Lacey Chabert is one of Hallmark Channel's shining stars.
In the original movie, Love on Safari, Chabert plays Kira, a busy web designer whose plan for a relaxing vacation is derailed when she learns she has inherited Ukuthula, an animal reserve in South Africa, from her late great-uncle and must travel there for the reading of the will. When she arrives, she meets park ranger Tom (Dark Matter's Jon Cor), who is the complete opposite of her boyfriend, and she unexpectedly begins to not only fall in love with Ukuthula, but with Tom as well. The movie, which kicks off the network's "Summer Nights"-themed programming, is the first Hallmark original to be filmed in South Africa. (Watch ET's exclusive sneak peek above.)
"It was really a dream come true, not only to visit South Africa but to film this movie there. The South African people were just incredibly generous and kind, and so soulful and loving," Chabert tells ET. "The environment in which we filmed, every day I had to pinch myself and remind myself that it was reality -- just to be around such beauty and the land."
The Party of Five alum and Hallmark favorite said the premise of the film was creatively satisfying on a personal level because it aligned with her own beliefs. "It was so exciting to bring to life something I felt so passionate about. The movie has a lot of different messages that I'm really proud of," Chabert emphasizes. As most Hallmark movies go, the film takes a turn with an a-ha moment for Chabert's Kira, who, by the end of it, discovers a more "adventurous side to herself she's forgotten in the busyness of her life in trying to meet deadlines and goals." "Being there in that environment really makes her stop and remember what it is to have a more childlike look at the world and to be less scared and to not stand in your own way," Chabert adds.
When ET caught up with Chabert at Hallmark Channel's Television Critics Association red carpet in Pasadena, California, in January, the 35-year-old actress was about to jet off to South Africa the next day to start work on the film and expressed anxiety over leaving her daughter, Julia, (she'll turn two in September) for the first time for an extended period. Looking back on that whirlwind time, Chabert confessed that it was still tough to think about having to leave her young child for nearly a month.
"I was so anxious and it makes me anxious thinking about it, to be honest with you. The separation anxiety was definitely real," Chabert recalls. "I'm thankful for my amazing family and husband [David Nehdar] -- she had an entire entourage of family and friends here for her, so she was totally fine as everyone told me she would be. I had a little bit of a harder time with it. Very thankful for Skype and modern technology, which allows you to interact with your child when you're 10,000 miles away, so it made it OK."
"But it was hard. It was a challenge. I'm not saying it's something I would do again tomorrow, but in my line of work, sometimes these things come up," she continues. "Every decision I make is, first and foremost, what is best for her well-being. In this case, it was best for her to stay back with my husband and family. But it was very, very difficult. I missed her so much, it hurt."
Chabert noted similarities between what she was going through and her character's journey in the movie. "There was a similar parallel of my experience being away and having to be so strong," she shares. "When you become a mother, it's a common thing that you just want to put every ounce of your being into your child, which is a very beautiful experience. But I've also had to realize that there's balance to be had as well, which makes me a better mother. So continuing to act, which is a passion of mine and something I've been pursuing since I was seven years old, it fuels a different part of me. Having that creative side of myself satisfied makes me a better mother. It's a constant search for balance."
As a noted Hallmark vet (Chabert will star in her seventh Christmas movie this year), she explained why the network's G-rated, airy, everything-works-out modus operandi for its films and shows has grown in appeal.
"One of the things I love about it is you're guaranteed a happy ending," says Chabert, who also stars in the upcoming Hallmark offerings The Crossword Mystery, All of My Heart 3 and the Christmas movie Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, based on the Melissa de la Cruz novel. "There are always obstacles along the way, but I think in the world we're living in today, to be a part of a project that adds a little love and light and levity into the world is something I'm very proud of. People I run into on the street who talk about the movies and fans who contact me on social media, that's really the No. 1 thing people say, 'Thanks for making something my whole family can watch that's uplifting.'"
Though Chabert has a busy slate ahead, she says her baby girl will always be her biggest priority in life. "My biggest project is being a momma!" Chabert says with a laugh. "Being a mother to a 21-month-old baby is a lot. Julia is hilarious and she keeps us on our toes. She is our No. 1 priority and the best part of my life. Work has really just become icing on the cake."
Ask her about plans for Julia's upcoming second birthday in mere months and Chabert is at a loss for words. "Where does the time go? Someone told me a saying, 'The days are long, but the years are short,' and it's so true! Being a parent can be overwhelming at times, but it's something we're figuring out as we go," she says. "But never have I ever experienced such joy and such love, and to see the world through her eyes is a magical experience. I can't believe it, like, where did my teeny, tiny baby go?"
Love on Safari premieres Saturday, July 28 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Hallmark Channel.
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