James Wotherspoon almost missed out on his first major TV role—playing Natalie’s son Caleb on CBC family drama This Life—due to an inopportune bout with the flu during the audition process.
“I was really ill at the time,” recalls Wotherspoon. “So I actually missed the [onscreen] chemistry test.” Luckily, a last-minute Skype audition was arranged, and he was cast just before the show’s first season began filming in Montreal last year.
“I got the scripts for the episodes at the table read,” he says. “I hadn’t even read them yet and sat down and did it. It was kind of crazy, but it worked out.”
While Wotherspoon admits he was “pretty scared and I held back a lot” while filming Season 1, he says filming the second season was a different story.
“I felt a lot more open as an actor and felt I had a lot more range and freedom,” he explains. “I just had a lot of fun with the character in Season 2.”
Joining us by phone from his hometown of Aurora, Ont., Wotherspoon tells us what’s coming up for Caleb this season and what it’s like working opposite talented acting vets Torri Higginson and Louis Ferreira, who play his TV parents.
Caleb went through a lot in Season 1. Not only was his mom diagnosed with terminal cancer, but he went through a bad breakup and had a brush with the law. What is his emotional state at the beginning of Season 2?
James Wotherspoon: It’s interesting. It seems to be a very different place than even the end of Season 1. He has this big shift, going from being the sort of well-mannered, really wanting to take care of the family type to letting loose. He’s partying a lot, he’s broken up with his girlfriend, so he’s seeing girls and really trying to figure out who he wants to be.
We found out Caleb dropped his classes in the season premiere. Why did he feel the need to do that?
I think when he went to school, he was in a place where he was very unsure of himself, and so he went into school in that sort of head space and the events following sort of shifted him out of that, and he realized who he actually wants to be, what he wants from life. And I don’t think that involves going to school at this time.
After his father left, Caleb tried to be the man of the house. How is he dealing with David’s sudden return?
I think it sort of furthers his confusion. He kind of realizes that, ‘Wow, I’ve been filling the role of this person.’ And it takes David showing up for him to realize that because he’s really pulled between these two roles of being man of the house and being a free individual. And so David kind of cracks that open for him, I think. At first, it’s really difficult for him to be around [David] because of all those raw emotions. But he loves his father, so over time you sort of see that coming out and he wants to get closer to him.
Caleb has some big moments with both his mom and dad in Episode 3. What can viewers expect?
There’s a big sort of push and pull between the dad and mom and Caleb in this episode. He really wants to appease both of these people who are so important to him, but with the nature of the family being so split, he’s sort of unsure of who to agree with or please. So there’s a lot of pressure on him … He just wants everything to be settled and to be his own person and to get out of that situation.
You have some big scenes with Torri Higginson and Louis Ferreira in Episode 3. What’s it like acting with them?
They have different personalities, but they are both fantastic actors. They’re extremely generous and just very easy people to work with. And they’re pretty experienced, and they help younger actors like me be very calm during the experience and have a good time. But they also bring the intensity that’s necessary to work off of as an actor in a scene, and that sort of balance makes it really fun and easy to work with them.
What can you tease about Caleb’s storyline the rest of the season?
I think you can expect a totally different character. Maybe a darker but more honest side of him that you didn’t see in Season 1, but you sort of felt he could be that person. You’re sort of rooting for him to be that, to be an individual and free himself, and he really starts to make that happen. He makes powerful choices for himself and grows a lot.
Do you have a favourite episode in Season 2?
To be honest, I would say that Episode 3 is one of my favourites because of the couple of scenes Caleb has with his dad and mom. Both of them are really pinnacle scenes for both story and character, so it was like amazing to have such a range in one episode.
This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.