“A Prince for Christmas,” the holiday movie filmed in East Aurora in February, lists actors Viva Vianca and Kirk Barker as its stars.
Another talent who deserves top billing is veteran Buffalo actress Mary Kate O’Connell, who has a featured role as the friendly and wise B&B owner Nancy.
O’Connell’s strong performance is one of the many reasons you shouldn’t miss the encore presentation of “A Prince for Christmas” at 7 p.m. Thursday – Christmas Eve – on ION television.
Other reasons: the many other local talents and locations shining in the film. Look for young actor Peter Johnson, who plays Max, the aspiring chef; Ellen Horst, as an impatient waitress; set decoration by designer David Butler; and appearances by such iconic businesses as Vidler’s 5&10 and the Aurora Theatre.
The holiday romance is about a European prince fleeing an arranged marriage and landing in small-town USA looking for true love.
Director Fred Ray was drawn to East Aurora by its “old-fashioned, snowbound charm,” and the reports from his son who had a good experience making the 2013 horror movie “Battledogs” in the Buffalo area.
“I found I could have everything I wanted from 20 minutes in the heart of East Aurora. There’s actually more stuff here than we could actually film,” Ray said in an earlier interview in The Buffalo News.
They renamed the village as simply Aurora for the movie. The weather cooperated and the snow-covered streets and quaint shops were the perfect backdrop Ray sought. He also found one of the larger locations for the film: that exterior of the European castle actually is the impressive Park Country Club in Amherst.
Be sure to look for the many other locations as well. While production designers will usually redo the building exteriors to cover local signs, they kept the names and storefronts for “Prince,” giving an extra boost to the area. Vidler’s name and familiar red-and-white awnings are prevalent through the film. The Aurora Theater’s marquee shines bright, boasting screenings of “All I Want for Christmas” (the real 2013 holiday film directed by Ray). Firefly Cupcakes, the Old Orchard Inn and Arcade & Attica Depot also get starring roles in the film. Not so obvious local settings: The bar scene is in Riley Street Station; the sledding scenes are at Elma Meadows; and one of the interior castle shots is at Knox Estate summer house.
O’Connell spent three days filming her four scenes and said she was surprised when she saw the large amount of screen time her role received. “I didn’t think it was going to be so big. I was surprised and delighted. And I also sat there and said I could have done that better,” she laughed.
One of the businesses with a prominent role was the Colden Country Kitchen, which acted as the restaurant owned by the film’s heroine, Emma (played by Vianca). A crew of about 35 filmed inside for two days from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Owner Jeanette Warning wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about the filming, instead she put a “closed for remodeling” sign in the window.
Warning said she was told her restaurant was “cute and quaint and not to change anything,” although she did take down Valentine’s decorations and put her snowmen décor back up.
Since the film premiered Nov. 29 on ION, Warning said she gets people stopping by to take pictures of the restaurant.
“It’s fun talking with everyone who didn’t know we were here. We’re meeting new people,” she said. “Now I look at Christmas movies different. I used to watch for the actors and actresses. Now I look at the little towns and ask myself, ‘Do I know that town? Do I know that business?’ ”
O’Connell said she also has received much support from people who have seen the film, including strangers.
“I’m just tickled that so many people have reached out since seeing the movie with such support,” O’Connell said. “It’s so Buffalo that people did that. Buffalo is such a loving, supportive place.”