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This Life takes “Communion”

Natalie rebounds from last week’s drug side effects but faces a whole new set of problems when she takes David to court in “Communion,” Sunday’s new episode of This Life. MeanwhileAbby’s first communion brings the Lawsons together for an awkward family brunch, pushing Matthew to make one last ditch effort to save his marriage.

Here’s a sneak peek of the episode.

Natalie has her day in court
Natalie finally faces David in court, but the hearing places further strain on Caleb.

Matthew makes a Hail Mary pass
Desperate to save his marriage, Matthew makes a bold play for Nicole’s forgiveness. Kudos to Marianne Farley for two quietly devastating bathroom scenes.

Maggie opens up to Raza about her family problems
Raza may be a fake husband, but he can drop some truth bombs.

Oliver tries to make connections in the Montreal art scene
But Maggie’s visit to his art studio reveals new issues.

Natalie and David finally have a discussion
Just sit back and enjoy watching Torri Higginson and Louis Ferreira play off each other.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


This Life’s Marianne Farley on Nicole’s journey to find herself

On the surface, This Life‘s Nicole Breen may seem like a control freak, but actress Marianne Farley says she immediately sensed there was more going on beneath her character’s uptight façade.

“For some reason, I just got Nicole,” explains the Quebec native. “I got where her pain came from, her need to be loved and be part of the family and just feeling like an outcast all of the time. I don’t know why, but it touched a deep place inside of me, and I really wanted to make her a complex character.”

Season 2 has been difficult for Nicole, as she’s been forced to deal with the thorny aftermath of her husband Matthew’s (Rick Roberts) affair—which resulted in a son. Things get even more complicated in this week’s episode, “Communion,” when Matthew makes one last ditch effort to win Nicole back.

“I feel like I was really lucky because I got to go through this incredible roller coaster of emotions,” says Farley. “It’s one of my favourite episodes to date.”

Farley—who will also appear in the upcoming CBC series Bellevue and 21 Thunder—joins us by phone from Montreal to discuss what makes Nicole tick and whether her marriage to Matthew can be saved.

What do you enjoy most about playing Nicole? 
Marianne Farley: I love playing Nicole because she is a bit of everything. She’s very emotional and she’s very much in control—or she tries to be in control. I don’t think she succeeds much. But that is part of her trying to control her emotions, but she can’t deal with it and have a perfect life. I think Nicole wanted to be a princess when she was younger. That’s sort of how I saw her when I read the first episode of Season 1. She wanted to have the perfect life with Matthew and, fortunately for me as an actress, that’s not how things ended up being. So I think the complexity of Nicole is really interesting for me.

Speaking of complex, Matthew’s betrayal of Nicole runs very deep. It’s not just that he had an affair with Beatrice (Victoria Sanchez), but that she had his child—something that Nicole was unable to do. What part of his betrayal is the worst for Nicole? 
For Nicole, the lie about the son is the worst part of it. In Season 1, she tells him, ‘I will accept that you had sex with someone as long as it’s over and as long as you want to be with me.’ But I think it’s the betrayal of knowing that he had a double life for seven years. I think that’s the reason why she can’t forgive him and she can’t let go . . . Her heart wants to forgive him, but she can’t. She’s really split in two, I find, in the beginning of Season 2. There’s anger, there’s pain, but there’s also love, so she’s lost. She’s trying to find her way back, and she can’t.

Last week, Matthew asked Nicole to search his computer, and she found nothing incriminating. However, she chose to move forward with separation plans. Why?
I think looking through his computer she realizes that whether she finds something or not she’s never going to trust him again. It’s really about the trust being broken. So I think at the beginning of Season 2 she’s taking baby steps and Episode 203 is that moment where she sort of says, ‘OK, I’m going to stop taking baby steps and start walking a little bit faster, because I can’t stay put.’


Is there anything Nicole is waiting for Matthew to say that could sway her, or does she just need to sort the situation out on her own? 
I think she needs to figure it out on her own. She needs to figure out who she is. I think that’s the main thing. It’s like her whole universe, her whole dream life just fell apart and she’s trying to put the pieces back together, but it keeps falling apart. Because the illusion of it is not there anymore. She will never be the perfect wife, and Matthew will never be the perfect husband, and they will never have a perfect family because of this thing.

And I think there is also the fact that she wanted to be a mother, that was really important to her. And they couldn’t have a child on their own, so they adopted. Now Matthew gets to be a father and she is still not a biological mother and that’s very painful to her. It’s like it’s something that they will never be able to share, but now he has that experience with another woman. So it’s very complex . . .  I don’t think there’s anything that Matthew could say. I think she’s waiting for him to say something that will make her feel different, but there’s nothing.

What can viewers expect from Nicole in this week’s episode?
It’s called ‘Communion,’ and it’s the first time that Nicole faces the whole family. It’s the first time that she is sitting with Matthew’s family and she knows that everybody knows. So it’s a very hard moment for her and it’s very humiliating . . . It’s that thing when you realize that everyone knows your husband has been cheating on you, everyone’s known, and you were basically the last one to know. It’s like the elephant in the room that’s just very hard to live with.

You share some tough scenes with Rick Roberts in this episode and throughout the series. What’s he like as an acting partner?    
He’s a brilliant actor, very generous, very much in the moment. First day last year, we just clicked. And we had a sex scene that first day, which I think makes you feel like it’s us two against the world. So it creates that connection right away, and we’ve had that since the beginning and we’ve become great friends. We have the same way of doing things, and we talk a lot about the characters and the scenes. He’s the best scene partner anyone could ask for. It’s easy to be in love with him, and it’s easy to hate him. [Laughs.]

What’s coming up next for Nicole in Season 2? 
She goes in search for herself. She’s trying to find herself. She’s trying to find out who she is, what she wants out of life. She’s trying to redefine her life, if she’s not going to have this perfect relationship, this perfect family life. She’s also trying to find a way to forgive and move on, but that’s tough.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


This Life writer Rachel Langer on Natalie’s bad day

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 203, “Coping Cards.”   

Over the first 12 episodes of CBC’s This Life, Natalie Lawson has had more good days than bad as she fights terminal cancer. But that changed with this week’s episode, “Coping Cards,” written by Rachel Langer. After beginning Season 2 feeling energetic and hopeful, Natalie is forced to deal with debilitating side effects from her drug trial, while trying to put on a brave face for her kids.

“What we get the chance to do with the side effects is show what a bad day is like and show what good days are like,” says Langer. “That’s just kind of realistic when it comes to medical treatment.”

Natalie isn’t the only one having a tough time in the episode. Caleb feels caught in the middle of his parents’ custody battle, Romy is crushed by Oliver’s decision not to become her guardian, and Matthew learns Nicole wants to officially separate.

Langer joins us by phone from Vancouver to tell us about writing “Coping Cards,” her role in the writers’ room and her favourite scene of the episode.

Let’s talk about your background a little bit. You’re a former TV, eh? contributor.
Rachel Langer: Yes!

And you co-wrote the web series Aeternus, then worked as a writers’ assistant on Continuum, and attended the Canadian Film Centre. How did you land on This Life after that?
When I was at the Canadian Film Centre, our showrunner in residence was named Michael MacLennan, who had done Bomb Girls … 
When we came out, he was the showrunner developing This Life initially, and he hired me on to this to help with some of the younger voices. It was my first actual writing job, and he thought maybe I could speak to some of the younger voices and a little bit to Maggie as a millennial, and then it just kind of became all the characters. I was really fortunate when Michael got a great gig in L.A. and Joe [Kay, This Life showrunner} took over that he still wanted to have me around.

Are you still the go-to writer for the show’s younger characters?
I think it was at first my role and then as we moved forward, I just found that there was a facet of every single character that I could identify with, and I think that’s true of all of us. We just look into each of these people and say, ‘Oh I’ve been in a situation like that,’ or ‘I felt like that before.’ So I don’t feel like that’s my niche in the room anymore, I feel like I’ve been able to expand. But I always just adore writing for Romy. It’s very cathartic to write for someone who gets to say all the stuff that you wish you were allowed to say, but you’re not because you’re 33 and she’s 13.

“Coping Cards” is one of the first times we really see Natalie feeling unwell in the series. Why was that important to show now? 
This is really for us to get a chance to remind everybody that, when you’re undergoing something like Natalie is, when you’re undergoing a medical treatment, whether it’s life and death like hers is, or whether it’s just a difficult circumstance, it’s really a roller coaster of emotions . . . And for Natalie, who’s on this drug trial and really doing her best to exist within hope, this is a way to say it’s not that easy, you don’t just get to stay there all the time. So how do you pull yourself back to that even when the going gets a little tough?

Natalie has a couple of disturbing dream sequences in the episode. Tell me about writing those. 
I was so excited about the ‘fever dreams,’ as we called them. And that’s such a credit to our room to come up with those and what they meant and what each of them were about. I just felt very supported writing those because it’s something that we really haven’t done before, so it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to step into that zone of trying something new.

I think each [dream speaks] to thoughts and ideas that Natalie is able to deal with and  is constantly dealing with or is afraid to deal with . . . It was just really interesting to access those in a visual way without actually saying them out loud.

This Life 203

At the beginning of the episode, Natalie asks Caleb to testify against David in their custody battle, and he’s hesitant to do it. However, he changes his mind at the end of the episode. Why?
Throughout the episode, he’s trying to be there for his mom in a tangible way, but also he’s trying to work out his frustration. He is just such a quiet kid who wants to be supportive. He’s had responsibilities thrust upon him, and he’s equally trying to buck that and embrace it at the same time. I think that just watching Natalie go through what she goes through and deal with things and still trying to soldier on, it’s just the only way he can think of to come through for her.

I loved Romy’s coping cards. She has one dealing with her fear that her family isn’t telling her truth, but the others deal with existential issues like the Big Crunch. Sadly, all her fears come crashing down on her when Oliver tells her the truth: He doesn’t want to be her guardian. So what now?
It’s a really interesting question because Romy does kind of live in the existential space of ‘Is the world going to collapse around me?’ and ‘What will still be here and will I still be here if it does?’ So she’s always seeking truth and seeking reality, and then when it happens, it’s not maybe quite what she had hoped for. So I think between her and Oliver, there’s just a question of if this is going to irreparably break what they had. Because what they had in Season 1 was just so awesome, but is this going to be a situation where she can’t recover from this?

Nicole shocked Matthew by saying she wants to move forward with their separation. What can you tease about their relationship moving forward?
I think it’s really complicated for Nicole, who didn’t ask for any of this to happen and didn’t want her tidy life to be turned upside down. And I think that dealing with the messiness of this is challenging for Nicole in a way that maybe we haven’t seen for her before. So between her and Matthew, they’re always tied together because they have a daughter together, so the question is going to be what does that look like for her and how can she fit him into what she likes—clean lines—when that isn’t going to be a clean line?

Emma landed a job after a tough interview this week. What can viewers expect from her arc this season? 
Emma is one of the best and most difficult characters to write for, because she’s a normal teenager with some really extenuating circumstances in her life. She’s at an age where she is really trying to figure out who she is, and so we try to write for her in such a way that always poses the question ‘Who am I, who do I want to be and how do I get there?’ And the answer to that question isn’t always the same for her because she’s 16, and that’s not an easy question to know the answer to or even to ask yourself at that age.

I think that we just really try to let Emma experience life in a way that is hopefully realistic and also not be afraid to be the person who doesn’t always focus on what’s happening with her mom, and the health thing that’s happening. She knows that, it affects her, but she still has to live her life.

There are some lovely scenes in the episode, particularly at the end with Natalie, Janine and Emma and then with Natalie and Caleb. Do you have a favourite scene in the episode?
I really enjoyed seeing that come together at the end, because so many people want to help Natalie and try to help Natalie and are just ineffective. But that’s normal. You can’t always be effective because it’s a unique situation, and the way you think is effective is not the way somebody else sees as helpful or beneficial. And people bring their baggage in when they try to help you out. So I think seeing that come together at the end, and seeing Emma uniquely positioned to be somebody who can sit there and say, ‘I’m OK to do this in this moment right now. I might not always, but I am right now.’ And with the support of Janine, it’s three-generation thing, so that was just a really cool moment to write.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


Natalie copes with a bad day on latest This Life

This Life continues its strong sophomore season with Sunday’s “Coping Cards,” as Natalie begins to experience increasing side effects from her drug trial, Caleb struggles with the return of his father and Oliver ponders whether he would make a good guardian for Romy.

Here’s a sneak peek of the episode.

Natalie has a bad day
After being physically active for the first two episodes of Season 2, Natalie is sidelined by intense side effects from her cancer medication. It’s hard to see Natalie so ill, but her difficulties add a cold—and necessary—splash of reality to her storyline.

Caleb is caught in the middle
Caleb tries to help around the house and hold David at bay while his mother is ill, but the stress of his parents’ custody fight takes a toll.

Nicole makes a decision about her marriage
But will it be the one Matthew wants?

Some tissue-worthy scenes
Watching several members of the Lawson clan try to rally in the face of setbacks had me dabbing my eyes a few times. Applause to Rachel Langer for a lovely script and James Wotherspoon, Stephanie Janusauskas and Julia Scarlett Dan for each delivering moving scenes with onscreen mom Torri Higginson.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


This Life’s James Wotherspoon previews Caleb’s “darker” side

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.

This Life Caleb

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.