Last year, Netflix’s A California Christmas debuted at No.1, bringing stuck-at-home audiences a tale of romance and holiday cheer set in wine country. On Dec. 16, the streamer released the sequel, A California Christmas: City Lights, where now married couple Joseph and Callie leave the ranch for a whole new chapter in San Francisco. Ahead of the premiere, stars Lauren and Josh Swickard (yes, the couple in the movie are married IRL) sat down with LA Confidential to discuss the success of the first movie, what to expect from City Lights and what it was like filming as new parents.
Before we dive into City Lights, let’s look back to last year. What was it like to see A California Christmas debut at No.1 on Netflix?
Lauren Swickard: Oh my gosh, it was so unexpected to us, but it was such a wonderful surprise. I think it was the day after it came out. We woke up and it was like 6 a.m. and our movie was No. 1.
Why do you think audiences were so drawn to Callie and Joseph’s story?
Josh Swickard: It was cool because, to me, it fit so many different categories. It was a feel-good, cheesy Christmas movie, but then it also had some depth and gravity to it that feel-good, cheesy doesn't, and then there's also this love and romantic side that's more rom-com. So, to me, hit different avenues that not a lot of movies do. And during that part of COVID, December 2020, nobody was leaving their homes and the news was really depressing. And when you turn on a movie like that, you kind of know what you're going to get at the end and I think people wanted that uplifting, fun, feel-good movie at that time.
A lot of Christmas movies are set in big cities like New York, so when we do end up in small towns, there’s usually some snow. That’s not the case here! Lauren, as the writer, why did you decide to set a Christmas time love story in wine country?
LS: Well, my two favorite things are Christmas and wine, so I just really wanted to show the romance that is a wine vineyard and wine country, in general. The texture of wine country is just so good. I know there are quite a few movies that have to do with wine and wine vineyards, but there weren't a lot of holiday movies, so I thought it was a good way to be a different Christmas movie.
Can you tell us more about the inception of A California Christmas?
JS: The executive producer of the film, Ali Afshar, who's also in it— he plays Leo. He has a production company and he called us midway into COVID and was like, “Is there a world that you think we could do a Christmas movie in four months?” And Lauren's known for being able to crank out a script pretty quick. And so, Lauren’s like, “Yeah, let's do it!” And the three of us were sitting on the phone in our office… and it was a 10-minute phone call that turned into Cali Christmas.
LS: This is a little secret. I don't think I've ever said this in an interview or anything. At first, we were going to make the land something… In that part of the country, Native American history is really interesting, and so we were going to have something to do with the land. So it completely changed from that.
JS: It was gonna be more about rights and laws…
LS: And conservation. And then all of a sudden…
JS: The feel-good, romance kind of took over.
LS: And the wine happened later.
Looking to A California Christmas: City Lights, what can audiences look forward to about Joseph and Callie’s new adventure?
JS: This one, it's time to go to the other side of the tracks. So Joseph came to her world, and he learned how to be a ranch hand. And so something comes up where they have to go to San Francisco, and now the country girl gets a taste of the city life. There's so many little head nods and hat tips to the first one that I think it'll be a treat for people to to watch the first one right before and then it's all fresh in their head. But if they don't, it's still a really cute, fun movie. There's just a lot more inside jokes, I guess, if you watch the first one as well.
LS: My favorite character in the first and second movie is Manny. And we've upped all that is Manny for the second movie. David Del Rio is just incredible. He's an incredible actor and comedian.
When writing the script, was it pretty obvious the next step would be to come face to face with Joseph’s old life in San Francisco?
LS: I just thought it was a perfect parallel to take what Joseph experienced, where he just experienced a whole new life with Callie for a year— I just thought it would be time for Callie to go to the city and it worked out really well.
Your daughter, Savannah, was born in April. What was it like filming as new parents?
LS: Well, I feel the time was split a lot more than I realized it would be. For instance, in the first movie, when I wasn't shooting in a scene, I was able to be hanging out with the crew, in video village, running around set. But this movie, if I wasn't filming or working on just doing producer duties, I was in either the trailer with the baby or— we were staying in a hotel for half of it— or the hotel room. It was a different experience, though I loved it because I had my baby on set to go take breaks with.
JS: She was so focused on trying to be a good actress and a good producer and a good mom all at the same time. I was still there for Savannah, but I think my focus was more her (Lauren) just because she had so many plates spinning at once that I was just trying to reassure her and that kind of thing. But it's very cool going from the movie we met on and then doing Cali Christmas without a baby and now doing this, it's a very neat feeling just in our marriage, in our relationship. We feel so fortunate.
What are you looking forward to about the holidays? Any particular traditions you’re excited about?
JS: We're actually kind of like figuring it out. We had our family ones growing up and now that we're married and we're out far away from them and having kids, we’ve got to build our own, so I don't know. Something with fondue maybe by a fireplace.
LS: Oh, that’s fun. I love to make mulled wine. It just makes the whole house smell good.
It's so cute. Last year I was pregnant with her, and this year, instead of standing by the tree with a big belly, we’ll stand by the tree with a baby.
JS: My favorite part of parenting is seeing the imagination through their eyes. I feel like we lose it so much as we become adults, and the way they look at plants and trees or think about Santa Claus or Christmas, it’s just like I'm taking notes the whole time.
Is there just anything else that you would like to add?
JS: We're just super grateful for the fans that watched the first one. It was definitely not our intent to make a No. 1 movie by any means. It really hit us. We have no pressure with this one. We're just grateful that we got to go again. We just want to tell everyone that we're so thankful and grateful for the for the ride that they came with us on.
Do you think there'll be a third?
JS: There's whispers, but…
LS: It’s so crazy
JS & LS: We can't say anything.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Photography by: Courtesy Netflix