Interview: Murdoch Mysteries focuses on murderous fashion

Michelle Ricci calls her writing career on Murdoch Mysteries serendipitous, and one can’t help but agree.

It wasn’t long ago that the Toronto native was living in Los Angeles with her boyfriend—writer, producer, filmmaker and military advisor Mir Bahmanyar—when he called her over to the TV. Murdoch Mysteries was on the tube and she quickly became hooked. Unable to work in the U.S., she sat and read scripts and thought she could write better stuff. She enrolled in the Canadian Film Centre‘s Prime Time TV Program on a whim and jetted to Toronto to participate in the course with executive producer in residence Peter Mitchell, who the following year became the showrunner on Murdoch Mysteries.

The rest is, as they say, history. Ricci is now a co-producer on CBC’s Monday night drama, and has written some of the program’s more risqué scenes, including mysteries involving nudist colonies, the beach and this week’s caper regarding a killer corset and an intimate moment between Miss Moss and Dr. Grace. If you want Victorian scandal, call on Ricci.

How did the idea for a killer corset come about?
Michelle Ricci: The world came from an article that I read about corset manufacturing in Toronto. I brought it into the writer’s room and said, “Here’s a world that we haven’t explored. What’s more Victorian than the corset?” We all thought that would be a unique thing to get into. I don’t remember who came up with the idea of the killer corset. It wasn’t me. That just seemed like a such a perfect, Murdoch-ian way to kill someone that we went with it.

We’re still grappling with what is considered beautiful, aren’t we?
Very true. Especially at that time, women were not considered functional beings. They were decorative, which is hilarious because women of the lower classes had to work just as hard as the men did. The fashion had nothing to do with what women had to do every day. I found out a lot of interesting stuff about corsets while I was researching. They were very affordable up to very expensive, depending on the materials used. Every single woman wore a corset, no matter what her social status was and I wasn’t expecting that. It was a mandatory element of dress.

I was on-set during the filming of this episode [check out some rehearsal footage below], and someone joked that your scripts always end up having people in some state of undress. The nudist camp episode, this one …. is it true?
That’s so funny. I have never thought about that before but I guess it’s true. I also did Loch Ness where they were all in bathing suits. Maybe part of it is just a new way to explore the era and the kind of things we don’t get to see all the time. The bathing suits were cool because they’re hilarious. The nudist thing was interesting because it was happening at the time and it’s something that you would not consider from that time period. And for this … I don’t think I went into this thinking that Ogden would get down to her skivvies, but it just seemed like a perfect way to go.

I know that Hélène Joy broke her arm in real life right around when this episode was shot. Was her character’s injury added to the story so that a cast could be shown on her arm?
The injury was written into the script from the very beginning, the only part that changed was her actually breaking her arm in the scene. The whole corset almost squeezing her to death was always in the script. It just turned out to be the perfect plot for her to break her arm so that we could use it in the next episode. She broke it during “Temple of Death” and was broken during “All That Glitters,” but it was covered up. They did an excellent job of covering it up.

The scene between Miss Moss and Dr. Grace was pretty intimate for Murdoch Mysteries. Are you expecting any kind of blowback from the fans? Did the CBC ask you to tone anything down?
Not this time. Everyone was comfortable with our level of boundary-pushing at this stage. Even though it’s edgy for Murdoch, it’s still within the boundaries. It’s still just a suggestion.

What is your writing routine? Do you like to write episodes in the room with everyone there, or do you like to go off by yourself?
I’m actually all over the place. It depends on my mental state on any given day. I do need quiet, so being in the room is great in some ways and not so great in others. [Laughs.] If I have to write a script and we’re in the office I may take a day off to write at home or I’ll go off somewhere else to write, otherwise I’m not getting anything done. If we’re not at that stage, I might go to the library or the coffee shop or stay in bed. I’m all over the place.

I can’t pin down a routine. I live in anger and frustration. It’s horrible. I’m a horrible person to be around.

Let’s talk about the Canadian Film Centre. What has it meant to your career? I’m assuming everything.
Everything. If I hadn’t met Pete … I was at the CFC and was telling everyone how much I loved the show. I was really annoying. Pete told Paul Aitken I was a fan and passed him a sample of mine to read having no idea if they were even hiring. Then Pete ended up getting the job as the showrunner the following season and because I hadn’t shut up about how much I loved the show, he hired me on. I don’t know how I managed to get so lucky in such a short period of time.

Are you at the point where you’re pitching your own ideas for shows?
Yes and no. Yes, my agent would love me to be. No, I just haven’t had the time. This season in particular has been very busy for me.

What’s the best part of the job?
I love the research because we’re researching something different and unique and it’s Toronto history and I’m from here. I find out things that I grew up around that I didn’t know about. I joke that when I walk around the city I know more about Toronto in the early 1900s than I know about the city now.

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


One thought on “Interview: Murdoch Mysteries focuses on murderous fashion”

  1. Very curious to see whether the Emily Grace/Lillian Moss relationship expands the audience for Murdoch Mysteries – especially in the US, where it’s still not very well known.

Comments are closed.