In acting terms, let’s think of this as a long pause – a 30-year one, actually,.
In 1992, Danny Pintauro finished his eight-year run on “Who’s the Boss?” He had done the show for half his life; he’d also done movies and a soap opera. It was time for a break, including college.
Then the break got longer. When Lifetime’s “A Country Christmas Harmony”(shown here with Pintauro and Brooke Elliott) arrives at 8 p.m. Friday (Nov. 18), it will be the first time most viewers have seen him acting in three decades.
In the interim, he said, he faced “the trauma of being a child actor” and “of being outed so early.”He was addicted to meth and tested positive for HIV.
But there have also been upbeat signs – marriage and a new life in Austin, Texas, with work as a veterinary technician. And now he has a strong supporting role in a Christmas film.
“I love the fact that we’ve got to the point where we can create fully rounded characters” who are gay, Pintauro, 46, said in a video press conference.
That’s the trend, as Christmas movies finally find diversity. For years, their plots were similar: A woman (young, slender, white) meets a man (handsome, white). They bicker, then fall in love.
In some ways, “Country Christmas Harmony” fits that genre: A country star (Brooke Elliott) has made a clumsy music video. To redeem herself, she must do her Christmas special in her home town, which she hasn’t seen in years … and must work with her former music partner.
This is sort of a film for people who love Christmas, performed by people who feel the same. “I already have two of my five Christmas trees decorated,” Elliott said, seven weeks before Christmas.
Still, holiday films are changing in some ways. For instance:
— Elliott doesn’t fit the standard ingenue image. She’s sometimes described as “plus-sized,” although she points out that she’s closer to the normal size for American women.
— Roles are more diverse in other ways. Last year, one Christmas film starred Ali Stroker, who is paraplegic; now Lifetime’s “Santa Bootcamp” (8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19) co-stars hearing-impaired actress Deanne Bray, with sign-language as a key plot element.
— The starring roles no longer seem to be limited to whites. New Christmas films have stars who are Black, Hispanic, Asian and more. Liza Lapira (whose roots are Filipino, Spanish and Chinese) said she grew up watching Christmas movies, never seeing one that starred “someone who looked like me.” Now she’s the star of CBS’ “Must Love Christmas” (Dec. 11).
— And all the characters don’t have to be heterosexual. “Must Love Christmas” has a gay-romance sub-plot; in “Country Christmas Harmony,” Pintauro plays a gay man in a warm relationship.
Old attitudes were part of the reason he disappeared. He was 21 when the National Enquirer outed him; it would be a quarter-century before he had another major scripted role.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” he said. “Still, Christmas movies were kind of the last hold-out.”