From writer/director David E. Talbert and producer Will Packer, the family holiday comedy Almost Christmas tells the story of beloved patriarch Walter (Danny Glover), who just wants his family to get along and spend five days under the same roof without killing one another, as they spend their first Christmas without the family matriarch. The movie has laughs and tears, and it’s full of memorable moments from this all-star ensemble that includes Gabrielle Union, Kimberly Elise, Romany Malco, Jessie T. Usher, Mo’Nique, Omar Epps, JB Smoove, Nicole Ari Parker, John Michael Higgins, Keri Hilson and DC Young Fly.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, producer Will Packer talked about why this is the perfect time for escapist entertainment that makes you feel good, why Christmas movies have such broad appeal, the importance of allowing the actors to embody the characters in their own way, his favorite moments in the film, and what makes a great holiday movie. He also talked about developing Dashing Through the Snow for Kevin Hart to play Santa Claus and why he thinks it will be a hit, and where they’re at with the development of Ride Along 3.
Collider: This movie is so funny and so much fun!
WILL PACKER: I think the country needs a good laugh. There are so many things dividing us right now, in the real world, that the timing is right for escapist entertainment that makes you feel better about your own family. If this family can survive, than everyone has got a chance.
You’ve said that when David E. Talbert originally sent you this script, it was a Thanksgiving movie. What made you want to switch it to a Christmas movie, and was that an easy transition to make?
PACKER: I had previously produced a film called This Christmas, and I had not been able to find the right project to follow it up in the same thematic genre since. I was always looking for a great holiday movie to do. It was a very similar story when it was a Thanksgiving movie, but if you’re going to make a holiday movie, you’ve gotta make one about the biggest holiday of all. That’s the holiday that really gets all the family members together. You can avoid people all year long, but Christmas is the one time, whether you like it or not, that you’ve gotta come in contact with the folks you haven’t seen since last Christmas, and that’s true for a lot of families. So, for me, it felt like a no-brainer to change it to Christmas to give it the broadest possible appeal.
Mo’Nique is so terrific, witty, funny and heartfelt in this that she’s just a national treasure.
PACKER: That’s a good way to say it. She is really back in this film, in a way that audiences haven’t seen her in awhile, but I think that audiences really want to see her. I can’t wait. She’s been doing some incredible dramatic turns, but we haven’t seen her in an out and out comedy in awhile.
Was there a lot of improvisation going on? Did you have to just let her loose, a little bit?
PACKER: You do. You really, really do. The smart thing that Dave did was that he allowed his actors to embody the characters in their own way and to bring their own perspective and nuances to the characters. Sometimes writer/directors are very precious with their work and don’t allow actors to do that. But when you’ve got a Mo’Nique, a JB Smoove, and even a John Michael Higgins and a Gabrielle Union, who has great comedic timing, you really have to allow them to make it their own.
You’ve said that the first call that you made was to Gabrielle Union. This is obviously a great ensemble of actors, but why was it important to get her on board first and why did you want to sign her on as a producer, as well?
PACKER: She and I Have worked together on multiple projects and we’ve always talked about producing projects together. When I read this, I thought, “This is the one.” I thought this would be the one that having her on board as an actress and as a producer would be an anchor that would be really attractive to other actors, and it definitely was.