Maybe it was destiny that Daniel Stern and Matt Frewer finally would be brought together to work on a project. It certainly took them long enough. They were born a scant four months and seven miles apart – Stern in August 1957 in Bethesda, Maryland; Frewer in January 1958 in Washington, D.C. Yet somehow, their paths never quite converged.
Stern and Frewer star as dueling neighbors whose Christmas decorating rivalry veers way out of control in the Hallmark Channel Original Movie World Premiere “Battle of the Bulbs” that has its debut on Saturday, December 18 (8 p.m. ET/PT, 7C). It finds the men portraying Bob (Stern) and Stu (Frewer), former best friends whose relationship went south following a friendly wager. They lost touch, but the grudge never dissipated – and now Stu has moved into the house across the street from Bob.
Immediately, the rivalry heats up in a competition to win the town’s Christmas decorating contest. They’re two warriors armed for amped combat: lights, camera, reaction. And then their kids screw up the animosity something awful by falling in love.
“I found out what a really terrific guy Daniel is, just a total gentleman and hilarious,” Frewer says. “It’s just too bad that the shoot was such a short one, I think like 14 days in Vancouver. When it’s that quick a production, you’re just going all the time. But Danny and I found a lot of time to have fun. We were always thinking on our feet. And a couple of times we were laughing so hard before a take that we’d literally be crying. How unprofessional is that?
“He and I hit it off right off the bat. We had great chemistry and wound up becoming great friends to boot, which was a double bonus for me.”
Stern was equally thrilled to be working with Frewer. “It’s a Hallmark movie, so we know it’s going to end happily,” he says, “but in the case of ‘Battle of the Bulbs’ there’s some great originality to it and some wonderful twists and turns. And Matt is just a super-talented guy, one of those actors whose unleashed comic beast is something to behold.”
What was especially gratifying to Stern was that he’s often in the past been the actor doing the slapstick, as he performed so memorably in films like “Home Alone” in 1990. But in the new film “it was Matt’s turn to do it,” he recalls. “I was the straight guy. That was refreshing, because it turns out Matt is just a master of that kind of comedy in terms of the way his body and face work and his commitment to it. Matt was a revelation. He’s got an amazing touch.”
Agrees Frewer: “Danny’s absolutely right. I’m certainly touched.”
We can scarcely imagine how much fun these men had skewing Christmas tradition and putting the “no” in Noel. But as Frewer reports, there is little in the way of art imitating life in the film. Stern, being Jewish, doesn’t even celebrate Christmas but Hanukkah. And from their home on a small island in British Columbia, the Frewers “can’t even see the house next-door,” he says.
“It would take some really amazing Christmas lights for anyone in our neighborhood to see them,” Frewer adds. “We’re kind of on the other side of a ridge. But that doesn’t stop us from being way into the celebration. We have one daughter. She’s 14 now. And when she was a little girl, we’d do the whole Santa coming down the chimney thing, leaving him cookies and milk. It didn’t even seem to matter to her early on that Santa had very similar writing to my own.”
As a kid, Frewer remembers his parents being very much into the Christmas tradition. He would see the letter left for Santa Claus, and half-drank glass of milk, the plate of cookies with chocolate chips scattered everywhere.
“But we never did any of the singing of carols, and we still don’t,” he says. “I’m kind of a lapsed Catholic. But that really doesn’t matter when it comes to the holidays. We rip open presents with family and friends every year and just have a ball. I almost kind of wish we weren’t living in our own separate area code so we could put the neighborhood to shame with our Christmas lights. That’s something I dream about.”
The stuff that Stern dreams about is somewhat different, and yet still really the same.
“Even though we celebrate Hanukkah in my family, there’s a lot of the same tradition as you’ll find in Christian households in terms of there being all sorts of gifts and food and a wonderful spirit.” Stern believes. “We light the Menorah for all eight of the nights, and all three of our kids find their way back home to our ranch north of Los Angeles for the holidays to spend time here.”
Stern and his wife Laure have three kids – two daughters and a son – and all three are now in their 20’s and out of the house. Laure converted to Judaism shortly after they were married, and now she cooks up a storm with the latkes and other traditional foods of Hanukkah (not to mention Thanksgiving and Passover).
“What I love about the holidays is no matter what else we’re all doing the rest of the year, we’re together and loving each other then,” Stern emphasizes. “It’s a time for the family to get together and think of each other, about the presents that would make the other happy. It has a beautiful core to it. We all sit down and open gifts together, and it’s a beautiful experience rather than a commercial one.”
All the same, Stern admits that his grown children “all thought it was a riot” that their dad would be portraying a guy who loves Christmas.
“In my real life, my sister and I grew up as the only Jews in our school in Bethesda,” he notes. “But you know, things can come full circle for you in a funny way, and this film certainly represents that.”
Blessed with a multi-faceted career, Stern has not only starred in the “Home Alone” and “City Slickers” movies and played the voice of the older Fred Savage in the TV classic “The Wonder Years”; he’s also dabbled in directing and teaching. And his latest passion is sculpture, in which he recently completed his first public art commission from the San Diego Harbor.
“I like to do a lot of different things to keep my life interesting,” he says, “and sculpture has become a very important part of my creative life.”
Frewer shot to prominence in the late 1980s in the short-lived but beloved series “Max Headroom.” He also became, through Max, a spokesman for the New Coke. “I’m pleased to say I increased sales,” he recalls. “You can file that under ‘flogging a dead horse’.”
He also starred in a series of four Sherlock Holmes films that aired on the Hallmark Channel in the U.S. between 2000 and ’02, enjoying a quietly successful career that continues to this day. But rarely has he enjoyed working on a project more than he did “Battle of the Bulbs.”
“My favorite moment was probably when we were about to shoot the film’s grand finale, and Danny and I see this extra shooting his own video…and the lens cap was over his video camera,” Frewer recalls. “We just couldn’t stop busting up. It was like laughing in church where you know you’re going to get in trouble but you just can’t stop. And this was a man I was supposed to hate in this movie who I was having the time of my life with.”
Concludes Stern: “I’ve never had such a good time celebrating Christmas. In fact, come to think of it, I’ve never celebrated Christmas at all. So I guess it was about time I learn how to do it.”
“Battle of the Bulbs” premieres Saturday, December 18 (8 p.m. ET/PT, 7C).
(Source: Hallmark Channel)