'Beyond the Blackboard' reunites Emily VanCamp, Treat Williams
Emily VanCamp stars in the Hallmark Hall of Fame drama "Beyond the Blackboard" Sunday on CBS.
Emily VanCamp and Treat Williams have found that in "Beyond the Blackboard," a fact-inspired Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that CBS debuts as a holiday-appropriate offering Sunday, April 24. VanCamp -- alias Amy Abbott on the former WB Network's "Everwood" and, more recently, Rebecca Harper on ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" -- has the central role as Stacey Bess, a young wife, mother and new teacher whose initial job gives her a mighty challenge.
In the late 1980s, a district chief (actor-director Timothy Busfield, of "thirtysomething" fame) hires her to educate homeless children in several grades simultaneously. The impoverished and sometimes misbehaved youngsters may be transitory, since their finding a home likely would mean their relocating ... posing extra emotional hurdles for Bess, who's expecting another child herself. Williams also stars as the superintendent who supports Bess in trying to meet her students' needs as well as her own.
"I was immediately drawn to the script for several reasons," VanCamp says of the film inspired by Bess' book "Nobody Don't Love Nobody" and directed by Emmy-winning television veteran Jeff Bleckner ("Concealed Enemies"). The actress deems Bess "an incredible woman who made such a difference in the lives of so many children throughout her career. To have the opportunity to play her was a no-brainer for me; I have always been deeply attracted to strong female characters.
"I was also really excited to work with children on this level," VanCamp adds. "Kids are so honest and raw with their emotions, working with them so closely on a daily basis proved to be a tremendous learning experience for me. Which is funny, because I was playing their teacher."
Williams says the chance to reteam with VanCamp was the biggest lure of "Beyond the Blackboard" for him, though they shared very little screen time on "Everwood." He also was a "Brothers & Sisters'' guest star, but they weren't on camera together there, either.
"I was free," he recalls, "and I said to her, 'Let's do something where we have some scenes! Let me come out and do this with you.' It was a real opportunity for us to build a relationship on-screen, and it was fun to be with her. I think she's an extraordinary talent. I'm waiting for her film career to blossom."
In turn, VanCamp reflects, "Reuniting with Treat was wonderful. We shared a very special four years working on 'Everwood,' but we didn't work together that much, seeing as our story lines were often separate. I adore Treat, and I was very grateful that he said 'Yes' to doing this. Plus, he's obviously a phenomenal actor, so we were lucky."
As likely is the case with many actors who play teachers, during the filming of "Beyond the Blackboard," VanCamp drew upon instructors who have influenced her.
"The one who sticks out," she says, "by a long shot, is Sheryl Matthew. She was my teacher for my last two years of high school that I had to complete while shooting 'Everwood.' She had tutored me on a show that I filmed in Vancouver, and we became very close, so when 'Everwood' happened, she offered to move down to Salt Lake City (where the series was made) to help me finish high school.
"She also was my guardian, because my parents trusted her and couldn't move to the United States. (VanCamp is Canadian.) I was very lucky to have her in my life and still consider her part of my family. She truly helped me to shape my intellectual self, as well as the woman that I am today."
A longtime private pilot who's now the author of the related children's book "Air Show!" Williams flew his own plane to Albuquerque several times to do his "Beyond the Blackboard" work.
"I went to a boys prep school," he says, "so I decided to make this character one of those Harry Potter-esque guys who were always wearing sweaters and had books piled up on the desk. It's an homage to all the professors I had who basically lived for books. They just wanted kids to get educated well, and that was the case with this woman, too."
VanCamp may return to weekly television work soon, having done the pilot for "Revenge," a proposed ABC show in which she'd update "The Count of Monte Cristo" as the vengeful party who targets Hamptons residents. Williams is definitely set for a series comeback, since he'll play the patriarch of a Chicago police family in the Lifetime drama "Against the Wall."
With a stage and screen career of nearly 40 years, Williams is used to having top billing, but it's a relatively new experience for VanCamp.
"I try not to go there in my head," she maintains. "Ultimately, it comes down to doing the best job I possibly can, enjoying the process of making these great projects and having the opportunity to work with such talented people. And hopefully, people like the end result. I am so grateful, every day, to be doing what I love."