LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, I’D BEEN doing all I could to hold things together during the pandemic lockdown, especially for our four-year-old daughter, Julia, but I couldn’t always hide my anxiety. Life as we’d known it had changed in so many ways. Here it was the middle of summer, and hopefully I’d soon be able to go back to work on my next Hallmark Christmas movie, Christmas Waltz, but the joy of the holidays felt miles away. Matchmaker Santa; Love, Romance & Chocolate; Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe—those movies always made people happy and, I hoped, reassured them that things would turn out for the best. More than ever, I saw the importance of making movies that bring some light into the world, but lately I’d been missing that Yuletide feeling.
I worried about my loved ones, especially my parents. I was concerned for their health and well-being. In normal times, I visit them in Texas as often as I can. Not now. Not since last Christmas, when we all got together. When the anxiety of sheltering in place was wearing on me, I had to remind myself that it’s okay to not be okay and to simply say to God, “I’m afraid.”
I grew up in Purvis, Mississippi, on 20 acres, near my mom’s parents, Nanny and Papaw. First thing in the morning, Mom would open the back door and we’d dash out, making forts, dreaming up shows, racing through the sprinklers, bouncing on the trampoline. I would put on plays and musicals with my two older sisters and younger brother. We’d invite our grandparents, hand out programs, even serve snacks.
Was I thinking about pursuing a career as a performer? Not back then. All I knew was, I loved to sing and dance and make people smile. It was just something in me, I guess. My parents must have seen that too. We went to New York the summer I was seven. I did a few auditions, got an agent. All at once what I did for fun at home, I was doing in front of a camera: TV commercials, a part on the soap opera All My Children. After auditioning a few times, I was cast as young Cosette in the Broadway musical Les Misérables. I loved singing her song, “Castle on a Cloud.”
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