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Interview: Daniel Lissing

When the Hallmark Channel decided to move its hit series When Calls the Heart to Sunday nights at 9/8c, many were wondering would the beloved series get lost in the extremely competitive night.

Well, so far it looks as if the series has been able to hold its own. The series has had steady ratings and even added viewers this season. The show has become must see television for fans from all over and continues to beat the odds.

One of the reasons for the success of the series is the work of Daniel Lissing, who plays Jack Thornton. Daniel has built an impressive resume so far in his career with roles in series such as The Last Resort, Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce and Crownies. Daniel also co-wrote and stars in the short film Answers which won Best Live Action Short Film at the Santa Barbara Film Festival recently.

We sit down with Daniel to discuss his work on When Calls the Heart, the relationship between Elizabeth and Jack and how he feels a responsibility to the fans as Jack Thornton.

Pop Culture Principle - In a recent interview with us, Lori Loughlin said she feels that When Calls the Heart is a mixture of Seasons One and Two and has finally found its rhythm. Would you agree with that?

Daniel Lissing – I would agree with that whole-heartedly and would say this is our best season yet. There’s a really nice element that we haven’t seen in Seasons One and Two. As the seasons go on, the cast, crew, and producers all get into a rhythm and find their audience and find what really translates on screen. I think this season we have really found something special, and I think the audience is happy with how it’s going so far.

Pop Culture Principle – In what ways are you like and not like your character Jack Thornton?

Daniel Lissing – Every character that I play, it’s coming from a place within me. I don’t like just playing a caricature of someone rather than finding that character within yourself. We are human beings and have the same emotions as everyone else. Our views on the world might change depending on where we are from and when we are from.

With Jack, there are a lot of similarities there, but this is a Hallmark series and they really concentrate on the light of a character rather than the darkness within a human being. So I have a whole array of emotions, but, with Jack, I am able to tap into that side of myself—that really strong, moral side, caring for people—and I certainly have those traits in common with Jack. Then there is the other side of things where I don’t have that depending on the circumstances.

It’s interesting to play a character that’s so righteous, but at the same time bringing conflict into the story and struggle for the character as well. If you just play the lightness all the time and everything is sweet and fine, then it gets boring. So I need to find things that aren’t written to bring that inner conflict into Jack’s existence so, as the audience, it’s more interesting to watch him struggle and overcome things. Those moments of him trying to do the right thing and having that strong moral compass, they mean more when he overcomes them.

Pop Culture Principle – Jack and Elizabeth have had their ups and downs, but it seems this season they are finally in a good place. Would you agree with that?

Daniel Lissing – Jack and Elizabeth have developed a strong respect for each other. The storyline from Season Two where they were both from different worlds and two people like that could never be together, they have passed that now and have come to an understanding. In Season Three, it’s become way less about the conflicts or misunderstandings in their relationship, and their friendship, trust, and love have been able to grow.

With the things that are happening with the people in the town, Jack and Elizabeth have been able to come together and work more as a team and be on the same side. If there is a Season Four, I think now is time for the writers to take that relationship to the new level, and I think they are there as characters.

Pop Culture Principle – What do you think Jack most admires about Elizabeth?

Daniel Lissing – When Jack first meets Elizabeth in Season One, he sees this little rich girl who has had servants her whole life, has never struggled and never lived on the frontier, but there was an attraction there. As time has gone by, he’s seen what a strong and good woman she is, what a great teacher she is, and how much she cares about people and how much she puts into her students. Her heart is totally in the right place, and she’s a good human being. I think Jack really admires the transformation that she has made, becoming the woman she is now. She can take care of herself and others, and he kind of likes her character development.

Pop Culture Principle – Faith Carter has somewhat come back into Jack’s life, and it seems she will be around for a while. Do you see her as a distraction for Jack?

Daniel Lissing – No, I don’t think so. I think there is a friendship there but Jack is completely in love with Elizabeth, and that’s the way I am playing it. At the end of the day, Faith is a good woman as well. She’s beautiful, she’s got a good heart, she’s a nurse, and she understands where Jack comes from because she kind of comes from the same place. It’s similar to the situation with Elizabeth and Charles, because he was from the same world as Elizabeth and understands that world.

They wrote in Faith Carter’s character to come from the same kind of world as Jack, and to have someone that understands him and someone he understands. But, at the end of the day, love is love and Jack loves Elizabeth. I think that there is a good friendship there and mutual respect between Jack and Faith, but Elizabeth is the one.

Pop Culture Principle – We see Jack really go to bat for Faith with her decision not to marry her fiancé. Why do you think Jack felt he needed to do so?

Daniel Lissing – In Season Three, you really see Jack falling in love with Hope Valley and the people there. You see him in a lot of people’s storylines so, when Faith was going though this stuff with her fiancée, Jack is kind of the go-to guy for a lot of people in Hope Valley. He’s every man’s man, if you know what I mean, and his job as constable is to take care of the town in his own way. Lori’s character, Abigail, has that quality as well and that’s what makes these three characters so special—that they take a vested interest in the affairs of the people of Hope Valley. Plus it’s a small town from one hundred years ago, and everyone knew everyone’s business. There wasn’t any internet back then, and people weren’t sitting around watching television!

So with all that stuff with Faith, I really think that he tried to do the right thing, but being respectful of Elizabeth while standing by his friend and letting her know that we are all here for you, but you have to sort it out because you only have one life. You don’t want to make a decision that you are going to regret for the rest of your life. This is your chance. If you are in then you are in with this guy; if not, then get out, because life is too short.

We have probably all been there in our own lives where we have had hard decisions to make about the relationships that we are in. I know I have been. That’s why I could really relate to the scene where Jack is giving advice to Faith—that, at the end of the day, it’s a decision she has to make and I was basically talking to myself.

Pop Culture Principle – Over the course of the series, Jack has definitely had some trust issues when it comes to Bill Avery. As we continue with Season Three, do you think Jack finally trusts Bill?

Daniel Lissing – To tell the truth, I think that Jack trusted Bill before when he was younger and a bit more naïve. Bill was sort of Jack’s mentor as he was coming up through the academy and things like that. When it comes to Bill’s character, there are a lot of grey areas, which I love for the show and I think the show needs it. You have this character where you aren’t sure he’s a good guy or a bad guy, or if you like him or don’t like him. I think it’s really important to have a character like that on a show, and Jack Wagner does a fantastic job with that character.

From Jack Thornton’s point of view, I think that he is wary of Bill. Jack is a thinker and he’s not a stupid guy. And now that he is getting a bit older and has had experience running the law in his own town, so to speak, there is a time and a place to let Bill in and there is a time and a place to keep your eye on him, and I think Jack really knows that. So he’s always a little bit suspect of Bill even though he has love for him.

Pop Culture Principle – Brooke Shields will be appearing in several episodes playing your mother. What can you tell us about her character, and what was it like working with Brooke?

Daniel Lissing – I have to say, working with Brooke was brilliant. She’s an amazing woman, and I am happy to call her my friend. We got on like a house on fire instantly and she got on well with everyone. She’s such a professional and she’s been doing this for so long and been in the industry for so long, she’s seen it all. She came onto set bringing this wealth of knowledge and such professionalism. She fit right in and was really positive.

She plays my mother and we had these intimate scenes together as a mother and son relationship, and it was so easy. I was looking into her eyes and she was looking into my eyes and we were connected and it was really organic. I haven’t seen the scenes yet, but to me they felt spot on and I really hope that translates.

Her character is sassy, and she’s a woman who in a lot of ways is ahead of her time. When Jack’s father dies, she raised Jack and his brother by herself on the frontier, working the land in a time where you had to be a tough woman in a man’s world. She has this spunk and energy about her that I thought was really refreshing for the show. She’s a woman of action, and the character dynamic there was really interesting for me. I felt like Jack is the parent in this situation now that he’s older and out of harm, and she’s now been able to go on with her life. That dynamic I thought was really interesting, and I really enjoyed playing that with her. I believe it will translate with her and we really had a great time on set.

As I said before, Season Three is our best season and, as it going on, it’s getting better and better. I really enjoyed shooting this season, and it was a lot of fun.

Pop Culture Principle – How much input, if any, do you have with your character, and is there any collaboration with the writers?

Daniel Lissing – Prior to a season, we all get together with the writers and showrunners and have a nice meeting to talk about the arc of the season, where did we leave off from and where do we want to get to by the end of the season. The whole idea to bring the Cody character on the show was Lori’s idea.

When we put ideas forth they’re heard, and this is quite a collaborative group of people which is really nice. Sometimes you work on shows and you just say the lines and play your character, which is fine as well, but this show happens to be a little more collaborative.

By the third episode I called Hallmark and the writers, and we had a really good discussion about what Jack’s purpose is this season because it seemed like he really didn’t have an arc of his own. He seemed to be in everyone’s story—kind of what I was saying before—but that is part of his character to be a man of the people. In the first three episodes of this season it was very much like that, and he didn’t have his own thing going on. So we addressed that and, as this season goes on, I really like the storylines that we are coming up with. He got back to be being more of a Mountie and doing the work of a Mountie, which is who he is. It was such a big issue for Elizabeth in Season Two and, when he wasn’t in danger or anything like that happening, we decided to talk about it and get back to what makes Jack Jack and what makes Elizabeth Elizabeth.

We wanted to try to and come up with something that was in the spirit of the show and the story, but that is true to the characters. I really believe that we got some great stuff, especially in the last two episodes, and I feel like it’s a great way to end the season.

Pop Culture Principle – You mentioned in the past that Elizabeth was concerned about something happening to Jack because of his job. Do you think that is still in the back of her mind?

Daniel Lissing – I think so, yes. I have family members in the military in Australia, and there are families all over who have loved ones serving their country. These families are the ones that are home and worried and concerned about their loved ones.

So I think that is one of those things where Elizabeth will always have that in the back of her mind. Every time Jack goes off to work, I believe that she is going to have that silent prayer or silent thought to herself saying that I hope everything is okay today. I think that is natural for the loved ones of people in the armed services, police force, or whatever it is. That is an issue for her, and it becomes a reality before the end of the season, I’ll just say that.

Pop Culture Principle – Have you ever been a part of a series that has such a devoted fanbase?

Daniel Lissing – No, not at all. I don’t know if I ever will again after this series, to tell the truth. An actor hopes that their work is appreciated, recognized, and that it affects people in a positive way. I had no expectations coming into this show or any idea that the fans would be so passionate. The Hearties and the fans of When Calls the Heart are the most passionate fans. I liken them to the science fiction fans who go to Comic Con and things like that. Science fiction fans are really fanatical about their television shows and movies.

I find that the Hearties are as fanatical in the most positive and loving way. At the end of the day, we are making a show that is family oriented, with great values, moral lessons, and it’s really speaking to people who like this type of programming. There isn’t much of this type of programming on in the States anymore. I mean, I love The Walking Dead and House of Cards, but you can’t say that those shows are family oriented with really strong moral values at the end of the day.

I think that there is an audience out there that has been craving that good family programming. I think being on Sunday nights as well has been very beneficial to the show. The fans are the best fans that I could have imagined, and I’m in contact with them on a regular basis via social media and when I do shows or Home and Family. These people come out from all over the country, and it’s pretty humbling when you have these people come to you and say thank you for bringing Jack Thornton to life. It is overwhelming. I try and be as gracious as I can be, and I feel a lot of responsibility to keep doing a good job.

We would like to thank Daniel for taking time from his busy schedule to talk with us. You can can't brand new episodes of When Calls the Heart on Sunday nights at 9/8c only on the Hallmark Channel. You can also keep up with Daniel's latest news and projects by following him on his official Twitter account @dlissing./p>

**PhotosCopyright 2016 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Eike Schroter**

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