Two popular actresses of different generations, in a story of romance vanished and recovered.
It's the perfect formula for a Valentine's Day-season movie, and even more so as a Hallmark Hall of Fame entry. Airing at 9 p.m. Sunday, the moving CBS drama "The Lost Valentine" stars "Ghost Whisperer" alum Jennifer Love Hewitt as a television reporter pursuing the story of a woman -- played by Betty White -- who observes a wedding anniversary ritual each year for the husband she lost in World War II.
The presumed widow's grandson (Sean Faris, "The Vampire Diaries") initially resents the journalist's intrusion but relents when he sees the spark his grandmother shows in recounting her memories. And there may be more to the story, as the reporter tries to have the long-missing-in-action Navy pilot located and brought home, alive or not.
"With my middle name being Love, and this movie coming out for Valentine's Day, I think it works well," says Hewitt, also an executive producer of the film based on a James Michael Pratt novel. "I don't really do very much reporting in the movie, but I did have fun with that stuff, and it's one of the things I asked for. I wanted to see [the character] doing her job, having spent so much time with reporters and never having been able to be on the other side."
The other big lure for Hewitt was the casting of her main "Lost Valentine" co-star. She claims that because of White's atypically dramatic performance, "I was in tears, and the crew was in tears, a lot. Like no other actress I've ever worked with, every time, she gave the crying 100 percent. That woman works her butt off.
"She's just a beautiful, beautiful human being," Hewitt adds. "We all know that she's really funny, but there's a lot to her as a person. I think she really felt this movie. As she said a few times on the set, 'This was my war. This was my time. I know what these feelings are, and I know what these women went through.' She really identified with this."
Indeed, White says she "loved the script, but at first, I said 'No' because it meant going away to Atlanta [where the film was made]. I can't get away that long, but my agent said, 'Just read the script.' I did, and I was hooked. I just think it's a lovely story. It brought back so much, I can't tell you. I knew too many women at that time that this happened to."
Given her trademark humor, now on display in the recently started second season of the TV Land sitcom "Hot in Cleveland," it's no surprise White prompts laughs even while talking about doing drama. She reports that Hewitt's boyfriend, actor-director Alex Beh, was on the set and "calls her Love. I kept thinking he was just trying to romance her!"
Still, White was very pleased for the chance "The Lost Valentine" gave her to do something serious. "It was a challenge," she allows, "but it was a lovely opportunity to let your heart show a little bit."
White's "Lost Valentine" character is shown both in the present day and in flashbacks, with Meghann Fahy playing the part in earlier years. Nevertheless, the veteran actress who became last year's media "It" girl gets plenty of screen time, and her deeply affecting final moments in the movie could well earn her another Emmy Award to go with the six she already has.
Hewitt says her new connection to White is one she wants to endure.
"I've always loved her; she's really a hero of mine, someone I look up to, so I was super-excited to get to be with her off-camera as well as on. And she does not disappoint. She's pretty incredible."