I’m a big fan of Alex Paxton-Beesley. Not only did she portray kick-butt Mennonite housewife Anna Funk in CBC’s awesome Pure but she’s the spunky Freddie Pink on Murdoch Mysteries.
Now Paxton-Beesley is featured in Cardinal: Blackfly Season in another memorable role as Red. At least, that’s what she’s called on account of her red hair. In truth, we don’t know her real name yet because Red was discovered in an Algonquin Bay bar suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. Det. John Cardinal (Billy Campbell) and Det. Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse) spent last week’s first episode of Blackfly Season investigating who Red is, who shot her and what ties she has to a headless body found hanging in a cave.
We spoke to Paxton-Beesley about the role and Red’s journey as we head into Thursday’s new episode.
It’s been fascinating to see how Giles Blunt’s books have been translated to the screen.
Alex Paxton-Beelsey: Yes. I’ve read the first three books and the adaptations have been so interesting. They’ve done such a good job of visualizing what those stories are.
How did you get the role of Red? Did you audition in the traditional way or did the producers have you in mind?
It was mostly traditional in that I only auditioned for it once because I think their original interpretation for the character was different. I had worked with [director] Jeff [Renfroe] and almost worked with the producers before on another project that didn’t end up going forward. We all knew each other in the way that everyone does in the Canadian television industry. I went in and auditioned and it was really fun. I didn’t get a full script and the audition came so quickly that I didn’t get to read the whole book so I had to fill in a lot of those gaps myself. Sometimes that’s frustrating but because this was so well-written it was fun to put my imagination in there.
It was pretty fascinating, and creepy, to see your portrayal of Red when she’s discovered. She’s been lobotomized by the bullet and has this childlike innocence about her. Then, during the surgery to remove the bullet, she starts to sing. That was a little disturbing.
The Internet can be a terrible place, but also a font of information. There are some pretty incredible videos on YouTube of awake brain surgery that are just stunning. The is one in particular of this opera singer—you stay awake during some of these surgeries because they need to know if they are affecting something—and he starts singing … and then forgets all of the words. [We think we found the video she’s talking about.] It’s devastating and fascinating. Those scenes, in particular, were really interesting because those were my benchmarks. I got to assign meaning to all of these things that were randomly coming out of her brain. I talked to [showrunner] Sarah [Dodd] and Jeff about it and had conversations about what that could be.
It reminded me of that Heritage Minute…
Yes! ‘Dr. Penfield, I smell burnt toast!’
Yes! I wondered if perhaps you ad-libbed that line during a take or two.
That was definitely a reference. I’m pretty sure I said that between takes but that nobody got it. It’s like, ‘Come on guys, it’s Canadian history!’
There is a reference in this week’s episode that I want to ask about. A nurse walks into Red’s room and Red is looking out the window, recalling something. Can you comment on that scene?
I think that’s something that I would rather leave ambiguous. It’s something left open to interpretation and will be a part of how you read Red as a character.
What was it like working with Billy Campbell?
I love him so much. He and Karine are the most delightful people to work with. Billy is just fantastic. This was a real dream. The first season of Cardinal is one of my favourite TV shows of all time and one of the best things Canada has ever made and I never dreamed I’d get to be a part of it. So, to not only be a part of Season 2 but to show up and have Billy be the most ridiculous, hilarious person and Karine also be the most ridiculous person … they are both so funny and so strange.
This world of Algonquin Bay is a twisted one. We have biker gangs and strange voodoo and an interesting fellow named Ray Northwind, played by Bruce Ramsay.
Bruce plays him so gentle it makes him even more horrifying. The lightest touch of power has the deepest weight.
What can fans expect from this season of Cardinal?
I think Red kind of mirrors the fan experience this season. What she knows and doesn’t know and that feeling of being lost and really trying to be found. I hope people like it. I’m really proud of what we made. It’s beautiful and I’m so glad it’s a Canadian show.
Cardinal airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.
Image courtesy of Bell Media.