Wendy Crewson knows a thing or two about the entertainment industry. Over a four-decade career, the widely-respected actress has appeared in over 130 TV shows and films in both Canada and the U.S., including recent credits Saving Hope, Room and Kodachrome. So when she says the industry is undergoing a major transformation in the way it treats women—both onscreen and behind the scenes—you can believe it’s true.
“I think it’s been a very telling time for women,” she says. “It’s a real sea change.”
And Crewson is proud that her latest project, CTV’s new detective series The Detail, is part of that wave. The series explores the complicated personal and professional lives of three female homicide detectives at Toronto’s Metropolitan Police Service. The Hamilton, Ont., native plays Staff Inspector Fiona Currie, the formidable—and somewhat secretive—boss of crime-solving duo Jack Cooper (Shenae Grimes-Beech) and Stevie Hall (Angela Griffin).
“To have a show like this, where the women, without fanfare, just happen to be the focus of the series makes it very different than most shows,” she says. “It’s not a token female in a male environment, it’s all women with men in the secondary roles, which you never ever see.”
She believes that dynamic offers something new—and necessary—to audiences.
“People really want to see this on their screens now,” she explains.
To prepare us for this Sunday’s new episode, “The Long Walk,” Crewson joined us by phone to tell more about The Detail, give the scoop on what’s coming up for Fiona and talk about the importance of onscreen representation.
We recently spoke with The Detail’s co-showrunners, Ley Lukins and Adam Pettle, and they said they always had you in mind to play Fiona. At what point did this role come on your radar?
Wendy Crewson: Well, I must say that years ago, just after we started Saving Hope, Ilana Frank, our executive producer, who has done a lot of female-led series with Rookie Blue, Saving Hope, and now The Detail, came to me talking about this idea that she had. She said, ‘Doesn’t this sound great?’ and I said, ‘It sounds fantastic. Count me in.’ So I did know that it was on the radar, but a million things can happen between someone being interested in you and the project actually coming to fruition and you actually being offered a role. It can go sideways in a lot of different ways, and I’m so glad that it didn’t, and I’m so glad that we managed to actually get it on the air.
Could you tell us a little bit about makes Fiona tick?
She’s a career professional in a paramilitary organization, so she’s spent a lot of time in a male-dominated world, making her way to the top, which as we know now, is so difficult to do in those male-dominated industries. She really, like Ginger Rogers, had to dance backwards in heels to make it happen. And you don’t have to be tougher than the guys, you just have to be smarter than the guys. I think she’s always taken that professionalism to a different level, and it’s made her into a great leader. And she really wants to make sure, most importantly, that she mentors other females to take those leadership positions. Which is why she is so concerned with and tight with the two younger detectives.
I think the fact that Fiona, Stevie and Jack are all at different stages in their lives and careers is one of the best things about the show. It gives viewers an opportunity to see a wide-ranging mosaic of women’s lives that isn’t available on many shows. Was that something that really appealed to you?
Of course, it’s a great feeling. As we say, representation matters. You can’t be what you can’t see. So until women start seeing themselves in these leadership positions, it’s hard to imagine what that might be like. To have a show like this, where the women, without fanfare, just happen to be the focus of the series makes it very different than most shows. It’s not a token female in a male environment, it’s all women and with men in the secondary roles, which you never ever see. I mean, how many years have I played the girlfriend, or wife, or the sidekick, or secretary to a man’s story? But we are unapologetically female-focused. From Ilana Frank, our executive producer, through Ley Lukins, our showrunner and writer, through several female directors that we’ve had on the show. It’s really been a remarkable experience, and I think the audience is hungry for female-led dramas. Women want to see themselves reflected back in these positions, and they like to see their lives and all the flawed messiness of it, and the compromise of family and work and how difficult it is to support your family and get ahead in your career. People really want to see this on their screens now. I think it’s been a very telling time for women. It’s a real sea change.
Ley and Adam also mentioned that you thought it was important for Fiona to hold back many of the personal details about her life in the early part of the series. Why was that?
I think, like the leaders in any kind of industry, Fiona keeps her cards pretty close to her chest. I think she feels she’s had to do this, in a way, to protect herself in an industry that is ready to sabotage her at every turn. And I think she’s found that the less people in her job know about her and about her life, the better. I think we’ll begin to see more and more, but I like the idea of keeping her out of the fray of what the other two women were going through—the boyfriends, the children, the husband, the affair. That’s all stuff that happens truly in your white-hot years. We get tidbits about things that are happening in her life, but I like keeping her a little mysterious and rolling it out a bit slowly. In the end, it’s more surprising when we start finding out things about her.
Are we going to learn more before the end of the season?
Yes. We start to learn a little more. Of course, she’s divorced. Her ex-husband is with the police force. He’s her superior, which makes things very difficult at work. We see her as boss now, and she’s formidable, but when he comes in, we see all the ways women can be diminished and belittled in a workplace through their superior. So we start to understand her and the way she has to manoeuvre her relationship with her ex-husband and her daughter and how women protect men after divorce because they are the father of their children because they don’t want to disappoint their children. [We also see] the ways in which some men do not always step up in the ways that they need to after divorce, and the way that women cover up for them. And I found that very interesting.
A pathologist, Rita Moretti (Elizabeth Whitmere), hit on Fiona earlier in the season. Does she appear again?
She does! I like the idea of questioning your sexuality at a certain point in your life and seeing, as you change through the years, how challenging the recognition of something like that is in somebody’s life. And I loved the idea that we are looking at that in Fiona, who is very buttoned down, who is not really open to personal change, and looking at how that might affect her life.
You are a vocal advocate of Canadian television. How do you think the industry is faring right now?
I think the domestic industry is still struggling, and I think that as we look to the new methods of broadcasting—as in over the top through Netflix and various organizations like that—I think the government and the CRTC struggle to find the right balance for supporting domestic industry. I mean, Netflix is a broadcaster, no doubt about it, and of course they should be contributing to our domestic industry the same way CTV does and Global and other private networks. It needs to contribute.
You know, we live beside this huge producer of cultural content, and it’s always important to leave some space for our own stories. I mean, this is a communication of storytelling that joins us as a nation, and it needs to be protected. And I will always be a big advocate of that. And as the idea of supporting our industries sort of wanes in popularity, I think it’s very important to keep that voice loud that these stories are meaningful.
And speaking of Canadian TV, you also play Nora on CBC’s Frankie Drake Mysteries. Are you going to be back for Season 2?
Yes, I am in Season 2 of Frankie Drake, and I can’t wait!
The Detail airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.