“We love this time of year. We’re Christmas fanatics in our house. We decorated Nov. 2, which is our wedding anniversary, so our Christmas tree has been up for about five or six weeks now. But we’re those people,” Hilty, 37, said with a laugh during a recent interview with ET (watch an exclusive sneak peek from Santa’s Boots above). “So I was thrilled when Lifetime asked me to come do a Christmas movie, because it’s right up my alley. It came out of the blue and I said, ‘Yes, of course!’ This sounds like nothing but a lovely, fun, Christmassy time — all things that I like.”
In the Cinderella-inspired Santa’s Boots, Hilty plays Holly, an ambitious workaholic who returns to her small hometown only to discover that her family’s department store is on the brink of foreclosure. To keep the business going, she finds herself roped into playing one of Santa’s Helpers and meets the charmingly handsome Nick, who has been hired to fill Santa’s (Noah Mills) shoes. As all holiday movies go, Holly and Nick start falling in love, but conflict arises when he suddenly disappears — just when things start getting busy — and Holly only has one clue to find Nick: his missing black Santa boot.
Ahead of Sunday’s premiere, ET spoke with Hilty about leading her own made-for-TV Christmas film, the odds of a Smash reunion special (or really anything at this point), her family’s holiday plans and what’s next for her (hint: something’s a brewin’!).
ET: Since this is your first holiday film, what drew you to the story of Santa’s Boots?
Megan Hilty: Probably the character. It’s kind of a Cinderella story but she’s not Cinderella, which I love; she’s the prince in this movie. That’s what I really liked. She’s a very strong woman. She’s very independent. She is extremely ambitious and I feel she’s very much like myself. But she also has this little soft spot that Noah’s character, Nick, kind of pulls out of her at Christmastime.
I’m a huge fan of this time of year, partly because of all the new holiday movies that are premiering all season long, and your film is incredibly delightful to watch. Was there a specific scene that you were looking forward to shooting?
Oddly, I was excited to see the elf costume and wear it all the time, and I really did. Most of the film, I feel like I’m wearing the elf costume. [Laughs.] The character that I play hates it, but I love that kind of stuff. Any chance to dress up for anything, I’m all for it, especially an elf, are you kidding me?
Are you big into watching holiday movies? Have you watched any made-for-TV films before you were cast in this one?
I haven’t watched very many, to be very honest, until I got this offer. And then I started doing my research and wow, they are amazing and extensive and once you fall in love with the Lifetime holiday movies, you’re hooked. Now, I’m a fan forever.
Since it is the holidays, are you going all out this year? What kind of traditions are you looking forward to this Christmas?
We have a bunch of friends coming to stay with us on Christmas, which is really fun, so I’m kind of hosting, and I have two very small children and my daughter, Viola, is 4 and she’s just now really understanding what Christmas is all about and getting into the traditions and stuff like that. I’m doing her advent calendar every morning and decorating with her and talking about why we give people presents. But on Christmas Day, it’s all about food. I have a very strict rule at my house that everybody stays in their pajamas all day and this year, we’re going to have a gingerbread decorating contest. It’s going to be like Top Chef. It’s going to be intense, like we’re going to draw for which gingerbread house you get, you’re going draw for which types of decorating tools you get. It’s going to be major.
You’re not messing around. You’re putting guidelines and restrictions…
Switching gears, we have to talk about Smash because I still miss that show! Does your mind occasionally wander to that time in your life and career?
I know, me too. It was the job of a lifetime. I had the greatest time working on that set and I made friends that will last me a lifetime. Me and Kat[harine McPhee] have talked about figuring out how to work together again since then. Yeah, I sing from the shows all the time in my concerts. Unfortunately, one of our producers [Craig Zadan] passed away recently, so we had a memorial service for him, so a lot of us got together and rehashed a lot of memories there too, but in a really lovely way. It was bittersweet.
Speaking of Katharine, you posted photos with her backstage while she was doing Waitress earlier this year. Clearly, you guys are still close. How desperately do you both want to work together?
We’re always trying to figure out how we could do that. Our schedules are so crazy and different, so we’re always talking about it. Who knows if it would ever happen, but I see her and talk to her all the time. She’s just the greatest. Some people would love to think that we hate each other because our characters hated each other on the show, but it’s so far from the truth.
I’m just crossing my fingers that five years down the line, we’ll get that Smash Christmas special…
I know! There’s been a lot of talk about doing something like that, so I don’t know what that would be. But the fact is, and honestly, I get stopped and asked about it every single day, and we’ve been off the air for five years? It’s crazy to me that people are still — I’m not joking, every single day I get asked about it by strangers. The fact that so many people are so interested in still is crazy and wonderful to me.
That just means that you struck a chord and made an impact on people.
You’re well established in the theater world, but I’m curious, has the road you’ve taken in your career been surprising in any way?
It’s weird, because it’s all surprising but it’s kind of not at the same time. I’m always shocked that people are still asking me to do stuff. I’m always like, “Really?” It’s that thing where everybody’s like, “Somebody’s going to find out I’m a fraud sooner or later, that I’m not supposed to be here.” I think in every profession people feel that way, I don’t think it’s just actors. When things come along, I’m always so grateful — I’m always surprised — but at the same time, I’ve always felt like this is what I’m supposed to do it in some way or another, something in the entertainment field. I guess it’s a little both. I’m always surprised that I’m working but this is what I’ve always wanted to do, so a little bit not.
Looking ahead to 2019, what personal goals have you set for yourself?
Every year, me and my husband [Brian Gallagher] — instead of doing New Year’s resolutions — we set an intention for the year. One year, we did the year of music, and we had a couple of stipulations, like we had to travel outside the country just for a concert or an opera. And the next year, it was about reading more. This year, I’ve been thinking about it, and now that my daughter is old enough to start to understand all this stuff, I think it will be about the year of giving back. Thinking about how we can get involved in community projects and things like packing backpacks for foster kids. There’s always people needing things. I always feel like the more I can get my daughter involved in the things that we’re doing, I think that’s going to be our intention for the next year.
What else can we expect to see from you?
I’m not allowed to talk about it yet, but I’m so excited, so hopefully we’ll be talking again soon! I’m really excited for 2019. There are definitely going to be some fun things on the horizon that I’m really, really excited for. It’s kind of TV-related, it’s kind of everything; I have no idea when they’re going to announce it but I’m really excited!
Santa’s Boots premieres Saturday, Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.