The Truth About Hallmark Star Will Kemp

Hallmark actor Will Kemp has had a fascinating career. The star of shows and films such as "Reign," "Royal Matchmaker," "Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce," "Spinning Out," "The Christmas Waltz," and "The Princess Switch 3" is also a talented dancer who has been dubbed the "James Dean of Ballet" (per the Los Angeles Times).

Kemp made the transition to the screen in 2004. While he's kept dancing, he's built up his reputation as a talented actor, and now has dozens of film and television credits under his belt. He is incredibly skilled, but his good looks and English accent haven't hurt when it comes to winning over fans.

Kemp is at the top of his game, but he's not much of one for the limelight. Early in his acting career, he swore that Hollywood wouldn't change him — and it seems he was right. "I'm lucky because I am surrounded by great people," he told Made in Atlantis. "I have a great wife who keeps me very much down to earth, and people who know me know who I am and what really matters." 

True to his word, Kemp has stayed grounded and keeps a fairly low profile, which means there's a lot you probably don't know about this Hallmark heartthrob.

He started dancing at the age of 9

Will Kemp was just 9 years old when he started dancing, and his talent soon became apparent. He trained diligently, sometimes at the cost of having a normal childhood. "I would often miss out on parties or the opportunity to hang out with my school friends in the village where I grew up," he told photographer Ursula Vari in an interview.

Still, Kemp told The Grace Tales that he had a happy childhood. All of his hard work paid off when he was accepted to The Royal Ballet School, an elite institution that, per its website, only accepts 10-15% of those who audition for their Associate Programme. "The Royal was like the army; it's the most intense regime and structure I've ever had," Kempt told Backstage of his time there. After school, Kemp joined Adventures in Motion Pictures, a dance company in London, embarking on his professional dance career.

Will Kemp always planned to transition to acting

Even though Will Kemp spent his childhood honing his skills as a dancer, he always had a theatrical side. He told Made in Atlantis that as a kid, he made movies of himself and his siblings and loved "creating my own world." It was his obsession with making home movies that spurred his parents to put Kemp in dance classes. "I was very intense about the characters and what happened and stuff," he explained. "It reached a point where I wouldn't communicate well with other people." Hoping to broaden his horizons, his parents enrolled him in dance to encourage him to be more social.

Still, Kemp never lost his first love, even after he made it to The Royal Ballet School. One of his favorite classes there was "theater craft," which he explained to Backstage as "miming and playing all those classical characters: the witch, the gypsy lover, the evil sorcerer." While most of his classmates were only interested in the physicality of the characters, Kemp enjoyed bringing it all to life, acting not only with his body, but also with words. "I was probably the only one, actually," he admitted.

The passion has stayed with him throughout his decades-long career. Kemp told Made in Atlantis that he had long planned to branch out into acting, saying, "Because that is the part of the work I enjoy the most, creating characters, whether it's through choreography and dance, or through straightforward drama."

He said his acting debut was a real baptism by fire

While Will Kemp longed for an acting career, he kept putting off going on auditions, instead focusing on ballet. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 finally made him realize it was now or never. "I remember watching the horrendous events unfurl and realizing that life can be so short and anything could happen, so what was I waiting for?" he told The Grace Tales. "I went on several auditions and landed two film offers."

Kemp made his acting debut in the 2004 film "Mindhunters," starring alongside such big names as Val Kilmer, LL Cool J, and Christian Slater. Kemp called his inaugural film "a real baptism by fire into the world of Hollywood films and big personalities" in an interview with photographer Zuzana Breznanikova.

The film, a modern retelling of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians," centers on a group of FBI profilers-in-training who have a murderer in their midst. "Mindhunters" received lukewarm reviews (via Rotten Tomatoes), with Roger Ebert writing, "Is the film worth seeing? Well, yes and no. Yes, because it is exactly what it is, and no, for the same reason."

Will's dance skills helped him in his Van Helsing role

After "Mindhunters," Will Kemp starred in "Van Helsing," which many mistakenly believe to be his film debut. "I had an amazing time on Van Helsing, and working with Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale and Richard Roxburgh remains a highlight of my career," he told Zuzana Breznanikova of the 2004 film, in which he plays the werewolf Velkan.

While the paranormal action film may not seem like the best outlet to showcase a ballet dancer's skills, Kemp's dance background was a tremendous help in preparing him for the role. As he explained to Made in Atlantis, he is "trained as a physical performer," and was able to leverage that when his character shifted from human to wolf. "Having always approached a character from a dancer's point of view, I was able to work out the character in my head and express it physically," he said. Kemp did a lot of research on werewolf lore. "You really do have to ask yourself, 'what would happen if I changed into a werewolf?'" he said. 

While the werewolf was brought to life with the help of CGI, Kemp insisted on doing as much as possible. "They kept the cameras rolling and they allowed me to enact the transformation — I was on wires, swinging from trees, climbing up walls, all sorts of physical stuff," he revealed. "And from that, they are able to make a computer-generated me, which is used in the film."

He starred in a memorable Gap campaign

Will Kemp has talents beyond acting and dancing. He's also got modeling experience, and participated in a memorable Gap campaign in the 2000s that allowed him to combine his talents. The 2002 ad shows him dancing in a pair of Gap jeans.

Kemp explained to Made in Atlantis that the campaign was initially supposed to be a regular modeling shoot with "still pictures," but it was taken in a new direction when "they felt they didn't capture the mood and fluidity of what I did." Kemp added that working with legendary fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh was an incredible experience, and seeing the campaign come to life was surreal. "I began to see myself passing by on the sides of buses," he said. "Later I was on TV, the underground, sides of buildings, and even flashing in Times Square. It was crazy!"

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Kemp revealed that the dancing he does in the ad was largely improvised. "I don't think [the director and crew] knew what to tell me, and I didn't know what they wanted," he said. "I just got my rocks off and jumped around for a bit." As for the jeans, Kemp told the Los Angeles Times that he got to keep them, saying, "They can be quite comfortable."

Will Kemp is a self-described family man

Will Kemp is married to composer and actress Gaby Jamieson-Kemp. The couple has been married for more than 20 years and they have two children together. Kemp told photographer Zuzana Breznanikova that he considers himself to be "very much a family man."

Kemp opened up about parenting in an interview with The Grace Tales, admitting that his shooting schedule can often cut into family time. "It's tough and there is a constant feeling that getting work for 'daddy' is a mixed blessing for family life," he said. When he's not working, he and his wife operate like any other solid parenting team, dividing tasks and negotiating pick-ups and drop-offs. It all sounds refreshingly normal, especially when you consider that many celebrities hire nannies. When Kemp's work demands travel, his family will often join him if the kids are out of school. "Having a family really makes me put everything into a job," he said. "While away, I'm always asking myself, 'why am I away from my family?' It makes me want to make the projects I choose really count."

He had to learn ballroom dancing for The Christmas Waltz

Will Kemp is a highly skilled dancer, but that doesn't mean he's an expert in all kinds of dance. His background is in ballet, which means he had a lot of learning to do when he landed the role of ballroom dance instructor Roman Davidoff in the 2020 Hallmark film "The Christmas Waltz." Kemp starred opposite "Mean Girls" star Lacey Chabert, and the duo went through some serious training.

The training was harder for Chabert, but Kemp helped her through it. "I'm not a trained dancer," she told TV Insider. "I trained for about three weeks at home, and then we had nine days of very intensive training before we started filming ... Will was so patient and kind."

Kemp, for his part, enjoyed learning a new skill, but it wasn't as easy as some might assume. "People think that when you dance, you dance [anything]," he said. "Ballroom is a different technique, so I was nervous." In an interview with the Golden Globe Awards, Kemp said that his ballet background helped, but learning ballroom still meant "taking a step outside my comfort zone."

Will shares a name with a famous contemporary of Shakespeare

Will Kemp's name may sound familiar to Shakespeare fans. That's because Will Kemp (also spelled Kempe) is the name of one of the most famous actors of the Bard's era. The British Library notes it's even likely that Shakespeare wrote some of his plays with him in mind; "Enter Will Kemp" can be seen in some surviving early texts. Shakespeare Online describes this earlier Kemp, who was active in the theater through the late 16th century and is believed to have died in 1603, as "one of the most beloved clowns in the Elizabethan theatre." This Kemp acted with several leading theater troupes of the time, and performed in the premieres of several Shakespearean plays.

The modern Kemp's Shakespeare connection doesn't end there, though. Kemp portrayed the Bard himself in the 2007 film "Miguel and William," a performance that landed him at No. 7 on Vulture's list of sexiest Shakespeare portrayals.

He starred on Broadway and the West End

Will Kemp has extensive stage experience, both on the West End and Broadway. The many stage credits on his resume include Richard in "Miss Lilly Gets Boned or the Loss of All Elephant Elders," Ratty in "The Wind in the Willows," Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet," Stromboli in "Pinocchio," and Nugget in "Equus."

Kemp's role in "Equus" saw him star alongside "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe, who played Alan Strang. The play is notorious for a scene in which Alan strips down to his birthday suit. Radcliffe's portrayal of Alan Strang made headlines in the late '00s, as many people were scandalized at the thought of the "Harry Potter" star baring it all on stage, notes London Theatre Direct.

Kemp was there for the controversy, and even has an amusing anecdote about it. He told photographer Zuzana Breznanikova that one of his fondest acting memories is when he "walked into rehearsals for 'Equus' to find Daniel Radcliffe naked," which is how the "Harry Potter" star reportedly preferred to rehearse. In an Instagram post, Kemp said that working with Radcliffe was "one of my best experiences."

The show Reign was a real learning experience for him

CW viewers might remember Will Kemp for his role as Lord Darnley on the show "Reign," a teen drama about the life of Mary, Queen of Scots (via Deadline). While not exactly historically accurate, "Reign" is nevertheless entertaining, and Kemp made audiences swoon as Mary's second husband.

Kemp joined the show in its fourth and final season. He did a lot of research to bring the historical figure to life — and had a blast doing it. "I had a great time on this show, but overall getting to play such a richly historical character with such complexities was huge fun," he told Hidden Remote. "That and strutting around in leather pants, riding a horse, and generally causing mayhem."

"Reign" was a real learning experience for Kemp. While he had been on television shows before, "Reign" marked his first time being a lead on a show. As he explained to Zuzana Breznanikova, "[it] was the first chance I had at really getting into a character over a period of 16 episodes (seven months)." He continued, "I really enjoyed the challenge and complexity of going to work every day over a long period of time and getting to delve into such a rich character in British history. Sometimes the scripts didn't come in till just before the episode was due to film, so I was constantly kept on my toes."

The COVID-19 pandemic was a time of reflection for Will Kemp

Like many of us, Will Kemp had a lot of time on his hands during the COVID-19 pandemic. Protocols meant he was out of work for a while, and Kemp also caught the illness, though he made a swift recovery. He opened up to photographer Ursula Vari about his experience, saying that he worked on letting things go. "I would say, like most people, I have had to question a lot of things that maybe don't serve me so well in life," he revealed. "It's definitely been a time of reflection and questioning and also of acceptance. I allowed myself a time of isolation and relaxation ... with a mindset of just getting through it, not being too tough on myself, and trusting that everything would be okay."

Kemp also spent time with his family while in lockdown in London, admitting it wasn't always easy. Still, the difficult time proved their closeness. "...We went through a rollercoaster of emotions and had to be able to listen and help each other through it," he said. "It was tough and exhausting, but a very important part of us all being there for each other as a supportive family."

Kemp didn't let COVID lockdowns stop him from acting completely. In May, he collaborated with other actors for a Zoom reading of "One Night in Tiger Bay." He described the play on Instagram as "a period piece involving racial inequality and injustice."

Will Kemp keeps a low profile

Will Kemp is a major Hollywood player, but he's never seemed to crave fame. Instead, he's remained focused on his family and his craft. "I'm a perfectionist in every area of my life, which sometimes has its downside, but at times is the only element that keeps me looking to do better and push myself on to explore new areas," he once told Made in Atlantis. This perfectionism has helped him thrive professionally, and Kemp seems satisfied with this.

While Kemp is on social media, he doesn't seem too interested in growing a massive following. He has 86,000 Instagram followers as of this writing, but doesn't post much about his personal life. Instead, most of his snaps consist of work-related photos. The same is true for his Twitter account, where he tweets work-related updates to his 12,000 followers and cheers on his favorite sports teams.

Kemp doesn't grant many interviews and isn't frequently targeted by the paparazzi, and this seems very much by design. He could choose to lean into his fame and embrace the celebrity lifestyle, but that might take time away from his family, which Kemp has said he's not willing to do. "The work/family balance is always evolving, as everyone it concerns is also always evolving," he told photographer Ursula Vari, adding, "With communication and compassion, we will pull through the same way we always do."