Everything about This Life, eh?

This Life 209: Crisis shakes the Lawsons in “Well Fought, My Love”

In the penultimate episode of This Life‘s second season, the Lawsons are shaken to their core by a sudden crisis. To make matters worse, Natalie experiences an unexpected medical complication.

Here’s a preview of what’s to come.

This is not a drill
As I’ve interviewed the show’s cast and writers over the past eight weeks, I’ve been repeatedly warned that Episode 209 packs a punch. It’s true. In fact, it packs more than one. An ample stock of wine and chocolate is recommended for viewers.

Romy and Emma face a massive decision
But they also share one of the cutest bonding scenes in the series. Episode writer Rachel Langer says part of the scene was improvised by Julia Scarlett Dan and Stephanie Janusauskas. Listen for the mention of polar bears.

Maggie and Raza try to put the toothpaste back in the tube
Maggie’s confession that she has feelings for Raza makes things awkward at home.

Life goes on
Even as the Lawsons face multiple traumas, they find moments of beauty, connection … and reconnection.

Long, slow clap for the entire cast
This episode features lovely performances from everyone, but I’ll single out veteran actor Peter MacNeill because he makes every series he’s in better.

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

Image courtesy of CBC.

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This Life’s Janet-Laine Green on mothering the Lawsons

Janet-Laine Green feels completely at home on CBC’s This Life.

“It’s rare in a series—and I’ve done a lot of series—that you actually have the sense of family and real joy to be on the set,” she says. “We just all connected so well.”

Her character, Janine, is the loving but slightly overbearing matriarch of the Lawson family. Throughout the series, viewers have seen her attempt to be there for her four very different children while struggling not to impose her conservative views on them.

“I think what Janine has been learning over these two years is actually to accept [her children], to really look at the way they all are living their lives, and to not be as judgmental, and to not try to push her structure and religion onto them,” Green says. “I think that’s been Janine’s journey.”

When she landed the part, Green—who is well-known to TV viewers for her roles in She’s The Mayor, This Is Wonderland, Anne Of Green Gables The Continuing Story and The Beachcombers—says she was not only drawn to her character but to This Life‘s universal storyline.  

“We all have disease or accidents or kids who go off the mark,” she says. “We all have that in our lives, and I think that’s why audiences relate to it so well, because it’s not foreign at all, and it’s not a fairytale story. It’s actually quite real.”

Joining us by phone from her home in Tottenham, Ont., Green tells us what it’s like to mother the Lawsons.

What was your audition process like for This Life?
Janet-Laine Green: I went and I met Louis Choquette, who was doing all the auditions, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in an audition. Because the director usually doesn’t get up and work with you, and he just was on his feet, and he gave you different suggestions. So you’d do a scene and he’d say, ‘Try with this angle,’ and then he would totally change the whole the way you were playing it and give you an opposite way of thinking of the scene. So it was so fabulous I didn’t even care if I got the part or not. I was just thrilled to have this experience with this director, and I knew I really wanted to work with him. It’s really exciting when you have a good director who is passionate about the actor but also the character’s storyline.

Then I actually found out I got it, and I didn’t even know about the Montreal series, the French series [Nouvelle adresse], and I think the first night that I got there, Peter MacNeill—who plays my husband and is an old friend of mine—invited me out for supper with some Montrealers, and then they told us how popular the series had been in French . . . So I was excited about it, but I didn’t really know how much I would come to care about the series. I think because they cast it so well, and we as a group got along so well, that it became very easy to play the parents and the grandparents. It was not a problem. It was like no work whatsoever.

In what ways has Janine challenged you?
I think what intrigued me most about her was her faith. She’s Catholic, and she has really strong beliefs. I was raised Anglican, and it really was a more gentle sort of way I was brought up in the church. She sort of put everything into faith, and believes if you just have that faith, everything will be fine. And she’s really tested. I feel that the progression of Janine is that she pulled away from the church because of either the teachings or how the particular father in the church didn’t actually guide her the way she needed to be guided . . . So it was her struggle with faith that really intrigued me, because I didn’t have that in my upbringing, I didn’t have a really strong influence. So I had to really think about that and really examine it.

And Janine’s children really didn’t share a lot. There were a lot of comments through both seasons, like ‘Don’t tell mom,’ or, ‘Imagine what mom will do,’ so that was really hard because, as a mother, you want your children to confide in you, and you eventually become friends with your children. I think [Janine] was the disciplinarian in the family. So I sort of have to look at, ‘How am I different? How do I mother? How does Janine mother?’ I think she’s much stricter than I am, much more careful. I’m more carefree and believe in nature and how God is in nature, rather than in a church. So there were lots of things to challenge me, to make sure that I wasn’t playing myself but actually playing a character.

Of her four children, Janine seems to struggle most with Maggie, and she had a very hard time with Maggie’s marriage to Raza. Why do you think that is?
I think Janine sees huge potential in Maggie, and Maggie doesn’t see it in herself. She doesn’t stick with anything. So to support a child like that is difficult for any parent. All you want, I think, for your kids is for them to be happy and to feel fulfilled, and I think Maggie has always struggled with, she doesn’t follow the status quo, there’s no straight line for her to do anything, and I think, as a mother, you’re always wanting the best for your child, but also you want them to just get a job, be able to pay your bills, and be happily married. So I think with this marriage of convenience, it’s not who she married, it’s that she did it without understanding the joy of marriage, and the depth of feelings in marriage, and the responsibility of marriage. And she didn’t even tell [her parents], she just sort of invited [them] to a party.

So I think it’s really hard for Janine to actually see Maggie as she is and totally accept her. At the same time, I actually think Janine wishes she could be more like Maggie, in her freedom and her love that she has for people, her joy of living. I think that Janine’s life has been so structured that she looks at Maggie and is a bit envious of that. But I don’t know if Janine would ever say that.

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We just found out that Oliver is bipolar. How will that change her relationship with him? 
I think Oliver is her baby. I think she just adores Oliver and doesn’t really comprehend his dark side, and I think there has been a bit of, ‘He’ll be fine, he’ll be fine. We just have to nurture him more or love him more or look after him more.’ So I think there’s been a real blind eye to the real problem. And he’s had this since he was a child, and you tend to ride over the bad stuff and say, ‘Oh, they’re just wonderful.’ But to actually to get in and take them to doctors and try to find answers and then to actually put kids on medication, that’s a hard thing to do. A lot of parents have to face that, and I think Janine would say that God can help you, faith can help you, just go for long walks. I think the title ‘bipolar’ would really freak her out. I don’t know if she’d really accept it. I think that she would maybe blame herself for not loving him enough, as most of us do, as parents do. You actually don’t think there may be a chemical imbalance, it’s ‘I didn’t love them enough,’ or ‘I’m too hard on them.’ But I think, in her heart, she’s been protective of Oliver, and protected him from Gerald, as well.

Janine and Gerald seem happy now, but a few episodes ago, we learned they had at least one rough patch in their marriage. 
I think in any marriage, you fall in and out of love over the long period of time that you have, and I think there are times when one or the other gets to be too much—that’s not the person you fell in love with when you were young, when you were early 20s, that person doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Or, especially when you have kids, and when you have four kids, your belief system can go against what that other person’s belief system is. But I think they’ve had a very good marriage overall

How I see it, especially in this year, is that they really treasure each other, and they lean on each other. They support each other and try to be the best for that person. So, especially in Episode 209, just in sort of the beginning of it, you see that they’re very happy together.

I’ve been married for 35 years, and I look at sort of the ups and downs of our marriage, and as I get older, I fall more and more in love with my husband because I see really who he is without the kids being around. So I’ve used that sort of idea to what I bring to Janine with Gerald. And Peter and I just laugh all the time, he makes me laugh so much that it’s really fun to be on set with him. We’re very comfortable, and I’m thankful for that.

What can you preview about this week’s episode?
I would say living life to the fullest is the message of this episode.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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This Life scribe Céleste Parr on “Destruction as Creation”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 208, “Destruction as Creation.”

In last week’s episode of This Life, the Lawson siblings became suspicious that Oliver (Kristopher Turner) may be living with bipolar disorder. In Sunday’s new episode, “Destruction as Creation,” written by Céleste Parr, parents Gerald (Peter MacNeill) and Janine (Janet-Laine Green) are brought up to speed, and the entire family rallies around him.

“Everyone’s sort of able to bolster each other with their struggles, and it’s easier to do that when everyone’s being upfront about their struggles,” says Parr.

The Montreal-based writer co-wrote her first episode of the season, “Communion,” with showrunner Joseph Kay, but this time she was writing solo. Well, sort of.

“It’s really as collaborative as ever,” she explains. “I’d say I may have had a little bit more confidence to assert convictions about the way a scene might play out . . . But, overall, we work as a team, so the lines of authorship are always kind of blurry. Every episode is really assigned to all of us. With love, from all of us.”

Parr joins us by phone to tell us more about Oliver’s mental illness and what surprises to expect from the Lawson family over Season 2’s final episodes.

The entire family learns that Oliver is bipolar this week. Is this a turning point for him?
Céleste Parr: It’s a turning point for Oliver in terms of recognizing to what degree he can handle this by himself. He’s such a solitary person and such a private person, but he’s forced to acknowledge the role of mental illness in the events of the last episode—the fire and the damage and the way that it has a ripple effect, waves of damage, spreading out to Gerald, and sort of having to confront the way that it’s affected Romy, and the way his secretiveness and his insistence on not burdening other people with it probably exacerbated his difficulties and the pain and concern of the people around him. So now that that’s out in the open, he can sort of relax a little bit around it, and he has a really great support network around him.

Did you have many discussions in the writers’ room about the way the show wanted to depict mental illness?
Yeah. In any case, with any character, we want to be true to that person’s struggles, so I think in the case of a mentally ill character, it’s not just that you want to be authentic or sensitive about it, you also want to be aware of portrayals of mentally ill characters in other fiction. You want to be true to the way that they’re often misportrayed and made into caricatures, or sometimes made into criminals and want to really show how this illness enriches [Oliver’s] life in some ways and how it really hinders him in other ways. You want to be sensitive to it and to not create a sense of shame around it.

Romy’s secrets come out in this episode. She tells Natalie about wanting to live with Oliver, and David finds out she’s been freelancing. Is she going to be more open with her parents now?
I feel like Romy has been, on the one hand, asserting her agency where people have failed her. So she’s saying, ‘OK, I can’t count on these people. I’m going to take care of things myself.’ But she’s also been doing that in such a way to say, ‘Hey, notice me, notice this.’ So even though she was hiding and lying, I think she was doing it with probably the subconscious intention of asking to be seen and called on it. So now that she’s made that point to Natalie and David, she won’t have to hide or lie. I think she will start to be given the freedom that she needs and the support that she needs.

this-life-208-nicole-beatrice

David tells Romy he will have to split his time between his two families but won’t abandon her this time. Is he finally ready to step up?
I think a lot of the work for this scene to fly in Episode 208, a lot of that work was done during his road trip with Kate in the previous episode, and seeing him differently with his wife and showing that he isn’t just sort of flitting in and out as he pleases. He actually is a man who is torn. Emotionally, he is torn and he’s in limbo.

His talk about how his feelings of guilt about failing one family, it sort of keeps him outside of things with everyone, and so here he is having these difficult conversations, and a lot of what he’s allowing himself to do is to not throw his hands up in the air and say, ‘I’m a disappointment, so I’m outta here,’ but to accept that he is going to be disappointing to everybody. If he allows himself to be a little disappointing to everybody, he can also step up for everybody, and derive a lot of fulfilment out of that and drop his, ‘Aw shucks, I’m such a disappointment’ thing. At a certain point, if you become too complacent in that—and I think he had become too complacent in that—it’s like he’s performing his guilt to himself. Eventually, he has to stop playing that one note and step up on all fronts.

Maggie takes the huge step of telling Raza she is in love with him, but he says he doesn’t feel the same way. How is she going to handle that rejection?
Awkwardly. Maggie is someone who always just jumps into things, and I think when you’re making that kind of admission to somebody, you should probably think about the fact that you live with that person. If it doesn’t go well, that apartment could feel very small. That’s how that’s going to go. Suddenly, the walls are going to close.

Caleb’s car got impounded, he lost his tuition money, and then he suddenly ran off to join Flood Relief. What’s going on with him?
I think Caleb’s been setting himself up for this downward spiral, and I think, in having messed up on all fronts, now he’s sort of free. I think it’s very telling about him—and Emma points this out—they could use him at home, and ultimately that’s who Caleb is, he is a caretaker.

At the end of Episode 204, we see him take off because he needs to figure out who he is outside of this role at home, and then really kind of flying the plane into the mountain at school and with the rideshare at work, and then being free from all of that, being free to do whatever he wants. I think it’s telling that his instinct is still to say, ‘I’m a caretaker,’ to exercise that in himself outside the pressures and the baggage of feeling disappointing, feeling like he hasn’t been able to measure up at home, to go somewhere else that’s not loaded with that baggage but still carry that role forward because that is who he is at heart.

Nicole and Beatrice have another tense encounter. What was that like to write?
Joe and I spent about a hundred thousand hours talking about that scene, and what’s happening in that scene, and trying to get to a place of recognizing that these are both women, two mothers who want to protect their children from feelings of shame about their families and how to do that. So both of them are coming at it in a way that is wanting to be protective of their children and also being very vulnerable as women, and both of them being kind of right and having to recognize that in one another if they want to move forward. They both are interested, they both are here for the same purpose but it feels like cross purposes.

That was a hard scene to write. It was like playing chess with myself and having to cross the table and look at the pieces and go, ‘OK, if I was Beatrice I’d go here,’ and then go back to the other side of the table and go, ‘Now what’s open?’ And also feeling vulnerable myself and trying to connect through all those layers of fear and pain and uncertainty and vulnerabilities. That’s a lot of layers to talk through and be heard and be understood.

Natalie’s doctors tell her that doubling the dose of her cancer drug could present grave dangers to her and lessen the quality of her life, but, of course, if she doesn’t double it, she will fall out of partial remission. Can you give any hints about what she chooses to do? 
I can say that a lot of what we talked about when we were discussing this episode—and Natalie’s arc in general, especially as far as her illness is concerned—we talked a lot about this idea of maintaining. She seems to be doing well, her side effects are manageable, she’s in partial remission for now, but I think a lot of what is going to shape her decision about this is in what ways her illness is affecting her ability to live her life rather than just maintain or bide her time.

I think a really big awakening for her is, all this work she’s been trying to do to protect her children from what’s going to happen to her, and trying to make sure that they’re going to be OK, and through that process of trying to control all of that, she actually has been missing so much in terms of what her children are going through. So if that’s what’s happening, then what is she really doing?

There are only two episodes left. What are you most excited for viewers to see?
I’m very excited for them to see the bravery of everybody, the bravery and the boldness of everybody. There’s a lot of surprises, so it’s really hard to say anything . . .  It’s all exciting because we get to see different facets of all these characters as they’re spun in unexpected ways.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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This Life 208: Oliver faces his demons in “Destruction as Creation”

Last week on This Life, Oliver’s reckless behaviour reached its zenith as he burned his artwork and badly damaged his studio. In Sunday’s new episode, “Destruction as Creation,” his siblings try to help him face the repercussions of his hypomania. Meanwhile, Natalie is given conflicting medical opinions about her best treatment options, Caleb must deal with the harsh reality of his decisions over the summer, and Maggie tries to understand what she’s feeling for Raza.

Here’s a sneak peek of the episode.

Oliver’s family now knows he is bipolar
But is he ready to end his isolation and accept their love and support?

All is no longer quiet on the cancer front
Natalie’s partial remission put her cancer on the back burner for a couple of weeks, but now she must make a difficult choice regarding her treatment options.

Romy finally gets David’s attention
But the result is not quite what she was hoping for.

Caleb faces the music
With David back on the scene, Caleb took a much-needed break from being the man of the house. However, this week, he learns that backing away from his responsibilities comes with serious consequences—and a possible epiphany.

Maggie’s marriage to Raza takes another complicated turn
Maggie isn’t known for thinking things through, so expect her to deal with her burgeoning feelings for Raza with typical impulsivity. The bright side is that viewers get to enjoy Lauren Lee Smith and Torri Higginson at their sisterly best during a fun bar scene.

Emma takes things a step further with Miranda
Not gonna lie, I’m not sure how this will turn out.

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

Image courtesy of CBC.

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This Life’s Louis Ferreira: “David has something to prove”

Louis Ferreira has been a near-constant presence on our TV and film screens for decades, appearing in everything from Stargate Universe to Breaking Bad to Saw IV , but he doesn’t talk to the press much.

“I usually don’t do a lot of these,” he admits.

That’s a shame, because from the moment the Portuguese-Canadian actor answers his cell phone on a busy Vancouver street—his warm, gravelly voice instantly familiar—he is open and charming, talking easily about spirituality and politics before we get to the crux of our chat: discussing his role as Natalie’s (Torri Higginson) ex-husband David on the CBC family drama, This Life.

David, a deadbeat dad who only resurfaced once he learned his ex-wife had terminal cancer, could have been a thankless role for any actor to take on. But Ferreira says he was eager to play the part.

“I think what David represents is something that I believe in strongly, which is fathers doing right by their children, ultimately,” he explains.

He also says This Life is a hallmark for what Canadian TV is capable of.

“I was actually impressed with what CBC and Canada have done,” he says. “It’s a very well-done show. I was really proud to be part of it, to be honest.”

In an exclusive interview, Ferreira, who also has a recurring role on Space’s Aftermath, tells us more about David’s motivations, his working relationship with Torri Higginson, and wrapping popular CTV series Motive earlier this year.

How did you first become involved with This Life?  
Louis Ferreira: I think we had someone on the first season of Motive that knew me and asked about me, I think, through Kristin Lehman and was like, ‘What’s he like?’ and she was like, ‘Nice.’ I think that’s kind of where it started, and then from there the part came to me. And there was just that last episode of the first season, where [the creators of This Life] were like, ‘If it goes, there’s going to be a journey with him.’ Based on what they were telling me about the character, the ex who comes back, I was like, ‘Oooh.’ There are certain things that speak to me personally, and David was one of those stories. I was immediately interested, I was all over it, to be honest.

What were your early impressions of David, who is a character who comes with a lot of baggage?
I never thought of it as a guy with baggage, which is something we all have in all degrees of weight, but there was the opportunity to redeem. I love redemption. I love evolution. I love the idea of people coming to epiphanies in their lives and then changing them. I love the u-turn, and that’s what I saw in David right from the get-go, that this man had had some version of an epiphany and was going to come back and do right by his children because he acknowledged that he’d done wrong by them.

When I spoke with Torri Higginson earlier in the season, she said she was upset when she learned David was coming back into Natalie’s life.
I think that’s why Torri and I work together well. We’ll have discussions on set before we roll. It’s kind of a he said, she said, and she’ll state her piece, ‘Well, he did this,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Yes, but she….’ and it becomes almost like a therapy session before we shoot the scene. And we’ve done it several times, and it’s been very helpful, I think, for both of us because we’re able to see and feel each other’s hearts on the situation, and I think it informs the scene sometimes.

So you have a very interactive approach to your scenes together?
Yeah, for sure. I think absolutely we do. And I think we’re both journeymen in the business, and I think there is immediately a respect for that aspect of it, and I think we both sort of immediately connected because she was so rooted in that feeling of what she had going in, that, ‘Why is he coming back?’ and I felt that right away. For me, it was like, not only am I going to come back, but I’m going to prove to you that evolved potential that you saw back in the day that I probably could have been, I now have, in fact, become . . . David’s got something to prove.

Do you think David would have eventually returned on his own if Romy hadn’t called him last season to tell him Natalie was sick?
Yes. I think that the timing with Natalie’s illness, I’d like to imagine that it wasn’t about that, but it was the coincidence of where David got to in his life and how the universe sometimes works in people’s lives, where timing sometimes lines up. Sometimes it’s neither good nor bad, it’s just what it is. I think in this particular case, it was the trigger. I think when he got the phone call from Romy, it was certainly the thing that made him go, ‘OK, that’s a sign and I need to listen to it,’ because he was at that point in his life. So that’s probably what kickstarted it, but certainly going back was something that was on his agenda for quite a while. It’s something that he had to do.

It’s interesting to think about [David’s] younger kids and the older kids in terms of that whole thing of when we’re kids and we fall and it’s like, ‘Oh, no big problem,’ and we get back up. But as we get older, it gets harder and harder. It’s almost the same thing that the youngest of his children is able to be more, perhaps, forgiving, be more open, which is a really beautiful quality. But then as life happens, and egos age and get more jaded, it’s more difficult to do those very things that we did when we were younger, which is to forgive easily and love easier.

I think David has a real soft spot for Romy, because I think he can see with her the hurt that’s inside there, and I don’t think that would make any man—who’s a real man—feel good about himself, and I think that also drives David.

This Life 204

Last week, David’s second wife, Kate, tells him that she won’t move back to Montreal, which means he’ll have to try to be a father to two families in two locations. Is that something he is capable of now?
David, back in the day, was probably under the bad boy category, so I think now he’s probably some version of a reformed bad boy. But now I think he’s gone into a whole other level, as we do when we get older, and hopefully you get a little bit more into a context of spirituality or things that matter more to you. I like what they wrote in the car, I think he said to Kate, ‘The reality is that I’m always going to love the mother of my children. That doesn’t go away. She’s the mother of my children. How could I not?’ That’s a mature statement.

The other thing I liked about it, about [Natalie] being the mother of my children and me having another family, is that also becomes [Kate’s] responsibility, and it should have been from the get-go. When people with kids move into another relationship, it’s absolutely crucial that they understand that their children come first in a certain way, and they are part of it. It’s not just my moral responsibility, it’s the responsibility of the person who wants to share my life with me. It’s also on them, and that’s true partnership in terms of a healthy relationship. So David is now going, ‘OK, this is healthy, and this is not. And I will choose to be healthy or at least try.’

Just a couple of episodes ago, Natalie and David kind of had that one thing that happened, that one-off [where they sleep together], and you just sit there going, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not good.’ That probably shouldn’t have happened. And I loved that fact that it happened and was never mentioned again, and it’s our imperfections that make things interesting. But at the same time, I do believe that, in his heart, David is trying to do and wanting to do right by his children first and his families. And in this particular case, this is a man with two families.

Motive ended its four-year run in August. Were you happy with the way the series wrapped?
We just had the greatest group of people for four years. It was one big family, and we’re all still very, very close. It couldn’t have been a more enjoyable experience. Truly. From top to bottom, it was just one of those things where everything was right.

Do you keep in touch with the cast?
I just saw Kristin two days ago. We went out for coffee, and she’s just onto a new show now, a big show coming out next year, and she’s doing well, and Brendan [Penny]’s doing great, and I just talked to Lauren [Holly] yesterday, so we’re all tight. But beyond the cast, with that crew—it was just one of those things where everything was just easy and right and no egos and just working together. It was one of those rarities, and we’re all grateful for it.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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