In a private dining room of a Fifth Avenue hotel, two Hallmark publicists are attempting to explain to the legendary Andie MacDowell the meaning of the word “cheugy.”
MacDowell is in New York City making the promotional rounds for Season 2 of Hallmark’s scripted drama series, The Way Home, which follows three generations of women as they rebuild their relationships after a series of family traumas. (MacDowell plays the tough and lovely matriarch who’s been holding onto the ancestral farm all these years.) Earlier that day, co-stars Chyler Leigh and Sadie Laflamme-Snow (who play her daughter and granddaughter, respectively) played a game where they each had to decipher the other’s generational slang. “What are Gen Z’s terms, though?” asks MacDowell.
Leigh offers the example of “cheugy.”
“What is it?” MacDowell asks.
“I already forgot,” Leigh responds. “Cheugy is what?” asks Leigh, turning to one of the Hallmark PR reps. MacDowell frowns a little, confused but still genuinely curious about what the Zoomers are saying these days.
In case you didn’t catch one of the many ads that ran on Hallmark during the holiday season, The Way Home — its second season premiered Sunday, January 21 — follows three generations of women in the Canadian town of Port Haven, New Brunswick. Divorced Kat Landry (Leigh) has returned home to her family farm and mother Del (MacDowell) after losing her job, angry and rebellious teenage daughter Alice (Laflamme-Snow) in tow. The pair have been estranged for more than 20 years, after Kat’s brother went missing and her dad died, so Alice doesn’t know her grandmother at all.
Here’s the twist: Unlike real life, where the younger generation often has to piece together their family history like a detective, Alice experiences it herself because she discovers a pond near the farmhouse that happens to be a portal to 1999. Yes, I can hear you doing the math, and 1999 is very much more than 20 years ago, long enough to be a far-distant time to a 15-year-old. I was shocked and appalled, too. (Don’t worry about why the pond is a portal to 1999. Just know that, as they say in the show, the pond will take you where you need to go, and be prepared to spend a lot of time with women walking around in soaking wet denim.)
It’s got the Hallmark-picturesque seaside town, the farm complete with charmingly dented old truck, the focus on the importance of family, and the girl who moves back home and looks with new eyes upon the boy she left behind.
In other ways, though, the show is a departure for the channel. For one thing, there’s no Christmas: Their showrunners, mother-daughter duo Heather Conkie and Alexandra Clarke “made a point not to have anything Christmas-related in our show,” says Leigh. “Our mission is to expand beyond what Hallmark traditionally would do.” For example: The kiss in the Season 2 premiere between Kat and her love interest Elliot, which is the most genuinely steamy thing I’ve ever seen on the channel. (Even steamier, in fact, than the kiss in the season 1 finale between Kat and Elliot, which was pretty spicy for Hallmark, too.) And then there’s the sheer family drama and the emotions that come with it, which The Way Home goes way, way harder on than much of Hallmark’s programming.
“It’s not my favorite thing to do, to have to go through all those difficult pains,” admits MacDowell, who comes across as a very Southern combination of genteel and just a little bit wicked.
“Sometimes it’s really hard to fight with you,” Leigh chimes in.
“I don’t find that difficult,” MacDowell replies without missing a beat. “For me, it’s the sobbing scenes — and you love those. You’re so good at those damn sobbing scenes and it’s like, ‘Oh God, not again. I have to go there again?’”
“We’re pushing boundaries and we’re taking some risks, but they’re paying off,” says Leigh. “I get so many messages about people saying I find myself in these characters.”
“We’re pushing boundaries and we’re taking some risks, but they’re paying off.” – Chyler Leigh
It’s different structurally, too. These are not the gently predictable plots you put on while wrapping presents with your mom and sister, to use an example from my own holidays. But with her show, “We want to keep people on the edge of their seat all the time,” Leigh says. “You can’t go in and check the turkey and baste it, because if you do, you’re going to miss something.”
Expanding the core Hallmark audience seems particularly important to Leigh, who brings with her fans of her role as Alex Danvers on her previous project, Supergirl. The character came out in an emotional scene that really resonated with a lot of viewers. And Leigh had her own, personal revelations come from the experience: “It was actually during that time where I had my own kind of revelations about myself and was able to identify myself and say, ‘You know what? I’m OK with saying that I’m bisexual.’”
It’s still a big deal that she’s bringing those fans to Hallmark. The channel has very deliberately started incorporating queer characters and love stories in the last couple of years — especially since former Hallmark star Candace Cameron Bure decamped to the new Great American Family, proudly discussing how the channel would keep “traditional marriage at the core.” Yet people still remember the 2020 controversy over whether Hallmark would run an ad featuring a wedding between two women.
“I kept getting messages from people that I’ve been hearing from for the past 10 years that say, ‘I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I was going to watch a Hallmark show, and I’m so addicted to this show,’” Leigh says.
MacDowell’s The Way Home character is a deeply aspirational figure for anybody who watched Practical Magic at an impressionable age. She’s a strong-minded and independent matriarch who keeps bees and has the most beautiful, witchy silver hair imaginable. The bees are a bit of a pain in the butt on set, though; it turns out a lot of them are actually opportunistic wasps.
That stunning witchy silver hair has gotten a lot of press in recent years, after MacDowell decided to make a change during the pandemic. MacDowell admits that actually her sister was the first to let her silver show. “And I was jealous!” For all that going gray is often positioned as “brave,” she thinks, plain and simply, that it looks good on a lot of people. “Even though I think psychologically we age a woman when we see silver hair, for me, there’s a way you look younger. My girls think it, too.” (Her girls being Rainey and Margaret Qualley.)
“Even though I think psychologically we age a woman when we see silver hair, for me, there’s a way you look younger. My girls think it, too.” – Andie MacDowell
She adds: “I think there’s a light that comes with it. My skin looks different, my eyes look different. It’s less harsh. I don’t know, there’s something prettier about it.”
Granted, it does have implications for her career choices. “It definitely makes me an older person, but that was my choice,” she says. “I was so tired of pretending to be younger, and I’m also tired of Hollywood asking us to be younger.”
Which is not to say that aging doesn’t bring complicated feelings. Case in point: MacDowell’s thoughts on whether her character Del would find love again, and if so, what that would look like. “For ages, there’s been no one [in Del’s life]. So I guess this is where I can relate to Del,” says MacDowell, who is twice divorced and split with her second husband in 2004. “I know what that feels like. I do, in my bones.”
She describes a bit of creative push and pull with the show’s writers about how to depict the vulnerability that comes with dating in an older body. “I really have strong feelings about how that would manifest,” she says. “How a woman gets over that fear. I don’t think young people, they don’t know what this is. Until you get here, you don’t really know what it feels like, it’s different.”
When I press a little bit, she continues: “To be that vulnerable and open with someone is different. I remember being 50. I was still pretty active. And even 40s, I really felt powerful. There’s a real intense vulnerability that comes with age that is hard to describe until you get there. But you’ll know when you’re 65. And I’ll probably be gone, but you can remember I told you.”
She’s reassuring about your 40s, though: “I was hot as hell in my 40s.”
“I’m loving mine so far,” adds Leigh.
But Leigh is quick to point out that the decade brings changes, for better and for worse. Your body is just different: “I turned 40, and it’s like, no joke everything changed.”
“Look, this is an industry that can be so abusive, particularly for women,” Leigh explains. “And I started when I was very young, and they tell you that you’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re ‘nothing’ right in front of your face. You’re passing them by to go and they’re saying, ‘Nah, she’s not good for this photo shoot because ooh, look at those thighs.’ So, I went through bouts of anorexia. I went through bouts of just feeling disgusting in my own skin. And I was 5′7″ and 103 pounds.”
“Jesus Christ, I was never that skinny,” comments MacDowell.
But your attitude changes, too: “So now it’s like I’m 25 pounds, easily, heavier than I normally am and I had to embrace that. And now I just look at it and I’m like, ‘You know what? I feel good.’ I feel good from the inside, and you know when you feel good, you look good,” she adds.
That doesn’t mean you set it and forget it, though. “Every day is a new awakening to loving myself,” says MacDowell. “Just because you think you’ve got it together and you love yourself one day, the next day you can wake up and not feel those things.” Ain’t that the truth.
Both MacDowell and Leigh are moms. Leigh became a mom at 21 and now has three kids, a 20-year-old son and two daughters, 14 and 17. When she was expecting her first, she says, she was “coming out of a really difficult relationship in my own family, a lot of trauma. And so I was terrified to think, oh my God, I’m going to have a child. What if I fuck him up?” Although she says she relates to her mom-of-a-teenager character Kat Landry — “I know what it’s like to go through the really hard stuff with teenagers” — she also finds some relief in the depth of communication the years can bring.
“Now I’m at the point where my girls really talk to me, and I’ve always told them, I would rather you tell me the truth and we work through it than me finding out afterwards and it being a really, really rough lesson,” she says.
So what’s been the hardest age? “My kids were really good. They were good kids… until I found out the other night that they weren’t,” admits MacDowell, laughing with her whole body and burying her face in her hands for a moment. As it turns out, she’s recently played a game of Never Have I Ever and learned… quite a lot. “I’m so shocked. But they were actually pretty good kids. They were good kids. They’re still good kids,” she says — the game’s revelations notwithstanding.
Now MacDowell is at the stage of life where she’s doing mother of bride and groom duties; not only did her daughter Margaret Qualley marry Jack Antonoff in a star-studded wedding this summer, but her son Justin got hitched as well. I asked if she helped plan the weddings. She says she helped her son, but Margaret? “Heck no, I didn’t do a thing for her. Her wedding, she organized. She did everything, I did nothing. All I had to do or worry about was what dress I wore. That was the extent of it. And show up.”
“They were both beautiful weddings and it was a nice family time for us all to be together. And they’re having their own journeys now,” she says.
Mindful of the fact that — impossible as it seems for those of us in the throes of young kids — one day I’ll be in MacDowell’s shoes with grown kids living their own lives, I ask what it feels like when they grow up and fly away. She’s frank: “I hated it. I didn’t like it at all.”
“Even with my career, you would think that that’s where my emphasis was, but it wasn’t, [it] was really on my children,” she adds. “And Margaret had to tell me that, basically — I tell her this now and she goes, ‘I didn’t say that,’ but basically this is what I heard — she told me I needed to get a life, but it took me forever to figure out how to do that. I kept trying.”
“She goes, ‘You need to be having the time of your life. We’re leaving. You need to be having fun. This is something you’re supposed to look forward to.’ And I was like, ‘But I’m not. I want to see you!’” she adds.
In the end, she said, it basically took moving back to South Carolina before she found her feet again: “I finally got to a place where I wake up every day and I’m OK,” she said. “I ended up some place where I feel like for my age, I can take care of myself and I can think of myself for the first time. I can really think of nurturing myself. I nurtured them for so long. And now honestly, might they come, they come. They don’t, they don’t.” Although, when it comes to getting them to come back, grandkids don’t hurt.
“I have to say, my relationship with my son is really interesting right now because I have a grandbaby,” she adds. “It’s made us closer, so that’s been really special because I kind of lost him for a while there, I felt like. And his daughter loves me, so now he respects me so much.” There you have it, straight from a 1990s romcom legend: They do come back, eventually.
Photographs by Celeste Sloman
Styling by: Stephanie Sanchez
Video: Rebecca Halfon, Jasmine Velez
Associate Creative Director, Video: Samuel Schultz
Photo Director: Alex Pollack
Editor in Chief: Kate Auletta
SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid
SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert
This article was originally published