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.

This Life 202

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.