The Day of the Jackal, For Your Eyes Only and Predator are the three movies Graham Clegg drew on while co-writing Monday’s newest episode of Murdoch Mysteries. I’m always fascinated to hear what inspired a particular story, so it was fun to hear Clegg recount how he and co-executive producer Paul Aitken broke the story for “The Great White Moose” and then fleshed it out.
Monday’s newest instalment was a rollicking adventure involving fan favourites Allen Clegg (Matthew Bennett) and Terrence Meyers (Peter Keleghan) trade barbs—and bullets and crossbow bolts—in a tale involving President Teddy Roosevelt (Marty Moreau).
The duo discuss the inspiration for the episode, which cartoon characters Clegg and Meyers resemble and what makes Aitken jump off his couch.
Graham, you were a writer on Murdoch Mysteries a few seasons ago. What have you been up to?
Graham Clegg: I worked on a show called The Pinkertons and that was a great load of fun. We had enough money for one-and-a-half horses and one gun. I think we did quite a good job and it, unfortunately, lasted one season. Then I went off and started working on some of my own projects and they continue. One of them is a feature film and one of them is, hopefully, an upcoming series that will be shot in England.
How did you end up co-writing this episode?
GC: Peter Mitchell and Paul very kindly came back and asked me if I’d be interested in working with them again and doing another Murdoch script. Of course, I jumped at it and said, ‘Yeah, let’s go!’ [Laughs.] They came up with the premise of the episode and then Paul and I were set loose to crack the story. As we have done five or six times on Murdoch scripts, it’s a process and we hit some of those moments. [Laughs.] Paul will play the guitar and think about things. He has this great whiteboard in his upper office and past that is his balcony. We would do the writer’s thing, pacing back and forth, going ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, but what if?’ Paul also has a huge screen downstairs and we were able to project where we were going with the story, whether it be ideas or story beats.
I remember when we were breaking ‘The Great White Moose,’ we were trying to figure out what the personal connection would be between Clegg and Roosevelt. I’m a research junkie and I’d found that he was at Harvard and in the navy. Paul and I came up with the idea of, ‘Of course! This is fantastic. Clegg and Roosevelt knew each other at Harvard and they almost came to blows—some of the dialogue was cut—what it meant for the United States to extend their power. I remember Paul jumping off the couch and then jumping up and down saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes!’ We found the emotional link between the history of Clegg and Roosevelt and that was a fun moment.
I remember talking to Paul, saying ‘You have to watch The Day of the Jackal!’ because we have a foregone conclusion. We know Roosevelt is not going to be assassinated. That’s not the emotional thread to the story. What we don’t know is, throughout the thriller, who could die? What we have, really, on the plate is [Meyers] and we also know that Clegg could die.
Paul, how often do you jump off the couch when a story is broken? Does it happen a lot?
Paul Aitken: Yes. I think I do but I’m not fully aware of it. I do get excited. When you’re breaking story you’re looking to solve problems.
GC: If he gets up off the couch, you know you’ve got something.
PA: If someone suggests something that opens a path to solving a problem I do get excited. That’s part of the fun in the whole business of writing.
Paul, how did it end up that Graham and yourself were teamed for this episode?
PA: This was an episode that we thought Graham would be good for. I think it was because it was the action-adventure part of it that we thought he was well-suited for. He also knows the characters. Clegg was named after him, for God’s sake!
GC: This has to be said! Seasons ago, when I was on staff, we were coming up with an American spy character. We came up with different character traits. He’s wily, he’s covert. What do we call him? Paul said, ‘Clegg!’ [Laughs.] What was a joke in the story room then made it to script and I said, ‘Please guys, don’t.’ And they said, ‘Nope, it’s Clegg.’
There were a couple of things that I fought for and Paul said, ‘Whatever.’ I’m so thankful and massive kudos to director Leslie Hope. She just nailed it. One thing I fought for and it was kept in was the final shot of the legendary great white moose alive on its own. I said, ‘We’ve got to have that’ and Paul said, ‘OK.’ In terms of Clegg using a crossbow, I didn’t want any muzzle flare coming from anything, so it’s creepy. And that partially came from my love of the film For Your Eyes Only, the James Bond film, where Melina uses it in the first act. The other thing is, and Paul helped me out greatly with this, is the bolometer [Editor’s note: The script refers to it as a bolograph.]. Paul and I were talking and trying to figure out how to get some Murdochian technology in. I sent Paul a link to Predator, the 1987 film with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I said, ‘I want Predator technology when you see heat registry.’ Paul came back and said, ‘Well there is something,’ and it could see up to 400 yards through the darkness. It couldn’t see heat registry but it could sense something. That’s the way the bolometer came in and it was so fun to work with. Craig and the visual effects people in post-production nailed it.
Paul, the relationship between Clegg and Meyers is an interesting one.
PA: I always thought the relationship was a working relationship, kind of like the sheepdog and the coyote, Frank and Ralph. One of them is charged with saving the sheep and the other is interested in killing the sheep. They respect each other and, deep down, some fondness for each other. But they exist to take each other down and we’ve done several incarnations where they try to do that quite directly. It’s a fun relationship and it’s fun to write for because of these inherent complexities. At the same time, we don’t take either character too seriously. As a writer, I am very fond of both of them.
Murdoch Mysteries returns with new episodes on Monday, Feb. 26, at 8 p.m. on CBC.