The last time we had the pleasure to speak with Kristoffer Polaha about his work was in December of 2019.
The world has changed a lot since then, but Kris, like many other creatives like him, embraced the change, jumping into new ventures in addition to spending quality time with his family.
As it turns out, 2020 was a very good year for Kris. Just last week, the latest installment of Mystery 101 aired on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, and on March 9, the romance novel he co-wrote was released to great acclaim.
“I was Jude’s, my little guy’s third-grade teacher, and then Julianne took over for the fall semester for his fourth-grade year. And over the summer, I worked, and I had this very interesting year where there were a lot of blessings.
“There were a lot of things that went well in the face of a lot of things that were going badly for the world, you know?”
With all of his creative energy simmering, a chance encounter with Anna Gomez, a successful author under the pen name Christine Brea, led to a collaboration on a contemporary romance novel.
Kris says Moments Like This (From Kona with Love) was written with the Hallmark audience in mind. It’s fun, flirty, and respectful, which isn’t always easy to find in women’s literature.
“I think that’s the most surprising thing about what we were able to pull off. We wanted to write a book that wasn’t going to offend my aunt in Tennessee, but that was still going to be exciting for women who are used to reading romance novels, and what we were trying to do was, hopefully, encourage the women’s husbands or if they had a friend and they’re like, ‘You should read it.’
“We just wanted to write a really good book, so we started with a very basic formula, and then, as we were writing, we just kept telling the story, and it kept getting a little deeper, and it kept getting a little more nuance till we remembered we had to bring the romance.
“It was just this living organism. And, again, because of the pandemic and because there was nothing but time,” Kris says of working writing into his schedule as an actor.
Actors and others traveling for movie and television productions face a grueling 15-day quarantine upon arrival. That solitary time without interruption could make you go mad, but it can also be used to great benefit.
“I did not see another human being for 15 days, which also means, I had an enormous amount of time. In a fever pitch, almost like a fever dream, my co-author, Anna Gomez and I, hammered out 55,000 words in 15 days. It was 46 chapters, and I think we wrote more than half of that in those 15 days, to the point where we finished the book.”
Currently working on the second book in their From Kona with Love series, Kris says that he’s never had as much artistic control over a project, which can be elusive as an actor.
“If I wanted Warren to go rock swimming or running with rocks, I just write the chapter, and there he goes. All of a sudden, you’re not having to deal with a network or studio saying, ‘Eh, we don’t know. That didn’t test well. We’re going to go the other way. We’re going to do this and that.’
“So, all of a sudden, it was like, no, this is what these two people are doing, and the only person that I had to bounce anything off of was Anna.”
Kris and Anna connected right out of the gate with a comfort level that allowed their collaboration to soar on many levels. “It’s funny because Anna and I were strangers when we started the process,” he says of their origin story, which is taking on a life of its own after the celebration of their work across the globe.
Kris was looking for intellectual property to create under his new production company, Podunk Productions, when his neighbor, Javier, mentioned that his friend had written six romance novels she’d love to turn into movies. That was music to Kris’ ears. “I said I’d love to take a look at them.
“Rosewind was an imprint through Vesuvian Media, which was just basically going to do family-friendly romance geared toward the Hallmark audience. I think that was their mission statement,” Kris said of the women behind the imprint and company.
“The women at Vesuvian created this arm, Rosewind. And they were like, ‘Well, let’s make books for people who don’t want smut and who don’t want to be scandalized, but who really want to feel those feelings of romance and excitement and tenderness and love, without all the other stuff.’
“It just really was kismet. It was really perfect timing.” Kris and Anna met through a Zoom call (they’ve yet to meet in person), and expecting to discuss adapting her work to screen, Kris was instead surprised when Anna asked if he’d like to co-author a book with her.
Kris hesitated initially, concerned that Anna might be making an offer without thinking it through. “And she’s like, ‘I thought about it. I’ve thought about it. As we were talking, I’ve thought about it.” She’s like, “I have a really good feeling. I trust my gut instinct, and my gut instinct is saying you, and I should do this together.
That was all the push that Kris needed. They decided to discuss the notion with their spouses and consider the collaboration financially over the weekend, while Kris dove into Anna’s book, In This Life.
“It was really beautiful. I got it. I was like, ‘I get her. I could write with her.’ And I looked up her other books and had a sense of who she was and, then, on Monday, we both ended up wearing the exact same shirt.”
By the end of their call that began with matching French-sailor, Pablo-Picasso, horizontal navy and white striped shirts, they knew they’d begin their collaboration in earnest.
“She’s such a generous co-creator,” Kris says of his co-author and friend as he bounced ideas off of her during their process. “She was like, ‘Yes, and what about this chapter?’ I think we both made a decision just to agree to accept what the other person wrote, even if, at first, it was like, ‘I don’t really get that. What is that?’
“I think we both just made the decision… like, I can’t control the questions you’re going to ask, so this interview is going to go in the direction that you and I both organically allow it to go.
“And the same thing with that book, I can’t control what Anna was going to write, and so, when she would write something, it would really surprise me, and I would respond to that organically, and I would write another chapter.
“And then I would send my chapter back to her, and she’d be like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And then she would write a chapter. It was a really fun back and forth.”
All of it was over Zoom during his 15-day quarantine. “Like I said, I was in the UK; she was in Chicago, so we had this crazy time difference. We were trying to find all those moments throughout the course of the week where we could connect and do little spitball and story point ideas and get back on the same page.
“Then, for a week, we’d write, and then we’d get back together on a Friday, and we’d post our chapters and talk about everything, and then we’d go off and write.”
If you’ve read Moments Like This, then none of this is surprising. But if you haven’t, then let their collaboration be your guide to a romance novel that finds two adults who allow a budding relationship to grow organically without the push and pull that often plagues similar stories.
As we chitchatted over the importance of any two people in a relationship being open to new adventures and growing together through those shared experiences, Kris revealed that when he and Anna began collaborating, she had already picked the title and didn’t want to vary from her decision.
And while someone else might have pushed their views onto their partner, Kris leaned into the idea instead, helping to shape the vision of the first book and its two followups.
“We were sitting there talking, and then, all of a sudden, I said, ‘Well, the one thing I can offer you is, why doesn’t Warren take Andie on these little moments?’ And so, Anna came up with this idea that they were in the water.
“So that’s where I got the idea from, was her chapter where they were in the water, and these dolphins came up, and it was a special moment. And when I read that, I was like, ‘You know what? That’s what he’s going to do. He’s going to take her, and they’re going to have these special moments together.’
“And what the book became about, but organically, was really just living in the moment, and how present can you be? I think all of us deal with that.
“We have regret, and we have shame, and we have guilt, maybe, from our past, or we have all those things that we carry with us from the things that have been done to us or the things that we’ve done or the things that we’ve gone through. And then we also have all of the expectations and the hope and the fear or promise of the future, and what that can bring to each of us is different.
“Some of us carry amazing victories from the past, and we have bright, bright hopes for the future. Some of us carry so many scars and wounds from the past, and we have so much dread for the future.
“But both of those things, whichever they are, oftentimes eclipse the present moment and where we’re at right now. Because there’s no day like today to do the thing that you want to do or be the person you want to be, you know what I mean?”
“It became special with Moments Like This because they made a deal; they were going to cut off their past, and they weren’t going to talk about who they used to be, and they weren’t going to worry about making plans for the future. They were just going to live in the moment.
That’s the takeaway from reading Moments Like This. Whether rekindling a romance or taking advantage of your life, right now, you can use moments that spark joy within your life to do it.
“You can. You can draw from the things that you’ve done, and you can share that with a partner. Or you can just breathe and be in the moment and say, ‘who are you today? And this is where I am today, and let’s go to the grocery store together.’ You know? And just start being in the moment.”
If you’ve read anything about how Kris works with his costar in the Mystery 101 series, Jill Wagner, then you know their working relationship and the resulting on-screen of their characters, Amy and Travis, follows a similar trajectory.
Hallmark Networks are known for their chaste and respectful romances, but Kris and Jill weren’t interested in the will-they/won’t-they aspect. Instead, they fought for an adult, organically growing interest in each other between two adults, and it is unfolding beautifully across the Mystery 101 installments to date.
In the most recent outing, Killer Timing, Jill met Travis’ ex-wife, Kate, played by Erin Cahill. Kris hadn’t seen it yet when we talked, so he was thrilled to learn the dynamic between Amy, Travis, and Kate played so well on screen.
“It’s one of those things,” Kris says of the Mystery 101 success story so far. “It’s like artists are dependent on word of mouth, and so when you see a book in a bookstore, you think, well, that thing is real, that exists.
“But people have to buy it. That’s the point. You have to buy the book and tell your friends about the book; you have to buy a book for them. And the same thing with movies. Even though it’s on TV, you got to turn out and watch it.
“I love the old way of watching television where you watched it when it came out; you watched it when it was live, commercials and all, and then you could talk about it with each other after the fact and not spoil anything for people.
“I think the idea of recording it and watching it later could spoil it for you but, it’s the same thing. You’ve got to watch it, and you got to talk about it, and you got to share it.”
That’s not something Kris has to worry about too much with the Hallmark audience. “They are engaged, and they’re fervent, and they love what they love, and they’re not afraid to talk about it and share it and tweet about it.”
The Hallmark audience is why Kris believes he has a book deal. “It’s the people who’ve grown to love me in these movies. They were willing to go on this journey with me, and it’s just been an amazing blessing for me. I can’t describe it. Nothing but gratitude and awe, really, for the whole process.”
Kris laughed, “I don’t want to give my secret away, but when I play these roles, I remember the first one I did with Meghan Markle, I remember reading the script, and they are very much the women’s movie.
“The women are the lead in these films, and if you’re a guy signing up for a Hallmark film, you cannot make any mistake about that. There are no bones to pick about, like, ‘Hey, isn’t this my scene? Why am I…’ It ain’t your movie.
“You have a choice; you can have an issue with that, or you can roll with that.”
Kris recalls filming Dater’s Handbook with Megan, walking to her trailer door and introducing himself. “I said, ‘I’m here, like 100 percent, I am here for you. I’m here to support you. I’m here to make you feel like you’re number one because that’s what you are on this movie, and that’s what’s going to be.’
Despite knowing that women drive the Hallmark platform, he’s also aware of the room he gets to play with, thanks to his respected role within the Hallmark family. “While [Mystery 101 is] Jill’s movie, it’s also very much Travis’s movie, and it’s very much his world, and so I do get a little more, ‘oh, it is about me.’
“But, I think having said that, I still tend to allow that old philosophy of I’m going to make sure that Jill’s character is taken care of, and so what that’s manifested itself. Before it was an actual relationship and love between those two characters, Travis just wanted to make sure that she was safe, and he wanted to protect her, and he wanted to make sure that she wasn’t in harm’s way.”
If you’ve begun connecting the dots between his work as an actor and as an author, then you’re on the right page. The descriptions in the book leap off the page, and it’s easy to imagine how well they’d translate to screen. In this case, the big screen, as three pictures spanning the five-book series.
Not so fast, Kris reminds me, as the books have to sell first. But with the warm reception he’s been receiving the world over by fans eager to see what he does next, it doesn’t seem like such a tall order, after all.
With filming locations around the Hawaiian islands on tap, it would be a large budget, but they’re not letting little things like studios and budget stop their planning. He and Anna have mapped out the full five-book series as well as how their screen adaptation would unfold.
As for how the story will continue after Moments Like This, Kris said, “We both were charmed by a few characters, and we said, ‘What if we explore them in book two?’ And, ‘What if we explore them in book three?’ And then I was struck with a really beautiful idea for book five, which I haven’t shared with Annie yet, which I’m going to pitch to her soon because I think it’s a beautiful conclusion.
“We know what book five is, but this other B storyline, this other idea too, to come in and to really just wrap up this family saga.”
Kris has another writing collaboration in the works, too, with an artist who is illustrating a children’s book that he authored.
“It’s called, How Are You Loved? And I had the whole vision one night because of the pandemic. The whole book just showed up in my head, and I shot out 900 words, and now I have this artist, and she’s working on these beautiful illustrations.
“We’re going to have a book about what does good, healthy love look like, How Are You Loved? And it talks about all sorts of different love, like how them being loved with patience and kindness matters, and all of those things.”
Kris has also added directing to his lengthy resume. Working with a dear friend named Barry Weiss and the daughter of a teacher at his former high school, Sylvie Maris, Kris offered to give her a leg up in the entertainment industry with a short reel she could use by way of introduction.
Instead, he discovered a true talent, and they worked together to create a short film that will make the rounds of the festival circuits.
Kris had an idea about a girl whose suicide is interrupted by an unexpected knock at the door and how one moment can change your life, but Sylvie thought it might be too deep for her to tackle.
In response, Sylvie came up with a story about a beautiful relationship between an uncle and his niece. “His niece has lost her parents; we don’t know if they’re around or if they’re gone. We don’t know her backstory, but we know that she’s not doing well.
“So, she incorporated the depression and the tendencies and all those things that come with it, and weirdly, we filmed it for one weekend in 2018, we did another weekend in 2019 and then, of course, the pandemic hit, which is when Barry enters the picture, and he cobbled together, now it’s a completed short, and it’s beautiful.”
The timing could be better. “With the pandemic and how awful the suicide rate has gotten and how desperate; there are so many young people, and they need to know that their life is precious and that they are a work of art and the people in those kid’s lives need to know that you’ve got to pour it into a kid. You got to treat somebody like they’re your masterpiece in order for them to bear the fruit of a masterpiece.”
His work on the big screen continues, as well. When we last talked, his role in Wonder Woman: 1984 was top secret; now we know that his character was the catalyst for Steve Trevor’s return.
“It was awesome. And I had no idea. I didn’t know to expect the reaction that the world gave my character. People were totally stoked for me. They were like, ‘That’s an amazing role, man, that’s awesome to be in that movie that way.’
“And then there were people who were just totally shocked, and they were like, ‘What happened to your character? Where does he go?’
“It was funny, because I was sitting there at home on Christmas day and, obviously the movie was released on the 25th, and that night, there was an article in Vulture magazine, and my buddy from London called, and he’s like, ‘Dude.’ He’s like, ‘It’s, it’s, it’s on. Your character is like the guy that people are talking about you.’ So, it was interesting.”
Will his participation in another movie event garner the same reaction? We don’t know, but he’s onboard Jurassic World: Dominion, which spans the franchise’s history.
That was the film that offered him the 15-day quarantine during which he co-authored a novel in his ample spare time.
“That’s what I was filming in 2020. We started in February, and then the pandemic hit, and everything goes frozen. Colin Trevorrow, the director of Jurassic World: Dominion, figured out a way to convince Universal that he could safely film during a pandemic if he treated the cast like a family.”
Trevorrow thought if people could stay together while social distancing at home, then why couldn’t they do it with the Jurassic World: Dominion cast?
We all went to this hotel called The Langley, in Iver, outside of London and just all lived in this giant hotel together, as a family, and worked from June all the way through October and made what I think is going to be a really, really, really fun movie for people.
It will be in the theaters, and people are going to want to be back in the theaters by 2022, so, hopefully, it’s a big deal. But it’s going to be everybody, from the Jurassic Park stuff all the way to Jurassic World.”
And if none of this is enough for you to get your Kristoffer Polaha fix, he has no intention of letting you down. If his work leans toward organic and natural relationships, his time away from work extends a hand to fans who just want to talk and be heard.
With age comes (hopefully) wisdom, and with the pandemic, Kris decided to use his time more wisely than ever. From his family to his business, he’s making every moment count.
But even with everything he’s got on his plate — and he admits that he works as hard as he does and from every angle to support his family, always hoping that the next move might be the breakthrough that allows him to slow down a little bit and live comfortably — Kris has found a way to share something special with fans.
Every Sunday night, Kris takes to Instagram for the Polaha Chautauqua, an online, live show that he uses to talk with others about all kinds of things. “What it means to be alive, really. Or what it means to be alive and living the very best way that we can, and what does that look like, and how do we define that?
“What’s interesting is that it really comes down to being in community with each other and loving each other. Like really, genuinely loving each other, and that then means that you have each other’s best interests in mind first, and what does that mean?
“Well, it means you have to have patience with each other, it means you have self-control with yourself, it means you have to have kindness and goodness and a sense of joy, which is then added to you like a positivity.
“So, all of a sudden, this amazing conversation started, with my fans, who, I mean I just literally punched live one day, and 80 people showed up, and now, about 180 show up every Sunday, and we just talk, and I bring them onto the show with me.”
Respect is paramount again, as he brings people onto the show with him live, and they speak and then offer time to the next person. Nobody takes the show hostage or tries to usurp time from others hoping to join in the conversation.
“It’s just this really wonderful, safe place where all are welcome, and it’s because, I think, people are… we are talking about that very thing where the beginning of wisdom is the acknowledgment that we have a finite amount of time on this planet and how do we use it in the very best way that we can? And that’s what that conversation’s been about.”
At one point in the conversation, Kris says, “So yeah. It’s been a year.”
And although I could share even more from this man who is making special moments his signature, we’ll stop here. That way, you can seek out his work on screen, on paper, and online to discover for yourself what makes Kristoffer Polaha worthy of your support and admiration.
Moments Like This: From Kona With Love is on sale at major retailers everywhere, Mystery 101: Killer Timing is reairing tonight on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries at 10/9c, Wonder Woman: 1984 is available on HBO Max and VOD, and you can catch Kris Sunday nights on Instagram with Polaha Chautauqua.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.