Mary Pedersen dishes on Murdoch Mysteries’ “Painted Ladies”

The television industry is full of instances where someone scored a dream gig during their last interview. That’s certainly the case for Mary Pedersen. She’d left her family behind in Nova Scotia to pursue a writing job in Ontario, but was frustrated by meetings that went nowhere.

She gave her agent an ultimatum: one last meeting and she was going back home. That final interview? It was for Murdoch Mysteries. Suffice it to say, things worked out for Pedersen, who took time to talk about her latest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, and to tease next week’s instalment.

Can you give me some backstory into how the main thrust of the murder came about? I’ll never be able to look at swan boats the same way again.
Mary Pedersen: I think it was even before we started work in the room before Season 10 that [showrunner] Peter Mitchell had sent around a story about Victorian flirtation cards and we were riffing on what kind of trouble the constables would get into with these cards. It stuck with us and made it onto the board and I was really glad to get the assignment because I thought it was fun and I tend to gravitate to romantic stories.

Aside from the murder of Mr. Fellowes, there was a lot of big stuff going on with Nina and Crabtree. It was very saucy to have them in bed together at 8 p.m. on CBC and a shirtless Jonny Harris!
[Laughs.] That’s what happens when you have women writers, I guess. We’re always doing a balance between old-timey and present-day and I think it’s always interesting to look at the past through the lens of today. When I look at a story like this I think, ‘Well, what’s the reality of it?’ People were having sex. There is this Victorian sensibility that people weren’t having sex and if they were it was only if they were married, and even then it was only in the missionary position. I don’t think that’s true and that’s kind of where I was coming from when I did that.

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You’re not only showing the advancement of thinking in Toronto in 1904 but also the growth of this relationship. I think this is the most passionate relationship Crabtree has been in.
It’s interesting. I think when Nina’s character was conceived the idea was that she is a different kind of person and has thought a lot about sexuality and is up front about it. That’s an interesting contrast with the rest of our characters. The chemistry between Nina and Crabtree is great and it feels natural that their relationship is progressing. Erin Agostino has great charisma and I liked seeing that part of their relationship on screen because it’s fun to see Jonny do something a little more dramatic.

Is it important for the writers to have Jonny be in relationships on Murdoch, or does it not matter if he’s single?
Speaking for myself, I always want to see him in a relationship. I think he does great work in those situations. With Ogden and Murdoch now married and at a different stage in their relationship, Jonny is one of those places where we can see the earlier stages of love and have that tension of will they or won’t they?

And then there is Higgins, who is more awkward than Jackson when it comes to interacting with ladies.
[Laughs.] I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but I loved that flip where Higgins is always so cocky and not self-aware and that turn where he says, ‘The problem is, I always do’ … Lachlan hit that out of the part and I think I almost cried the first time. Like, ‘Oh, sweetie.’ [Laughs.] It was really fun to have that insight into him and, for me, changed my perspective on him.

Let’s talk a bit about the scene between Murdoch and Mrs. Fellowes.
It was Linzee Barclay who played the widow, and I had a lot of fun writing her character and then the actress they found was just fantastic. I love the idea that the smartest person in the room is confronted with the person that thinks they are the smartest person in the room.

We’re constantly seeing the tie-ins between back then and now, and the flirtation cards were like Twitter and Facebook.
Yeah, we were thinking of it as the Tinder of the time. I think it was a big trend a little earlier than this and there were editorials about what a dangerous thing flirtation was. The point of the cards was to meet away from your chaperone and break the Victorian rules of proper courting.

Was it true that lip rouge, at the time, was viewed as being wicked?
Yes, it was becoming more common but it would have been controversial and some people wouldn’t have worn it at all.

What about tapeworms and nose jobs?
I saw magazine articles for tapeworms as a way to lose weight and this was right around the time of the very first nose job. The truest line that I wrote about that was, ‘Oh Oscar, that’s impossible the scars would be so great.’ If you look at the picture of the first person to have a nose job, it wasn’t a pretty sight. It’s definitely fudged that she would be able to hide it and go undetected.

That’s 1904 and in 2016 body image is still top of mind.
When you look at articles about cosmetics at the time, or a little earlier, white skin was very popular and wearing powder was very important. The mere fact that they wore corsets says a lot about looking a certain way.

What can you tell me about Episode 8?
It’s going to be one of the funniest episodes, I think, of the season and a good mystery too. It features one of the writers’ room’s most favourite guest characters of all.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and partner at TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from hundreds of television series from Canada, the U.S. and internationally. He is a podcaster, public speaker, weekly radio guest and educator, and past member of the Television Critics Association.
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