T. Mychael Rambo has played various agents of Santa in breakfast performances at the old Dayton's department store in downtown Minneapolis ages ago. He also has been the Ghost of Christmas Present in "A Christmas Carol" at the Guthrie Theater, bringing a cross between Santa and Father Christmas.
Now the beloved St. Paul actor and singer is taking his beneficence to a national audience and in the main role. Rambo has been cast as Santa Claus in "Rescuing Christmas," which starts streaming Thursday on Hallmark Movies Now.
Shot in Duluth, the movie features a cast that includes Minneapolis-reared Rachel Leigh Cook and Minnesotans Sarah Agnew and Greta Oglesby. The plot revolves around a photographer (Cook) who is not so sure about all the hype about Christmas. And Santa is one of those who help her to see the true spirit of the holidays.
"She's not a Scrooge who doesn't like people or Christmas," Rambo said. "She's more like a doubting Thomas when it comes to the feelings of the season."
A joyous bon vivant known for his magnanimity, Rambo displays qualities that we ascribe to Santa in his everyday life. But his ho-ho-ing in the film will be the first time he's ever donned Santa's red-and-white suit.
Q: How did you get this role?
A: Well, my casting agent, Lynn Blumenthal, had me try out for it. And I was, like, get out of here. Me? Santa? I pooh-poohed the idea. I thought, this is never going to materialize. But, lo and behold, it did.
Q: What did you do in your audition?
A: I read sides [excerpts from the screenplay] from the movie.
Q: Did you not sing?
A: No. I even gave them a copy of my Christmas CD. And I'm not singing in the movie.
Q: What did Santa mean to you when you were growing up?
A: In the various places we lived as we traveled with my father when he was in the service, my mother, who got her degrees in fine arts, always painted pictures of Santa. Well, one time when we were living in California, it was Santa on a surfboard. She made Santa real for me at a young age and Santa was a big part of my childhood.
Q: How did you imagine Santa to be?
A: I've always thought of Santa as having this sense of wonder, benevolence and joy. That's how I live in the world. Santa doesn't have to be Kris Kringle. He's an energy, a frequency, a vibration. The season brings us into a Santa space where we all become ambassadors of joy and gratitude.
Q: How do you interpret Santa in this movie?
A: I keep it genuine and authentic because the role entailed being human and being benevolent. In the movie, I'm wearing a track suit and a variety of street clothes as a human before I show up in my Christmas gear.
Q: What was it like to work with Rachel Leigh Cook?
A: She's a very serious actor with great choices. She imbues her character with a nice range. But there are also other Minnesota actors in the film, like Greta Oglesby.
Q: Is there something that's essential to playing Santa effectively?
A: Many things, actually. But one of them is to really understand the dynamic of listening actively and being fully present with people. I think of Santa as someone who, in a room full of hundreds of people, is totally locked in when he's talking with you. There's no one else there. It's like when someone says so-and-so is their best friend but then lots of people say that.
Q: Santa is a folk figure that's integral to Christmas. Do you think of him in religious terms?
A: There's a Santa-like figure in all the major religions. He reminds us about how to treat one another and to be in community. I think of Santa almost like a living parable. He's checking that list twice to see if you're naughty or nice.
Q: Are there other folks in town who you think would make a good Santa?
A: Luverne Seifert would be really great. Reed Sigmund would be another one. I think Jim Lichtscheidl would be a wonderful, trim Santa. Think of him as a kind of New Age Santa. And from the global majority, Warren Bowles would stand up tall for Santa and say, "Merry Christmas, one and all."