LAUREL, Miss. – HGTV "Home Town" stars Erin and Ben Napier had never seen one of the made-for-TV Christmas movies that are ever present on cable TV between Halloween and Christmas.
So when Discovery+ executives asked the couple about being in one for this holiday season, they turned to friend and colleague Ree Drummond (aka Pioneer Woman), who had appeared in the company's maiden voyage with "Candy Coated Christmas" last year.
"(Drummond) said it was one of the most fun things she had ever done. She said we had to do it and said we would love it," Erin Napier says. "So, we said, 'OK, great, we will do it.'"
Discovery+ will roll out four movies from Food Network and HGTV talent that will premiere on Nov. 11, when the Napiers, known for HGTV's "Home Town," make their scripted holiday feature debut in "A Christmas Open House."
The Food Network will add Bobby Flay and Duff Goldman for two holiday movies, "One Delicious Christmas" and "A Gingerbread Christmas," respectively. And HGTV's Hilary Farr, of "Love It or List It," will appear in the film "Designing Christmas."
All of the networks' stars take a back seat to the lead actors in each movie, and the Napiers had just one week of shooting in late July.
The couple come off much the same way in person as they do on "Home Town": easy to talk with, and on the same page with each other. They share similar ideas on subjects and finish each other's sentences in a conversation that flows comfortably.
"It was a lot of fun," Ben says. "It was very different from the way we normally shoot."
Erin says that while they were playing characters, the characters "are saying the same things we would normally say."
A familiar story in 'A Christmas Open House'
In "A Christmas Open House," Katie Stevens plays Melissa Norwood, an ambitious Atlanta property stager who teams with her old high school crush, David Phelps (Victor Rasuk) to sell her newly married mom's home in their small Georgia hometown.
The place is cozy but hasn't been updated in decades, so the two team up to renovate the place before a couple of wealthy potential buyers are due to see the house on Christmas Eve. Melissa would love to spend a portion of her budget on a few custom projects created by a unique couple.
That's where Napiers come in. They play Henry and Sarah Wright, who are gifted at small-town home restoration and appreciate the legacy of a family home. Henry is a master woodworker and custom furniture builder, and Sarah is an artist with expertise in design choices.
From there, the movie takes twists and turns until Melissa and David find their way to – spoiler alert – a love interest during the Christmas holidays.
Adjusting to a new shooting style and creating Christmas in July
The Napiers say the new shooting style took a little bit to get used to.
"In the first meetings, going way back to when we first were getting a script, There were things I would read that the character, who is a woodworker, is supposed to say that a woodworker would never say. They would then tell us to go ahead and say what a real woodworker would say," Ben says. "It was fun that we were able to help with that end of it."
In "Home Town," the two are the scriptwriters, planners, designers, builders and everything in between.
In filming their part of "A Christmas Open House," the Napiers only needed to know what to say and when to say it.
"We just had to memorize our lines," Erin says. "We have two assistants. They read the parts of Melissa and David, and we played Henry and Sarah. It was quick. Once you've done it a few times, you remember the gist of the conversation."
The most challenging part of the movie for the Napiers was pretending to be in a cold, snowy environment while working in the summer heat of Laurel.
"They asked us about wardrobe. We asked to wear our own clothes, and we sent pictures of our clothes. I actually scrolled through my phone and sent pictures from on set with 'Home Town,'" says Ben, who is well over 6 feet tall with a thick red beard and built like a defensive tackle at his alma mater of Ole Miss. "And, of course, they picked the flannel shirt and wool sweater for me to wear for filming in August in South Mississippi."
Erin laughed out loud as she recalled the filming.
"Yes, the sweatiest man alive in flannel in July," she says. "We would film for a minute and a half and then go straight back into the air conditioning. He would soak through his sweater and shirt instantly. But I have to give a shout-out to Red Fox Realty, who let us use their office for air conditioner breaks."
At one point, the director would call, "Cut!" and Ben would walk into the real estate office with the air conditioner, take off the sweater and shirt and lie on the floor because he was so hot.
"I am sure there's a photo somewhere of it that I don't want to see," Ben joked.
"Hair and makeup had their work cut out for them," Erin says.
In their first scripted roles, the Napiers say the veteran acting duo of Stevens and Rasuk made the process easy and says as they got into character, they could understand everything much better.
'It's going to feel like warm cocoa on a cold day'
The Napiers have not seen a final version of the movie and don't expect to. In fact, they say that even with "Home Town," they never see the finished product until it premieres on HGTV.
"I get to color correct the reveal just to make sure all of the colors are right, but other than that, we don't get to see the episode. When you see it, we see it," Erin says.
However, in "Home Town," the Napiers know everything that has happened and what to expect. That will not be the case with "A Christmas Open House."
"We are only in the parts we are in. So, this will be just as exciting to see as the people watching on TV," Erin says.
While the moviemaking process was fun, neither Ben nor Erin expect to do more. But for this one, they made the most of it and have left the viewers a few presents in the film they hope will make the final cut.
In preparation for their part of the movie, they came across a video parodying Christmas movies that included all of the clichés these movies are known for.
"So, we tried to throw some little bitty Easter Eggs into the script," Ben says. "That was what made it so fun."
"Watch out for Mapleville!" Erin says. "Really, I hope Mapleville makes it in there."
Ben says the director loved their additions and say she would try to get them in the final cut. "We know we aren't making an Academy Award-winning movie," Erin says. "But we know we are making a movie that will make people happy. It's going to feel like warm cocoa on a cold day."
Ben says he connected with the other actors but acknowledged that he and Erin aren't Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. "We are regular people with weird jobs. But we are good with connecting with people, and that's probably what we do best on our regular show."
Adds Erin: "It's going to have all the clichés of all the Christmas movies, but there is a reason people like them. They feel good. People want to feel good at Christmastime."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: HGTV stars Ben and Erin Napier on making their first Christmas movie