Former Hollywood Celebs Who Are Now Hallmark Stars

Whether or not you're a fan of the Hallmark Channel, you're familiar with its programming: the ultra-popular Christmas movies that are a guilty pleasure year-round and the sappy but oh-so-enjoyable romance stories. From its religious roots to its raft of original programming, which evolved after Hallmark Cards formed Crown Media in 1991, the Hallmark Channel has become must-watch television. Fans know what they're getting when they tune in to the channel's feel-good, family-friendly entertainment. And there's comfort in familiarity.

But let's be honest, predictable narratives only go so far. Viewers want to see their favorite characters, people with whom they identify. Hallmark takes it a step further, casting the same actors in multiple shows and movies. Though this practice isn't the industry standard, it's what fans expect, and "it's been hugely successful," said Michelle Vicary, former executive vice president of Crown Media's programming and network publicity (per The A.V. Club). 

What viewers seem to love even more is the nostalgia of seeing actors from some of the most memorable millennial classics, such as "Full House," "One Tree Hill," or "The Wonder Years." But what's the appeal for these former Hollywood celebs? Put simply: It's the brand — and the opportunity to use that brand to create a brand of their own.

Candace Cameron Bure became the 'It girl' and 'Christmas queen' of Hallmark

If Hallmark has an ambassador, it's Candace Cameron Bure, best known as D.J. Tanner from the ABC sitcom "Full House" and its Netflix sequel, "Fuller House." She's starred in many Hallmark flicks, including at least 10 Christmas movies, rightfully earning her the title "Christmas queen." Though she enjoys the moniker at home, telling Us Weekly she decorated "right after" Halloween in 2021, she said it comes with high expectations professionally. One of her most popular Christmas films, "Switched for Christmas," garnered almost 6 million viewers for its premiere (per IndieWire). In the interview with Us Weekly, she said that she's letting go of the "immense amount of pressure" of being Christmas queen. Ratings aren't why she makes holiday films, after all. She explained, "I make them because I love them." And she knows viewers do too.

One look at Cameron Bure's website, and it's easy to see what drew her to Hallmark and why she's stayed. "I wear a lot of different hats," the actress, wife, mother, producer, director, and New York Times bestselling author stated, but she noted, "The most life changing one I identify with is 'Christian.'" She emphasized this, and her loyalty to Hallmark, in a 2016 interview with Moviefone, saying, "Hallmark's my family. ... They have a wonderful brand that lines up with my brand, what their core values are and what they represent — that's what I do, and that's why it works so well." 

Lacey Chabert loves a story with a happy ending

Lacey Chabert had quite the career before becoming one of Hallmark's leading ladies, playing such roles as Bianca Montgomery in the long-running soap opera "All My Children," Claudia Salinger in the widely acclaimed drama "Party of Five," and Gretchen Wieners in the early-aughts cult classic "Mean Girls." (Will the line "That is so fetch" ever get old?)

Now, she's a Hallmark star, regularly appearing in holiday, rom-com, and mystery movies. In 2022, she starred in and executive produced "The Wedding Veil" trilogy, which also features two other Hallmark leading ladies, Alison Sweeney and Autumn Reeser. "This was a real passion project of mine," she said on "The Kelly Clarkson Show," adding, "It's a little bit of magic, a little bit of mystery, as you discover what the veil is all about. And really at the core of it, though, it's about friendship and the connection these women have."

Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, she explained the Hallmark Channel's appeal: "One of the things I love about [Hallmark movies] is you're guaranteed a happy ending. ... I think in the world we're living in today, to be a part of a project that adds a little love and light and levity into the world is something I'm very proud of." In February 2022, she signed a multipicture, two-year contract with Crown Media, securing her not just as an actress on the Hallmark Channel, but also as a developer and producer.

Holly Robinson Peete champions diversity and representation

With an acting career spanning three decades, Holly Robinson Peete knows what makes good television and how challenging the industry can be when it comes to people of color — especially women — finding meaningful projects.

Most recognized for her roles in "21 Jump Street" and "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper," Robinson Peete began her Hallmark career in 2015, and she has since starred in several holiday movies, a mystery miniseries, and even her own family reality show. In November 2020, the Hallmark Channel premiered "The Christmas Doctor." Robinson Peete, who wrote, produced, and starred in the film, felt honored to be a part of a project that featured a beautiful holiday story about "Black love." In a 2020 interview with Zora, Robinson Peete said, "The idea of representation and diversity in [Hallmark] movies is really taking an exponential leap this year. We have so much content with people [of] different colors and different orientations. I'm feeling good about that because I feel like that was long overdue."

On the topic of inclusivity: Robinson Peete also produced and starred in "The Christmas Bond," a film about a single mother who learns valuable lessons from her son, who has autism. She said in a statement (via People), "I am making this movie for my son RJ [who was diagnosed with autism at age 2], others with autism and their families."

Chad Michael Murray is all about the 'wholesome content'

With his sandy blond hair, dimpled smile, and intense gaze, Chad Michael Murray didn't just make his co-stars swoon in iconic shows like "Gilmore Girls," "Dawson's Creek," "One Tree Hill," and "Riverdale"; he melted the hearts of his female viewers too. Beyond his boyish good looks, Murray has had a robust and diverse career, starring in multiple feature films and even penning books — one a graphic novel and the other a romance-thriller that he co-authored. In 2018, he added Hallmark leading man to his resume. He's since been in multiple Hallmark films, including the popular "Write Before Christmas" and "Sand Dollar Cove."

Though he had public breakups with co-stars Sophia Bush (to whom he stayed married for only five months and divorced in 2006) and Kenzie Dalton (to whom he proposed before his divorce with Bush was finalized), Murray is now a proud family man. "[I] put God and family first," he told HollywoodLife

In an interview with Culturess, he talked about, among other things, working with the Hallmark Channel: "I love everybody over there. ... I get a nice mix because on the side I can run out and do a dark little indie film, or some crazy drama somewhere. And then come back and dial it in for some good wholesome content with Hallmark and tell their story."

Rachael Leigh Cook believes in Hallmark magic

Rachael Leigh Cook has had some career-defining onscreen moments. There was that dark and disturbing "This Is Your Brain on Drugs" public service announcement, from 1997. Then, two years later, she had that memorable geek-transforms-into-hottie scene from "She's All That," during which a stunning Cook descends a staircase wearing a slinky red dress and high heels as Freddie Prinze Jr. watches from below. Indeed, Cook seemed well on her way to Hollywood stardom, but then, after venturing into indie films and starring in some box-office flops — "Josie and the Pussycats," anyone? — she sort of disappeared.

But then she made a comeback — abandoning edgier dramas in favor of rom-coms. Cook debuted on the Hallmark Channel in 2016 — and has been on a roll since, even producing some of her films for the network. Speaking fondly of her experience with Hallmark, she told Entertainment Tonight, "My heart wants to tell stories that remind people that there is real magic in this world, because there is." She continued: "Is it like a Hallmark movie, 100% no, but I think this can remind us that there is this unbelievable force that is love, and it's the biggest thing in this life, and there should be an entire channel dedicated to it. And dammit, that's Hallmark and I love it."

Autumn Reeser finds strength in her Hallmark leading ladies

Autumn Reeser is no stranger to playing complex female characters. Case in point: Taylor Townsend from "The O.C." Reflecting on what made this character so special, Reeser explained in a 2010 interview with Staying In that she appreciated that Taylor didn't fit into a box. "I loved that she made no apologies for who she was even though she wasn't what all the magazines said was OK," she explained. "She was like, 'I'm still valid. And I'm awesome. And I know I'm odd, and that's OK.'"

More than a decade later, Reeser has ascended to Hallmark royalty, playing the leading lady in at least a dozen movies for the channel, including "A Country Wedding," "Christmas Under the Stars," "All Summer Long," and "The Wedding Veil" (in which she stars alongside Hallmark powerhouses Alison Sweeney and Lacey Chabert), among others. Like many of her female colleagues, she's pursued executive roles, producing two of her own Hallmark films, "The 27-Hour Day" and "The Wedding Veil Unveiled" (the second film of "The Wedding Veil" trilogy). In an interview with People, she gushed about acting alongside Sweeney, who she said coached her through producing her first movie. "I realized how much more room there is for me to stand in my power, and for me to stand in my experience and to speak up and not be afraid of using my voice," she said.

Props to female empowerment!

Cameron Mathison credits Hallmark with saving his life

Cameron Mathison got his big break as Ryan Lavery, a kind-hearted but conflicted hunk, in "All My Children," and he hasn't slowed down since. He's starred in multiple Hallmark movies, including the "Murder, She Baked" series, opposite "Days of Our Lives" and Hallmark star Alison Sweeney; served as a co-host for "Entertainment Tonight" and Hallmark's lifestyle show "Home & Family"; made numerous appearances on "Good Morning America," "Live with Kelly and Ryan," and "The Talk"; and even tried his hand at ballroom dancing on "Dancing With the Stars."

But in 2019, life took a dramatic turn: Mathison, who's a health and fitness enthusiast, was diagnosed with renal cancer. He later told Us Weekly in a 2020 interview, "I didn't know if it was a death sentence. I didn't know anything. ... I'm a pretty optimistic and sort of glass half full guy. But it was tough in that moment." 

Interestingly, it was a Hallmark film, "The Christmas Club" (a story about — what else? — Christmas magic, fate, and true love), that prompted him to get an MRI after he was experiencing some concerning symptoms. Describing the movie to Entertainment Tonight, he said it's "really paying attention and being mindful." He said, "It saved my life. See? These Hallmark Christmas movies are more powerful than you know."

Lori Loughlin liked that Hallmark casts older actresses in leading roles

Best known as Aunt Becky on "Full House," Lori Loughlin seemed poised for a career comeback when she made her debut in 2014 as Abigail Stanton on Hallmark's hit show "When Calls the Heart." But all that changed when her involvement in an college admissions scandal broke. The details are convoluted, as it involved dozens of parents, but Loughlin's part went something like this: On March 12, 2019, E! News obtained court documents showing that Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, paid $500,000 in bribes to have their two daughters admitted to USC as rowing recruits, even though neither girl played the sport.

Loughlin and her husband pleaded guilty to the charges in May 2020; she served a two-month prison sentence, while he served a five-month sentence. Though Loughlin's prison time was relatively short, the career consequences were swift and brutal. Hallmark fired her the same week the news broke. Crown Media also halted all productions involving Loughlin and removed any work already completed. 

Before the imbroglio, however, she spoke positively about Hallmark and its casting of older actresses (via Moviefone), saying she loved that there were "so many roles" where she could "play the leading lady."

Luckily for her, she's been given a second chance. In 2021, Loughlin reprised her role as Abigail Stanton in Season 2 of the GAC Family show "When Hope Calls," a spinoff of "When Calls the Heart."

Danica McKellar left Hallmark Channel for GAC Family

She made her claim to fame as the dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty who stole Kevin Arnold's heart on "The Wonder Years," but Danica McKellar's road from Winnie Cooper to Hollywood starlet has been anything but conventional. She graduated summa cum laude from UCLA with a degree in mathematics, published New York Times bestselling math books for children, and even co-authored a new math theorem called The Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem (via her website).

After "The Wonder Years," she starred in several popular shows such as "The West Wing," "NYPD Blue," and "The Big Bang Theory." She then found a permanent home on the Hallmark Channel, executive producing and playing the lead in several Christmas movies and the miniseries "Matchmaker Mysteries."

In 2021, however, she shocked fans when she made a very public exit from Hallmark to work at one of its competitor networks, GAC Family, which was founded by former Crown Media Family Networks CEO Bill Abbott. One of the reasons McKellar said she went to GAC was because of her close working relationship with Abbott. Though she's been hush-hush about some of her upcoming projects, she said that her contract with GAC involves her only doing rom-coms and holiday films. As with Hallmark, she wanted to star in and produce her own films — and that's exactly what she did for "The Winter Palace," her inaugural project with GAC. 

McKellar is proving she's not just a math whiz, but a savvy businesswoman too.

Dean Cain has starred in many Hallmark flicks

What hasn't Dean Cain done? He's been a TV host, a producer, a writer, an actor, a director. Not too many people can say they've been Superman and a Hallmark hunk. Although he's most recognized for his role as Clark Kent (otherwise known as Superman) in the early '90s hit show "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," he's carved out a nice career for himself on the Hallmark Channel, starring in Christmas flicks like "Broadcasting Christmas," "The Case for Christmas," "A Wish Come True," and "Winter's Dream."

Veering not too far from the Hallmark brand, he segued into producing and acting in a number of faith-based productions. An outspoken Christian, family man, and conservative, Cain came to Hallmark's defense in 2019 when a Salon article claimed that "Hallmark movies are fascist propaganda." Speaking to hosts at "Fox & Friends," he said, "Hallmark movies are about love. They're about bringing people together. ... [They're] the farthest thing from fascism that exists out there." 

Alison Sweeney is paving the way for female creatives

From playing the wily Sami Brady on "Days of Our Lives" to the girl next door on Hallmark, Alison Sweeney has demonstrated her acting chops. Since joining Hallmark in 2010 — starring in several projects, including "Time for You to Come Home for Christmas" (produced by country music legend Blake Shelton), the "Murder, She Baked" series (alongside fellow soap opera star Cameron Mathison), and "The Wedding Veil" trilogy (with rom-com heroines Lacey Chabert and Autumn Reeser) — she has become a dominating force. Aside from acting, she's also worked on scripts and produced for the network.

Michelle Vicary, before she stepped down as Crown Media's executive vice president of programming and network publicity, said in a statement (via Paste), "We pride ourselves on how our programming is created, written, developed and produced by women that connect with all of our viewers." Sweeney echoed this sentiment, saying, "I absolutely think it's important right now to make sure that women are being equally hired and given that opportunity in this industry that has been so predominantly male."

A report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film proves her right. The study found that "women accounted for 25% of those working in key behind-the-scenes roles (directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, cinematographers) on the top 250 grossing films in 2021, up from 23% in 2020." Let's hope, with the help of enterprising women like Sweeney, that number will continue to grow.

Jesse Metcalfe has evolved from 'hot guy' roles to Hallmark leading man

Jesse Metcalfe shot to fame in the early 2000s, starring in such breakout roles as the womanizing basketball star on the 2006 teen romantic comedy "John Tucker Must Die" and as the sexy and tanned gardener who wooed Eva Longoria's character on "Desperate Housewives." But there's more to Metcalfe than his rugged good looks. Before making it big, he attended the prestigious NYU Tisch School of the Arts (per his website). He's also a SAG Award-winning actor, who's starred opposite such heavyweights as Michael Douglas in "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" and Erika Christensen in "The Other End of the Line" and "The Tortured."

In 2015, he joined the Hallmark fold, starring in "A Country Wedding" alongside Autumn Reeser, where he got to show off his musical side as a country singer and guitar player. Now, with projects like "Christmas Next Door," "Christmas Under the Stars," and "Chesapeake Shores," he's become a Hallmark regular, even producing several episodes of "Martha's Vineyard Mysteries" (per his IMDb page).

And it doesn't look like he's slowing down anytime soon. "I've been on quite a journey, to say the least," Metcalfe told Entertainment Tonight. "I've worked consistently for the last 20 years; not many people can say that. But of course, I want more. I feel like I've really only scratched the surface in the last 20 years of what I can do."

Luke Perry wanted to challenge himself

Luke Perry's name will always be synonymous with Dylan McKay from the '90s Fox television series "Beverly Hills, 90210." He later went on to star in other hit TV shows, such as "Oz" and "Riverdale." In 2019, Perry died of a massive stroke (via Forbes), leaving fans and those who knew him heartbroken.

Perry played characters who were brooding and plaintive, witty and romantic. In 2008, he took his wide-ranging talent to Hallmark, starring in five successful Hallmark movies, most of them western-themed. But his most prominent role on the network was the smash hit "Goodnight for Justice" series. Fellow "90210" alum and friend Jason Priestley directed the first film. Perry not only came up with the idea of the main character, John Goodnight, but also produced the series. 

During a 2012 interview with "The Rhode Show," he was asked if he liked "playing such a variety of characters." "I think if you talk to any actor, they're going to tell you we always want to play different stuff," he said. "The reason I came up with this character was so that I could find a guy that allowed me to do a lot of different things in the same character."

Luke Perry — and his incredible charm and talent — will be missed!