Jennie Garth and holiday spirit are hardly strangers to each other.
Besides Christmas-themed episodes of “Beverly Hills, 90210” in which the actress appeared as Kelly Taylor, she also has made the TV movies “Secret Santa” and “A Christmas Wedding Tail” … yes, “Tail,” as in “dog’s tail.” Now, Garth is back in seasonal mode by starring in “Holidaze,” ABC Family’s newest contribution to its “25 Days of Christmas” programming as it premieres Sunday, Dec. 8.
The film merges many traditional elements, with Garth playing a workaholic who returns to her hometown on a mission that’s business, at least to begin with. A reunion with a former beau (Cameron Mathison, a fellow Season 5 “Dancing With the Stars” alum) and an accident that leaves her thinking she’s living a totally different life — as the wife of the ex-boyfriend — change the trip, and the holiday, drastically for her.
“This one was finally a good one,” the pleasant Garth says to Zap2it with a knowing laugh about tackling a Christmas story again. “I’ve done a couple that weren’t so good, but this one had good production values. I’m proud of it. We shot it in Toronto, and we had a great cast.” Mary Kay Place (“The Big Chill”) also is featured as the Garth character’s mother.
A big advantage for “Holidaze” is that it actually was filmed in winter, whereas many Christmas ventures for television are made in summer or early fall to meet holiday airdates.
“It was real snow, and we were dealing with the real cold,” Garth confirms. “We did this last January, so the Christmas decorations were just left up a little longer.”
And the result works, Garth maintains. “It’s a classic holiday tale of somebody finding their conscience, and I want to see that every year. It’s that Scrooge story, and this is just a different perspective on it. And I think different people will relate to it.
“There were so many layers to my character,” Garth adds. “I was able to play the serious businesswoman, I was able to play the physical comedy of her being in this slightly surreal world where she wasn’t comfortable, and then I got to do the sweet and heartfelt part of it … her coming to terms with the inner struggle that was going on within her.”
In that sense, “Holidaze” provides the best of both worlds to Garth, who’s been doing parts both serious and light throughout her career. “I’m so lucky,” she reflects, “because I get to do it all. So often, actors and actresses get pigeonholed into just one area; I get to do both comedy and drama, and I’m so happy about that.”
Garth notes she also was happy to have “All My Children” veteran Mathison as her “Holidaze” leading man. “We had a great working relationship,” she reports. “He’s just a really good guy. He’s a family man, and he’s a dependable actor to work alongside because he’s always prepared and professional. I really respect that about him, because I like to work with someone equally committed.”
No “Dancing With the Stars” notes were compared with Mathison on the “Holidaze” set, Garth says. “We just ribbed each other a lot about who was better,” she says of their having been direct rivals in the ABC contest. “He said I was better, which was really nice of him. I don’t know if I agree, but he’s very sweet.”
As for “Holidaze” co-star Place – whose TV career dates back to such classics as “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” — Garth claims to have been “just smitten” with her. “I just wanted to be around her all the time and soak her up. She made me laugh, and her stories were fascinating to me. I really love hanging out with actresses who are very giving and supportive of other actresses, and that’s who she is.
“We spent a lot of time just chatting, which was really great. I love her, because like me, she is kooky and totally sane at the same time. There’s that quality about her where you don’t know what she’s thinking, but it’s exactly the right thing. There’s a certain depth to her thought process.”
Garth’s work for ABC Family is extending beyond “Holidaze.” She’s also filmed the network’s pilot “Mystery Girls,” which reunites her with her “90210”-mate and close friend Tori Spelling, both of them also serving as executive producers on the project. For now, though, Garth is looking forward to as much holiday time as she can spend with her three daughters.
She cites “Holidaze” as “totally a movie they can see. There’s one scene where there’s some kissing and whatever, but it’s PG [in tone], so it’s definitely a movie that I’m happy to show my girls. And they’re so excited that it’s on ABC Family, especially during this whole ’25 Days of Christmas’ run. That’s advertised so much, they go [with every commercial], ‘Oh! Look!’ “