Lifetime’s holiday movie lineup for the 2020 Christmas season is a splendid one. They’re stories of love, family, and all the sugary overload that you expect from a network holiday movie. The perfect twist here is that these 30 movies feature leads that aren’t just white, straight, and abled. One of the movies is A Sugar and Spice Holiday, a candy coated, sugary sweet, hug-in-the-form-of-a-romantic-comedy movie that just happens to star second-generation Asian-Canadians.
In A Sugar and Spice Holiday, up-and-coming architect Suzie Young travels home to Maine for the holidays. She bumps into an old friend, Billy Martin, who had moved back home to take care of his ailing father, after spending 8 unfulfilling years in Silicon Valley as product developer. Despite being on a tight deadline to submit a design proposal before New Year’s, Suzie joins a team of Billy and two others (a reformed bully from high school and a jovial ex pastry chef) for the town’s annual Gingerlicious baking competition. As the plot progresses, we see Suzie and Billy reconnect, revisit misunderstandings from high school, discover what really makes them tick, all in a cloud of sugar, ginger, and butter.
Pure Fandom sat down and chatted with Tony Giroux and Jacky Lai who portrayed the main characters in the movie. Dressed in green and red, respectively, their rapport with each other was almost as if they’d known each other for years.
Pure Fandom: Jacky, Tony, can you tell the readers of Pure Fandom a little bit about yourselves? If you could pick a baked good that encapsulates who you are as a person, what would it be?
Tony Giroux: Ladies first!
TG: : My name is Tony Giroux. I was born and raised in France and then I moved to Canada when I was 14. I’m half French and half Chinese. My mother’s Chinese and she was raised in Vancouver but my grandparents are from Canton, China. My first exposure to the arts was I started street dancing in my teens. I took it professionally as a young adult. I lived that life and dream for a bit — I was dancing for artists and in movies — and then I moved over into acting in my mid-20s, when it piqued my interest. For a baked good, I would like to see myself as an oat fudge bar. It’s pretty simple but I love oat fudge bars and there’s a richness to them yet it’s something that’s quite accessible and it feels like a warm hug when you eat it. Oat fudge bars have a deep sweetness, they’re not overly sweet.
JL: A deep sweet, ha.
TG: I don’t know how else to describe it!
PF: How would you describe your characters in A Sugar and Spice Holiday?
TG: Billy, on the surface, is a carefree kind of guy. He tries not to take life too seriously, and is very playful. He used to be the class clown but beneath the surface, he’s going through a lot. His father is ill, and he’s in a time in his life where a lot of things are put into question. He’s had a really solid career in Silicon Valley that he pursued for 8 years but he got to a point where he’s realized he wasn’t happy. So he moved back home. It’s a time for him when he’s discovered a certain truth and he’s gotten in touch with his heart.
JL: As for Suzie, she is an up-and-coming architect. She had a really close relationship with her grandmother, who taught her a lot of life’s philosophies through baking. That’s actually how she got inspired to be an architect, from building gingerbread houses with her grandmother. So when her grandmother passed, she set that passion aside — it reminded her too much of her grandmother — and she’s back home from Christmas. She bumps into her old high school buddy, Billy Martin, who is, from what she can remember, a troublemaker. He tries to rally her into the town baking competition and through some efforts and guilt tripping, she ends up joining the team. Together, they learn more about themselves, what’s important about life, and, maybe, find love.
PF: I love that the plot of A Sugar and Spice Holiday (aside from the explicit mentions of Suzie’s Chinese-American heritage) reads like a “normal” holiday movie. There’s no bending-over-backwards attempt to emphasize the “Asianness” of the main characters. What were your first thoughts when you got cast in A Sugar and Spice Holiday? What are you most excited about for A Sugar and Spice Holiday?
JL: To me, it was a really big deal. I know some people will say “oh, it’s a holiday film” or “oh, it’s a Lifetime movie”. To me, the project was really monumental. It comes with being the first anything. I’m proud of my heritage and culture and I’m very excited to be in a film like this. I also love romantic comedies. That’s my soul medicine. Every time I need a pick-me-up, it’s romantic comedy. I’m proud to be part of the first Asian-American-centric film. I’m really excited for people to see it. Especially my family; a lot of my other projects I’ve done are very sci-fi-based and there’s a language barrier so it’s hard for them to know what’s going on. But I feel like with this movie, it’s very light and it’s about love, which is universal, so I’m really excited for them to see it and understand it.
TG: Are you finished? [laughs]
JL: You may speak.
TG: Growing up in France, in a small town, there really wasn’t much exposure to Asian culture, especially in the media. The few representations that were there were very limited and pretty often stereotypical. When I moved to Canada in my teens in 2005, while it was similar, the dialogue was getting started. Reading the script for A Sugar and Spice Holiday, it was extremely humbling to see my own culture on paper. It’s so rare, as an actor, to see that. I’ve worked on sci-fi shows similar to Jacky where there’s not much backstory but to be able to see my own heritage on paper and bring that to screen, similar to watching Crazy Rich Asians, it’s seeing something you really identify with. There was a sense of responsibility but also immense joy. Honestly, I’m really excited to share with my family. I’m curious to what my grandparents are going to think. They’re immigrants and they don’t watch much American TV, but I think hopefully if I watch it with them, it’ll be really neat, to see them watch their culture be portrayed on screen. And my mom will probably record it and then play it way too often. She’s my number one fan.
JL: My mom owns a nail salon in Toronto and she plays every show I’ve ever been in for all the clients. They’re so sick of seeing my face when they’re getting their nails done because she has them on repeat, so no doubt that all of Burlington is going to see this on repeat.
PF: I read that the script was written by three Asian women and that Lifetime worked closely with CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) to ensure representation and depict authenticity. What was it like, working in that kind of careful environment?
JL: I really appreciated it. I had a really wonderful moment where I’m at the altar with my grandmother. My first instinct was, you know, you take the incense and you light it and because it’s TV film, I was doing it really quick and easy, one bow and let it go, but I was actually stopped by our team. They said, “hey, normally, you do three bows.” And I know that for a fact — I do that in my household — but it was so lovely and comforting that I could take my time and really showcase the authentic way of doing that moment. It was a really lovely moment that most people or most shows could quickly have it and go, but they really honored it.
TG: For me, it was a privilege and a sense of feeling at home. Having attention shown towards the real colors of the culture, without having to try to justify any of it, was really neat. It’s just what it was. In a sense, it felt really comfortable. And then, working with Tzi Ma was a dream. He’s such a prolific actor, and stands for proper Asian representation. It was really neat working with him and having conversations around that, to educate myself through them. Still being a new actor, I sometimes forget the weight of certain stories and it really brought to light the importance of what this project represents.
PF: I really appreciated how naturally Asian food, culture, and traditions are woven into A Sugar and Spice Holiday. The altar for Nema, the mix and match of Chinese food with American food; and even while the generational pressures of Asian parents are still there, they fit the frosted, sugary, vibe of other holiday movies. What did you think about the way Asian traditions, food, and culture were represented in A Sugar and Spice Holiday?
JL: To what you were saying: our director Jennifer, she also said she wants this to represent our generation of Asian Americans, where we’re not fully into the culture the way our family is but we understand it. What she wanted to do with the movie, which is exactly what you were saying, is not to emphasize so much about being Asian, but just tap on that and allow for people like us to be represented and not have to go so deep into every single thing.
TG: I don’t know if I have much more to add; Jacky said it really well in terms of the authenticity to the project. It felt present. Everyone was aware of the story we were telling. Having a team filled with Asian actors and creatives, the conversation revolves around “okay, how do we tell our story truthfully” as opposed to “would this happen or would this not happen?” There was so much agency for the Asian voice to be present and it was welcomed from and supported by the producers who were Caucasion.
PF: What makes A Sugar and Spice Holiday different from other holiday movies? What do you hope A Sugar and Spice Holiday will do for the Asian-American/Canadian film landscape?
JL: I hope people can see us as leads, that we’re able to be the forefront of a project. I love that there’s comedy, love, and lightness, and we don’t have to exist only because we’re Asian. We can exist in any way and it just so happens that we are Asian. I hope this film does that for people. They can see it as full 360 human beings as opposed to ninjas or tech nerds [laughs].
TG: What makes this film special is that it’s so much fun. Filming it was a lot of fun. Working with Jacky, we were able to bring in fun banter. A lot of it felt quite rooted in truth and simple ideas of having mini fights with someone and then making up and then finding love in all kinds of ways. Also, what makes it different is how it approaches certain narratives about finding love and about self expression. Especially with how it ends, it really reminds us that we don’t have to abandon dreams in order to make a relationship work — which I’ve been taught, through media, since I was a kid — especially that women would have to. It’s such a beautiful note, and a really empowering one. In terms of the Asian American, Asian Canadian landscape, I really hope it bridges the gap, similar to what Jacky was saying, to remind the industry that we are also American or Canadian and that, when it comes down to it, we’re all human beings. Especially with this kind of story, which is a universal story, the story of Christmas, love, joy. These are things that we feel regardless of the color of our skin or opinions. I really hope it brings people together in that sense.
PF: Oh, I love that.
TG: The movie kind of redefines traditional feminine and masculine roles. Even Billy, he’s in a time of his life where he doesn’t have a career, so it’s a really neat way to look at masculinity. As opposed to having to be super ambitious and successful and whatnot, there’s so many more colors to what a man can be.
PF: What are your own family traditions — food, celebration, etc. — when it comes to the holidays?
JL: My mom normally cooks the day-to-day-food. My dad cooks the special occasion food. He makes this lobster stuffed tenderloin with bearnaise sauce. He makes it every year. That and creme brulee because I said I loved creme brulee when I first discovered it. And every year, obviously before COVID, for the past 4 or 5 years, we hire a Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. They show up to the garage and all the adults go to the garage. They put all the presents in the red bag and then he knocks on the door and he starts distributing them that way. It’s really sweet.
TG: Typically, we get together with my Asian family here. There’s always an immense amount of food. It’s a beautiful mix of Asian food (my grandparents always bring Asian food) and western food (my mom cooks Asian but also western, so it’s always a delicious meal). We always play a lot of games. We always do Steal Santa. One of my uncles, he always brings in these gifts for everyone and he wraps them. He’ll play music and then you have to keep passing the gifts and when the music stops, you open the gift up. Everyone’s always bringing in surprises and games to make it fun.
PF: Are there any last words you’d like to share about A Sugar and Spice Holiday. What’s next on the docket for you two?
JL: Give us a sequel!
TG: More specifically. I really hope it starts a trend of seeing more (normal) Asian American stories. We need stories of struggle and pain and immigrating, but it’s also so necessary to have fun, lighthearted stories. So I hope it inspires more of that. For me, I’m going to get some popcorn and watch Jacky’s career take off. That’s my plan.
JL: Catch him on Motherland!
TG: I’m on a show called Motherland: Fort Salem, which is a sci-fi show on FreeForm. We’re shooting season two and it’s really good stuff. A lot of the characters are taking really nice turns and their stories are getting some really nice depth. Check that out as well.
JL: To what Tony was saying, yeah. I hope this project allows for more of that lightness and that we can be seen in every way. I love comedy and I hope that through this, people get to cheer up a little. The year’s been really hard. If it does that, we’ve done our job. As far as what’s next, I can’t say yet.
JL: But there are things! You’ll be seeing more of us! You can run, but you can’t hide.