Warning “Christmas With You” spoilers ahead.
Freddie Prinze Jr. is synonymous with the teen rom-coms of the early aughts.
From “She’s All That,” “Down to You” and “Summer Catch,” among many others, the actor could be considered the un-dubbed rom-com king. He eventually left Hollywood, as he tells TODAY, to become a stay-at-home dad to his two kids — 13-year-old daughter Charlotte and 10-year-old son Rocky — whom he shares with actor Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Now, Prinze is back in his first romantic comedy in years, the Netflix holiday movie “Christmas With You.” But what does it take to have Prinze return to the genre? His daughter.
“My daughter has taken an interest in acting and performing, dance and things like that. So both my wife and I wanted to take a more active role to show her the way, so to speak, because we have very different processes (with) the way we deal with success and failure, rejection and acceptance and all those things,” the actor tells TODAY.com over Zoom, alongside co-star Aimee Garcia. “We wanted to give her an opportunity to see that it’s not just being famous, limousines and millions of dollars and all that. It requires a lot of sacrifice and a lot of hard work, time away from the people you love.”
“Christmas With You” centers on burnt out pop star Angelina (Garcia), who discovers a video of a young girl, Cristina (Deja Monique Cruz), singing one of her songs. After surprising Cristina at her school, she meets her dad Miguel, portrayed by Freddie Prinze Jr., a single father who teaches music at his daughter’s school.
The film marks the first time Prinze portrayed a father — a role, he admitted, that made him extremely nervous.
“I hadn’t been nervous since ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer.’ I really went through a rough experience on that movie. Like all the bad stuff that could happen to an actor happened on that, so we got it all out of the way,” he said. “And after that, movies were just jobs and I never gotten nervous.”
However, it was taking a decade-plus from acting and encountering scenes that he’s never done before that brought the butterflies to his stomach.
“(Filming) that father-daughter stuff and being a widower and things like that, I pulled a lot from what my mother (Kathy Prinze) went through. Being a single mother, raising me, and I tried to bring a lot of that in,” Prinze says. The actor’s father, comedian Freddie Prinze Sr. died when he was 10 months old.
“There are scenes in the film, especially when he’s letting (his daughter) know how proud he is of her right before her quinceañera and how proud of her mother would be, I wanted that scene to be perfect,” he says, adding that he worked on that specific moment “every single day.” “Even when we were working on other scenes, I would go home at night and I would only work on that scene again and again and again because I wanted it to be magic.”
The two actors share a sweet father-daughter relationship on screen. Jessica Kourkounis/Netflix
As much effort that he put into the moment, when he worked alongside the teen actor he knew he didn’t stand a chance.
“I compare her to Bambi when Bambi loses his mom because of her eyes. Right when she looks up at you, she has those deer eyes and she has this moment where she looked at me in every single moment that I planned,” he said. “I just knew (I) wasn’t gonna be seen on film, period, because it was too real of a moment. She’s a very honest young actress.”
He realized that the scene was “even better than what I planned on” because he stayed in the moment.
“Every single thing I planned, I just threw away and got to have this beautiful scene with her. And that’s when all the nerves went away,” he says. “And the moment she hit me with those little eyes, I was just like, ‘Oh my God. OK, so that’s gone. We’re gonna try something new.’ And it was great. She took all the nerves away and it made the scene even better than I thought it would be.”
In the film, Angelina and Miguel bond over their love of music. Jessica Kourkounis/Netflix
The “Christmas With You” cast is also predominantly Latino, which was yet another reason the actor said yes to the film.
“I’ve gotten scripts over the years, romantic comedies, but I was a full-time father and when I got this it was an opportunity to be a dad, which I had never done in a movie before — and I have 13 years of experience,” he said. “I really wanted to show that off and show a new side that I hadn’t gotten to do yet.”
“And then finally, if I don’t write the role Latino, I don’t get to play the Latino roles, for whatever reason in this industry,” Prinze, whose paternal grandmother was Puerto Rican, said, adding that over the course of his career he’s received so much love from the community.
When given the chance to play a Latino, he was ready. “I’ve been ready since I was 18 years old,” he said. “Just the opportunity never came my way. So that made it incredibly easy to jump on.”
Garcia, known for her roles in “The George Lopez Show,” “Dexter” and “Lucifer,” is a big champion for Latino representation. She thanked the streaming service for making an authentic film with Latino writers, producers and Latina director Gabriela Tagliavini.
“The goal is to make it universal. You feel better after you watch the movie and you want to be part of this family, regardless if you eat tamales or drink tequila or speak Spanish,” she said.
Garcia can be credited to making the film’s title track a bilingual bop. She shared that it was originally written only in English, before she asked Netflix if they could add a Spanish verse.
“I called my mom because Spanish is my first language and I’m like, ‘¿Me puedes ayudar a traducir esta canción?'” she said. “And we translated the stanza and it made me so happy … I’m so glad that Netflix was very supportive of our bicultural heritage… and it was just beautiful.”
Prinze added, “That was 100% her idea and it’s important that people know that … She was constantly thinking of ways to make this movie unique.”
Just like Prinze, Garcia also embraced her fears by transforming into a pop star and actually singing and dancing in the film.
“It’s so nice that Freddie and I did things that terrified us,” Garcia said. “Hopefully the world will just be like, ‘They came from their heart.’ Every performance, every song, every beat is just pure heart in this film and authentic.”
“Hopefully it inspires other people to be like, ‘Well, I’m really scared to pick up the phone and call my family member I haven’t talked to, I’m really scared to talk to my daughter about this,” she said. “But you know what, we’re all scared. We don’t have that much time. Just do it because you might surprise yourself at how people really respond well to love.”
“Christmas With You” is now streaming on Netflix.