Big Picture: Jewel makes herself at home in Victoria

Jewel Kilcher says she can understand that some fans might jump to conclusions about why she’s starring in Hallmark’s Fixer Upper franchise.

The actor, singer-songwriter and author known as Jewel plays Shannon Hughes, a contractor who solves mysteries while restoring Victorian homes in the movies based on Kate Carlisle’s bestsellers.

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The Utah-born entertainer doesn’t dismiss assumptions that Fixer Upper might be a wish-fulfilment project for someone who was raised on a homestead without heat or running water in small-town Alaska. She was also homeless for a year while busking her way across the United States after graduation.

However, there are other reasons she chose to do the series that has brought her back to Victoria to shoot the third instalment, she said.

“I liked the character because she stands for two things I really like,” said Jewel, who, with director Mark Jean and his crews, returned to the home in Fairfield that depicts her residence.

Other Victoria locations include a Tudor-style home in Rockland, the new TV movie’s architectural centrepiece.

Wearing skinny jeans, a cream-coloured blouse and a brown suede jacket, Jewel, 43, chatted during a break from shooting a scene in a Sidney parking lot where her character and crime reporter Mac Sullivan (Colin Ferguson) corner an elusive suspect.

“It’s about how you’re learning to rely on yourself, whether you’re male or female, and self-reliance is how I was raised. And it’s about following your intuition, not ignoring that little voice in you that knows when something is off. It’s a hard voice to learn to listen to, and we usually pay a heavy price when we ignore it.”

Not surprisingly, the series set in idyllic Lighthouse Cove has been compared with Murder She Wrote, the CBS mystery series starring Angela Lansbury as a mystery writer who solves crimes in Cabot Cove.

“When my friend heard I was doing the series, she gave me a T-shirt saying ‘Angela Lansbury is my spirit animal,’ ” Jewel said with a laugh. She is a huge Lansbury fan and said she would love to have the stage and screen legend make an appearance in the Hallmark show.

Like the actor, singer and dancer of Broadway fame, Jewel is a triple threat, as well known for her poetry and philanthropy, with public housing and breast cancer among causes about which she is passionate.

“In [Lansbury’s] day, it was common to act, sing and dance, but let’s not focus on my dancing just yet,” Jewel said, admitting that switching gears from music to acting is a challenge.

“It’s a very different discipline. It’s actually very nerve-wracking,” said Jewel, whose multi-genre musical career took off after the release of her 1995 debut album Pieces of You.

“It’s a very technical job. You have to stop here, land here, pivot on that line. It’s a very choreographed thing that has to look very natural.”

It’s not as if she’s charting new territory, however. While her fame as a musician overshadowed her early aspiration to have a dual career, she has pulled off some impressive acting feats.

“My music career was breaking and I was very busy, working 365 days a year,” she said, recalling part of the reason she didn’t make her big-screen acting debut until 1999, in Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil.

“I made a conscious decision. I felt creatively fulfilled with my music and I felt like acting was an amazing bonus, but not a necessity in my life. Also having a life was a necessity, so I chose my life,” said Jewel, who has a six-year-old son, Kase, from her marriage to ex-husband Ty Murray, a professional rodeo cowboy. “If you look at time and your life as a garden, and what you water is what grows, and you want something other than your career to grow, then you’ve got to spend time watering your life,” she said.

She was also disillusioned to learn so many roles women were being offered in the 1990s were in sexually explicit movies.

“You’d go to auditions when you had to suddenly reveal, when you dropped your book, that you were bare-chested.”

It was worth the wait to appear opposite Tobey Maguire in Lee’s Civil War drama, she said.

Her performance as a war widow drew praise from the late film critic Roger Ebert, who wrote: “She’s an actress here, not a pop star trying out a new hobby.”

It was being cast as country music legend June Carter Cash in the Lifetime movie Ring of Fire five years ago that rekindled her desire to pursue acting, said Jewel, who also appeared as herself in Walk Hard (2007).

“I came to realize that I could do a movie in a month and still scratch that itch, which I so enjoy,” said Jewel, whose popular new franchise gives her the freedom to do that while maintaining her concert schedule.

All going well, Front Street Pictures hopes to shoot two or three more franchise entries here each year in partnership with Muse Entertainment, said vice-president of production Allen Lewis.

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