The strange thing about Minnesota stereotypes is that they're basically true. Garrison Keillor and "Fargo" are only exaggerating by a tad; "Minnesota nice" is a real thing, as is that sense of calm. And somehow, Alison Sweeney seems perfect for the role of Hannah Swenson in "Murder, She Baked" movies. Sweeney may be a California blonde with an Irish background, but she projects a Swedish sense of calm ... even when recalling a ski accident. Her new film arrives Sunday; here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
This is the true
sign of a show-business professional:
You've just had a
skiing injury; now your life should be flashing before your eyes.
Instead, you wonder if this will disrupt the filming schedule.
“It's the first
thing that occurred to me, as I was laying in the snow,” Alison
After all, she's not
just a hired hand in the “Murder, She Baked” movies. Sweeney
produces them and stars in them as Hannah Swenson, a small-town
Minnesota baker, strong of will and warm of heart; Sunday's film,
“Just Desserts,” will be her fifth in less than two years.
That's the one that
has a hobbled Hannah. “It really came out of necessity,” Sweeney
said. “I didn't want to write it in, but it would be hard to work
She couldn't have
predicted her first accident in 36 years on the slopes. “I've been
skiing my whole life,” Sweeney said. “My parents took me up when
I was 4 years old.”
The latest movie has
someone stalking the judges in a baking contest, so the rewrite was
basic: Now Hannah is the first one stalked. She's injured, bringing
some humor and a limp: Her action-hero moment – pursuing a villain
down the school hallways – becomes a very slow-speed chase.
These movies require
a merger of three key talents:
-- Joanne Fluke,
whose novels the films are based on. She's written 36 novels under
that name and others under six pseudonyms, but Hannah may be her
alter ego. Fluke is a lifelong baker who grew up in Swanville, a tiny
town – its population plunged from 351 in 2000 to 350 in 2010 –
Tabori, a veteran actor, directing his fourth Hannah movie. He
sometimes uses the name K.T. Donaldson, which makes sense: His
initials are K.T. and he is Donald's son; his dad, Don Siegel, was a
highly regarded director who made four Clint Eastwood films,
including “Dirty Harry.”
-- And Sweeney, who
fits the role neatly. Yes, she grew up Irish in California and Hannah
grew up Scandinavian in Minnesota; still, they seem to share a
For Sweeney, that
comes from more than 20 years (and 1,785 episodes) in the “Days of
Our Lives” soap opera. “When you're working crazy fast,”
filming a movie in 15 days, it still seems workable, she said.
“Nothing compares to when you have 120 (script) pages a day on a
She was 16 when she
started playing Sami. By then, she'd been acting for more than a
decade, ranging from a well-known “Tales From the Darkside”
episode (as the little girl who knew when people were about to die)
to a pair of short-lived situation comedies. Later, she also hosted
“The Biggest Loser,” getting insight about weight loss and about
take-away was the importance of the human side,” Sweeney said.
“Ultimately, believing in yourself is No. 1.”
Lately, Hallmark has
believed in her. After she did the first “Murder, She Baked,” she
was directed by Tabori in the clever “Love on the Air.” Since
then, she's hired him for the “The Irresistible Blueberry Farm”
and the next four Hannah films. “He's not afraid to tell you,
'You're playing it too safe now.'”
Often, life can't be
safe. That's true of skiing or chasing small-town killers.
-- “Murder, She
Baked: Just Desserts,” Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
-- Debuts 9 p.m.
Sunday, preceded by the other Hannah Swenson films at 1, 3, 5 and 7
-- Also: 5 p.m.
Monday, 7 p.m. Friday (March 31), 5 p.m. April 2, with other Hannah
films at 1 and 3
Sweeney/Tabori “Irresistible Blueberry Farm” airs at 5 p.m.
Tuesday (March 28)