Author Sandra Brown has 67 best-selling titles under her belt, and on April 17 at 8 p.m. Eastern, she’ll see one of them come to life as a spotlighted film on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Starring “Dukes of Hazzard” star John Schneider as ruthless father Huff Hoyle and “90210” alum Shenae Grimes-Beech as his estranged daughter Sayre, “Sandra Brown’s White Hot” will take viewers on a twist-filled journey through an intriguing murder mystery. On April 13, Examiner chatted exclusively with Brown and Schneider to find out more about the film, to get Schneider’s view on faith and the entertainment industry, and to ask whether either would ever be willing to appear on “Dancing with the Stars.” (Hint: someone said yes!)
Sherry Wight: Sandra, you’ve written 67 best sellers, which is incredible to me. Now “White Hot” is a fabulous title. What makes it a great movie?
Sandra Brown: [The producer] came to me as a fan of the book. One reason I think it lends itself to the movie so well is because it’s not only a murder mystery but it’s also about a very dysfunctional family. Because of the death of one of the children in the family, they all have to come together and address issues that’d been avoided for at least a decade. So at the same time they’re trying to solve the murder, they’re trying to resolve… all of the discord in the family. John plays the father, the patriarch, with whom most of the children have issues of one kind or another. It was a very different role for him but he does it brilliantly.
John Schneider: [Laughs] It was a lot of fun.
SW: John, I want to know: what was it about this particular project that got your attention?
JS: I enjoy playing the complex father figure…. Like Sandra just said, there’s a need to come together as a family because of this tragedy that’s occurred, and there’s a willingness on my character’s part, a desire to resolve some issues. But the children –my daughter particularly– doesn’t want to have anything to do with it: hadn’t spoken to me in years, haven’t seen each other in years, and just when we need to come together as a family to figure out the mystery, she won’t do it. So in my mind, she’s the bad guy. It was a great opportunity for someone who’s played a good guy for a long time to be able to expand.
SB: That’s an interesting perspective. I’ve never thought of it that way.
JS: Yeah, she won’t talk about it. She won’t talk about it at all… so she sets us back from figuring out the mystery. It’s a lot of fun. There’re more levels to a tyrannical character, to a bad guy, than there are to a good guy. People don’t ever ask why people are good; they just assume they are inherently good. But people always want to explore in-depth why bad people are bad. So this is a wonderful mystery. The book came out 12 years ago and has been selling copies every day since, so we know the words are tried and true, and hopefully we actor-types did something good with those words and not something detrimental.
SB: They did. I kind of had some input on the script, and a lot of the dialog came directly off the pages of the book, which is very important for the author. It’s like “what a concept! Let’s go back to the original!” So I think that helped portray the characters that I saw in my head. I heard what they said and I saw what they did and I wrote it down. I always feel almost like a reporter more than a creator because I write so visually that I see the action and I kind of just relate it to my reader. So it was great to actually hear the words spoken by the actors that I had heard the first time in my head.
JS: Was that freaky?
SB: It is very freaky [laughs].
SW: Very cool. I love to hear about process, so it’s cool to hear about yours. Now John, I want to go off the tracks a little bit because I’ve always wondered this and I can finally ask you.
SW: How does your faith impact the decisions you make in the entertainment industry, given that there’re so many questionable things that happen there.
JS: Aah. Well, there are many sides to a story. Some of the worst people in the history of literature are in the Bible. So there is a time, I think, in people’s walk that they only want to be the good guy. They only want to depict warm and fuzzy things.
But in order to understand good, you have to explore evil; you have to recognize the existence of it. I think that as an actor, as someone who is living an arc and not just playing an arc, there’s great opportunity for me now to look for characters that will help the good guy be better by being a really tremendous bad guy. And as an actor, it’s very rewarding, too. You have to have those characters: you have to have Herod. You have to have a wonderful one who’s on the fence, [like] Pontius Pilate, someone who says “hey, this is not my issue, this is your issue.” That’s a wonderful character to play. So I’m enjoying it.
People want me to want to do warm and fuzzy, preachy things, [but] I just don’t want to do those anymore. I feel that there was a time to preach to the choir, but there’s not anymore. I believe that… I’m past that time. So that’s why I love playing Huff Hoyle.
SW: I hear ya. I remember your turns on “Diagnosis Murder” as a killer and they were fascinating.
JS: Oh yes! Well to have the opportunity to work with Dick Van Dyke was, I mean, my gosh [laughs].
SW: Very quickly, tell me about your film mentorship program.
JS: We do several films a year at John Schneider Studios in Holden, Louisiana, and every film we do, we invite people in from all departments to learn camera, learn sound, learn lighting, sometimes learn acting, if that’s what they’re interested in. I was mentored through “The Dukes of Hazzard,” so I believe in returning that favor and mentoring new folks who are interested in film, cinema, and storytelling through the program there at John Schneider Studios. I love it. Every minute of it.
SW: Excellent. Sandra, when and where can we catch the premiere of “White Hot”?
SB: April 17 on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.
SW: Excellent. Now to close it out, random question for both of you. You’re a best selling author, Sandra; John, amazing actor, love you to death. Would either of you do “Dancing with the Stars”?
SB: Oh absolutely. I wish they’d call me tomorrow.
JS: [Laughs] I could not see myself on “Dancing with the Stars.” Dancing comes to me as naturally as walking does to fish. [Vigorously shakes head] Not gonna happen.
SB: [Laughs] I would love it! I would love it.
JS: [Turning to Brown] I would watch you on “Dancing with the Stars.”