It’s been a stressful year, but at least you can count on Hallmark, Lifetime, and Netflix to come through with the holiday cheer. After all, what’s more relaxing than watching an overworked woman fall in love with a Christmas tree farmer? So decompress with all of our delightful holiday content right here.
Alexa PenaVega is in the middle of filming her Hallmark Christmas movie, Christmas Made to Order (which premiered December 23), when she lets me in on a secret: Her character may dream of becoming a holiday decorator, but Alexa's not good at it herself. "That's [my husband] Carlos' thing," she says. "He has a great eye for it, and I don't. Yet I'm the one that's like, 'I want Christmas all year round!'"
But what PenaVega lacks in decor skills, she more than makes up for in holiday spirit. And like her character in Christmas Made to Order, if there's something lacking in her life she'll find a way to change it.
PenaVega has had a lot of practice with that. In the business for more than 20 years, she started with the Burt Reynolds/Marilu Henner series Evening Shade in 1993. She followed that with roles in films like Little Giants, Nine Months, and Twister, but it was her debut in Spy Kids that made her a star. Since then, she's done everything from Broadway to Dancing with the Stars.
Her personal life is her biggest priority now, and that's what drew her to Hallmark. Because of the network's commitment to families (especially for women), PenaVega has become one of its familiar faces. Christmas Made to Order marks her fourth Hallmark movie, and another one—Picture Perfect Mysteries—is already planned for 2019.
"Carlos and I want to be able to do films that our families are proud of and everybody can watch," she says. "They just feel good, and Hallmark has been that place for us. They're all about family, and they want to keep [me and Carlos] working together. They really do walk the walk. That’s what separates them from other networks."
Here, PenaVega opens up more about what it's like to do a Hallmark Christmas movie, the changes she's noticing on-screen, and more. Read on.
Glamour: Are Hallmark Christmas movies everything you thought they would be and more?
Alexa PenaVega: Yes, I love Hallmark Christmas movies because they're out-of-control awesome. There are no limits. We had 15 trees in a scene the other day, and our director asked for another one. He wasn’t kidding! You can’t go overboard. In fact, one of my first married fights with Carlos was over Christmas trees. [Laughs] I was adamant about a real tree because I’ve only had real trees. Christmas trees are my jam.
What other traditions are important to you during the holidays?
APV: This is going to be a weird thing to say, but my ex-husband's mom is incredible—we've always gotten along so well. There were so many traditions from his family that she taught me, and one of them was making homemade caramels. I wrote her a couple years ago on Mother’s Day and said, "I just wanted you to know that we’ve taken this tradition into our family." She wrote me back, "I’m crying!" There was a lot of peace in that breakup, and I love his family. Even in a difficult situation, it's special to be able to bring beautiful family traditions that Carlos and I love and can give to our son, Ocean, as he grows up. Carlos was super positive about it. You don’t ever hear stories about stuff like that, because usually it’s "the breakup was terrible." I took so many beautiful traditions from his family, even this amazing mustard dip that I make every year. My ex's mom is from South Dakota, so it’s the best Midwest food. Carlos and I are Latino, so we can give you a Columbian Christmas with Midwest [traditions].
Speaking of showcasing different traditions, Hallmark has been evolving over the last few years. What inspires you about that?
APV: For me and Carlos, our faith is number one. We both have very large families, so we want to do films that our families are proud of and everybody can watch. Hallmark has been that place for us. I've really enjoy watching the quality of their content evolve over these last couple years. What’s really cool is watching Hallmark grow in diversity. You’re seeing a lot more Hispanics on the network, a lot more African Americans. I think it’s just opening a new door, which is fun to watch in this industry as a whole. I know it’s super easy to peg Hallmark as, like, a white channel—and I think a lot of people wanted to do that—but that’s just not who they are.
When you were growing up, did you feel overlooked in terms of representation on TV?
APV: My issue [was that] I looked white, but I come from a Colombian family. I think my struggle was trying to convince people that I was Hispanic. In my own culture, I had trouble fitting in because I wanted to be that Colombian girl but instead they’re like, "You’re so white-washed." It’s like, "Well, I live in the states!" But that is my culture, that’s who I am. We’re all about the food and the family and the love.
It was so interesting growing up and trying to find that balance of [feeling] like I was never really one or the other. I wanted to live both, and I think I did that well. However, people want you to pick one. You’re either white or Hispanic. You can’t be both. Even when you fill out paperwork, they don’t let you fill out white and Hispanic. It’s either you’re Hispanic or you're white, pick one. But I was like, "That’s not who I am, that’s not fair." I don’t want to say it was a struggle, because it’s not a real struggle, but it is annoying. [Laughs]
I think we’re in a very interesting time where there’s a huge light on that, which is awesome, but at the same time, I’m like, "You can’t cast me out because I’m not brown enough." It's interesting. Latinos come in all different shades. Our culture is very colorful, and I love that. But it’s also hard because then people will be like, "Oh, you’re the white girl," and I’m like, "Actually, I got a little bit extra!" I love that Ocean is growing up with a Dominican and Spanish dad and a Colombian mixed with Cherokee, French, white, mama.
What do you want viewers to specifically take away from watching this film?
APV: One is that family is what you make it. It doesn’t have to be blood family. Family are the people that come together and support you. Carlos and I made a decision to move to Maui a couple years ago [from L.A.]. For the longest time we lived for the industry and let that rule every decision we made, and we were not happy [in L.A.]. California is a great place, but it wasn’t for us and not where we wanted to raise Ocean. So finally we were like, "What are we doing? We want quality of life. Even if we never work again, we know this is where we’re supposed to go." When we moved to Maui, we’ve actually never worked more. It was such a validation that's where God wanted us. We have the most incredible community. But it took that bold step for us to go, "You know what, we’re going to change the way we do things."
It’s funny, because my character Gretchen does the same thing in this movie. She’s going through the motions of this job that she doesn’t even want to do, but she knows she has to make money. She knows she can be a holiday decorator, and that she’s good at it, but it’s scary to take that leap of faith. Finally she’s just like, "I’m done! I want that quality of life, and this isn’t it for me." It’s so relevant for what’s going on in our lives right now.
It's about doing what's right for you regardless of what people think you should do.
APV: When we told people we were moving to Hawaii, they thought we were crazy and going to ruin our careers. So in this movie, and in many others, everyone’s overcoming something. What I also like about this movie is that usually it’s the girl who is very uptight and needs to be unwound a little bit. This time she’s the fun one, and the guy is the one that needs to relax and have a little more fun in his life. It was really nice to play a character who already had joy in her life but was just trying to find ways to make it better.