Ali Stroker on Christmas Ever After and Bringing Disability Representation to Romantic Comedies
Christmas Ever After crowns the Tony winner the Lifetime holiday queen.
Tony winner Ali Stroker is a natural storyteller. Whether she's playing the flirtatious and headstrong Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, promoting body positivity and diversity as an #AerieREAL role model, or speaking into a camera frame, she remains determined to put herself into her art and inspire others to tell their stories. Even as she gains a larger platform to showcase her talents, it's clear that her pronounced sense of self is integral to everything she puts out into the world.
In Lifetime's Christmas Ever After, premiering December 6 at 8pm ET, Stroker stars as Izzi Simmons, a successful romance novelist who spends every Christmas at her favorite bed-and-breakfast. This year, she's struggling with writer's block and finds her groove with the help of the B&B owner. Like Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts before her, Stroker is more than ready to take on the rom-com genre and spread joy while doing it.
In anticipation of the film's release, TheaterMania spoke with Stroker about disability representation in romantic comedies, providing much-needed escapism and holiday cheer, and her hopes for Broadway upon its return.
What's bringing you joy in the midst of the ongoing pandemic?
Being outside in beautiful fall weather, going out for some pushes and getting my heart rate up, cooking, and my family. I've been doing tons of cooking and connecting with my family and my loved ones in any way possible, whether it's virtually or in person safely. Making those connections is essential to my mental health.
Every Sunday, I make a Sunday supper. I've recently been getting many of the recipes from the New York Times cooking app because they have great stuff. But I also love Alison Roman and Melissa Clark and with the internet, I really have endless options. A friend just gave me a great recipe for peanut butter cookies, so we're just really looking for all the comfort food!
You're all about portraying experiences as authentically as possible. How did you want to execute this in Christmas Ever After? Do you think any other movies and TV shows have done this successfully, or do you think you're changing the landscape?
We're improving by creating more representation, but we do have a long way to go. I remember growing up and never seeing any women in wheelchairs portrayed on screen or stage. I knew I wanted to be a professional actress, so this has just become a part of my mission because there are so many different kinds of people represented. They're the leads of these storylines, not just side characters; they're the storyline, which is so refreshing and so exciting to me.
What is something surprising you learned about yourself while filming Christmas Ever After?
I learned that I could bring myself in its entirety to my work, and that's when I create my best work. I think that acting and performing have been a huge part of processing who I am in the world. One of the most significant parts is allowing yourself to be seen, be seen by the world, and that takes a lot of courage. It's such a relief to feel like you don't need to hide, and people really respond to that when we don't hide and when we allow ourselves to be seen in entirety like for our flaws and where our limitations lie and where our strengths lie. That's what shows the authentic human experience, no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, and how you identify, the truth is the thing that connects us all. Right now, our world wants the truth.
Romantic comedies in general, but particularly holiday movies, feel like an escape to a slightly unrealistic but totally magical world. Did you feel transported in that way when you filmed Christmas Ever After?
I love holiday movies and I love rom-coms! To be able to bring those two things together was a dream come true. I think this year, more than ever, people are going to want those escapes, and I'm so excited to share Christmas Ever After because it's both a fantasy kind of movie but also based on so much truth and authenticity. I feel that with all the characters in this movie, and I am really, really excited that it's a piece of my work that's on camera, and because then we get to reach so many more people with this story that I hope will bring joy and make people feel grounded and make people feel like they matter and that they're represented no matter who they are.
Is there anyone from the Broadway community you dream of doing a rom-com with?
My idol for so long has been Kristin Chenoweth, so I think it would be so fun to do a rom-com with her. I don't know what the storyline would be, but I think that would be really, really fun, and I just adore her. I think she's amazing.
Would you ever consider releasing a Christmas album or doing a Christmas concert? If so, what song would have to be featured?
I grew up singing Christmas carols. I love "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and I'd try to get all my favorite singers to do the different parts. One person would be assigned 12, another one 11, and maybe at the end do something fun and include my family somewhere.
Who would be in that lineup?
In a dream world, it would be Dolly Parton, Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Hudson, The Chicks, and Sara Bareilles.
Holiday movies have a reputation for being fluff, but all movies require the same amount of work. Do you think holiday movies have a perception issue?
It's easy to make those assumptions when you're on the receiving end of holiday movies versus making them. There's so much work in creating the environment. There were all special effects to create the snowy, magical feel and all the Christmas decorations. All of those who work on that side of making a movie work so hard, and sometimes I wish there was more talk about what happens behind the scenes. Movie magic is so real, but if you could see just two inches off the camera what was going on [laughs]. It's complicated because you have to make sure in each shot that it's snowing the same amount. I think that people really enjoy these movies and sometimes they don't understand how much work it takes to make them. That's OK. They're an essential part of the holiday season.
I see this hiatus in so many parts of our lives as an opportunity to reimagine the systems and spaces that perpetuate misogyny and racism. However, I still feel that the expectation is for Broadway to continue operating under the pre-pandemic model. What have you discovered about yourself as an artist in quarantine that you aren't willing to put behind when this is over?
Theater is one of the oldest art forms, and so there's so much history, and we want to respect that. But we also need to be on the right side of history. When we come back, as a community, I hope that there are more conversations with more voices and more perspectives. I hope that we see the value in diversity, not just as a pop culture moment, but the importance it has and how it can deepen the work, and how it makes theater better. What stories are we telling, what kind of stories, and who is directing them, who is writing them? That comes down to the whole thing around authentic representation and valuing it, and seeing that we commit to it when we commit to it. I believe it's what audiences need and are looking for. Moving forward with creating more authentic representation, and I hope that we all fall on the right side of history.