sense of it all. I appreciated that journey a lot."
Mol liked it for similar reasons, foremost among them "the really sweet script (adapted by Camille Thomasson). It's a story we're all familiar with, the one about the stranger coming to town and turning things around for other people as well as himself. I do a lot of independent films that try something a little different, but the simplicity of this story drew me in. You know people will respond to it."
The setting also has universal appeal, according to Mol.
"For the people in these small towns," she says, "you had to travel a long way to meet someone you didn't know. The world has obviously changed a lot since then, but where they came from was just so insulated, they're really suspicious of this guy when he first comes to town."
Klein readily admits some of his past characters haven't been the sharpest tools in the shed, as in his debut film "Election" and last year's "American Dreamz." He likes that "The Valley of Light" lets him "show someone who has a broader depth of field. Still, his needs are simple, and that's what I was trying to pull off for the purposes of this story."
Basic human stories are the bulwark of Hallmark Hall of Fame, and Klein was happy to work for the recurring series.
"My family and I would sit down and watch it," he attests. "If it wasn't 'The Wonderful World of Disney,' it was the Hallmark Hall of Fame movies. I always thought the production values on them were great. When I asked my agents who was producing this movie and they said, `Hallmark,' I jumped at the chance -- especially to work with Gretchen Mol, who I think is just fabulous."
For Mol's part, she reasons, "You can never really plan on having chemistry with someone. Sometimes, actors can have that off-screen but it doesn't really translate on-screen. I felt in doing the scenes with Chris, we both had the same approach and took it really seriously. We wanted to do the story, and the relationship, justice. It made my job really easy to work with him. He was just wonderful and open, as was the entire cast."
Both stars were pleased with the filming location, captured beautifully by cinematographer Eric Van Haren Noman. "We shot north of Portland, Ore., in a town called Silverton," Klein reports. "I had never been to that part of the country, although I've flown over it many times, and I fell in love with that area. I think it's some of the most beautiful country the United States has to offer. We were there in October and November, and even though we had a lot of rain, there were a lot of picturesque spots."
Since "The Valley of Light" was filmed that recently, readying it for public view took a much shorter span than most theatrical movies. "It's such an incredibly professional outfit at Hallmark; they really know how to do this," Klein says. "The team of people they surrounded us with was not unlike any big-studio picture I've ever been on."
Amid roles onstage ("Chicago") and in film ("Rounders"), Mol has had a bit more television experience, though not as much as was anticipated: Producer David E. Kelley's FOX series "girls club" was canceled virtually as soon as it debuted in 2002.
"I was hoping for the best," Mol recalls, "then I realized it was something where the finish line was nowhere in sight. I was sorry it ended as it did, but the thing that's always excited me about getting into acting is that you can try so many different things. I've always steered away from episodic television because it scared me to commit to something for that long a period."
Klein has no fewer than five feature films in various stages of production, but he claims "The Valley of Light" has left him open to doing more television work.
"I knew that I was going to be able to get out into nature and put together a real heartfelt character," he reflects. "To have that experience was really exciting to me. So many elements have to come together to make a quality project, and I've been fortunate enough to be on a few that have had those."