To borrow a horse saying—appropriate in this case—we’ve been champing at the bit for Season 11 of Heartland to return to CBC. This Sunday can’t come quickly enough thanks to last season’s final episodes. For those who need a refresher, Ty (Graham Wardle) returned from Mongolia in time to meet his new baby after Amy (Amber Marshall) gave birth. Mitch (Kevin McGarry) and Lou (Michelle Morgan) were on the outs after he saw her holding hands with Peter (Gabriel Hogan) and Georgie (Alisha Newton) and Adam (Kataem O’Connor) were rebuilding their friendship. Throw in Caleb (Kerry James) and Cassandra (Kaitlyn Leeb) tying the knot … let’s just say there is a lot of follow up on starting this Sunday.
Thankfully, Heather Conkie, Heartland‘s showrunner, was available to talk about last season and give us a sneak peek into a Season 11 that will see a refresh of the series and some new additions.
Before we get into some Season 11 tidbits, let’s do a post-mortem on Season 10. Perhaps the biggest story was Amy and Ty welcoming a baby into the world. That was the natural next step for this young couple but were you nervous or excited about adding a baby into the mix?
Heather Conkie: I think it was a mixture of both. We knew we might be painting ourselves into a corner, but it was the absolute natural next step. It felt right and we wanted their marriage to have other things to explore, so parenthood is a big theme this season. It also was connected with a little bit of experience. My own daughter was pregnant and I was going through that with her, so writing Amy’s pregnancy was very much a reflection of what I was going through in my own life. That helped us and continues to because my grandson is now a year old and I’m seeing what she’s going through as a mother. It’s really helped that perspective. We’re filming Episode 11 and 12 and the one wonderful thing about the pregnancy being over is that Amy can ride! We really missed writing that for her last year. Most riders ride into their pregnancy but we didn’t want to invite controversy because there are so many people who believe that it is dangerous. We had to go a whole year without being able to do the things that Amy does. This year is so great because we can have the Amy as we know her back. She can ride and she’s building her client base back up; her reputation as the miracle girl was missing in action.
I never realized how much the pregnancy would affect the storylines.
Usually the episodes centre around her and a horse story. We transferred a lot of that over to Georgie and had Amy working with horses because she could still do that. We had some wonderful scenes of Amy doing liberty work with horses. We also used dreams a lot and riding in dreams! [Laughs.]
The benefit of not being able to have Amy work with horses was that you were able to expand Georgie’s story a lot last season.
It really did allow us to explore trick riding more and all of the things Georgie came up to the plate to do.
Now, you didn’t make it easy on Amy and Ty. First, Ty was away in Mongolia for much of the season and then when he did come back, he was very sick. Were you surprised by the negative feedback you got having Ty gone for so long?
[Laughs.] We do like to put people through the wringer a little bit. No, we knew there would be a pushback but it also gave us the opportunity to go outside the box as well. The Mongolia footage and his storyline gave him an aura of a more romantic hero. When he came back he was grown up; it changed the character. And, quite honestly, when you have actors on a show for 10 seasons they need a break. Graham really wanted a break and we weren’t about to do anything drastic with the character. We love Graham Wardle and so do the fans, so it was a compromise to go a little outside the box a little bit and give him a break in the most creative way we could without getting rid of the character, which I never want to do. This is a family people have grown up with and losing a member of the family would be as harsh as if it was really happening to a member of someone’s family. People do need change and the character needed change. As a result of that, we’re writing a much more grown-up Ty.
We’re facing challenges most shows don’t get to. It requires a freshness and even if Graham had said he wanted to do all 18 episodes last year it still needed a freshness and we would have done something. In fact, this year, people are saying that the show feels completely fresh. I’m so pleased to hear that because we’re so close to it. There is a wonderful atmosphere on set. Everybody is thrilled to be back and because of the parenthood theme, it’s changed the dynamic, which is great.
When we pick up this Sunday, where are we at with Ty, Amy and the baby?
It’s fun because they’re in the loft right off the bat and are really squashed in there. [Laughs.] Ty is very protective and it’s a totally different side to him. He’s almost protective to a fault. It’s funny, actually.
Speaking of protective, we can’t forget Lou, who is never afraid to share her opinions about anything.
She does. It’s a very good family dynamic. The twins that play the baby are adorable and it’s added a flavour before that we had with Katie as an infant. I had kind of forgotten the neat stuff that you can do.
Do we have a baby name yet?
We reveal it in the first five minutes of the first episode. We had a contest to name the baby and it’s incredible that the winner was the name I’ve been toying with for a long time.
There is a wonderful atmosphere on set. Everybody is thrilled to be back and because of the parenthood theme, it’s changed the dynamic, which is great.
Let’s talk about a rocky relationship: the trio of Lou, Mitch and Peter. What can you say about these three in Season 11?
Last season, Mitch read the wrong signal and up and left when he saw Lou holding hands with her ex. So, this year … let’s just say it’s reignited but it’s something that’s going to go on for a long time. It’s timing with these two. Anyone who has been through this knows it’s all about the timing between the ex and the new person. Plus, she’s got this crazy offshoot of Maggie’s in New York … they are in two separate worlds. There is a definite chemisty between the characters.
Peter plays a big role this year. Episode 2 is quite astounding. Gabriel Hogan gives a performance that I’ve never seen before because a ghost from Georgie’s past comes back and he has to help her deal with it. It’s just the most moving episode I’ve ever seen. And Alisha is incredible. She astounded everyone.
Speaking of performances, Shaun Johnston continues to knock it out of the park as Jack. There were some killer performances from him in Season 10.
Everybody forgets that he’s one of the characters who really is acting. He’s not that age, he doesn’t walk like that, he doesn’t talk like that … you just sink into the character and totally forget that it’s Shaun. He has some incredible scenes with Ty this year. Jack is a big father figure for Ty and has been. Last year, the scene between Jack and Ty before he went away to Mongolia … it was one of the most beautiful scenes ever because he was acting like Ty was going off to war. It was just beautiful and Shaun had a hand in writing some of the lines as well because he has such insight into the character.
Where are we at with Georgie and Adam’s relationship this year?
It’s a very strong friendship between them. He is still with Olivia. She’ll be 17 in storyland so she’s going through some complicated relationships this year. There is a fellow named Wyatt [Dempsey Bryk] who was only in one episode last season and he plays a larger part throughout the entire season. And we throw a new face into the mix halfway through, so lots going on in a very complicated love life! Georgie grows up a lot, and most of it is due to Episode 2.
Wow, a lot happening in the first two episodes!
Yeah, the first two episodes are key. Last season, Tim offered Caleb the job at the rodeo so he’s a partner. Caleb and Cass are very much involved this year as godparents.
What else can you say about this season?
There is a very wealthy family that becomes part of Georgie’s world. We’re taking her back to her roots as well as with Amy. Georgie gets a chance to be very involved with this very high-end show jumping horse right off the top in Episode 1, which has Olympic dreams. That’s the road we’re taking Georgie down, the equestrian show jumping world. She wanted to do it, and it’s such an interesting world. Georgie is on social media, and there are hate sites devoted to taking down people in this very competitive world and she becomes involved in that and dealing with people making up stories. We found this beautiful area that just begged us to use it, so we’re using it for this family. It’s a nice contrast to life at Heartland.
What about the new family? I know Kate Drummond is guest-starring this season; is she part of the family?
The family has their own private, cross-country jumping course. We do cross-country jumping and a fox hunt this season. This family has it all, including a very good-looking nephew who takes an interest in Georgie. Kate Drummond plays the mom and she appears in Episode 8.
Anything else you can tease about Season 11?
It’s a huge season for Tim. He starts looking to the future, some uncertainty and regrets of the past. He goes on quite the journey this year. I don’t want to say too much, but he’s doing an incredible job. We’ve given him a lot to do this year because he’s just so good. You’ll see a different side to Tim for sure.
Are you looking forward to Amy and Ty as parents? What are you hoping to see in Season 11? Let me know in the comments below!
Heartland returns Sunday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m. on CBC.