Back in February, GLAAD’s Raina Deerwater had the opportunity to visit the set of the LGBTQ-inclusive holiday romantic comedy Happiest Season (coming to Hulu on November 23) as it was filming in Pittsburgh, PA and talk with the cast and creatives involved in making the film.
Happiest Season follows Abby (Kristen Stewart) who is going to meet her girlfriend Harper’s (Mackenzie Davis) family for the first time over the holidays. However, right before they arrive, Harper reveals that she is not out to her family yet, and that her and Abby will have to hide their relationship through Christmas. The film was co-written by out filmmaker and actor Clea DuVall and comedian Mary Holland, and directed by DuVall. GLAAD also spoke with producer Isaac Klausner and stars Davis, Stewart, Holland, Alison Brie, Victor Garber, Burl Mosely and Mary Steenburgen.
GLAAD also spoke with the cast and crew on set and talk to them about how the film came to life, the experience of working on a queer romantic comedy, and the joy in this particular movie genre!
“I love Christmas movies and I love how they become a part of our lives,” DuVall told GLAAD while taking a break from shooting, “But I had never really seen myself represented in one before. I had this idea for a really long time and I wrote this outline that sat on my computer for years. And I wanted to start working on it, but with comedy it’s always so much more fun to work with another person. I met Mary [Holland] on Veep and we really got along and I asked her, ‘do you want to try to work on this thing with me?’ And she said yes. It really came together even more and we fleshed it out and it turned into this.”
Holland, who plays Harper’s sister, Jane, in the film in addition to co-writing the screenplay, provided most of the comic relief in a tense scene that a group of journalists watched film over the course of the day.
“Clea had this idea in her head for many, many years,” Holland told us, “This has been something that she’s been mulling over for a long time. We met working on Veep together. We hit it off right away, had a real chemistry together. So we went out to coffee and she described this idea and sent me a rough summary of what the idea was, what the movie would be about. And then we started meeting and talking about it and then just got into writing it. Clea knew from the beginning that she wanted to direct this. She came into it guiding this whole process. She has such an amazing understanding of story structure and character development. The foundation of this script was really in her head. The image I had in my head was, ‘I’m chucking spaghetti at the wall and Clea’s deciding what stays on the wall and what doesn’t.’”
“My way into this project has everything to do with Clea,” Isaac Klauser, a producer on the film told us, “I got to see her film, The Intervention, which I loved, and it inspired me to reach out and try to get to know her. She was kind enough to sit down [with me] and she mentioned to me that there was this script that she and Mary Holland were working on based on both her love of the holidays and particularly holiday films and her own experiences in the holidays that had never quite been reflected on film. I was lucky enough that she shared an early draft of the script with me and we started talking about it really connecting. I had a very similar love of the genre and for me, as a Jewish man, it’s also not often my experience. And yet it’s such a way that we think about the spirit of family, sense of community and place and kind of love. And there were so many things that our script was doing that I immediately so deeply related to this experience on so many levels, that I just fell in love with it.”
“I really think Christmas movies are so significant to people,” Holland continued, “They’re really formative in a lot of ways for many of us growing up. Those are the movies that became these pillars for us. There was that atmosphere and energy of family and love and what Christmas is all about, what the holidays are all about, which is being with those you love and, and being grateful for who’s in your life. And everyone deserves a holiday movie, everyone deserves a Christmas movie and something that celebrates and represents their experience. As a straight cisgender woman myself, I’m really cognizant of the fact that this is a story that needs to be told and has long been overdue in being told. I really feel so honored that Clea asked me to be a part of this process with her, because it’s so important to me that all of these people are represented. I’m just very humbled and very grateful to be a part of it and be able to support this story that she’s telling.”
“[It’s] really exciting, especially with queer content,” DuVall added, “because at least for me, it’s not just watching movies where gay people are tortured by being gay and then they get killed or beaten up or whatever. You can just be like normal people. I’m just a normal person in my life. And I have romantic experiences and sad and happy and all kinds of the spectrum. I think LGBTQ stories are not, are not given the privilege of the spectrum of what the experience really is. And so I really wanted to do that with this movie and I’m happy that other filmmakers and other writers are [too], and other studios are supporting.”
The actors of the film were in agreement about the impact of a queer Christmas romantic comedy.
“It’s so exciting,” Alison Brie, who plays Harper’s sister Sloane told us. “This movie to me feels like an amazing leap in the right direction of having mainstream film reflect what actual society is like in current culture, in our nation. So, I think to showcase a same-sex relationship in a mainstream holiday movie, and just kind of de-stigmatize it, if it even is still stigmatized for certain people. I certainly am guilty of being in the liberal bubble. So on first read, I’m just like, ‘Oh, it’s so great. What a beautiful love story, so funny.’ And then I take a step back and realize the cultural implications and how important a film like this is. And I feel extreme pride.”
“When I went through and I read the script,” Burl Mosely, who plays the role of Sloane’s husband Eric in the film said, “It actually reminded me of Crazy Rich Asians and everything that that did for the Asian community, taking the rom-com and doing that. And we’re sort of doing a similar thing. And as I was reading it, I was like, this is so groundbreaking, but it really shouldn’t be, this should be the norm. I was surprised that we’ve gone this long without this. You know what I mean? It just felt so right and so normal and so awesome. So, I feel really honored to be a part of it.”
“Well, I did Philadelphia,” Mary Steenburgen, who plays Harper’s mom, Tipper, and has a decades-long career in film and television, “and I was the bad guy which was, at the time, very weird for me because my roommate and dear, dear friend died a couple of days before I went there. So, that whole experience was huge. And it was very moving to see what a difference it made to certain people – not so much the choir preaching to the choir – but people who called themselves conservative, who saw that film and felt like they understood their son better because Tom Hanks had this family that loved him and surrounded him. And I got that feedback from people and it was very moving. This is so different. This is a comedy, but often comedies are the things that make change and that put a mirror up there for us to see that families have love. And this is just, this is a family that really truly at the end of the day loves each other.”
“It’s nice that we’ve come to this place,” Victor Garber, the out actor who plays Harper’s father Ted, and also has an illustrious film career. “It’s nice to be not there anymore. I just did the reboot of Tales of the City, but also I’m doing a new series in Canada. It’s a Canadian series with a transgender woman who plays my secretary and that’s discussed right away in the very first scenes. It feels so natural. And yes, we’ve come a long way. We’re nowhere near where we have to be, but we’re certainly, we’ve made steps or taking steps.”
The leads only had a few moments to chat with us, but both of them sang the praises of the environment on set.
“When we first started this movie,” Mackenzie Davis told GLAAD, “We were like, I would be so jealous if somebody else was doing this with Kristen and Clea. It’s not just because of the social or political import of it, it’s really great, and the people making it are really great. Every day is so wonderful and full of laughter and joy. I’ve never had this much fun making a movie before, so, on a very personal level, it’s really wonderful to be a part of positive, non-tragic depictions of queer love, but don’t always have to be an incredible struggle to get through and end in tragedy. The struggle is part of the genre [but] it has nothing to do with the queerness, which I think is a relief.”
“It’s so nice to catch that sense of freedom and fun,” Kristen Stewart added. “It’s super contagious. I think that the way to spread love is definitely just through giving it. We were saying something before about [how] it feels great to [work on] something sweet and something nice. And it’s nice to come to work and feel like I can say anything. I’m not implying that I’ve had inhibited experiences because of the lack of queerness and other movies that I’ve done. But in this, we all feel so visible to each other and so understood and therefore allowed. It’s so permissive and it feels great.”
“As a filmmaker,” DuVall continued, “It’s very important to me to tell universal stories. I want to tell stories that connect with as many people as possible. As a storyteller, my goal is connecting with as many people as I possibly can and having a lot of different kinds of representation. It’s really just wanting to feel like I was seeing me in a movie like this, which I had never seen before. And my experience is not unique. I’m not the only one going through it. There have to be a lot of other people who are also feeling underrepresented. The truth is I just wanted to write a movie that I always wanted to watch. So, that’s what I did.”
Happiest Season will be available to stream on Hulu on Wednesday, November 25.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.