Canadian actress Jacky Lai leads the cast of A Sugar & Spice Holiday, Lifetime's first movie to focus on an Asian American family. And there's a trio of Asian women guiding matters behind the scenes as well: director Jennifer Liao, writer Eirene Donohue and casting director Judy JK Lee. Veteran actor Tzi Ma co-stars.
The movie has sights set on your sweet tooth: It follows Lai's Suzie Young, a rising L.A. architect who returns home for Christmas and is caught up in a baking competition alongside high school pal, Billy (Tony Giroux). Billy is still the same old mischief-maker, but also a generous community volunteer and…well, geez, those dimples.
Lai, who heads home to her native Toronto on the holidays, spoke with MyLifetime.com about her family's Christmas traditions and offered smart advice on how, precisely, one should begin eating a gingerbread house.
One of the fun elements in the movie is that Suzie stops as each character is introduced and characterizes them as a type of cookie. Billy, her old friend, is a jelly doughnut: 'Messy, sweet and full of surprises.' What kind of cookie best matches your personality?
Melted caramel is my favorite flavor in life, so I would be a warm caramel chocolate cookie—comforting and sweet, but with just a little dash of salt.
Is there something special to an Asian-Canadian Christmas tradition that perhaps isn't part of the way other cultures celebrate?
There always ends up being a karaoke session at every Christmas party, or at New Year's, birthdays…somehow, they always end in karaoke. I think that's very common and unique to Asian families.
This begs a couple of questions: Are you a good singer? And what are your go-to tracks?
I'm terrible. It's so nerve-racking… But at home, if I'm having fun, it always goes back the Spice Girls or the Backstreet Boys.
Suzie and Billy have a charming karaoke duet in the movie. Was that actually you singing?
Yeah. That… that…(Sighs). How do you think it turned out?
It improved as you went along! Suzie…well, she's not as good a singer as she is an architect, right? We kind of cringe at first, but by the end of the song, she's impressed everyone.
Right. That was very real. The better parts took a lot of work!
Early on, Suzie is talking with a coworker at her architecture firm and he stumbles onto thin ice asking about Suzie's holiday plans: 'I didn't know if they celebrated Christmas where you're from,' he says. And Suzie replies: 'I'm from Maine.' Have you ever had an experience like that?
In terms of holiday celebrations, no. I feel like I've been asked [how I celebrate] more with curiosity, as opposed to ignorance or judgment. Of course, I've had many situations where I've been approached with ignorance or racism, but in terms of holiday celebrations? No. I think with the holidays, people are just curious.
You were raised in Toronto and that's still home base. What are the holidays like for you now—karaoke aside? Is it a big family time?
We actually started celebrating Christmas later, I think when I was around 12, because we're immigrants. I came here when I was 5 or 6, from Vietnam. I think I was the first to initiate the gift-giving, and kind of 'introduced' my family to Christmas. I just bought whatever I could afford and wrapped it up.
It took us awhile to get into the rhythm. And now it's a whole thing. Everyone gathers at my family's house. The past few years, my parents hired a Mr. and Mrs. Claus. A couple dresses up and they go around town and they do it for a few families. All the adults meet in the garage and they stuff the presents into a bag, and then Mr. and Mrs. Claus knock on the door and distribute gifts to all of the kids.
That's awesome—but you're an adult. Does that mean you don't get a gift?
I still sit on Santa's lap and ask for something.
Suzie learned how to make gingerbread houses from her late grandma, a strong presence in the movie who dispenses advice with a quirky twist: 'Teach someone to fish, and they will stink. But teach someone to bake and they'll have a sweet life.' Could you make a gingerbread house?
Not at all. To this day, I don't think I've ever fully built a gingerbread house. I YouTubed some videos, and it's insane how creative and extravagant these houses are. They're like castles. Some of them are two, three stories.
Plus, where would you even start eating?
Oh, the icing.
Suzie is an overachiever who never stops to rest. Billy urges her to try and find the joy in the everyday. What traits do you share with Suzie? And how are you most different?
We share a lot of love and respect for family. And I have her drive. But in terms of differences, she's a lot more methodical. She's a big planner, strict with her goals. I can be a lot more go-with-the-flow. I'm more comfortable with uncertainty than Suzie is.
There are so many baking puns in the movie. Did you have a favorite?
There's a moment when Billy tells me I need to have more fun, and I say: 'OK, I'll try.' And then he says: 'There is no try. There is only dough.’ We improvised that. It was so dorky. I loved that scene!Explore more holiday movies on It's a Wonderful Lifetime.