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Interview: Teri Polo

The Christmas Shepherd

The Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas is in full swing and continues with a brand new movie The Christmas Shepherd that will air this Sunday, November 23rd at 8/7c. The film stars Teri Polo as Sally Brown, a successful children's book author and Army widow who loses her late husband's German Shepherd, Buddy, only to later find him adopted by a new family - a single father and his daughter. Each finds a sense of Christmas spirit as they struggle to decide with whom the dog really belongs.

Teri is certainly no stranger to the Hallmark brand as she has worked on several projects with the network. She’s built an impressive resume which includes memorable appearances on television shows like The West Wing, Sports Night, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and the cult series Brimstone. On the big screen, she’s appeared in hit films such as The Little Fockers, Domestic Disturbance and The Arrival. Currently, she stars in the hit ABC Family drama The Fosters.

We sat down with Teri to talk about working on her new Hallmark movie The Christmas Shepherd, what it was like filming a Christmas film in the summer and what the holidays mean to her.

Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us about The Christmas Shepherd and your character Sarah Brown?

Teri Polo – My character is a widow who has a son in the military overseas currently. Her husband was had been in the military and that’s how they ended up with Buddy. He found Buddy as a stray overseas and brought him back home. They adopted him and he became quite a member of the family as most dogs do. Unfortunately, her husband had a heart attack while exercising and she becomes a widow. She feels that Buddy is her connection to her husband because her husband and Buddy were so connected and had a great bond. Buddy is her companion, friend and family member.

A terrible storm happens close to Christmas time and Buddy becomes spooked and runs away. He ends up farther away than anyone could possibly imagine. He is dropped off at a shelter and it’s something that I am going through personally right now with a dog that I just recently rescued in order to find a good home for it. The dog stays at the shelter for four days and if the owner doesn’t claim the dog with proof that the dog is there’s before the four days is up, if the dog is adopted he legally belongs to the new adoptive family. That is one of the issues we run into the show when a single father and his daughter adopt Buddy and become quite attached to the dog. My character finally tracks down her dog and wants her dog back. So, there is that dilemma of what do you do when it comes to a situation like that.

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Pop Culture Principle – The film has a great cast including Martin Cummins and Jordyn Ashley Olson. What was it like working with them on this project?

Teri Polo – It was just great. I’ve worked in Canada so many times and I always feel like the underdog when I go there because there are so many talented people there. They are so helpful, talented and generous. I always love the productions up there. Jordyn is quite a little talent. She’s got a real natural ability there that if she chooses to continue with acting, I think she will blossom quite nicely. Martin is just this cool, down to earth kind of guy. I told him that he was really good at playing dads because he has four kids of his own and he loves them more than life itself. You can see the spark in his eyes when he was talking to Jordyn as his daughter. You just saw the love the he was emulating because it was true and genuine for him. He’s able to portray that quite nicely I must say.

Pop Culture Principle – Speaking of cast, one of the important cast members is your dog Buddy. How was it like working with him and did you bond at all?

Teri Polo – There is a saying in Hollywood to not ever work with children or animals. His real name is Ace and this was his first time on camera ever. He had never worked on any kind of film or television set before. He had been trained as a police and a guard dog. He was a working dog/service dog and initially he was not that affectionate and not necessarily a “pet” kind of dog. The funny thing is that throughout the shoot, he became quite attached to me. He would recognize my voice, recognize me every day that I would come to set. He really responded to me and really listened to me and I was able to work with him quite well. Again, I have an extensive experience with dogs because of my rescues, all of my work and the little bit of training that I have. I was able to feel comfortable around him and not afraid. I was able to handle him quite well which made filming a lot easier and made the director’s job a lot easier.

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He was such a charming dog. He had a personality out the wazoo and people fell madly in love with him. I wanted to kidnap him and bring him home myself. He was just so gorgeous and an absolute pleasure to work with.

Pop Culture Principle – Did you face any challenges filming A Christmas Shepherd in August?

Teri Polo – I would say the only challenge was wearing a scarf and coat during pretty high temperatures. I forget what city we were filming in, but they said they had reached record highs that day when I am running around in a down jacket, boots and a scarf. I would say that was the only challenge while I was filming. I love filming in Canada and it’s such a cliché, but they are literally the nicest people. I love Vancouver because it is so beautiful.

Jill Teed who plays Martin Cummins’ sister and a dog rescuer in the movie, I made close and fast friends with her. I took my daughter with me without a nanny up there and she took my daughter on trips, overnights and just entertained her. She is one of the loveliest people that I have ever met in my life. She’s a brilliant actress who plays a lot of character roles here and there.

It’s just experiences like that when you think there’s a reason for walking around in one hundred degree weather in a sweater and a scarf. You meet these wonderful people and make new friendships and put out some good vibes in the world with the movie.

Pop Culture Principle – Two themes that seem prevalent throughout the film are hope and second chances. Would you agree?

Teri Polo – Oh, absolutely. Hope is not giving up on you or giving up on others. I identify a great deal with something my character talks about when she says she is still frozen. It’s allowing yourself to just let go, allowing yourself to let go of the past and previous loves that will always be a part of you. Allow yourself to love again and be happy again and feel joy, peace and happiness. One thing that Hallmark is really good at is uplifting and good positive storylines and vibes. There needs to be more of that in the world.

Pop Culture Principle – You have worked on several projects with Hallmark. What have you enjoyed most about working with the Hallmark brand?

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Teri Polo – Again, I would say that there are just positive messages. If you fall and stumble, you can get up, brush yourself off and be ok. Most of the shows that I’ve done with Hallmark have had that theme. It’s the way I choose to live my life as Teri Polo. Every time I fall on my butt, I stand up, brush myself off and figure out what I was supposed to learn from this. Having learned that makes me a stronger and better person. I think that if you keep putting those kinds of lessons out there to people, they will identify with some storyline or some situation and think they have felt that and been there. If they can do it, than so can I. Hallmark is just great at putting out the positivity and the kindness. I wish the world was a bit kinder of a place sometimes and you have to do your part in making it so.

Pop Culture Principle – What do you look most forward to when it comes to the holidays?

Teri Polo – I’m from the East coast originally, so it’s kind of hard to celebrate Christmas here amongst the palm trees and 75 degree weather. Regardless if it’s 75 degrees or not, I open up all the doors and windows and make a fire; I have to have a fire! I think people are far kinder to each other during the holiday season. I don’t care what the reason is, just as long as they are kinder to each other. There is a sense of community, pulling together and so much love and giving. I find that people are more giving, generous during the holidays. People are able to slow down, stop and take a look at other humans they are sharing this Earth with.

The be all end all is the look on my kids’ faces in the morning because it is still so very magical for them to wake up and for Sana Claus to have eaten the cookies and drank the milk and all the presents that have suddenly appeared magically under the Christmas tree. It’s interesting because they are not only interested in what they are getting, but it’s the giving as well. We’ve been able to instill upon them that it’s not just about getting, but it’s about giving and caring. The reward for me is my kids and the magic that they feel is immeasurable.

The Pop Culture Principle would like to thank Teri Polo for taking time out of her schedule to talk with us. Remember, The Christmas Shepherd will air this Sunday, November 23rd at 8/7c. If you would like to keep up to date with Teri's latest news and projects, you can follow her on Twitter @TeriPolo1.

**Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographers: Bettina Strauss & Katie Yu**

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