If you don't think Rob Lowe enjoys this time of year, consider how often he turns up during the holidays.
Besides seasonal episodes of "The West Wing" and ABC's "Brothers & Sisters," which he recently joined, the actor appeared in the 2002 TV movie "The Christmas Shoes" and last year's sequel "The Christmas Blessing." He aims for feel-good sentiments again by starring in "A Perfect Day," the new TNT adaptation of the novel by Richard Paul Evans ("The Christmas Box") debuting Monday, Dec. 18.
The film casts Lowe as a laid-off salesman encouraged by his wife (Paget Brewster, "Criminal Minds") to pursue his long-standing dream of writing for a living. The resulting book, modeled on her final months with her cancer-stricken father, makes him a sudden success.
His fast-track fame carries him away from his spouse and daughter (Meggie Geisland), until an alarmingly knowledgeable stranger (Christopher Lloyd) suggests the writer hasn't much longer to live. Frances Conroy ("Six Feet Under") also stars as the Lowe character's literary agent.
"It's very old-fashioned in a great way," Lowe says of the film. "It's honest, human family drama. The holidays have such resonance for people, it's easy to say that these films I've done are Christmas stories; to me, they're just emotional stories set at the most emotional time of the year. On 'The West Wing,' I used to hope I'd get the Christmas stories, because they were always the best ones.
"The trick with these movies," Lowe continues, "is being on the alert for anything that's maudlin or saccharin. Tone is a big, big deal, and I think what I bring to these types of stories -- where you can feel like your teeth hurt, they're so sugary -- is my point-of-view, in terms of performance and some tweaking of the script. Some of my notes aren't even on my own character, because I just want the whole piece to be as good as it can be. This was a really good experience in that sense."
Indeed, Lowe brought co-star Brewster into the project. He also approved of Lloyd, since he explains the "Taxi" and "Back to the Future" veteran represents "an almost supernatural component" of the tale.
"Chris plays someone who could be anything from a demented stalker to the angel of death, or maybe even someone who's trying to do me a big favor," Lowe says. "You want the audience not to know at any given time. That was a real balancing act, and Chris was the perfect guy for it. It's so quiet and specific and subtle, he's just riveting."
If Lowe's character in "A Perfect Day" seems close in background to author Evans, it's not by coincidence.
"This was actually his wife's story," Lowe explains, "watching her father grapple with a debilitating disease. It's almost autobiographical, so there's an additional sort of creative force above the director and producer that you hope to be on the same page with."
Evans "came by the set one day," Lowe adds. "I always like meeting the author because if he's happy, I'm happy, whether it's John Irving or Stephen King. In this case, he's very excited about it."
Lowe is excited himself to be doing television regularly again, even though his current "Brothers & Sisters" role as Sen. Robert McCallister is slated for only a limited run at this point. He's working frequently on the Sunday show with Calista Flockhart, who plays media personality Kitty Walker.
"I love television," Lowe states. "When it works, people talk about it for five years; when a movie works, people talk about it for five months. I just try to follow what I think will be fun and challenging for me as an actor, and you can never know how it will turn out. Plenty of good shows fail, plenty of bad shows make it, and every once in a while, a good show makes it. You just have to follow your gut."
Lowe isn't the only family member doing series work this season: His brother Chad will be a cast regular when the Emmy-winning Fox suspense drama "24" returns for its sixth season Jan. 14.
For all his recent television credits, which also include the short-lived shows "The Lyon's Den" and "dr. vegas," Rob Lowe hasn't forsaken the big screen. He has top billing in "Stir of Echoes: The Dead Speak," a forthcoming follow-up to Kevin Bacon's ghostly 1999 thriller.
"I've never done a sequel to anything," Lowe says, "but they came to me with the novel idea that it's not a true sequel. I'm not playing Kevin's part, and as much as I loved that movie -- it was written and directed by David Koepp, who also wrote 'Bad Influence' -- this is its own movie with similar themes, thereby earning the title. I'm pretty happy with it."