When viewers tune into Daphne Zuniga’s “A Family Thanksgiving” Hallmark Channel movie tomorrow (11/6), they’ll be seeing moments out of the actress’ own life as the holiday fantasy tale unfolds. That’s because Daphne, who was in on the development of the project over four years, invested her heart and humor into it.
The charming fantasy romantic comedy has Daphne as a tough, workaholic attorney who has a great wardrobe and an upscale apartment, but no personal life whatsoever. Then, thanks to a run-in with a magical lady (Faye Dunaway), she finds herself in an alternative existence — the life she would have been leading had she fallen in love, married and had children. The movie turned out to be a love letter to Daphne’s sister, niece and nephew, and a foray into a lifestyle Daphne herself has never tried.
“I never wanted kids,” says the dark-haired beauty, whose credits range from “Melrose Place” to “The Sure Thing” to “Spaceballs.” She’s never married, relishes her professional life and spends much of her off-set hours engaged in environmentalist pursuits.
“My stamina isn’t that high with children. I tutored them when I was in college and there’s definitely a switch in me that turns off after a certain amount of time. My boyfriend has three kids,” she adds, “but they’re older, in college.
“I’m that woman who, when my sister Jennifer said, ‘Change her diaper,’ I said, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ I tried. I’m sure I taped it on wrong.”
And yet, she’s clearly crazy about niece Nellie and nephew Kyle, “who is such a star athlete. I wanted to make my character’s son a hockey player like him — he’s really good — but it didn’t work out logistically.” Besides, having a soccer-playing kid is de rigueur for a soccer mom like her character, Claudia.
Cast into the unfamiliar world of car pooling and junior soccer, Claudia quickly faces the consequences of giving her children wa-a-ay too much sugar and of trying to dress up a little girl who despises wearing tights.
Both those sequences were inspired by her relationship with her
real-life niece and nephew. “I didn’t know that sugar makes kids absolutely
crazy,” she admits, recalling her sister’s kids “acting like maniacs” while she had them out at a store. And dressing up her niece, well, it sounds as if it’s never gone well.
“She didn’t want anything to do with it. She’s a funky little kid, not interested pink bows. Once I was there taking care of them for a couple of days which was, in itself, hilarious. The first day of school, I put her in orange tights and a Ralph Lauren sweater and a corduroy jumper. She has this amazing beautiful blond hair. She looked incredible. So when I went to pick her up, I asked, ‘So what did the teacher and kids say about your outfit?’ And she said, ‘My teacher said, ‘It’s 90 degrees out there. Why are you wearing a sweater?'” She laughs.
Daphne, in fact, expects to spend Thanksgiving with Jennifer and her family, who live outside Boston. She’ll likely fly up from North Carolina, where she shoots “One Tree Hill” — as Victoria Davis, the very, very, very bad mother of Sophia Bush. Daphne’s boyfriend, David Mleczko, will likely meet her there, she says.
“He does marketing for green companies, branding that’s important to both of us,” reports Daphne.
These days, she is deeply involved in the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation, having been appointed to the board of that not-for-profit entity last year by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The corporation aims to speed up the sustainable development of the river — which is now largely cement — and transform it into lush natural form for the enrichment of the entire community and the growth of green businesses.
That Claudia in “A Family Thanksgiving” is involved in a legal case involving the building of a plant with potentially toxic output close to a neighborhood park also has everything to do with Daphne’s own environmental concerns.
“We were sitting around in meetings and I said I wanted a green message in the movie, and the producers were all very open to that,” she says.
Daphne has seen the negative impact of industrial waste. “It’s always the poor neighborhoods that are hit, neighborhoods where the people don’t have the resources or the time to fight these companies because they’re so busy scrambling to make ends meet,” she observes. For example, she notes, near the Port of Los Angeles, a group organized a “Toxic Tour” that provides undeniable views of the effects of illegal dumping on nearby residents.
With her acting work and green activism Daphne doesn’t have much in the way of spare time, but she likes it that way. “I like to stay busy. I have a
hard time sitting still,” she admits. “Having this movie finally come to screen
after four years of development — through the writer’s strike, through a change of regime — it’s really thrilling.”