When Christmas Was Young: Karen David and Tyler Hilton talk 'magical' holiday film

Karen David in When Christmas Was Young
(Image credit: Dean Buscher/CBS)

There’s nothing like a heartwarming Christmas movie to get you into the holiday spirit, and When Christmas Was Young has all of the elements that help to make the spirit bright. From executive producer Sheryl Crow, When Christmas Was Young stars Karen David (Fear the Walking Dead, Legacies) and Tyler Hilton (One Tree Hill, The Christmas Contract). 

David plays Melody, a single mom who gave up her dreams of being a singer songwriter. Hilton plays Luke, a music manager who heads to Nashville to buy the rights to a song that Melody wrote long ago. He thinks it’s a done deal, but when she steadfastly refuses to sell the song, Luke realizes he’s in for a challenge.

Take a look at the trailer below:

What to Watch talked with When Christmas Was Young’s David and Hilton about their heartwarming holiday tale and they both agreed that there’s only one word that sums it up: “magical.”

It wasn’t difficult for David and Hilton to become immersed in the story and their characters. Both actors are also very talented singer-songwriters themselves and no strangers to performing on stage. However, When Christmas Was Young throws a fun little twist into the mix because while music is a thread that weaves the story together, only one of the stars gets to sing. 

“It’s funny because it’s a world that I’m really comfortable with, and I’ve been around it a lot. But I’m always the one that’s singing or I’m always playing the artist,” Hilton said of Luke. “So this was a cool situation where I get to play a type of person I’ve spent a lot of time with, but I’ve never gotten to step into and [bring to life].” 

“I love singing,” David said, noting that she was grateful for a chance to sing in the middle of the apocalypse on Fear the Walking Dead, “but to be able to do it like this, to get back into the music saddle and go back to my music roots. Tyler and I were swapping a lot of stories about when we first got started [in the business].”

“We had very similar trajectories, which is rare,” Hilton added. 

“The rejections, the trials and tribulations of getting a deal, not having a deal, switching managers and whatnot. It’s all of that,” David agreed. “I think Tyler and I had so much in common and I hope that resonates on screen.”

To help get into Melody’s head, David said she created a playlist for her character, which she shared with Hilton. “When I’m prepping a new role, I will do a playlist,” David said. “And I was telling Tyler that it helps me get into the psyche [of the character], which helps especially because we often film out of sequence so it puts you back into the zone of what’s happening [in the story].”

“I’ve never done that,” Hilton added, but he enjoyed putting one together for Luke Dawson and using it to figure him out. “I was getting so into it. I was picking out a lot of George Thorogood!”

“Tyler sent me his, and it was so nice to get a perspective of where he was coming from, and where he saw Luke,” David noted. “And to speak through the language of music, I thought it was so wonderfully intimate for the two characters.”

She added how much she enjoyed bringing Melody to life opposite Hilton; their connection in real life helped build their characters’ connection in the movie. “We were just so happy to be there cheering each other on and wanting to bring out the best in each other.”

Being a cheerleader came easy for Hilton, who was happy to sit back and enjoy David’s performance. “Every time I heard [David] sing, I was so moved,” he said. “There are a few times she sings in the movie and I just got to sit there and listen, and every time I’d be like, ‘this is an absolute pleasure.’ I was so moved every time. It’s awesome.”

When Christmas Was Young premieres Sunday, December 18, on CBS and globally on Paramount Plus. 

Sarabeth Pollock
Editorial Content Producer


Sarabeth joined the What to Watch team in May 2022. An avid TV and movie fan, her perennial favorites are The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, true crime documentaries on Netflix and anything from Passionflix. You’ve Got Mail, Ocean's Eleven and Signs are movies that she can watch all day long. She's also a huge baseball fan, and hockey is a new favorite.  

When she's not working, Sarabeth hosts the My Nights Are Booked Podcast and a blog dedicated to books and interviews with authors and actors. She also published her first novel, Once Upon an Interview, in 2022.