British Columbia

Meet the Vancouver actor who's been in 27 Hallmark movies — usually as Kenny

Hallmark has become synonymous with holiday movies — and an essential part of Vancouver's film scene for these film industry insiders. One face you're bound to recognize is actor Nelson Wong, who's been in 27 Hallmark movies.

Nelson Wong's appearances have become a long-running wink to fans of the genre

Vancouver actor Nelson Wong as Angelo in the 2021 Hallmark movie A Godwink Christmas: Miracle of Love. (Hallmark Movies & Mysteries)

Fans of the romantic comedy genre may know the movie 27 Dresses, in which Katherine Heigl's character serves as a bridesmaid an astonishing 27 times. 

Vancouver actor Nelson Wong can relate to that number — his claim to fame is his 27 roles in Hallmark movies. 

Wong's Hallmark ties started when he played Kenny Kwon, a sidekick to a detective, in the 2005 mystery movie Third Man Out for director Ron Oliver. 

When Oliver started directing for Hallmark, he made sure to find a place for Wong — often as a character named Kenny.

"As Ron started working for Hallmark, Kenny started working for Hallmark. It's just grown into a thing. The fans seem to respond to it and 27 movies later, here we are," said Wong, laughing. 

Wong as Kenny in the 2017 Hallmark film The Christmas Train, which starred Dermot Mulroney, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Danny Glover and Joan Cusack. (The Christmas Train/Hallmark Hall of Fame)

Wong moved to Vancouver when he was around six years old from New Zealand. He has been acting since 1999, and has also appeared in video games like Far Cry 4 and TV shows like Arrow and Riverdale.

He has said in previous interviews that he comes from a Jehovah's Witness background, and left the organization after he entered the film industry. 

Wong said he did not really celebrate the holiday season until after he became an actor in Hallmark movies.

As Kenny, he has shown up in various odd jobs and clerical roles. 

"Kenny has been a kitchen TV show director, a wedding planner. He's been a concierge at a plaza. He's been a baby daddy," said Wong.

"The whole time, I've been thinking Kenny is still undercover as a detective. He's just got these identities that allow him to go to these different universes."

A source of comfort

Hallmark Christmas movies — and close cousins on the Lifetime network and Netflix — have become an essential part of the holiday season. This year, Hallmark is releasing 41 Christmas or holiday themed movies, many of them filmed in and around Vancouver. 

Vancouver director Linda-Lisa Hayter, whose own Hallmark movie Five More Minutes comes out this season, said the core value of the film is love. 

"Whether it's romantic love, whether it's parental love, whether it's beautiful friendships, sisterhood, brotherhood, I think it's just love," said Hayter.

She said the movies are a source of comfort during hard times.

"We're going through so much trauma in our lives everywhere on the planet," she said.

"You've got beautiful lights. You've got some sweet music. It's like having a blanket around you. It's something that is soft, and comfortable and it feels good."

Nikki Deloach and David Haydn-Jones in Five More Minutes (2021), directed by Linda-Lisa Hayter. Hayter says Hallmark movies offer a sense of comfort during difficult times. (Five More Minutes/Hallmark Movies and Mysteries)

The movies have sometimes been criticized as being too schmaltzy, something Wong contends with in his other role as an acting coach with Haven Studio.

"[Actors] struggle with the Hallmark genre sometimes. They think it's a little too positive, too happy. I'm reminding these actors who always want to play the drama ... like The Bourne Identity," said Wong. 

"These Hallmark movies are actually more true to real life, I'd say — nice people trying their best given their circumstances."

Wong said his experience on the Hallmark set has led to other opportunities. 

"They've afforded me so much in the way of working relationships and oftentimes on set and moments on screen, I can't help but be in the Christmas spirit when I'm doing them now." 

Adapting for the times

A more serious criticism — that the stories lack diversity and almost always skew heterosexual — has been met with efforts to change from studios. 

"Personally, Hallmark's gone through a big change over the last few years and they are far more inclusive now, and I think that's attracting a far larger audience," said Hayter.

Wong said he's seen improvements over the past decade.

"There has been such a great movement ... [and] people are not satisfied with homogenous depictions of families, work families or Christmas," he said.

"It's kind of interesting to watch over the past decade as an LGBTQ Asian-Canadian artist myself to go into this world and to get to develop within it ... It's nice to be able to graduate from the clerical principal roles to actually have a relationship and to have belonging within these seasonal holiday pictures."

Vancouver actor Nelson Wong shares his thoughts about Hallmark movies after being in 27 of them and his plans to appear in even more.

With files from On The Coast and The Early Edition

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now