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At home for the holiday films

Hamilton-based actor Ann Pirvu is a supporting lead in Hallmark original Undercover Holiday that was shot in Hamilton and debuts this season.

Made for TV holiday movies are endlessly and unabashedly positive. They are simple and rather old-fashioned rom-coms where love always wins and Christmas transforms even the hardest of hearts.

They have become a much-parodied trope but they are wildly successful. Hallmark alone will premiere 40 original Christmas movies this season. 


Among them is Undercover Holiday, which was shot in Hamilton and features city resident Ann Pirvu in a supporting lead role. The film debuted in October on W Network and StackTV in Canada and Hallmark Channel in the U.S.

The real-life Pirvu seems to have dropped right out a holiday movie. She’s incredibly cheerful and apologizes for being a hugger by giving a big hug. Her emails are filled with happy emojis and she addresses her messages to me: “Hi lovely Meredith!”

See what I mean about cheerful?

Check out Ann Pirvu this seaon in Undercover Holliday, which was shot in Hamilton.  PHOTOS: Donna Waxman for HCM

So it makes so much sense that Pirvu is particularly fond of made-for-TV Christmas romances. They may be formulaic but that is comforting in difficult times, she says.

“You can turn on a beautiful Hallmark film and you know you’ll feel good and be uplifted and have a family-oriented experience that will be positive no matter what.”

In a fast-paced world of shifting values, hyper consumerism and social media negativity, holiday movies are simple, escapist and timeless, she says.

“At their core, they teach that love should be a priority in life.”  

Previous credits for Pirvu include A Tiny Home Christmas, Around Robin, an indie thriller shot in Los Angeles that played the Hamilton Film Festival last year, the hit series Reign, Netflix’s Workin’ Moms, Remedy and the Steven Soderbergh produced call-girl series The Girlfriend Experience.

Next year will come the release of two new thrillers: The Path of Totality and A Dangerous Romance, which was shot in Hamilton. 

“I always knew I would be an actor. Whatever it took, I was going to make it happen,” she says over a bowl of soup in a King Street café.

But her positivity is not just about the results but about the process.

“The structure and discipline of a professional actor has to come from within. That craft of acting leads to being able to play, discover and explore. Those are the building blocks of happiness and fulfilment for me. I love acting so much because it’s joy in a job.”

Pirvu is engaged to producer Christopher Giroux, who grew up in Burlington. 

Her first experience filming in Hamilton was Total Frat Movie in 2016. She returned in 2020 for Learning to Love Again, which marked the first time she worked with Giroux and her first lead role in a feature film. 

“I just had the best time shooting here. I saw how supportive the community is and how deep the talent pool is. So when Christopher and I got together, it just seemed right to move to Hamilton.”

They bought a house in the Gibson neighbourhood in 2020 and they will get married Nov. 23 – exactly four years from their first date.

It’s a holiday romance of their own.

And Giroux and Pirvu are bringing their friends west with them.

“We are single-handedly responsible for five couple friends moving to Hamilton from Toronto. There is more space and more value for your money. And it’s just a fun, artistic city to live in.”

A growing film industry in Hamilton and a shift to self-taped auditions out of the pandemic make it much easier to live outside Toronto, she says. 

In the world of TV movies, actors are often cast about a month ahead of a three-week shoot. Those projects involve 12- to 14-hour days, at a minimum, and no days off. Pirvu is grateful her partner also works in the business.

Giroux is senior vice president of production at Vortex Media.

“We understand each other’s work and can inspire each other. We can also work together on projects, which is really great for us. Most people are perplexed by the concept.”

She says the greatest challenge of working with one’s significant other is knowing when to turn off work. “We’ve learned to carve out time and to be more structured about it.”

Pirvu was born in Romania and her family moved to Canada when she was 12, landing initially in Toronto. They then moved to Edmonton when her dad was offered a job. Both her parents are electrical engineers.

“I saw my parents work so hard. It was a six-year process to get reaccredited but they never looked at it as a negative. They just got it done without complaint. That was so inspiring.”

From a young age, Pirvu took part in talent shows while also showing interest in filmmaking. She made her first feature at 17, a thriller called Pure Malice.

“It’s about the psychological repercussions of making a mistake. It was my very own film school.”

Pirvu was devastated when she wasn’t accepted into the film program at Toronto Metropolitan University (then Ryerson University.) But she did “the next best thing” and enrolled in broadcast journalism. 

“Learning to think like a journalist has made me more well-rounded as a filmmaker.”

After graduating, she worked on reality TV show Rich Bride, Poor Bride but then decided she wanted to focus on acting. 

“You can’t really do it all in this business. If you want to act, you have to be accessible for auditions, you have to take classes, you have to get prepared for roles. I realized early on that auditioning is actually your job as an actor. Getting roles is the reward of that work.”

Pirvu has taught acting and she tries to prepare her students for the inevitable rejection that comes with being an actor. 

“I love working with 10- to 13-year-olds. Planting the right seeds in kids, and helping them eliminate the noise means a lot to me. I still have lots to learn myself but I offer advice: just keep going, be yourself, stay on track and be consistent.”

Pirvu takes her public platform as an actor seriously. She started an Instagram series to talk about mental health and emotional intelligence issues after people reached out to her on social media who were clearly hurting or in crisis. 

“Acting gives you a doorway to talk about what it means to be human.”

And that precise issue really struck a chord with Pirvu during the labour strikes that rocked Hollywood and halted virtually all work from south of the border this summer. 

“As a performer, it’s incredibly daunting to think how little they might need human performers in the future. An actor could be paid to go in for a day where they scan your likeness and record your voice and then piece you together and put you in five episodes of a show. I can’t imagine a world where humans don’t make art.”