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Springtime shoot sets the scene for Christmas romance

St. Albert actor Maureen Rooney switches tracks from theatre to movies in Christmas Train Parade
St. Albert actor Maureen Rooney (seated) is on set during the filming of Christmas Train Parade at Fort Edmonton Park. She is cast as the former mayor of a small mountain town. This TV movie will be released in early winter in time the 2023 holidays. SUPPLIED

Filming a Christmas movie during the spring has its challenges. Snow problems aside, St. Albert actor Maureen Rooney had no reservations about accepting a major supporting role in Christmas Train Parade due for release later this year. 

Northern Gateway Films scheduled a three-week shoot primarily in Fort Edmonton Park and Spruce Grove standing in for several fictional mountain towns connected by a train. Rooney, who spent eight days out of the allotted three-week schedule filming, gave high marks to both cast and crew. 

“These are hardworking people. They have a lot on the line, and they are so creative. It’s wonderful to be around them, and you want to do your part and give them your best. That’s what they bring out of actors,” Rooney said. 

Although mainly a theatre artist, she also starred in several movies. The movies include The Virginian starring Bill Pullman and Diane Lane, Meet Me Halfway for CBC, and Trial by Fire: A North of 60 Mystery.  

Christmas Train Parade, a made-for-TV movie, is written by Edmonton-based writer Nathan Usher and directed by Dylan Pearce. No stranger to Hallmark styled films, Pearce also directed Christmas Cupcakes and Christmas with the Crown. 

“As a director, he’s very encouraging, positive and so professional. He makes it a happy place to work,” said Rooney. 

While most of the cast and crew are local, Pearce recruited actors Emma Johnson (Charlotte) and Ryan Northcott (Zack) as love interests from across western Canada. 

In addition to Rooney as Grandma Kathy, familiar local faces include Maxwell Jones (Benny), John Hudson (Oliver the train engineer), Sue Huff (Mayor Gregory), Michelle Todd (Mayor Spitz), Will Brisbin (Mayor Healy) and Chris Anderson (Governor Tufts). 

The film’s backstory rests on four towns in the Rocky Mountains. Traditionally, the towns partnered took turns decorating the train for the Christmas season and parading the locomotive from town-to-town. Unfortunately, the much-loved tradition went off the rails due to petty small-town politics and inflated disagreements.  

Grandma Kathy is a retired mayor and her daughter Charlotte, a widow with a young son, is now the town’s current mayor. Benny, Charlotte’s young son, loves the season’s traditions and wishes for the Christmas Train’s return. 

“To please Benny, Charlotte and I try to bring back the tradition. In the process, Charlotte becomes close to Zack, Benny’s good-looking teacher. I travel with my daughter from town-town-town to ask other mayors if they’d fire up the old tradition. But it’s a big struggle to get people together because of egos. History almost repeats itself in that politics destroy relationships. But at the end, love prevails.” 

In the movie, Kathy, Charlotte and Benny are a three generational family living under one roof. 

“Kathy is very clearly a warm, loving person. She has no ego attached to her position of power. She believes in first names and a strong handshake. She’s energetic, positive and loves to bake,” Rooney said. 

At this point, she breaks off laughing describing the baking part of Kathy’s character as “typecasting.” You see, Rooney has a reputation as an excellent cook and baked a batch of gingerbread cookies for the cast and crew. 

Emma Johnson’s Charlotte is a chip off the old block — smart, funny and determined while Ryan Northcott’s Zack is a dedicated teacher raised in a privileged family. He moved to the mountain town to outrun his controlling mother, a lawyer who “wants him to stop this nonsense of teaching and get a real job as a politician.” 

Northern Gateway just wrapped up shooting last week and is working on editing and locating a distributor. But come the film’s Christmas release, Rooney will probably bake more cookies, make a cup of tea and curl up under a warm blanket to watch its debut. 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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