Ali Liebert levels up to boss mode
Ali Liebert knew she was ready for a new kind of challenge when she reached out to the Hallmark Channel with an idea that would put her in the driver’s seat.
It's not that the Vancouver-based actress – who won a Canadian Screen Award in 2015 for her iconic role in Bomb Girls, and a 2016 Leo Award for her work in The Devout – wanted to walk away from acting. Far from it: in 2017, she wowed audiences and critics in wildly different roles in ABC's Ten Days in the Valley (in which she played a cop investigating the disappearance of a young girl) and Wonder, the feature film starring Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts that's poised to go down in history as the first kindness-themed box office blockbuster.
But Liebert was ready for more: more input into a script; more say in how it translated to the screen.
And so Liebert sought out a script and took it to the Hallmark Channel. The specialty channel was her first choice because “one of my biggest roles at the beginning of my career was playing a best friend in a Hallmark movie,” she says in a recent phone interview. “I had never pitched anything on that level, and then we got the green light and it was all systems go.”
The result is Cooking with Love, a Hallmark Channel movie for which Liebert wore two hats: executive producer and star.
Here’s how the Hallmark Channel describes Cooking with Love on its official web site: “Optimistic and cheerful TV producer Kelly doesn’t have time for love. Bad boy celebrity chef Stephen doesn’t have time for anything besides cooking. Fun with a side of love ensues as Kelly and Stephen are paired on a children's cooking show.” Cooking with Love premieres February 11 on the Hallmark Channel.
Cooking up Cooking with Love, says Liebert, was an “expansive learning process, and I loved it. It was exciting to sit in on all of the meetings and have opinions. There are so many times in my career when I had ideas and there’s no time or money for them to be heard.”
But the experience wasn’t without its challenges, especially in those moments when Liebert had to temporarily remove her producer’s hat and put on her actor’s chapeau.
It helped that the nature of the script meant the transition between roles was borderline meta. “The producing hat never really went away because I was also playing a producer, so it was very copacetic,” chuckles Liebert, who’d already had a taste of producing as a partner in Sociable Films (the dynamos behind Afterparty and Paranormal Solutions Inc.).
Liebert had a strong team around her: local producers Jess Havisto and Gilles LaPlante and Reel One Entertainment, actors like Brett Dalton, Gabrielle Rose, Kimberly Sustad, and Andrew McIlroy, and director Jem Garrard (“She’s honestly brilliant and is going huge places,” says Liebert).
Cooking with Love hasn't aired yet, but Liebert already considers it a success – and is already talking with Hallmark about future projects.
There’s no secret recipe for her recent career strides, says Liebert – except for persistence.
Unabashed, unbridled, and unapologetic persistence.
“I’ve had a couple young women ask me, ‘How did that happen?’ I just asked and kept asking," says Liebert. "I don’t wait for an invitation, and moving forward, I’m going to keep doing that."
"The people at Hallmark didn’t ask me if I wanted to be an executive producer and star in a movie," she continues. "I just kept bugging them. I’ve always been like that, since I was a kid. All they can say is no, so I’m not going to wait for them to lay a red carpet out for me. I’m just going to lay it down myself.”
Speaking of red carpets, Liebert recently walked one in Hollywood for the premiere of Wonder, in which she plays Auggie’s science teacher.
“I think one of [Wonder]’s greatest messages – besides kindness, which is an incredible message – is just that you’re allowed to like school,” marvels Liebert, noting that she’s “proud to be a part of something that so many people loved, and having kids with facial differences see themselves reflected in a way that is truthful but also uplifting is incredible.”
What does 2018 hold for Liebert? Ideally, more executive producing, more acting, and a new threshold to break through: directing. Whatever she does, she intends to "do it with my full heart and my full intelligence and commit,” says Liebert. “If I’m doing your short film or I’m doing Wonder, I’m going to put the same amount of my energy and heart into something. I’ve truthfully always been like that.”
Cooking with Love airs February 11 on the Hallmark Channel. Follow @AliLiebert.