On screen,is known as the girl who royalty fall in love with — from E!’s “The Royals” where Merritt portrayed Ophelia who captured Prince Liam’s heart to her prior Hallmark film “A Royal Winter,” where her character Maggie catches the eye of Prince Adrian. Thus, it is no surprise that in her latest Hallmark film “Christmas At The Palace,” Merritt portrays retired figure-skater turned skating choreographer whose destiny pulls her once again into the royal realm. In an exclusive interview, Merritt talks about the joy of portraying a young woman who finds herself is swept up yet again in a royal romance.
I got a chance to preview your new Christmas special, “The Christmas at the Palace.” Maybe you could just talk about what you saw in the script and why you wanted this particular role and to work on this project.
MERRITT: Absolutely. I had actually read a version of this script a number of months ago and, I mean everyone loves a Christmas story, so I was immediately interested in doing it. Then it actually ended up getting pushed a few months due to just like filming and getting a crew together and script. But, eventually, I heard that it was a go and they sent me the new version of the script, which was actually even better and I was just really excited to be a part of it. It was fun to play a professional figure skater, turned choreographer. I thought that was an interesting element and it was just magical as it filmed the movie in Romania, which I’ve actually been to before for “A Royal Winter.” So I loved it the first time around and I was really looking forward to going back so that was also an added bonus doing this film.
This is kind of a familiar role for you as you’ve done, of course, “A Royal Winter” and you worked on “The Royals.” So you’re doing another “royal romance,” so to speak. What kind of draws you to these stories?
MERRITT: I know, it’s so funny! It’s just kind of coincidence that I end up doing all of these royal story lines. But it’s also interesting because I’ve never actually played a royal. I’m always the American who falls for the royal.
One day, maybe, I’ll actually play the Queen or the Princess.
Do you ever ask the casting directors what they see in you that says you are of course destined to make princes fall in love with you?
MERRITT: [Laughs] You know what? No, I haven’t asked. I’ve been lucky with Hallmark they usually approach me with these roles. So, they must just see me as the All-American, I guess.
Clearly they are seeing a potential “princess” every time they see you. That’s not a bad thing!
MERRITT: [Laughs] Yeah. It’s not bad typecast, I guess!
There also seems to be the theme of dance — whether it be skating or working in the dance area. You must also come across as somebody who would be naturally graceful and beautiful in motion. Is that something you tend to pursue in roles?
MERRITT: Nice of you to say. I’ll take that!
Do you pursue those kinds of dance-related roles?
MERRITT: I did dance growing up somewhat competitively. But I grew up in a small town, so it wasn’t at any large stage. But I really enjoyed that growing up and I also did figure skate, when I was quite young. But I didn’t end up doing that as I got older. The town I grew up in, the lakes freeze in the winter so we would skate on the lakes. So I am comfortable on a pair of skates. So I think these are bits of the characters that I’m familiar with, and its good that you think I can portray it — I mean, it’s working!
What was it like to do skating in this particular film?
MERRITT: It was really fun. Like I said, I’m comfortable in skates. I wouldn’t say I’m a professional by any stretch of the imagination. But luckily the character I play has turned choreographer, so I actually wasn’t on the ice a ton. Brittany [Bristow], who plays Jessica, is actually a skater. She was competitively figure-skating at one point. So she was incredible. But it was really fun just to get out on the ice and skate around. It was unique. I hadn’t done that before for a film. The character does get on the ice at the end of the show and is supposed to perform a routine. They brought in stunt doubles who were incredible figure skaters, so I kind of would start and she would take over. Very very incredible to watch.
It looked like the dynamics between you character Katie and Brittany’s character Jessica seemed to just be real natural and fun. What was it like working together that way with Brittany?
MERRITT: It was great. The four of us; myself, Brittany, Andrew [Cooper], who plays the King, and Nick [Banks] — who’s character is also called Nicholas — the four of us got along so well. You never know who you’re going to be working with. I actually didn’t find out who any of the other cast members were until the night I arrived in Romania. Was all very kind of last minute. And you always hope that you’re going to get along, especially when you are playing best friends or your love interest or whoever the character may be. And the four of us got along so well. Brittany’s from Canada as well. She’s from the east coast. I had never met her before but from the first time we met we were close so it worked really well.
Both you and Brittany have done a number of the Hallmark films now, so you are kind of in that Hallmark family. So there might be a natural kind of affinity there.
MERRITT: There we go. Yeah, absolutely. She had just done “Love in Safari.” That was so cool that it filmed in South Africa.
That was pretty stunning. It’s amazing that Hallmark is providing all these amazing opportunities for the actors to go to these incredible remote locations.
MERRITT: Absolutely. That’s one of my favorite parts of the industry: getting to travel and go to new locations. I love that.
What did you get to enjoy in Romania while you were there?
MERRITT: This particular shoot was very, very busy. We shot 6-day work weeks. So we only actually had two days off the entire time we were there, which was about just under 3 weeks. So this trip, unfortunately, I didn’t get to see as much. But the last time I was there, I had a bit more time to explore and we actually traveled up into the mountains to film some of the exterior shots. So I was able to go to Sighisoara, which is a village in the mountains and hundreds of years old. It was so cool. And at one of the locations that we shoot at for this film as well. Snagov Palace, it’s called. There is an island on a lake, and there is an island in the lake that has the monastery for Vlad Dracula for Vlad the Impaler. So that’s kind of a cool thing to check out.
That’s remarkable that your career allows you that opportunity to go see these places and gives you the time to actually see a few things while you’re there.
MERRITT: It’s nice. I definitely try to take advantage of the time I have off to check out the locations because usually they’re incredible.
For this particular film, “Christmas at the Palace”, what was unique and special about this? What did you love about it?
MERRITT: I think the figure skating was really interesting. I was looking forward to that. That was definitely one unique element and I think I liked that this film had a couple of different storylines. It was really lovely to work with India [Fowler], who played the daughter of the King, Princess Christina. She was fantastic. I haven’t done a Hallmark film before when there was a girl, like a younger character of Christina. So it was really fun to work with her. Then just all of the different dynamics between me and Brittany, and me and Andrew, and Brittany and Nicholas. It was just, it was really fun. It allowed for a lot of fun on set interacting with all four of us. And anytime that we were all in a scene, it was great. I looked forward to that.
Interesting enough, this film was a very female-empowering Hallmark movie. It allowed your character of Katie, and Brittany’s character of Jessica to show that they were pursuing an entrepreneurial business on their own. That’s actually a really nice dynamic to see young women who are going “we want to start a business and we’re going to do it no matter what.” I loved that element.
MERRITT: I do too, actually, and I think Hallmark does a really good job of having strong female leads, which can sometimes be hard to come by in film and television. So that’s a great aspect of doing Hallmark films.
Hallmark always want their female characters to have a strong sense of identity in the business world. So that they don’t just drop everything to fall in love. They have careers and they’re ambitious and they pursue their careers no matter what else comes along the way, which is quite beautiful — to see that you can have love in your life and have a professional life — that they work complementary together.
MERRITT: Absolutely. Not only did these two characters have like a passion — figure skating — but they also were entrepreneurial and were creating their own business. The film really went like above and beyond just having something of their own going on.
That was a cool aspect. It’s nice to see that as a woman — that you can fall in love and not just be a housewife or a princess — but that you do get to pursue a business interest as well.
MERRITT: Yeah. Absolutely.
Were there any specific challenges working on this film, like was it too cold or was it really tricky being on a remote location?
MERRITT: I can’t really think of any big challenges. It was actually such a beautiful time of year to be in Romania, which is great because often if you are doing a Christmas film sometimes you are filming it in August and that can be very challenging. But this was beautiful fall in Romania and it was actually sunny the majority of the time we were there, so it was kind of the perfect temperature to be shooting this film. I guess the only really challenging was just the fact that there is so much material that you have to get through in such a short period of time when you do the entire film in 16-18 days, which is really, really quick. So it just requires you to know your lines and be prepared and be rested and kind of ready to go because there’s not a lot of downtime.
You have had a very blessed career. How does it feel for you to be at this point where you’re at right now?
MERRITT: It feels really good. I have been lucky. I’ve worked on some incredible projects. I’ve met some really great people. I’ve been really lucky over the years to be a part of some of these projects and I just hope that continues. I mean the only really difficult thing in this industry is finding some sort of consistency. So, ideally, I’d like to be working more and more often, but they’re also very intense shoots often so it’s nice to have downtime in between.
I appreciate all your time in talking about “Christmas At The Palace” and I’m sure everybody’s going to fall in love with it. You did a really amazing job and I’m looking forward to your next project as well. Do you have anything you want to share with the fans about what might also be upcoming?
MERRITT: [Laughs] No, unfortunately, I don’t have anything to report as of now. There’s nothing set in stone so hopefully, hopefully soon.
To fall in love with the wonder of “Christmas At The Palace” along with Katie and Jessica, be sure to tune in for the premiere on Wednesday, November 22nd at 8:00 p.m. on @HallmarkChannel and @merrittpattrsn for the live-tweet during the premiere.and also be sure to follow both
“Christmas At The Palace” preview: