Peter Facinelli’s acting career was just beginning to catch fire when he was inspired to write his first script back in 2003. It stemmed from a traumatic Easter spent dressed up in a bunny outfit to entertain his two young daughters with wife Jennie Garth. “I hopped around the yard like crazy while the girls looked out the window of our house for eggs,” he recalls. “And I was just in hell. It was hot, I was sweaty, it totally sucked. And I thought, I wonder what the guy who has to be in that Barney suit all day feels like?”
So he sat down to write a story about a children’s TV show actor in a rabbit outfit who hates kids and hates his job. It came together as a love story, of all things. Facinelli showed the script to friends, who gave him notes that helped him sharpen and improve it. And finally, he and co-writer Charles Thomas Daniels sold what would become the Hallmark Channel Original Movie World Premiere “Accidentally in Love” that has its debut on Saturday, February 12 (9 p.m. ET/PT, 8C).
It wasn’t necessarily supposed to turn out like this for Facinelli, who not only hasn’t quit his day job but finds his acting career exploding. He’s currently shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana the final two films in the blockbuster “Twilight” feature film franchise, in which he stars as the vampire Dr. Carlisle Cullen. He’s also flying high as the smug Dr. Fitch Cooper on the hit comedy “Nurse Jackie.”
Having this sort of performing resume’ of late certainly didn’t hurt Facinelli to sell “Accidentally in Love.” Neither did the fact he’s married to “Beverly Hills, 90210” alumnus Garth, with whom he celebrates a 10th wedding anniversary on Jan. 20 (or a little more than three weeks before the movie’s premiere).
But Facinelli, who bears a somewhat striking resemblance to the young Tom Cruise, didn’t really set out to craft a TV-movie – or a romantic in which his wife would play the love interest alongside an actor other than him. That, however, is how it turned out.
“And the truth is that I’m thrilled at how everything went down with ‘Accidentally in Love’,” Facinelli stresses. “The thought I had while I was writing and endlessly retooling the screenplay was that it would eventually be done as a feature. But then I couldn’t get it off the ground, so I put it back in a drawer for a couple of years, took it out again, revised it some more and finally gave it to a director friend of mine, David Burton Morris.”
Morris loved the script and took it to Hallmark, which had more notes and suggestions.
“And then we made the thing, with Morris directing,” Facinelli recalls. “It was the first thing I’d written that actually got produced, and it was just surreal to watch it all come to fruition out of an idea that just happened to pop into my head.”
“Accidentally in Love” stars Garth as Annie, a struggling waitress, widow and single mom to an adorable little girl named Taylor (Dannika Northcott) who is tragically losing her eyesight due to a degenerative condition. One day, Annie gets into a car accident with Eddie (Ethan Erickson), who it turns out is the actor inside the bunny suit as the beloved children’s TV icon Mulligan the Rabbit.
Just like Facinelli on that fateful Easter Sunday, Eddie badly wants out of the bunny world to tackle more substantial adult work. But now Taylor has melted his heart, and her mom ain’t so bad, either. Things get a little bit tangled up, but we’re still pretty sure that love will win out in the end – particularly considering how Valentine’s Day falls just two days later. Laughs are also on the menu via the supporting performances of the great Marilu Henner (“Taxi”) and comedy legend Fred Willard.
But why is Ethan Erickson standing there kissing Facinelli’s wife in the climactic scene of “Accidentally in Love,” while her real-life husband – who scripted the thing – is forced to stand on the sidelines and watch?
“There’s a logical reason for that, I promise,” Facinelli maintains. “I mean, I originally wrote this script for maybe me and my wife to play it. But then I got a little busy. I was doing press on (the 2010 ‘Twilight’ saga) ‘Eclipse’ at the time it was shooting, and I had no time to act in the film. Ethan wound up doing a great job, though.”
That wasn’t the only reason for Facinelli’s deciding to take a pass on playing opposite his beloved in a love story.
“I also worried that this would become the Jennie Garth-Peter Facinelli movie instead of a film with two characters,” he adds. “Our playing together could have detracted from the believability of the story and become a distraction. So I took a step back and let my wife kiss someone else.”
And how did that feel?
“You know, I was an artist looking at actors, nothing more,” Facinelli claims. “I wanted the performer who was best for the role and someone my wife would be happy to work with. She actually enjoyed being able to do it with somebody else and actually told me, ‘Honey, I don’t think you’re really right for it.’ And I’m like, ‘But I wrote it!’ Maybe she was just tired of kissing me and figured it was time to kiss someone else.”
But that wasn’t how Garth was behaving on the day when she’d be shooting the big kissing scene in “Accidentally in Love.” She called Facinelli up and told him she didn’t think she could go through with it.”
“And I’m like, ‘But you have to kiss him’,” Facinelli remembers imploring. “I’m fighting with my wife to convince her she’s got to kiss this guy and make it look real, right? So then later she calls me back and says, ‘OK, we did it in rehearsals and its working.’ I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, how well is it working?’
The moral of that story: Be careful what you write, particularly if your wife is an actor. Yet rather than being discouraged by the trauma of watching his wife making out on camera, Facinelli has decided he likes this writing thing a lot. He’s penned a couple of other scripts, including one that’s sprouted into the indie feature “Loosies” in which he also executive produces and stars alongside Michael Madsen and Joe Pantoliano of “The Sopranos” fame. It’s due for release in 2011.
This isn’t to say that Facinelli has any plans to bag his acting career in favor of his scribe life anytime soon.
“I love writing because it opens up so many opportunities and doors,” he says. “You’re no longer the guy going in begging for a job; you’re the guy creating jobs for other people. As an actor, you’re just a cog in a wheel who goes in and says other people’s lines. When you write it and produce it, you’re able to see the project all the way through.”
And sometimes, you’re even able to create a kiss-and-tell story for your wife.
“Accidentally In Love” premieres Saturday, February 12 (9p.m. ET/PT, 8C).