Photo: Serge Houde Credit: ©2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Luba Popovic

Exclusive Interview: Serge Houde On ‘WCTH,’ ‘Chesapeake Shores,’ Hallmark Christmas

Exclusives, Hallmark Channel, News, When Calls the Heart

For over two decades, Canadian actor Serge Houde has been in a cornucopia of Hallmark movies, as well as two of their series. That is not all. His nearly four-decade career has included television movies about the Kennedys, to new network series like So Help Me Todd. Houde will even play a pivotal role in the upcoming season of Virgin River.

Whether portraying a judge in When Calls The Heart or the fiancé’s father in The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, Houde puts a lot of heart into his portrayals. That is because acting became his passion after a stint as an advertising executive and National Geographic wildlife photographer.

Serge has a lot of recollections about his roles, including a fun BTS WCTH story. We appreciate all of the time he has taken to share his journey.

Here is our exclusive interview with character actor Serge Houde.

Serge Houde’s Early Hallmark Movies

I believe In My Dreams  is your first Hallmark movie. How did you go from roles in Psych, Supernatural, Reaper, to this first Hallmark movie?

I believe the honor of my first Hallmark Movie goes all the way back to the 1999 Movie of the Week P.T. Barnum starring Beau Bridges

As for my first Christmas-themed Hallmark Movie of the Week, that would be The Most Wonderful Time of the Year in 2008 with Henry Winkler, Brooke Burns, and Warren Christie.

I remember thinking ‘What are they doing making all this fake snow and putting cotton batting all over the lawns in the middle of Summer? Of course, the highlight of that experience was working with Mr. Winkler and sharing this funny little subtle scene together. I improved the line ‘I don’t want to eat Chinese!’

As for how did I go from one genre to another, it’s all a question of casting and opportunities. Think of Bryan Cranston going from the goofy dad in Malcolm in the Middle to playing the ruthless drug kingpin in Breaking Bad. As an actor, it’s a precious gift to be given such a rare opportunity.

That’s part of the reason I appreciate Hallmark so much, they’ve allowed me to play some very interesting and fun characters, and even develop a few on-screen love interests, something that still surprises me at this stage of my life.

I’ve always thought there was a very fine line between what can you make happen vs what you need to let happen. So much in this biz is out of your hands. That’s where patience and perseverance pay off.

Photo: Serge HoudeCredit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Eike Schroter
Photo: Serge Houde
Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Eike Schroter

The Scoop Behind Guest Roles In Chesapeake Shores And When Calls The Heart

Serge, you have been on two iconic Hallmark series: When Calls The Heart and Chesapeake Shores. You portrayed Judge Roy Parker in WCTH. What was it like to be part of these two top series? Any stories you care to share?

In the pilot episode for Chesapeake Shores, I had the pleasure of offering Abby the opportunity of returning to work in Chesapeake Shores. However, in Season 4, I had to officially suspend Abby without pay pending a formal investigation….good guy/bad guy. Meghan Ory was an absolute delight to work with and extremely talented and professional.

As for When Calls The Heart, one day we shot for over 12 hours in the courtroom, think of it as a rectangle. So they began by shooting from behind me, facing the court room so they could film the prosecution and defense lawyers, witnesses, and attending townsfolk. Then 11 hours later, they moved the cameras to the back of the courtroom to shoot the judge sitting all by his lonesome up on the stage.

By that point, I could almost recite my lines backward. Graciously, all the members of the court had stayed in their places which allowed me to speak and interact with them in a realistic manner.

Interestingly, in one scene the defense lawyer visits the judge in his chambers with a doctor’s bag. In the script, the judge opens the bag to see what’s in it and pulls out a hand full of money bills, then chastises the lawyer saying it’s a serious crime to offer a bribe to a federal judge.

I asked our director (Neill Fearnley) what he thought of the idea that the judge never touches the money. The bag is placed on the table by the lawyer and opened to reveal its contents, but the judge himself never touches nor accepts the money.

He loved the idea and that’s the way we shot the scene. It allowed the judge to later donate the money to the widow’s fund with a clear conscience.

Photo: Brant Daugherty, Serge HoudeCredit: ©2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Luba Popovic
Photo: Brant Daugherty, Serge Houde
Credit: ©2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Luba Popovic

Hallmark’s Baker’s Son

Let’s talk about Baker’s Son. This was a huge departure for Hallmark. This has a lot of whimsy. As always, the supporting actors make or break a movie..and the supporting cast was top-notch. Your role was one of the delightful Jean Pierre. Do you have any insights into how you infused so much whimsy in your role? And how is it working with a canine costar?

It all starts with the writing and the writers Gary Dontzig and Steve Peterman did an exceptional job. While director Mark Jean gave me enough rope to hang myself and fortunately he also knew when to rein me in.

The French accent just made people smile and there seemed to be no way I could do too much with it, though I was surprised at just how much breath it took to do.

Now, much has been said about the hand kiss that I gave my love interest Brenda Crichlow.

Well in the script it just said ‘He kisses her hand.’ So I did some searching on the internet to see what the etiquette was for this. ‘Kiss the ring, kiss the top of the hand, kiss the knuckles of the fingers.’

And somewhere there was mention of kissing the palm of the hand as if to say ‘Here is my Heart. I entrust it to you. ‘So I thought I’d try it and see. We could always redo it if they don’t like it. But when Brenda closed her hand and held it to her heart, well that sealed the deal! Hallmark even made it into a GIF on Twitter.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut instinct and be prepared to adjust if needed.

As for my canine costar, here’s a secret, the little guy’s real name is Crackers. And he stole every scene I shared with him! But that didn’t deter me from buying him a couple of squeaky toys anyway.

Photo: Serge Houde, Sherry MillerCredit: Copyright 2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Allister Foster
Photo: Serge Houde, Sherry Miller
Credit: Copyright 2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Allister Foster

What Does Serge Houde Like About Acting In Christmas Movies?

You have been in several Christmas movies over the past couple of years including Five More Minutes, Christmas She Wrote, If I Only Had Christmas and The Christmas Proposal. What do you enjoy about acting in a Christmas movie?

As an actor, you realize that there are a lot of different genres of TV shows and movies out there and that you’re incredibly fortunate to be invited to take part in any of them.

We can all remember how in our childhood Christmas specials were always an opportunity to bring our families together. Fortunately, Hallmark is continuing this tradition and apparently others are following suit. So I’m delighted and honored to be part of this. And it gives a change for my family and friends to see me as someone other than a bad guy for once.

There seems to always be a light-hearted feeling about these Christmas movies, even when we’re filming them on set. Either it’s all the fake snow making people smile or actors walking around in hats and scarfs and coats while the crew are all in shorts and t-shirts.

And the Highlight of my Acting Career has to be the time I actually got to play Santa.

We were shooting in a Grade School during the Summer Holiday months and many of the Students where hired to play Background Performers.

That’s when I noticed this little girl of about 3 or 4 who just kept starting at me in my Santa costume.

She had a determined look on her face and finally just walked right up to me and standing almost hidden below my long beard

looked up and in a loud clear voice said ‘Are you really Santa Clause?’ Oh Boy! What do you say?

So I kneeled down eye level with her and said ‘Well, we’re filming a Christmas movie and here I am. So what do you think?’

She was eyeing my beard as she thought about it and I swear she was getting ready to pull it when the Ad shouted ‘Ok, let’s get this shot!’ Throughout the filming she kept a suspicious eye on me until I gave her a wink, that’s when she gave me a smile.

What a relief!

Photo: Serge Houde, Haig SutherlandCredit: ©2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Luba Popovic
Photo: Serge Houde, Haig Sutherland
Credit: ©2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Luba Popovic

What Did Serge Houde Do Before Acting?

You began as an award-winning advertising exec at Ikea, as well as a wildlife photographer for National Geographic. Which of these careers made you approach roles a bit differently?

I think it would be fair to say that my work as a wildlife photographer photographing bears in the wilds of Northern British Columbia….this required a good deal of patience and perseverance, not to mention the ability to remain calm and alert in stressful situations.

As did the observational skills I developed at that time, some of them for self-preservation. These skills have all come in useful for me as an actor, either on set or in between projects.

While my experience in advertising gave me an understanding of the creative side of the business as well as the production and marketing.

Dramatic Career Change

You made a huge career change at 35. You became an actor. According to your IMDb, you never had formal training. Had you ever acted in a play when you were in school? Did you just wake up and think, “I am going to act now”? Was there an Epiphany? This is an exciting and dramatic reinvention!

I believe the Epiphany occurred when I was 10 years of age and my father died of a sudden heart attack. It became abundantly clear that life can be very short, so if there was anything I wanted to do or experience in this life, then I’d better get to it. Luckily for me, I was far more motivated by the excitement of making things happen than by the fear of failing.

That helps explains my becoming a wildlife photographer at age 19, I was so impressed and inspired by the work of Jane Goodall in National Geographic. So I bought some camera equipment and a plane ticket and just went out and did it.

There’s a lot to be said about just putting your intentions out there and seeing if the universe replies with a helping hand.

And yes, I was in one school play in grade 8 playing an elderly gentleman. Guess I was destined to be a “character actor” from the start. They even sprayed my hair grey which caused a certain degree of concern in my neighborhood as neighbors would call up my mother to say ‘Is there anything wrong with Serge?’

For some reason, my character generated lots of laughs but none so heartfelt as when we presented the play at a retirement home. They treated me like a star and all the laughter was so gratifying.

Unfortunately, my school was mainly focused on sports, so there were no more plays or other opportunities after that, that is until….

Decades later, I was working in a Montreal ad agency when a huge IKEA ad campaign came in. It was for the opening of a new store in Montreal and part of the campaign involved sixteen 30-second TV ads (eight in English, eight in French). I was coordinating the production, so I was on set every day with the film crew for all the filming.

One day we were on the docks in Montreal and had only four hours to shoot everything we needed. Unfortunately, the actor hired to play a longshoreman froze every time the director yelled ‘Action.’

When the exasperated director came up to me and said ‘We’re not going to be able to get this! We’re running out of time, we only have an hour left.’ I made a split-second decision and took off my suit jacket and handed it to him saying ‘Here, hold this.’

Then proceeded to remove my entire three-piece suit and standing there in my shirt tails and socks started to redress myself in the longshoreman’s costume. We got the English version of the ad in two takes and the French version in three takes.

The director came up to me smiling and said ‘If you’re ever interested in acting, I think you’ve got what it takes.’ Soon after, I was offered a transfer to Vancouver to work at IKEA full-time.

I knew Vancouver had a burdening film and TV industry so I eagerly accepted. I made a habit of befriending the actors we would hire and peppering them with questions about the biz. Then I moved over to another agency and ultimately got fired due to ‘downsizing.’

So there I was aged 35, at the beginning of Summer wondering ‘What do I want to do now?’ when it suddenly occurred to me ‘It’s now or never! So why not give Acting a few months and see what happens?’

I made a few phone calls and fortunately got work as a stand-in for Emmy Award-winning actor Stuart Margolin (Angel in The Rockford Files) on a Canadian sitcom. I credit that experience with teaching me everything.

We would shoot an episode in 5 days, each week a new story, a new director, and new guest stars as well as the regular cast and crew. It was a hands-on learning experience worth its weight in gold. I got to see different styles and approaches to acting and directing as well as develop an in-depth understanding of what all the different departments did on set.

That’s why I always feel a sense of responsibility when I’m on set, to arrive well-prepared and help get the job done. And I also love the collaborative environment of a set, reminds me of my advertising days, only better.

Photo: Serge Houde, Brenda CrichlowCredit: ©2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Luba Popovic
Photo: Serge Houde, Brenda Crichlow
Credit: ©2021 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Luba Popovic

Who Are Serge Houde’s Favorite Actors?

Since you did not have any formal acting training, who were your favorite actors and inspirations?

Oh, that list would be very long. I have an affinity for character actors and actors who force you to look at them such as Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley, John Goodman, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, Jack Nicholson, James Gandolfini, and Jonathan Banks just to name a few.

I realize these are all men, but I’m always interested in roles that I believe I could have auditioned for or parts I wish I could have played.

But having said that…in my day, you could go see a movie in the theatre and stay and watch it over and over again, they wouldn’t throw you out. So I would go see films twice in a row: back-to-back. The first viewing was simply to enjoy the story, but the second viewing was to see what the actors did with their characters.

What did they do with their hands, with their eyes, with their mouths? How did they deliver their lines? The first time all this occurred to me was while watching Katharine Hepburn in The Lion In Winter.

At one point, I thought to myself ‘You know, someone wrote all this dialogue, but she’s giving this character life and thoroughly enjoying herself doing it!’ So, the idea that acting could be both a worthy challenge as well as a fascinating creative endeavor was instilled in me early.

Serge Houde Portrayed Chicago Mobster Sam Giancana

Ten years ago, you were in the movie The Kennedys, portraying the notorious Sam Giancana. What was it like to play the horrific and historic Chicago mobster?

It was absolutely delicious playing such a baddy! In situations like this, you really can’t judge your character, it would make playing them far too difficult. So all you can do is focus on the character being present in this situation at this moment in time. You let the writing and the story do the rest.

In one scene, I’m in a telephone booth having a heated argument with Frank Sinatra who is sitting by a pool surrounded by beautiful girls in bathing suits. So, I’m thinking ‘How are they going to end this scene? On grumpy looking me or on Sinatra with all the eye candy?’

There was a problem with the accordion door of the telephone booth. Every time I’d open it, the door would come off its hinges and slowly unfold out into the space in front of the booth.

I thought to myself ‘If that happens, then the editor will have no choice but to end the scene on Sinatra.’ So, I proceeded to open and close the door some 50 times while they were setting up to shoot the scene, and I finally figured out just how to open it so it did not unhinge.

The final edited scene has my character exiting the telephone booth in a controlled rage and provides a powerful ending to the scene. I had to do a self-tape audition for The Kennedys, so I thought I’d put together a composite image of Giancana and myself to help reinforce my chances.

But I wondered where could I find a pair of those old style black rim glasses, then it occurred to me…that I had seen the film Avatar a few weeks earlier and had kept the 3d glasses! So I took a photo with them and then popped the lens out and took a few more. The advertising executive in me is never far away.

Serge Houde Dreams Of Scorsese

What sort of dream role would you like to play?

A recurring lead role in a TV series or an amazing character role in a feature film. I’ve been waiting for Scorsese’s call.

Patience truly is a virtue.

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve known Serge Houde since he was our neighbour at age 7 or 8. Much to the delight of my wife and I, he would drop in often. We looked forward to his appearances because even at that age he was highly entertaining. He kept us in stitches by mimicking other entertainers. When I learned that he had become an actor at 35, I was not surprised. I had the feeling, “Why did he take so long to discover his true calling”. There were gaps of time when we lost touch over the years but happily he would pop into sight every so often to our delight. Happily, during the latter years we have been in regular contact and have been able to follow his career. Serge is like family to me. A truly fine man.

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