Hallmark's Kristoffer Polaha Has Been Spending A Lot Of Time In The South: Here’s Why

Working on two films in two Southern cities, Polaha said it was “a fond reminder of how much I love the South.”

Kristoffer Polaha

Kailey Schwerman

From big blockbusters like Wonder Woman 1984 and Jurassic World Dominion to television shows like Condor, Mad Men, and Life Unexpected, you’d be hard pressed to peruse your cable TV channels at any given moment without seeing actor Kristoffer Polaha’s face pop up. And of course, we can’t forget all of his many Hallmark movies and the popular series Mystery 101. He’s just wrapped filming on his 18th feature for the network. But lately, the Reno, Nevada, native has been spending a lot of time in our neck of the woods. 

“Starting January 4th I was in Asheville, North Carolina, filming a Hallmark movie called A Biltmore Christmas with Bethany Joy Lenz and then that wrapped on the 29th and then the next day I was in Birmingham, Alabama, filming The Shift. And getting to see both cities in the southeast quadrant of this country was a fond reminder of how much I love the South,” Polaha told Southern Living when we caught up with him during the second of those two Southern projects, an independent film shot entirely in Birmingham, homebase for SL. In total he spent January to the beginning of March down South. “The people are amazing, the food is good, and what I love about it is there is such a clear cut sense of identity, about [each city and town] in the South.”

While filming for Hallmark in Asheville, Polaha was drawn to the North Carolina mountain city’s perfect blend of old and new—the juxtaposition that makes it one of the South’s Best Cities now. “There was this almost [sense of] revival. A lot of artists, and a lot of interesting artwork on the walls, and the restaurants are really good. While they’ve got Biltmore [estate], they’re also looking at ‘well what else do we have and what else do we do?’ So there’s this really cool sense of who they are.”

After wrapping A Biltmore Christmas, Polaha then spent five weeks in Birmingham where he and the rest of the cast and crew of The Shift, utilized the vast landscapes and rich history of this Southern city to build the many worlds of the multiverse for this, as he described it, “non-genre film.” Polaha continued, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this before. But it’s a romance set against the landscape of a sci-fi multiverse thriller. So it’s a genre-bending, and there is a faith element because it’s basically the story of Job. It's a wild ride.” 

For his Hallmark fan base, this will be something entirely different. But Polaha thinks it’s still something those folks will like. “People who love a good ol’ fashioned rom-com, it’s still a love story even though it is wrapped up in sci-fi and even though it’s wrapped up in multiverse, I think it’s still a movie that wives are going to take their husbands to see. They’re both going to enjoy it equally.”

The Shift Bridge Scene

Joth Riggs

The cast also includes, Neal McDonough (Yellowstone, Minority Report), Sean Astin (The Goonies, The Lord of the Rings, Stranger Things), Rose Reid (Finding You), as well as several cast members of the popular show The Chosen; Elizabeth Tabish, Paras Patel, and Jordan Walker Ross. The Shift is the first original feature-length theatrical film from the same team that distributed The Chosen, Angel Studios. It was written and directed by Brock Heasley for producer Ken Carpenter’s Nook Lane Entertainment, which is based in Franklin, Tennessee. 

Heasley said in a press release, “The rich textures of Birmingham provide the perfect canvas on which to tell this story.” 

“Shooting here in Birmingham, Alabama, has probably been my favorite part of it,” Polaha said. “It’s just steeped in historical significance.” Production took place in many notable locations throughout the Magic City including The Masonic Temple, which is a Civil Rights monument, Sloss Furnaces, and the historic 4th Ave business district, which for over 100 years has been the center of Black entrepreneurship and culture in this city. While filming inside of The Masonic Temple, Polaha was humbled by the magnitude of significant moments that took place within those very walls. “It was a staging center for the Civil Rights movement. Before that Martin Luther King Jr. was there to play pool, Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington played on the stage that we got to act on. I mean the history is so thick and rich.”

Now, a teaser trailer has been released for The Shift, which shows just how much of this Southern city will be showcased in the feature film.

“I think the most interesting thing about working in the South…there is this deep sense of history and belonging in place…I have history in Los Angeles and my kids will have history there too. But it’s weirdly not as celebrated as it is in the South. I find the South is really tied in a unique way to who they belong to and where they came from. And where they’re going is directly anchored to where they’re from.”

He also spoke of the personal connection he felt when filming at Sloss Furnaces. “My dad’s dad was a steel man at Bethlehem Steel and to see Sloss and to see what that was like, it was like just a daily reminder of my dad. I just really felt a strong connection to my own father being here and his dad.”

The Shift Sloss Furnaces

Joth Riggs

Even on days off from filming, Polaha spent his time immersing himself in everything that this Alabama city had to teach him. “My wife and kids joined me and we went to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church for church and so being a part of that part of American history and Black History which I feel are one in the same, is a really cool thing. You don’t get that in a lot of places, you don't just get that kind of history.” 

Kristoffer Polaha Family

Kristoffer Polaha

Polaha lived in a loft on Morris Ave. for the duration of filming and after long days on set, he became somewhat of a regular at Bar La Fête, thanks to their late night menu offerings and great atmosphere. He also took in other local haunts like Juniper and Alabama’s Best Restaurant 2023, The Bright Star.

“And of course my father-in-law is from Alabama. He’s from Dothan, Alabama. And so to feel connected to my wife’s personal history in this way is also a sweet moment for me,” he added.

The father of three may not be a Southerner himself but his connections to the region run deep. His wife Julianne Morris was born in South Carolina and raised in Florida. “I married a Southerner. So I like you Southern folks,” he said with a smile. Their 2003 wedding was even featured in an issue of Southern Living

We look forward to A Biltmore Christmas premiering this holiday season during Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas and while subject to change, Angel Studios expects The Shift to be in movie theaters nationwide in January 2024.

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