It’s that time of year again. Christmas lights are up, children are out of school, and your favorite holiday movies are playing. Some of those movies continue to melt the hearts of viewers.
The Hallmark Channel continues the holiday tradition with their new film Christmas Everlasting. The movie is the 262nd installment for its Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation. The star-studded cast includes Tatyana Ali, Patti Labelle and Dondre T. Whitfield.
We spoke with Whitfield on his role and career.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL: Thanks for speaking with us. You’ve had a successful career. What got you into acting?
DONDRE T. WHITFIELD: It all began with my teacher in elementary school. She was the only teacher who lived in my neighborhood, which was in the rough part of Brooklyn. She was one of the very few black teachers and was in charge of the school plays. Even on a teacher salary, she bought the actors shoes since the majority couldn’t afford them. She even changed the original West Side Story into an African version. My teacher spoke life into me. I often say the gift of imagination is the greatest gift you can give. Being an actor in this neighborhood was similar to joining a glee club.
LAS: Did you receive backlash from your peers about it?
WHITFIELD: Oh yeah. I told her, are you trying to get me beat up? One day I got in trouble for stepping out of line during a fire drill. I had a choice to be in the play or detention. Instead of detention, I chose the play instead. That started it all. Her name was Elaine Jackson. She just passed two weeks ago.
LAS: Sorry to hear that.
Whitfield: No worries. It was devastating but the work that I do now by speaking life into kids was a result from her kindness.
LAS: Let’s talk about the movie. What was your favorite part of filming Christmas Everlasting?
Whitfield: Working with Dennis Haysbert was great. He’s just a constant professional and great talent. We are both huge golfers and played on our days off. Also, working with Tatyana Ali. We connect on a certain level because we are both spouses and both have children. But the thing that truly moved me was working with Patti Labelle.
LAS: You have a connection with her right?
Whitfield: Yes I do. She has been somewhat of a surrogate mother to me. I met her years ago and even took a picture. I learned from by just watching her. Every time I watched her perform, it was as if her life was hanging in the balance. She was always giving her all. I vowed if I ever had a platform like she has, I would do the same. Meeting her was phenomenal. Months before filming, I told her one day we would work together. Later that year, we were working together and she was playing my mother. It was unreal.
LAS: You speak a lot about inspiration. What advice would you give to someone who is in a rut?
Whitfield: When someone tells you that you can’t, they are really saying that I can’t. You have to be careful on who you allow to speak life and death into your existence. When someone says you can’t, they are speaking death to your existence. That message becomes an info-commercial to your life. It will begin to inform the things that you do.