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Interview: Dylan Neal

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Dylan Neal is definitely an actor who is no stranger to the Hallmark universe. The Canadian born actor is currently in production on the third season of the hit Hallmark Channel series Cedar Cove.

While fans wait for the new season to begin, Dylan stars in and is an executive producer for the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel film Gourmet Detective. The film, which is the first in an all new Mystery Movie Series, is based on the novels by Peter King.

Dylan stars as a chef-turned- sleuth whose expertise in the kitchen helps him solve culinary crimes. Dylan co-wrote the script with his wife Becky Southwell. The film also stars Brooke Burns, Samantha Harris and Laura Mennell. Gourmet Detective makes its world premiere on Saturday, May 16 at 9/8c.

Dylan sits down with the Pop Culture Principle to talk about the film, what it was like working with Brooke Burns and what he wants to viewers to take away from the film after viewing it.

Pop Culture Principle – The Gourmet Detective movie is based on the series of books by Peter King of the same name. What made you want to turn this series of books into movies?

Dylan Neal – After Cedar Cove had been well into its first season, I was making great relationships with the network, especially with Michele Vicary and Bill Abbott. I asked if they were interested in me pitching some movie franchise ideas to them, similar to what Tom Selleck is doing at CBS. They were interested and knew I had a history of selling projects when I team up with my wife Becky Southwell, who is a TV writer.

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So, I went out to try and find some kind of property, either in a book or an old TV series that I could adapt to the Hallmark brand and something that would suite me. I thought a really great concept would be something around food, because the Hallmark brand is all about family and family values. Obviously cooking and that communal aspect of food seemed to resonate with me and I thought it would be a good fit for the network. I found an older television series from the BBC, and my producing partner Joel Wright found the books by Peter King.

We took both of the projects to the network and pitched them. It was the network that decided to go with the Gourmet Detective book franchise. There are eight of those books and we may ultimately do nine of these movies if they do well enough, and if we are all happy with how they are turning out over the next couple of years. We didn’t know if it would just be one or a couple; we hoped, obviously, that it would be a franchise. What we didn’t know at the time is that they were looking to rebrand the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel, and we were lucky to be the first out of the gate.

Pop Culture Principle – You co-wrote the film with your wife Becky Southwell. How was the creative experience working with her?

Dylan Neal – It’s a lot of fun. We work well together, and the first time we did it was about twelve or thirteen years ago. We sold a pilot that ended up in a bidding war. It ultimately went to Sony and unfortunately it didn’t get picked up, but we had a really good experience with it. She took about nine years off to be with the kids and, after that, we decided to do something together again and just fell back into our old rhythm.

It’s probably not for everyone, because you will either drive each other crazy or you are going to get stronger though the process. Fortunately, we share a brain creatively with this kind of stuff and it’s usually pretty seamless.

Pop Culture Principle – What can you tell us about the basic premise of the Gourmet Detective?

Dylan Neal – I play the Gourmet Detective, Henry Ross, and he is a food consultant to restaurants and large food corporations around the world. He is a former chef who has travelled all over the world, and he has a real keen eye for detail. He observes a death at a gala at a very fancy, high end restaurant. When the police are brought on board they realize quickly that no one is more connected to the culinary scene in San Francisco than Henry. So, they hire him as a consultant to the investigation and he is partnered with Detective Maggie Price, played by Brooke Burns, much against her will.

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They have this love/hate relationship where he is the civilian handcuffed to a detective who feels she can do the investigation just fine without his help. As it turns out, he’s very good at spotting little details and being able to put the little pieces together to help her, and the police department find out that this in fact was a murder and who the suspects might be. He helps them line the suspects up and knock them down to find out who the culprit really is.

Pop Culture Principle – The relationship between your character and Brooke Burns’ character has to be believable in order for the movie to work. What was it like working with Brooke?

Dylan Neal – It was really great. I did not know her and had never worked with her. She was always on the short list when we were going over candidates, and as an executive producer I get to be involved in the hiring and really all aspects of these movies. I knew the network really liked her and I made some phone calls around the industry to check up on her, and just every report back was glowing about her professionalism, talent, and—most importantly—her character as a person. I really wanted a real partner on screen and off, and I just couldn’t have been happier that Brooke ended up being my partner in these movies.

We have a real sort of undeniable chemistry onscreen, and everyone comments on that. We are sort of like long lost siblings and I just think the world of her. She gets the humor and understands what we are doing with this franchise, and she just fit seamlessly into Maggie. Brooke was a single mom earlier in her life and so I think she resonates very strongly with her character, and that was really important. I love talking script with her and our director Scott Smith, and we just couldn’t be a better fit onscreen and I am really happy about that.

Pop Culture Principle – Is it difficult for you as a writer to have that balance between the investigation and the relationship and banter between the main characters?

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Dylan Neal - It’s a tricky balance and we are still trying to figure it out. When you are doing a movie franchise, it’s really like a TV series expect you have these long gaps in between scripts. The balance between the doing the sleuthing and investigating and then the banter and the relationship of Henry and Maggie is a fine balance, and we need to get it right. It’s really less about the sleuthing and more about the relationship between Henry and Maggie, and creating a fun ride for the audience. These are light procedurals; it’s Hallmark and it’s all about fun and banter and trying not to get to heavy.

It’s a delicate balance to get it right, and I think we are still learning. I think each movie is going to get better and better, and writing them is a real interesting challenge and I have enjoyed the process. I am excited to keep delving into this world and making them even more fun for the viewers.

Pop Culture Principle – The movie also boasts a fantastic support cast with Laura Mennell, Samantha Farris and Shannon Chan-Kent to name a few. What was it like working with them?

Dylan Neal – Oh man, we were so lucky with our supporting cast. The two detectives, Baily and Monroe, Sam Farris and Shannon, they will all come back for each movie. Of course, Maggie’s mother and daughter will also be back in each movie. It was really important to get those supporting characters right, and it was a bit tricky.

It’s funny, Sam Farris came in for another role, and that detective character was not written for her at all. When I saw her come in, I said we had to bring her in for Captain Forsyth and we’ll rewrite this character for her. She calls herself “large and in charge,” and that is exactly what she is and that was what we needed with Forsyth. With Matthew and Mark, you had to get their banter right because they are sort of a team, almost like a couple. It was tricky trying to find that right chemistry, and when we got those two together it worked perfectly.

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Casting is a lot of fun, but it can also be very frustrating. It’s really fun when it all comes together in the end, though, and I have really enjoyed it. From day one, what’s important to me is that we have a real sense of family and community. We aren’t curing cancer here, making movies and working in Hollywood. We are here telling a story, so have fun along the way and let’s enjoy each other. The biggest compliment I have received has been from the crew who have asked to come back and work with us again because they really enjoyed working on the project.

I don’t care about how these movies are received when I get that kind of feedback, and I know Brooke feels the same way. We take such pride in creating a nurturing, fun environment on set because I’ve seen the other and there is no need for it. So, that is what I am most proud of: that these are fun movies to work on, and the word is out in Vancouver. Whenever there is a Gourmet Detective movie casting and hiring, people are lining up to be part of these projects.

Pop Culture Principle – You wore so many hats during the production of this project. Did you ever feel a bit overwhelmed or nervous at any point?

Dylan Neal – Yes—I am new to executive producing so I’ve taken the approach of shut up a little bit and keep your ears open. I do step in when I see something that I want to get my two cents in on and want to get right; that’s been a real education, and I’ve really enjoyed that and prep.

When we are shooting it’s very surreal because none of my previous work that I have written and sold actually made it to camera, so this is the first time it made it to camera. I was nervous about the script at times because usually actors are complaining about the script or the writer at a certain point—and that’s been me! Sometimes we would be shooting and I just felt a little insecure at times, and everyone kind of laughed and chuckled about that. It’s also great because if there is an issue that comes up, I am right there and can fix it. We don’t have to get on the phone with anyone because I am right there to make the decision, and I really enjoy that.

Pop Culture Principle – What do you want fans to take away from The Gourmet Detective after they see the movie?

Dylan Neal – I want them to enjoy Henry and Maggie. These movies succeed or die based on Henry and Maggie and their relationship. The first movie might be a tad bit confusing with the sleuthing and the mystery. I hope by the end that the audience has stuck through it, and enjoyed the ride even if they got lost a little at times because of the twist and turns we put in there. If they stay with this franchise, they will see that each one gets better and better. We enjoy making them and we put so much blood, sweat and tears into the movies, we just hope the audience enjoys the ride.

We would like to thank Dylan for taking time from his busy schedule to talk with us about his new film Gourmet Detective. You can catch the world premiere of Gourmet Detective on Saturday, May 16 at 9/8c on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. Also, Season 3 of Cedar Cove premieres Saturday, July 18 at 8/7c. If you would like to keep up with the latest news and projects for Dylan, you can follow him on Twitter here.

**Photo Credits: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographers: Katie Yu & Brendan Meadows**

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