‘The 12 Days of Christmas Eve’ Costume Designer Shares Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Making a Lifetime Holiday Movie [Exclusive]

From perfectly decorated trees to glittering snow, made-for-TV Christmas movies from the likes of Hallmark and Lifetime excel at creating a certain holiday vibe. Key to crafting that sense of seasonal magic? The right look for the actors. Just ask Keith Nielsen, a costume designer who’s worked on multiple movies for Hallmark and Lifetime. This year, he was in charge of costumes for two new films premiering Thanksgiving weekend. Hallmark’s A Holiday Spectacular and Lifetime’s 12 Days of Christmas Eve. He spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet about what went into creating the costumes for the latter movie, which premieres Nov. 26.

Every Christmas movie is different, Keith Nielsen explains 

Kelsey Grammer talking to Santa in 'The 12 Days of Christmas Eve' on Lifetime
Mitch Poulos and Kelsey Grammer in ‘The 12 Days of Christmas Eve’ | Lifetime

To the casual viewer, all holiday movies may look basically the same. But that’s not exactly the case, as Nielsen points out.

“Even though everyone’s like, ‘Oh, they’re all the same,’ there’s always slight differences,” he said. “Maybe we’re trying to reach out to a different audience, or there’s something in there that’s like a little different. And I love to highlight that.”

For the 12 Days of Christmas Eve, that meant selling the Connecticut filming locations as New York, in part through the character’s sophisticated looks. And Nielsen had to do that through a relatively limited number of costume changes for the main characters, including star Kelsey Grammer.

Grammer plays Brian Conway, a Grinch-like businessman who has lost touch with both his family and his employees. When he gets into a car accident on Christmas Eve, Santa gives him 12 chances to redo the day, with the goal of fixing his relationships and discovering the true meaning of the holiday. 

‘The 12 Days of Christmas Eve’ costume designer loves a jewel tone 

Kelsey Grammer in a Santa suit in 'The 12 Days of Christmas Eve'
Kelsey Grammer and Spencer Grammer in ‘The 12 Days of Christmas Eve’ | Lifetime

The Groundhog Day-esque plot means that Grammer’s look doesn’t change that much throughout the film (though it does become less buttoned-up as the character sheds some of his stiffness and reserve). 

“Kelsey plays a businessman, so really great suits and tailoring and layering of menswear” was the focus when creating his costumes, Nielsen said.

Because the movie revolves around repeating the same day over and over, Nielsen was also able to invest in some standout pieces for both Grammer’s character and his daughter (played by the Frasier star’s real-life daughter Spencer Grammer).  

“I could spend a little bit more on certain things to create some really great quality,” he shared. “I was able to get Kelsey some really great suits and a really great overcoat and layered it with a sweater. So we had the versatility because his main day work was a suit with a sweater. He could wear it without the jacket. He could wear it with it, he could wear it without the sweater. But it was the same look. So we had the versatility to play with it.”

Multiple scenes take place at a Christmas charity gala. Rather than dressing Spencer Grammer’s  Michelle character in a predictable red dress, he opted for an eye-catching fuchsia jumpsuit by Diane von Furstenberg. 

“[That] was great because the space we were shooting, it was all this dark woodwork. So it was really, really rich,” he said. “I love a jewel tone at Christmas … Just something deep and rich. It feels warm and cozy.” 

Kelsey Grammer’s costume changes reflect his character’s evolution 

Spencer Grammer and Kelsey Grammer wearing holiday pajames in 'The 12 Days of Christmas Eve'
Spencer Grammer and Kelsey Grammer in ‘The 12 Days of Christmas Eve’ | Lifetime

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It’s not a huge spoiler to say that by the end of 12 Days of Christmas Eve, Kelsey Grammer’s character isn’t the same impatient CEO he was at the beginning of the movie. Brian’s evolution is reflected through his evolving look.  

“He loosens up a little bit,” Nielsen said. “I mean, Kelsey’s an incredible actor, so he did a ton of work on that. And in the end, he ends in a much more festive pajama than when you meet him in … It’s the same type of cut, but it’s a difference in color that also matches his family. Whereas earlier he’s in lots of blues and grays to affect that mood, which contrasts with the holiday around him.”

Viewers will also get to see the Frasier star don an elf costume, which was one of Nielsen’s favorite looks in the movie. Fortunately, Grammer had no qualms about dressing up as one of Santa’s helpers. 

“His elf costume was really fun and he was so down to do it,” Nielsen said. “You never know how somebody is going to react. And Kelsey was so into just going for it.” 

12 Days of Christmas Eve airs Saturday, Nov. 26 at 8 p.m, ET on Lifetime. 

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