A City-Born Woman Who Is Country at Heart
By Jay S. Jacobs
The new Hallmark Channel movie Country at Heart was tailor made for Jessy Schram, allowing her to merge her skills as an actress and a singer. Schram, who has done several films for the network over the years jumped at the opportunity to work on the film.
She plays Shayna, an aspiring singer who is finally worn down from attempting to make it in Nashville. She goes back to her small-town Tennessee home, where her family runs an annual music festival. While at home she comes between two Nashville musicians who have a rift between them – Duke [Lucas Bryant], a country music superstar who feels like he is past his prime musically, and Grady [Niall Matter], a guitarist and songwriter who worked with Duke in the early days and feels he never got credit for his part in Duke’s popularity.
Shayna starts collaborating with both of them on a new song for Duke, and as the writing and singing becomes more intimate she has to decide on both men romantically as well, all the while trying to mend the rift between the guys.
It’s a sweet and charming film which goes down easy as cold lemonade, particularly in these complicated post-pandemic days.
Schram has a long history with the network, getting her start as a child in their series of Jane Doe movies and also giving lead performances in earlier movies for the channel – The Reluctant Nanny, Harvest Moon and The Birthday Wish. She has also had roles in such beloved series as Veronica Mars, Once Upon a Time, Nashville, Falling Skies and Mad Men. This year she has joined the cast of the popular series Chicago Med.
The Hallmark Channel originally planned on airing Country at Heart in June, which is when we spoke with Jessy. However, due to the pandemic, the movie was pushed back to August 13 for its premiere. So, now, with that premiere imminent, finally we can share with you what Schram had to say about the film, being a city woman in the country, acting, singing and life in a shelter-at-home world.
I almost interviewed you many years ago when you did the American Pie movie. At the time the publicist offered me an interview with you or your co-star Candace Kroslak, but they ended up setting me up with her. So, it’s nice to finally catch up with you.
Oh my God, that’s amazing! Wow!
How much fun is it to get a role in Country at Heart where you can use both your acting skills and your musical skills?
It’s my dream. To be able to use both of them, and to get to go deeper in both? They go hand in hand, so being able to connect the one with the other just makes it that much more fulfilling.
As a singer/songwriter, do you tend to do country music, or what kind of music do you do?
The music that I tend to write and tend to learn to play is definitely more folk based. Like Ingrid Michaelson or The Civil Wars. Definitely more folk, I would say.
I saw in an interview that Niall had to learn to play guitar for the role, which was impressive, he looked like a pro. What was he like to work with?
(laughs) This is the thing. I’ve been playing guitar on and off since my high school years. I can play to support what I am playing. But Niall learned literally two-and-a-half weeks before the production started and really, it’s a talent that I don’t think he knows that he has. He is fantastic at guitar now. When he learned it… he does all the little fancy things. You would never know that he doesn’t play full time. He picked it up amazingly.
It’s funny, a lot of the guys’ relationship sort of reminded me of Crazy Heart with Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell.
Of course, those characters didn’t have you to restore their connection. I found it refreshing that the big superstar eventually – without giving up too much – was a much more understanding man than you may originally think. Did you find their relationship intriguing?
I liked the relationship between them because something happened that caused that rift; a misunderstanding that was taken too far and never fixed. I feel like maybe in their relationship it had been acknowledged before, and they had so much care for each other, but it doesn’t matter because the thing happens that they just haven’t been able to get past. What was really neat was that my character got to be that connector. To be between the two. To communicate because they were having a hard time doing it all those years. I liked getting to be that role that is the connector between the two, because there is no reason why they shouldn’t be connected.
In what ways would you say that you are most like Shayna?
Because I’ve been in the industry as long as I have, and I’m also a musician, so much of Shayna… I feel like I understand where she is coming from. You’re going through life. You’re devoting everything to this business, and it’s not working out for you. Or, you just don’t know where you want to be anymore. You need to refresh that love for what you’re doing. So, I feel like the storyline with Shayna, I was able to just really connect with that naturally and from my own feelings know where she was coming from.
What parts of her character were more difficult for you to connect with as an actress?
When it comes to Shayna, she is a little bit more hopeful. A little bit more… “Okay, let’s try this.” I feel like even though she has fears she is a little bit lighter about everything. The only thing I needed to remind myself is that Shayna’s version of burnt out isn’t really insanely burnt out, if that makes any sense. (laughs)
You were born is Skokie, Illinois, which is close to Chicago, but I have noticed in at least this film and Harvest Moon and even stuff like Nashville, you’ve played country women. Do you feel more comfortable in the city or the country?
I definitely love both. I think having a mix is so important for my spirit, but I love the country. I would say though I come from the city… a northwest suburb of Mission City, Buffalo Grove… I love the city and the energy and the opportunities that the city provides. You don’t get bored in the city. But I personally tend to love the open spaces and connecting with nature. When I can slow down a little bit more, I think life is a little easier.
So, in the words of the song from the movie, would you like to be a big deal in a small town?
Ahh… (laughs) I feel like there’s a bit of that. It came from my suburbs that I did. I had done acting when I was younger, so when I moved to LA, that was going to the bigger town to get to. I think being a big deal in a small town would be very pressure filled.
There is a real Silverado Music Festival in California, but I can’t find that there is one in Tennessee. Is the movie based on that real festival or was it just made up for the production?
From what I remember, it was made for the production. Maybe they thought of Silverado because of the California one, but then didn’t realize it wasn’t in Tennessee. (laughs)
Not to be too nit-picky, but your character’s family ran the festival, so why was it so hard for you to get on the ticket?
Thank you! That was my argument along the way as well. I think because the festival is supposed to be like the Lone Star Festival, or Coachella Festival, so nepotism really isn’t looked highly upon. But my argument was: why couldn’t I play one of the lesser stages? Not lesser, I’ll rephrase that, one of the smaller stages, even if I wasn’t the headliner. I had that argument as well.
Right, the 1:00 in the afternoon slot on a side stage…
Exactly! But one of the things they reminded me of too is where I’m at in the movie. Maybe in years past I would have played one of the smaller stages but coming home this time I was just needing a break from the music business. I think that’s more what they were thinking; I signed off because I just needed to take a break.
You’ve done a lot of work on the Hallmark Channel, going back to when you were very young with the Jane Doe movies. How did you get involved with them and what are they like to work with?
Jane Doe was amazing. That was the job that brought me to California. I had plans to move on like a Friday, and then I booked the role as Lea Thompson’s daughter on Jane Doe and had to come on like a Wednesday or a Thursday. So, I got to come out to California with a job. Getting to do that is extremely rare. I’m so grateful that I had this series of movies that I got to do with them. It really became my foundation when I first moved to Hollywood. I had gone, I filmed a bunch of different things, and when I came back to them, I was in the position of getting to be the leading lady. So, it was a really fun full circle, getting to come back and work with the people that were a part of my foundation of Hollywood and be in a different position.
I mentioned earlier that you were born in the Skokie area, and recently you’ve joined the cast of Chicago Med, which is filmed close by. Was if fun to get to work in a show close to where you grew up?
It is. It’s so amazing. All of my family is still back in the Chicagoland area, so I got to be close to them. Also, just getting to come back to the real foundation of where I started. Coming back to my roots was really fun. It’s a different community that is in Chicago, so getting to be part of that again was really refreshing.
Chicago Med has been going for a while. How quickly did you feel like you fit in to the cast?
It is always terrifying to go to a new set, especially one that you might only be there for a few days. And one that has been going for as long as they have. So, it was scary, but this cast and crew was so welcoming right off the start. Just so, so welcoming and so open and so patient to the learning curve of being a doctor and everything. It was really the best-case scenario when coming to a set like this, because a lot of the time people are just used to doing what they do all the time. Everybody just really went out of their way to make me feel comfortable, even though they didn’t even know I’d be there for more than an episode.
You’ve also been on such popular series as Veronica Mars, Once Upon a Time, Nashville, Falling Skies and Mad Men. What is it like to be part of such popular, iconic titles?
Oh gosh, I feel so grateful and so blessed for it. Half of those shows that I got to work on that have such amazing quality and such a great fan base, I was a super fan of before getting to go work on them. It’s the dream, really, to be able to work on shows that are successful in that regard and that you have great experiences with.
With the world going so crazy right now, how do you feel that nice, wholesome entertainment like Country at Heart is needed by people?
I think anything that can help bring some hope, some lightness to your heart in a time where it is really heavy, it’s really important to try and find that balance. [Something] that takes time to help lift you up in a time that things are hard. Hopefully, it will do that work for people who need it.
Well, along those lines, how have you been dealing with the whole shelter in place world?
Shelter in place, I feel like, we thought it was going to be two weeks and it’s turned into almost three months. So, every day is a new day is what I’ve learned. And in that day, there is a rollercoaster. It’s been a time where I definitely had to slow down, like everybody else. It’s been a challenge, but I feel really grateful that everybody in my life has been healthy and if they were sick that they have come out of it well. I just feel really lucky that during quarantine I’ve got a roof over my head and the people around me, we’re all checking in on each other all the time. It’s been a challenge, but I’m doing well.
Copyright ©2020 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 9, 2020.
Photos #1 & 2 ©2020 Kristie Schram. Courtesy of MLC PR. All rights reserved.
All other photos ©2019 Steve Wilkie and Shane Mahood. Courtesy of The Hallmark Channel. All rights reserved.