Oliver Lawson has always been the enigmatic sibling on CBC’s This Life. Gifted, troubled and intensely private, he has chosen to wrestle his demons in silence while trying to break into the Montreal art scene.
“I think that Oliver is an incredible artist with an incredible amount of arrogance that, ironically, is covering for a massive amount of insecurity,” Kristopher Turner says of his character.
However, in Season 2, the cracks are beginning to show. Early in the season, Oliver turned down Romy’s (Julia Scarlett Dan) request to live with him if Natalie (Torri Higginson) died, fracturing their close bond, and in a recent episode, Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith) discovered he was living in squalid conditions in his art studio.
“There’s an addictive personality to Oliver that manifests itself in many different forms,” he explains.
Joining us by phone from Toronto, Turner tells us more about Oliver’s artistic “delusions” and previews what’s coming up next in Season 2.
What do you enjoy most about playing Oliver?
Kristopher Turner: I love being able to play this role. To be able to play something my own age was huge, to be able to play something sexual and artistic and as out as Oliver is in all senses of the word, and have him so flawed and conflicted about that as well. There’s not any black and white. There’s so much murky human grey area of all of these characters, but particularly with Oliver . . . Because I am an artist myself, obviously, and I love it so much, and to get to play somebody with such passion for it, to a point of it being a character flaw in a way.
And he struggles with sexuality, and even though I’m not personally identifying as homosexual, I still struggle with my own sexuality and my own desires and how that relates to the world and how people look at me. And to be able to look at it from that perspective, as human sexuality and the shames and the ripples that it has in our lives as we act on our desires, what it has for other people, I loved exploring that.
When we first met Oliver in Season 1, he didn’t feel completely accepted by his family because he is gay. Is that still a struggle for him?
It’s always a part of him. It’s never not a part of who Oliver is. I think in a weird way, it’s what gives him the specialness that he so desperately craves. And so it can be that double-edged sword, ‘I so want to be seen as this because it makes me special, and it makes me different in a family that I want to try to be separate from, that I want to find my voice in.’ But at the same time, it can be separating. So in a family that he desperately wants to be a part of and desperately wants to love him, it sort of does both things.
But at the beginning of Season 2, I think we see Oliver put that on the back burner in favour of the artist that he wants to be. In Season 2, we find Oliver not in a relationship anymore and not trying to identify and separate himself because of his sexuality, and he finds his passion for his art again. And so we see him 100 per cent diving into becoming identified and becoming special because of how great an artist he is now.
Last week, Oliver boldly installed an art project in Alexis’ (Simone-Elise Girard) gallery without permission to get her attention. Did that go the way he wanted it to go?
I think from Oliver’s perspective it went very well in the sense that he got to put his art out there, like he’s living in such a delusion that he’s this incredible artist, and the irony is that he is an incredible artist. It’s just the pieces aren’t together yet. He’s still maturing.
A few episodes ago, Maggie became worried about Oliver after finding the deplorable living conditions in his studio. Is she right to be concerned?
Yeah, she should be concerned. There’s an addictive personality to Oliver that manifests itself in many different forms, and [earlier in the season] Oliver made it clear that he wasn’t drinking anymore, he wasn’t doing drugs, but there’s a thing that you could call a dry addiction, whereby the addictive behaviour is still rampant, but it’s not necessarily drugs or alcohol. And, I think in this case, he’s addicted to this delusion, he’s addicted to his art. On the one hand, it’s great to be addicted to your art form, it’s great to be putting yourself 100 per cent into your work and putting it out in the world, but I think, in Oliver’s case, when you’re dealing with an addictive personality like he is, what is the cost being paid in order to do his art to his own health?
What can viewers expect from Oliver in this week’s new episode, “Intervention”?
Maggie’s the one who has peeked behind the curtain as to what Oliver’s current living situation is, peeked behind the curtain into Oliver’s world a little bit because he’s so attached to being separate from the family. He so wants to be special, to find his own space, his own voice in the family . . . He’s isolated himself in this artistic studio, and Maggie starts to be able to peek into the art that he’s working on and the cost that he’s willing to pay to make his art at this point in his life.
There is an amazing and very revealing scene between all four Lawson siblings in this episode. What was that like to film?
It was my favourite scene of the show. One, because it was all four of us together interacting in what was basically filmed like a play. A big scene is like three pages in the show, usually, but this was like a nine-page constant scene. And that’s all interacting with each other, all in one space. And we got to rehearse it like a play. We didn’t have the time like a play, but we had the freedom to walk through the space, and the cameras followed us instead of us having to adjust to the blocking . . . It was just so incredible to all work together as a family, as this common unit. It wasn’t one person’s scene, it was everybody’s as a family.
Oliver and Romy have had a strained relationship since he told her he didn’t want to be her guardian. What’s next for them?
It’s such a special bond because of how much they understand each other—on top of the joy I have working with Julia, and the interaction we get to have as actors. But as the characters are going through this, and as the rest of the family is starting to take a peek into Oliver’s world, I think Oliver’s decisions, which may seem cruel on the outside, might be seen more like—albeit they are selfish decisions—in a way they’re also to protect Romy.
I think Oliver is selfish and self-interested, and as much as he loves this person, he knows how much he’s idolized by her. On the one hand, that feels so good to be idolized like that, but, on the other hand, he also knows what destruction is in her path if she keeps following in his footsteps. There’s a bit of tough love that I think he’s been giving her, pushing her away, knowing that he’s not in a place to be the idol that she sees him as. I think idolatry that she has for him is starting to crack, so she has to start seeing him for what he really is and not what she wishes he was.
What’s coming up for Oliver in the second half of Season 2?
I think we’re finally getting to peek behind the curtain of what’s going on in Oliver’s world, and it’s a lot of illusion. And [after] this episode, Oliver is starting to see the consequences of his delusions, and he has the choice to accept that it’s happening, or double down and spiral even deeper into his delusions.
This Life is filmed in Montreal, and you’ve been making a big effort to learn French. Why has that been so important to you?
For me, looking to open up as an artist and a person, to be able to communicate more with the crew in their own language—and they all speak English, it’s not like I couldn’t communicate with them—but I think it’s important as a Canadian in general to be able to join in conversations that I normally felt isolated from. And even though I could only contribute a little bit here and there, I was able to sort of open myself up a little bit more and be more social, rather than isolating myself from the crew and people in the city who don’t speak English. It felt really good to do that.
This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.