'Friends and Family Christmas' — Ali Liebert and Humberly Gonzalez star in Hallmark's first lesbian holiday romance

  • by Dana Piccoli
  • Friday December 15, 2023
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Ali Liebert and Humberly Gonzalez in 'Friends and Family Christmas' (photo: Hallmark Channel)
Ali Liebert and Humberly Gonzalez in 'Friends and Family Christmas' (photo: Hallmark Channel)

Hallmark Channel is about to embark on a first for the network: a lesbian Christmas romantic comedy. Following on the success of last year's first gay holiday film, "The Holiday Sitter," out actors Ali Liebert and Humberly Gonzalez star in "Friends and Family Christmas" premiering Dec. 17.

Liebert ("Bomb Girls" "One of Us is Lying") plays Amelia, a straight-laced lawyer still smarting from a breakup with her girlfriend the year earlier. Gonzalez ("Ginny and Georgia" "Utopia Falls") plays artist Daniella, who takes on too much and hasn't made much room in her life for love. Pushed together on a blind date by their parents, the two embark on a ruse to convince their friends and families that they are dating, to take the heat off during the holidays.

Liebert and Gonzalez discussed their roles in the groundbreaking holiday film, being out in the industry and changing things for the better from within.

Ali Liebert and Humberly Gonzalez in 'Friends and Family Christmas'  

Dana Piccoli: First question: the gloves. Is that a nod to "Carol?" Please tell me it's a nod to "Carol" because it has to be.
Ali Liebert: I mean, I think it has to be. That feels like it's for us, right? I'm not sure other people will get that, but that feels like it's for us.

It felt like the nicest, queerest Easter egg. Hallmark has been adding in LGBTQ characters over the years. But you two are the first lesbian romantic leads. That is huge. What has this meant to you as actors and as members of the LGBTQ community?

AL: I've been wanting — and I've been stating it on Twitter for at least five years — waiting for the moment when there was a holiday movie for the lesbians. And that I was praying that Hallmark would put me in it. For me, it's been a really nice bow tie to my wish. Because I think that we deserve to be represented in all types of media, including holiday movies.

It was really meaningful and I felt really lucky that so many of the team were queer and that our leading lady, this wonderful woman right here, we were the perfect people to do it. I feel really honored. And it's meaningful to me because I've just wanted this to happen for a really long time.

Humberly Gonzalez: I had never been a lead in a Hallmark film, and I think it's such a rite of passage for actors, especially in Canada, because they film so many of these. To be honest, I never really went out for those roles. The fact that this was like a straight offer, and they actually considered me because of the track record I have of portraying queer people on screen that they thought that I would be the right person to lead this first of many, I hope.

It's honestly an honor and not just because of that. It's like me being an immigrant and being ESL (English as a second language) and a woman of color, and coming out later in life and kind of discovering myself through the industry. It's such a cherry on top of the journey of playing queer roles.

Ali Liebert and Humberly Gonzalez in 'Friends and Family Christmas'  

And getting to bring my culture into it. It's also such a beautiful thing, because there is so much homophobia and transphobia back home. It's something that I grew up around and was very fearful that I was going to be excommunicated from everything if I followed this path. And to be met with so much love has been shocking. I've had to rewire my brain to be like, "oh, I can accept this support and accept this love" even from my parents.

I love that with the movies and the content that people turn to for comfort during the holidays, that this can exist within that world, that it is just this beautiful love story. And it can be queer, and it can be comforting and it doesn't have to be about struggling. I'm very excited that this is like the first.

Ali, I want to go back to you for a second, because I know how hard you've been working these last few years to bring more LGBTQ representation to the screen as a director, as an actor and as a producer. You're an executive producer on this film. What has your experience been like working in front of and behind the scenes to help make this happen?
AL: I definitely think with "The Holiday Sitter" last year that I directed, starring our beloved Jonathan Bennett and George Krissa, I think that was the beginning of my role as a creative, as part of this. There were a lot of eyes on "The Holiday Sitter" in terms of bringing that story that was the first same-sex couple for Hallmark. And it was embraced internationally. We got nominated for a GLAAD Award, which was incredible. Hallmark really celebrated and promoted that film. Their commitment to increase queer representation is just, to echo what Humberly said, it's blossoming. And as a queer creative, it feels really good to be working within the network. Because Hallmark is the destination for holiday movies.

It's Christmas. It's the holidays.
AL: Right? And I just get so emotional thinking that all across the world these movies, especially ones that have underrepresented communities, can be inside people's living rooms, changing hearts and minds. And it's a little Christmas movie, right?

I think it has a great potential to bring love and acceptance to a broader scope of humans. Being able to be an executive producer or director, or whatever the case may be, it just means I get to contribute in a meaningful way, which is something I've been trying to do the last couple of years as I've focused more on the creator part of it.

HG: Who in their living room somewhere in Middle America, is going to be watching this and it's going to change their perspective about a family member or a friend because they didn't expect it. A lot of people, they have them playing all day long and what if they catch a glimpse and suddenly they're enjoying it? And they didn't think they would. It's normalizing all of that, and having it be just a part of "The countdown to Christmas," it's pretty cool.

Ali Liebert and Humberly Gonzalez in 'Friends and Family Christmas' (photo: Hallmark Channel)  

And now you two are part of that history.
AL: It's so amazing. I definitely don't think we take the responsibility lightly. We are the first ladies of Hallmark. I played a lesbian in "Every Time a Bell Rings" which was a couple of years ago so I feel like we've been warming up and we've just been waiting for Humberly and I to take the main stage and now we're here. I'm very excited for people to see it. It also has my favorite rom-com trope...

The fake dating trope! We love it almost as much as "they were roommates." There's a slow burn. I hope people who are reading this understand. You guys have a really good example of slow burn romance in this particular film. I thought it was successful. What do you think makes these two very different characters such a good, if perhaps unorthodox, match for each other?
HG: I feel like Daniella is looking for inspiration and stability. "I want to be an artist and I'm going to move to New York and start over." And you know she's heartbroken and struggling. There's almost this, "I have nothing to lose" kind of feeling, and meeting Amelia, it's like, "Wow, you kind of have it all together."

Internally, I had this thing where I was like, "Oh, that works for me." But also, I kind of want to be more like her. And the love sneaks in, because I think when there's admiration or inspiration for another human, I think that's a perfect recipe for love.

Even if they're so different, there's just this curiosity; why are you so tough on yourself? There's a love-hate relationship. You get glimpses of that when they meet, which is why it makes it that 'opposites attract' kind of feeling.

AL: I agree with everything you said. I do agree with you, it's a slow burn. Daniella is this fascinating, wild artist and we always want to see our characters having some growth, obviously. And I think that they offer each other respect and a little bit of safety and joy and going out of our comfort zones. I think it is a slow burn because they don't actually realize how much they mean to each other until quite late.

I like to ask this to all LGBTQ actors that I talk to because I think it's really telling about how the industry is progressing. How have you seen your industry change from when you first started out to where you are now, as out queer actors, when it comes to representation?
HG: I haven't been acting for that long. It's been seven years professionally. But even within that time, I can relate it to my own journey. I never thought I would play queer roles on screen. I thought I would fit into a very specific mold, where people just thought I was pretty and played into Latina roles. I didn't know I was made for leading lady material, because of all the categories I fit into, being all the things that I am. But it naturally kind of just found me.

The camera just kind of knew and I kept booking these roles that were pushing my own boundaries and bringing me out of my comfort zone. Which eventually allowed me to get closer to who I am because I didn't publicly come out until "Ginny and Georgia" premiered, and I had already played two major queer roles in the industry, "In the Dark" and "Utopia Falls." I just wasn't ready or thought that there wasn't room for me. Maybe I wasn't queer enough or enough of something to have any say in the industry.

It was a surprise to myself that I realized that the industry needed me as much as I needed it. It was kind of like a mutual growth, where I was able to show up authentically in a way that I never thought I would, and it really did save me in the best way. I'm glad that it grew and there was a push for it, because I don't know that I would have ever been able to be who I am today without it.

That's beautiful.
AL: I wasn't aware of my queerness. I was also playing a lot of queer and lesbian roles, and it was like the universe was like, "Do you understand?" It wasn't really until I had finished "Bomb Girls" when it hit me. I was really scared to come out, even though I had been playing queer for years.

To see the difference in the last decade is also tied to how comfortable I feel in my own skin. I feel really privileged that I'm able to represent queer people and tell queer stories in film and TV and be someone who is out and proud. I also understand that that's not the case for folks everywhere. So, I do take it with responsibility and privilege and think it's an honor.

And I still think we have a long way to go, like Humberly said earlier, in terms of trans representation and different types of queerness. I'd love to see more characters that are just somewhere on the gender spectrum. I obviously don't speak for Hallmark, but just in the shows I like to watch, I like to see the world that I want to be in, that has every different type of person you can imagine.

Being a part of the change hopefully for more inclusion and diversity is something that's really important to me as a director, actor and just a person in the world.

'Friends and Family Christmas' premieres on Hallmark Channel Dec. 17.

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