Daniel Lissing On When Hope Calls And Working With Lori Loughlin - Exclusive Interview

Australian actor Daniel Lissing is making a name for himself in the U.S., and it's, in part, thanks to his series regular role on Hallmark's "When Calls the Heart." Lissing portrayed Mountie Jack Thornton in the first five seasons of the series before his character ultimately died, though the show remains ongoing (via IMDb). Now, its spinoff series, "When Hope Calls," is set to premiere its latest season, kicking it off with "When Hope Calls: A Country Christmas." This special will see Lissing return as Thornton in an as-of-yet undisclosed manner alongside Lori Loughlin, with whom he previously worked on "When Calls the Heart" (via Parade). Their joint returns are sure to be impactful. 

Lissing's filmography also includes work on projects such as "Last Resort," "The Rookie," "The Answers," and more (via IMDb). In addition to his reprisal of Thornton, Lissing recently starred in the holiday film "A Christmas Star," and we were lucky enough to chat with him about both of these projects, in addition to what it's like to work with Loughlin, his future goals in the industry, and the production of Christmas films at large.

Lori Loughlin is behind Daniel Lissing's return as Jack Thornton

What can you tell us about your return as Jack Thornton in "When Hope Calls"?

Well, I can tell you that it's on this Sunday, the 18th, and I'd played this character for five years before on the original show, "When Calls the Heart," and obviously "When Hope Calls" is a spinoff. And I got a call from my friend, Lori Loughlin, and she said, "Look, I have an idea to reprise this character in one scene." And I'd spoken with her about it and she sort of pitched me the idea. We spoke to the producers about it. And it had to make sense because the character died in the other show.

So, coming back, I wanted it to be something that's believable in the sense like, "Oh, he didn't come back because it wasn't the case of mistaken identity or amnesia or whatever it was." That sometimes has happened before. So when we discussed that and when I read the scene that we were going to do, I thought this is actually quite a perfect way to do this. I won't tell you exactly how they did it, we'll leave that for a surprise for the audience on Sunday night. But I think it's a really beautiful scene and the way they did it I really enjoyed.

That's amazing. I know you can't get into any specifics, but can you tease anything about the scene?

I can say that it's just Lori and I with no one else around or in the scene. And I can tease that there's some tears. I won't tell you if it's from her or me.

That's very fair. What did you like most about working with Lori?

Well, I've worked with a lot of actors over the years. Lori and I worked together for five years, and we became close during that time. We really got to know each other as friends and as people. When you are working with someone for so long and when you're in the trenches together on set, doing 16-hour days or whatever it is in the middle of winter, you form a bit [of] a bond and you really get to know that person quite intimately. ... She treats everyone on set and in life as well, just with kindness and respect. So I learned a lot from her because she's worked just for so long and working with her, just watching her and how she interacts and how she just switches it on for the scene. There she is. She does her stuff and then that's it. And next scene's up. I really admire her as an actor. It was great working with her.

What he loves about playing Jack Thornton

Absolutely. That's wonderful. And what was it like to get to work with her again, after a few years away from the previous show?

It's like riding a bike, mate. We worked together. We know each other so well. We were really excited to work together again because we didn't think ... we wanted to anyway, we had discussions about some other projects potentially, but this was just a nice way to — there's a lot of nostalgia there as well for us playing these same characters and doing a scene together again when we thought that would never happen. We didn't think that was going to be an opportunity to do that, but here it was, and we did it. And I think the outcome is beautiful. But it's just fun. It's really fun working with your mates.

Absolutely. And going back to Jack, what is your favorite part about playing Jack?

Yeah. It's not the character so much these days. I like to explore lots of different characters, and as a result, you explore lots of different sides of yourself. So you use a little bit of you in every character that you play, but with Jack, he's a really nice guy, he's super pretty straight, and he's about beauty and things like that, which could sometimes be a little boring. I like the guys that are a little bit twisted or a little bit more out there because that's, in some ways, more fun to play. Saying that, playing Jack was probably one of the best experiences of my career because I really got to get into this guy's shoes, so to speak. I really knew him, how he was, how he would react in a situation.

And you fall in love with your characters. I love playing Jack, and it's all about the people that you get to work with, in my experience. You do your homework as a character, but it's really just being attached to the people you get to work with. And acting's all about responding anyway. So I got to work with some amazing people as Jack and I think that was my favorite part of it, the friendships and the creative exploration with my fellow actors. That was always just exciting for me. And just walking on set. It's great.

Yeah. I love that. And still speaking on Jack, might viewers see Jack in a new light in the special?

Yeah, I think you will. You'll see him as you've never seen him before.

Are you able to say anything about that?

No, let's just leave it at that.

Okay, I love that, though. That's very intriguing.


He learned 'a lot' from his time on When Calls the Heart

And you sort of just touched on this. So I wanted to ask, "When Calls the Heart" [and] "When Hopes Calls" are lauded as excellent family friendly television series. And so I wanted to know if that's [what] you specifically liked about the show and why you pursued it, or if that's just more of a coincidence.

No. It's not something I've pursued. I've just did a Christmas movie as well. I've done three Christmas movies and I've done this family programming, and then that's about it. This character and this audience has been prevalent in my career to date. And I'm just so grateful for that, but it's not the type of project that I'm actively pursuing now. So, it came up. When I went in for the audition and coming from Australia as well, I was still learning about the networks. Who does what programming, this and that. And I really liked the idea. I came off a show that was a lot. [I played a] Navy SEAL and that was a great show called "Last Resort." And I just wanted to do something different after that. And Jack came along and "When Calls the Heart" came along and ... Yeah. I like the idea of doing something different. I like the idea of working with horses and doing something more period. I like the idea of playing a man of duty in uniform at that time in a small town. I like the romance element of it. And I was [like that] on my last show as well ... the first show I did in the States, "Last Resort," I was a serious, regular strong character, but I wasn't the lead of the show. I wasn't the male lead, and Scott Speedman and Andre Braugher [had] that honor.

And this was an opportunity for me to carry a show as a male lead. And I thought, "Okay, great. I'm going to sink my teeth into this and see what comes of it." And I thought, "Great if it does a season. Great if it does two. I'll get that experience." I didn't have any idea at the time how successful the show would be or how much the fans would latch onto this show and these characters. I mean, it's still going. Season 9 is about to air, I believe. So amazing.

I did five seasons, and I learned a lot as an actor and learned a lot as the male leader of a show. And over the last years, I've been pursuing things that I've really wanted to pursue behind the camera, as well. So, I'm just trying to learn as much as I can, take the tools from every job that I have, and move forward for the vision I have for myself in the next 10 years, but that's the career stuff. You pursue that, you have your goals, whatever happens, happens. And then you got your life stuff as well, so you got to find that balance there.

Daniel Lissing opens up about filming one 'vulnerable' scene

Yeah. I mean, you were on for five seasons! Do you have a favorite episode of the show?

Oh, that's a real tough one. I have favorite scenes. There's been certain scenes that have stuck with me — the wedding, really like that scene. It was a tough day as well. That morning, I'd found out that my grandfather had just passed. We were very close in Australia. And so when I was shooting that scene, that was really tough to then put on the actor hat, knowing that I'd lost the patriarch of my family. And the support of Neill [Fearnley] and Erin Krakow. She's just great, mate. She really is just a very kind, loving person. I was lucky to work with such women like that. Lori and her were just, they're just amazing women. So she was there for me, and that stood out. That was an acting challenge to have to deal with that.

I mean, I'm literally crying on set over that loss and then having to keep a schedule for the show. And that was having to steel yourself and then be there. But it actually turned out to be a really poignant and beautiful scene because I trusted Erin so much in that moment to just be vulnerable with her and allow that emotion to come ... through. And they do what they do in the edit. They make it look pretty, they put the music to it, they do the different angles, da da, but at the moment it was very real and very raw.

Yeah, I can imagine. It's amazing that you had such a strong support system during such a hard time too.

Yeah. I think it's important. Work is work. Sometimes you have that with your fellow workmates and other times you don't. That's fine. You're professional, you do your job. But it's just lucky to have professional actors and crew around us as well as people that I bonded within in my personal life. So it was fantastic, mate. I will never forget that journey. And also Jack, I know the fans are just so attached to this character and especially the story as well. On my social media I get every day more and more posts of those two characters. And that character is just, if you go to the photos, I'm tagged and it's like 99% Jack Thornton.

Did you ever imagine that this character and this show would have such a strong fan reception?

Whenever you do a project, you hope for it, but I've done a lot of shows. I hoped that "Last Resort" would really take off and I could stick my teeth into that character for five seasons, whatever. I hope that other projects I've done would do the same, but you never quite know what's going to pop for the audience. And also, the network, what time slot they put it in? There's so many factors to a show being successful that I don't have the recipe. If anyone had the recipe for that, then we'd have nothing but hit shows.

Daniel Lissing on having chemistry with his costars

Yeah, exactly.

So you never quite know what's going to connect with audience or pop. You can have an idea, but there's one thing about, as we're talking about, the family-friendly programming. There's a massive market for that that was lacking when this show came out. You had your Christmas movies here and there, but you didn't really have any serialized family-friendly programming. Like they did 20 years before, 10 years before, other than like the half-hour sitcom, three-camera kind of thing. So you didn't really have that serialized dramatic "Little House on the Prairie" type shows that were so popular with an audience then that was missing in the marketplace when this show came out.

So that was a very smart move. And as a result of the success of this model, you've got many networks now doing the same kind of thing because that kind of programming, there's an audience for it. There's a huge audience for it. Successful. So, at the end of the day, that's all it's about. You can have the best show on planet earth, and if that market's saturated — there's so many factors — [it] doesn't guarantee success. So I was happy to be on a successful show.

Yeah, and it was successful. And those relationships you mentioned on set, those translated on screen as well.

I think so.

And I think that's part of the reason why people connected to it so much too.

Yeah. People talk about the chemistry, and I find that if you really love someone and you're really connected with them, it translates on screen for good or bad because you're there. If you really dislike someone, for whatever reason, it also translates. Because there's that energy there. It's the middle there. It's like not in here, nor there, that maybe it's like, "Whatever." So it's the extremes that I think translate quite well on screen. I've never hated anyone, but maybe people have hated me.

He didn't read the script for A Christmas Star until he arrived on set

Oh, that's interesting to think about. And you brought up your recent Christmas movie, "A Christmas Star." What can you tell us about your character in that film?

Yeah. It's streaming on Amazon Prime now, and it is being rerun on GAC Family. I'm not sure exactly the dates of that, but check it out. You'll find it. Yeah. I just watched it actually. And it's exactly what you expect. A perfectly cheesy Christmas movie at this time of year full of sweet story lines and nice characters. I enjoyed watching the performances. I got on really well with everyone on set. I spent a tremendous time shooting this one. And I just really enjoy the work. That for me is just what it's all about. It's why I'm here. It's just about the enjoyment factor of doing the job. Otherwise I'd do something else. I'm lucky that I get to earn a living doing what I enjoy doing, and if I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it at the end of the day.

It's not like there's other things in life to do, so ... but yeah. I love this character. I think he's great. I think I did as good a job as you can do. It was like a real, "Hey, we need you on set tomorrow. Do you want do this Christmas movie for ..." I was like, "Yeah." And I actually rocked up on set and I hadn't even read the script. Because I was shooting Jack Thornton, "When Hope Calls," and I was on set and Bill Abbott, the head of a GAC Family, he's like, "Hey, mate. You want to ... ?" And I was like, "Do you? Let's do it." As if I was going to say no. So, the very next day I was literally on set shooting and reading the script, learning the lines there in the moment. So when I actually watched the film, I was like, "Yeah, that was the first day of shooting."

Has that been common in your experience or is this the first time you've had to go into the set not having read the script?

No, that's the first time that I've been unprepared. I think preparation is key for everything. So any job that I do, I put the work in to make sure that I'm prepared when I walk on set, so I don't have to worry about it. I can just sink my teeth in and do what I want to do with the character. But in this case, that was a great learning experience to learn on the job and find this guy on the job. So there was a couple of scenes there from that first day of shooting that I just played everything really straight because I didn't know where we were in the story. I didn't know how to pitch it. So I just played it real straight and it worked. If you just play it straight anyway, I think the audience projects what they want to feel in the moment based on what you're saying and whatever. So that worked, but no, I try to be as prepared as possible because it makes life a lot easier.

He finds the most satisfaction in work he helps create

And sort of speaking of Christmas movies, they are their own genre of film. So what has your experience been working in this genre?

It's unbelievable how fast they shoot these. There's a formula to these kind of Christmas movies that you know what you're going to get. There's a basic premise that audiences have come to know and love. Is it my type of programming personally? It's not something that I get super inspired by, but I watch it and it's nice not to think about and just go, "Oh, is a warm and fuzzy feeling, great." But, for me, it wouldn't matter if I was doing a Christmas movie or a dark R-rated HBO show. I would approach the work the same way: just be prepared, play the character and the scenes honestly, and that's it. That's my job. So that's one thing I just learned early on: Never judge the character and never judge the material. Just play it as real as you possibly can. And when you do that, when you take that seriously and when you take yourself out the equation, then you're able to do the job in an authentic way, I believe.

Absolutely. And speaking of your roles, what is your favorite role outside of Jack?

That's a good one. I made a short film. I like creating. I work with a partner, Mike Goode, and he and I have written a number of projects. We've been working on a television show for the last three years that we're writing and pitching in the new year. And we've made a couple of short films together as well. We won a bunch of festivals with them, and I really like playing characters that I've created. I think that gives me the most satisfaction as an artist. So there's a character named Nathan that we made a little short film called "The Answers." It's on YouTube. Check it out.

It was only an eight-minute little short, but it was so satisfying to create something, put it on the page, and then perform it and know that that has come from us. You know, my friend Mike and I have a company called Storyforces that we're just launching and we're going to do a lot of things moving forward. We've got some scripts in our back pocket that we're going to start pushing out there in the next year. That's really exciting to me, the collaborative creative process and seeing that idea come to fruition on the screen. I love that. Outside of that, and outside of Jack, I played James King, the Navy SEAL, [on "Last Resort"] and that was my first job. Thanks to [creators] Shawn Ryan and Karl Gajdusek. I had a FaceTime call for this, my first pilot and my first U.S. job.

Daniel Lissing recalls his first time landing a gig in the U.S.

[Daniel Lissing on his first U.S. acting gig]

I was over the moon. I was like, "It's happening?" And I'd only been acting since the age of like 27 or something like that. 13 years ago I started. I did a short film, and it happened to be [with] Mike Goode, who was working in Australia. I just got cast in the short film. We hit it off. We collaborated. And I was like, "I got the bug. I want to be an actor. I'm going to do this." And three years later, I was 30 years old and Shawn Ryan who's done shows like "The Shield," "The Unit," "Last Resort" — I could rattle off a million more. He's a producer on "Timeless," "S.W.A.T.," whatever. He's a prolific showrunner. And he and Karl Gajdusek, his partner in "Last Resort," were having a FaceTime with me.

And I did the audition and he's like, "So you want to move to Hawaii?" And I was like, "Yeah." So when I was working on that, that was just like the little boy in me's dream job, I was like a bada** Navy SEAL. I was like running around with guns. I was getting the girl. I was saving the day. I had all this torture and torment. I got to work with real Navy SEALs. I got to do fight scenes. And I was working in Hawaii. It's a no-brainer. That was just such a fun, amazing role. We did 13 episodes of that. Comparatively, to today's numbers because of DVR, just when DVR came in, was killing it. But I don't think the networks really knew how to measure success.

At that time, the DVR had just come in and people were watching more on that and less right at the time, as they do now streaming platforms. So the industry landscape was really changing. And I think that was just one of the shows that suffered because of that. It was just that timing. But honestly, mate, that was a really fun. And that's what started all here in the States. So I'm grateful to those guys, and I'm grateful for that role.

Yeah. That experience sounds like a dream, honestly.

It was a dream, mate. It was just a dream job. It was just amazing.

Earlier you mentioned your goals for the next 10 years. Are you willing to or able to talk about any of those goals?

No. I think it's important to just keep it and just do it. And then I'll let you know in 10 years if I achieve them.

He's focusing on writing and auditioning more in the new year

What other projects do you have going on right now that you can tell us about?

Well, I did a little recurring role in a Fox drama, shooting in Albuquerque. That's called "The Cleaning Lady." I think that comes to air early next year. I just did a couple of episodes of that. So, that'll be coming up. I played a drug dealer on that, a bit of a bad boy. That's the one that's coming to air. And then I have a contract with the company that produced these programs, not the network, but the production company where I'm currently writing right now, [for] a Christmas movie that I'm going to shoot next year. So I'm writing it with a little team I've put to together. We're going to develop that and we're going to start pitching it out there. I'm not sure exactly where it's going to land, whether it be GAC, Hallmark, Netflix, Hulu.

Because the whole idea is that this kind of program and this holiday program is such a successful model that everyone wants to do it now. And everyone's got content. So, right now, that's just been over the last sort of months since I got back from shooting the Christmas movie. I just put my head down to the ... I've got two-film contract with them. So I'll do this one, write that one. And then I'll, once I've finished that script, then we'll go on to the next. I'm not sure what the next one will be. If it's a holiday movie or something else because I know they're looking for some thrillers and whatever, but that's sort of what I'm concentrating on. [I'm] auditioning as well. So I have a bit quiet time this year. Now the holidays are kicked in, December and January tend to be pretty chill. But I did an audition yesterday for a show shooting next February.

So we'll see. It's the auditioning thing, man. I've been rejected more times than you can possibly imagine. Like thousands. I've been to so many auditions and one in 200 will sort of come off because there's so many of us actors out there. So, many mes out there and whatever. You just got to be that right face, that right voice, that right height, that right whatever. It's so many factors that go into it that are just far beyond the acting. I mean the acting is like, whatever. You do your good job. There's a million good actors out there. So, that's been an interesting learning curve since I've been here in the States, just going, okay, it's a huge market here.

There's a hell of a lot of opportunities out there, but there's a hell of a lot of us going for those opportunities. So, you just keep plugging away if you love it. And that's it.

Daniel Lissing can be seen in "When Hope Calls: A Country Christmas" on GAC Family on December 18 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.