Lots of people can recite lines from their favorite holiday special or movie that they watched on TV every year growing up. That’s not the case for Maine-born actress Heather Hemmens, even though she’s now starring in one.
Hemmens, the lead actress in Hallmark Channel’s “Christmas in My Heart,” grew up in the woods of Waldo, a small town near Belfast, in a house that was off the grid. So her family had no electricity and no television, meaning there were no Christmas movie repeats. But Hemmens feels the discipline and focus she learned from her childhood in Maine have contributed to her success as an actress. So, in a way, her lack of TV helped her get on TV.
“There are so many things I think I gained from growing up that way, including a strong work ethic. You can’t be lazy when there’s wood to bring in or things to pick in the garden,” said Hemmens, 33, now living in Los Angeles. “I also read a lot of books, which really enhanced my imagination. When I’m looking at a script, I visualize everything I’m reading.”
Over the past decade or so, Hemmens has starred in several films and TV series, including “Hellcats” on the CW Network, the Tyler Perry-produced soap opera “If Loving You is Wrong” on OWN, and the CW’s science-fiction drama “Roswell, New Mexico,” which will start its fourth season next year.
Hemmens says her childhood in Maine makes her life in the city now seem “very easy and luxurious.” As an adult she has had a chance to watch more holiday films and choose some favorites too, including the Will Ferrell comedy “Elf,” the romantic comedy “Serendipity,” and Jim Carrey’s live-action version of the classic story “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Hemmens is now part of a holiday tradition that has been growing for more than a decade. The Hallmark Channel began airing a slate of original holiday movies around 2009, filled with holiday cheer and uplifting themes, sort of like Christmas comfort food for the eyes and soul. note: Waterfall Movie
The number of original Hallmark movies that air each year has increased as their popularity has grown. This year, the cable channel is planning to show more than 40 new holiday flicks by the time Christmas comes. “Christmas in My Heart” debuted on the Hallmark Channel in October and will air five more times this holiday season: Wednesday at midnight, Saturday at 10 a.m., Dec. 12 at 10 p.m., Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. and Christmas at 8 p.m.
Hemmens plays a violin teacher who is helping a young girl prepare for a holiday concert. The girl’s father is a country music star who has emotionally isolated himself since his wife’s death. At the same time, Hemmens’ character is struggling with a death in the family. Through music, and holiday magic, the couple connects.
“I’m so happy to be involved in a Christmas movie, I know people love to watch Christmas movies all year long,” said Hemmens. “It’s just been lovely for me to be part of something like this.” note: Born to be Human Movie
ROAD TO HOLLYWOOD
Hemmens grew up the youngest of four children. Her father was a carpenter and her mother “a domestic engineer,” she said. Hemmens was drawn to theater and performing at an early age. She played Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz” while a fifth-grader at Morse Memorial School in Brooks. One of her teachers, Dale Breau, encouraged her to get involved with community theater, including the Belfast Maskers. She started out in a goofy comedy called “Here Comes the Judge” and was in several shows as a teenager, acting and singing.
“She was a natural, but she also worked really hard at it,” said Meg Nickerson, artistic director of the Belfast Maskers. “When you work with a lot of people in community and high school theater, you known when somebody’s got it. And she does.”
Nickerson has followed Hemmens’ success over the years, as have other local theater people she worked with as a teen. A couple years ago, Nickerson asked Hemmens if she would do an online interview for a video series called “Where Are They Now?” profiling former Belfast Maskers players and focusing on what they’ve done since. Hemmens agreed to it, and Nickerson found her as “pleasant and lovely” as she had been as a teen.
“It doesn’t seem like Hollywood’s had an affect on her at all,” said Nickerson.
Hemmens went to Mount View High School in Thorndike for two years, but then was accepted at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, a boarding school near Boston. She showed teachers that she was “passionate and driven,” said Joe Cabral, head of theater at Walnut Hill and one of Hemmens’ teachers when she was there. Cabral said he’s followed Hemmens’ success in films and on TV and “is not surprised at all” by it.
Hemmens moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and started getting small film roles, including as “girl #1” in “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Between 2005 and 2010, she had other small roles in films and TV shows, including on the CBS dramas “CSI: Miami” and “Without a Trace.” Her first major role was playing Alice Verdura, cheerleader at a Southern college, in the CW Network drama “Hellcats.” In 2014, she landed the role of Marcie Holmes, a real estate agent on the primetime “If Loving You is Wrong” on OWN, also known as the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Hemmens said shortly before she got the part on “If Loving You is Wrong,” she had auditioned for another part she really wanted and was very disappointed when she didn’t get it. But that series never got made. Because she didn’t get that part, she was able to do “If Loving You is Wrong,” which kept her employed for five years.
In 2019, she landed one of the main roles in the CW science-fiction series “Roswell, New Mexico,” a drama about aliens living among the town’s humans, based on the “Roswell High” book series by Melinda Metz. The town of Roswell has been a center of alien-related kitsch and tourism ever since debris from a UFO was allegedly found near here in 1947.
On “Roswell,” Hemmens plays Maria DeLuca, who runs a bar in town called The Wild Pony and is the best friend of Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason), whose family is intertwined with the town’s alien past and present. Hemmens’ character had not known about the existence of aliens in town until recently.
“She’s the fun one in the group. She’s always up to something,” said Hemmens, speaking from New Mexico, where the show is currently filming its fourth season. Though she lives in Los Angeles, Hemmens comes back to Maine to visit family and friends, sometimes during the holidays.
In the role of Maria, Hemmens also gets to sing, and she’s directed an episode of the show, something she hopes to do more. As for other projects, Hemmens says she’s not looking too far ahead. She says she feels grateful to have been in several long-running TV series, for the stability they’ve given her and her career.
“Working in TV has always been the dream for me, and I appreciate the consistency of it. It’s like a family that you get to work with year after year,” Hemmens said. “I’m very happy doing this.”