Watch an exclusive sneak peek from the third installment of the 'In the Vineyard' series, 'Valentine in the Vineyard.'
Rachael Leigh Cook returns for the third installment of Hallmark Channel's In the Vineyard movie series, which reunites her with Brendan Penny as winery owners/couple Frankie Baldwin and Nate DeLuca.
In Valentine in the Vineyard, inspired by the St. Helena Vineyard novels by Marina Adair, Frankie and Nate -- opposites in personality and styles -- get engaged just as Frankie’s cousin Lexi and Nate’s brother, Marco, spring the surprise news that they're getting married -- on Valentine’s Day. Agreeing to keep their own wedding plans a secret, Frankie and Nate offer to host Lexi and Marco’s big day. When they realize that they may not be as perfectly matched as they thought, they take part in a compatibility test that may or may not complicate their future.
"I feel tremendously invested in maintaining the integrity of the character, because I really love her strength and her wit, and I feel so lucky to be fated to be able to play her every time," Cook, who serves as an executive producer, tells ET.
Ahead of Saturday's premiere of Valentine in the Vineyard, Cook jumped on the phone with ET to chat about the third -- and possibly final -- installment in the franchise (after 2016's Autumn in the Vineyard and 2017's Summer in the Vineyard), why she values the Hallmark Channel family and She's All That turning 20.
ET: You've gotten to chart Frankie's evolution from the first movie to the third. What do you think has been her biggest change from then until now?
Rachael Leigh Cook: The Frankie that we meet in movie one really has her guard up. She seems to be someone who is afraid of relationships, and she seems very distrustful, and the shape that that takes, even though she and Nate do get into a relationship toward the very end of the first movie, and maintain it through the second one, her anxiety shifts to, "Can we be good business partners and also be a good couple?" Any couple who has been in business together can attest, that's a very valid question to ask. Nate and Frankie have to ask each other why they are dragging their feet a bit in terms of making that really big commitment to each other, because it seems like the time is just never right. They start to worry that maybe they're avoiding it for reasons that they don't even understand, so they get to really ask the big questions.
Valentine in the Vineyard really leans into the comedy more than the other two films. Was that important?
I'm so glad you see it as such, and appreciated that. That means a lot to me. I definitely felt that. We really get to see their banter and their really funny, slightly competitive sides come out, especially in the compatibility test. We're watching them see why they're perfect for each other, even though they can't see it. So, that's the fun part of being an audience member, to watch them realize that they are really actually perfect for each other.
Do you and Brendan Penny have a shorthand at this point?
Oh, very much. We just feel so lucky that we get to go shoot in wine country for a couple of weeks. We're sad that this is probably the last one, because I don't know if they'd really continue things after marriage. But yeah, it definitely feels sad to be potentially wrapping this up, because I can't think of a more joyful way to send these characters off. We definitely have a shorthand at this point, especially because there are all the misadventures that happen when you're shooting in extreme heat, extreme cold -- and with a llama. There's always something ridiculous happening.
Can you recall any hiccups filming with the llama?
It should be easy, because llamas are very hungry. You think to yourself, "Well, he'll follow me if I just have some food in my hand or in my pocket, or he knows that his trainer is over there with a bucket of something," but the problem is that when you're a llama, and you're outdoors, the whole world is food. It's a Michelin star restaurant right at your feet. There's nothing that me or the trainer could be holding that's any more enticing than the bush that's right there. So, it's incredibly difficult to shoot with a llama. I always tell the story, which is, the first time I met the guy who handled Mittens, aka Larry, I said, "Oh, you must be the llama trainer?" And he looked at me for a beat and said, "There's no such thing as a trained llama. There's only a hungry llama, or a hungrier llama," and I've learned very quickly, this is absolutely correct.
My favorite day on set, Brendan and I go to set with the director and we go in for blocking, and the director starts to tell us, "Oh well, Mittens is going to be over here, and then he's gonna walk over there, and then you guys will be here." And we start laughing because he thinks that he has any control over what the llama is gonna do. It makes you incredibly present to work with a llama because you never know what's gonna happen.
Since the movies are set in wine country, do you consider yourself a wine connoisseur now? If someone poured you a glass, would you be able to pick out the oaky flavors?
What was interesting to me -- and you're gonna be like, "Yeah, dummy, everyone knows that," but what I didn't know -- is that the words were properties that people assign to wine, like fruity, aromatic, oaky, what have you. These are arbitrary words. It doesn't mean actual fruit was in the barrel with the wine. I didn't know that. It's great working in wine country; unfortunately, the hours that we work, it's pretty prohibitive for us to go out and sample a lot, but we were really lucky to shoot at several amazing vineyards, and I gotta say, if anyone is even thinking about going up there, it will not disappoint. The Okanagan Valley is absolutely stunning.
You said earlier that this could very well be the last one in the franchise. Has Hallmark broached the subject of a fourth movie?
We would absolutely love to make more, and if people speak up, I'm sure it's possible, because there are any number of adventures and misadventures you could have in the vineyard. We could honeymoon in the vineyard. We could have to go to France to tag along with Marco and Lexi on their honeymoon and learn to make wine out there. The fans of the franchise would really have to speak up to help us out.
You've been in the Hallmark family for a while. Why do you keep going to the well, and why do you keep wanting to be a part of the creative process with the network?
It's a combination of things. First of all, the content that they make really sits well with where I want to live emotionally, and my heart wants to tell stories that remind people that there is real magic in this world, because there is. Is it like a Hallmark movie, 100 percent no, but I think this can remind us that there is this unbelievable force that is love, and it's the biggest thing in this life, and there should be an entire channel dedicated to it. And dammit, that's Hallmark and I love it.
The second day I was on set for the first movie I did for Hallmark, I hadn't been able to get my kids on FaceTime. I remember, I finally got them on FaceTime, just as we were coming back from the scheduled lunch break, and I had just started to see their cute little faces for about a second when a production assistant came up to me and said, "Hey Rachael, I'm sorry. We're back from lunch. We need to get you into hair and makeup right away. We're in a rush." The producer turned to the PA and said, "No. We can wait. She's talking to her kids." And they knew that my being happy was so directly tied to being able to speak to them and to see them that one time that day. They knew that it was important. They really put their money where their mouth is when you talk about being a family-friendly network.
She's All That turned 20 recently. That movie really started it all for you.
It does feel like a full-circle moment that I really feel at home making romantic comedies after a long sojourn away, and is so well book-ended by the fact that my first [film] is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. I can't believe it's been so long, but on the other hand, I was 17 or 18 when we shot the movie. It does feel like a full 20 years ago; I was virtually a child. I still love that movie. Would it be made the same if it was made today? No, but I think it's wonderful for what it is, and I feel so grateful to this day to have been a part of it.
Valentine in the Vineyard premieres Saturday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Hallmark Channel.