Cardinal: Behind-the-scenes with Sienna Films’ Jennifer Kawaja

Are you enjoying Blackfly Season, faithful Cardinal fans? Will Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse) and John Cardinal (Billy Campbell) keep Terri (Alex Paxton-Beesley) safe Thursday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, or will Ray Northwind (Bruce Ramsay) track her down?

We’ve certainly loved the new season so far and have Julia Sereny and Jennifer Kawaja of Sienna Films to thank. The production company founders are not only responsible for executive-producing the Cardinal franchise, but the Global/CBS drama Ransom, Global’s excellent military drama Combat Hospital, web series in Riftworld Chronicles and the feature films New Waterford Girl and How She Move.

We spoke to Jennifer Kawaja last summer on the set of Blackfly Season about how the series came to be, the excitement of filming on location and working with stars Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse.

Give me the origin story. How did Cardinal end up a Sienna Films production?
Jennifer Kawaja: CTV optioned the project and they went looking for producers to work with them. We fell in love with Giles Blunt’s books and his writing and it really felt like it was in our wheelhouse in the sense that it is Canadian, Canada playing Canada, on location—we love the specificity of the little things that happen when you’re on location shooting something—so we really tried to get the project. Once we did get it, we developed it and then [Season 1 showrunner] Aubrey Nealon came on board and wrote two scripts. That’s when CTV greenlit it.

The seasons attracted us as well. Each book is set in a different season. We love how Giles uses the physical environment in his storytelling.

Does being inside a warehouse that’s been converted into a set turn you off?
No. We did that with Combat Hospital in Etobicoke, Ont. That was fun to do. We love creating really specific worlds. Trying to get the feel of what Giles wrote and the feel of the place is important.

What are the challenges, if any, of going from Aubrey in Season 1 to Sarah Dodd as showrunner in Season 2 to Patrick Tarr in Season 3? 
It has been hard. The ice and the snow and the cold gives you a certain feeling right away. The change of season to summer, a completely different story that is much more case-heavy than the relationship between Delorme and Cardinal … but then we saw the dailies and we were excited. It’s Karine Vanasse and Billy Campbell as Delorme and Cardinal and even if the investigation into him isn’t there, there is still that chemistry. There’s simpatico between them and you just want to watch.

Is it important, as a producer, to be on-set during filming?
We’re pretty hands-on producers and always have been. We worked with [director] Podz and Aubrey very closely on Season 1. I really believe that, when you don’t have the budgets that the American shows have, every decision that you make has an effect on the show. You’re trying to create something without the money of a U.S. project so to make the right decision we feel the need to be here and be part of the team.

What can you say about Billy Campbell as John Cardinal?
CTV was very involved in that decision and was definitely encouraging in that way. We feel so lucky with Billy and Karine. Not only are they total pros and beautiful, amazing people—we’ve kept them in minus-40 weather with not enough clothing on and in the middle of bugs—they have never complained. They’ve always been game. It has been an incredible privilege. They have also connected with these characters. I think there is a part of Cardinal that is really Billy. And it’s the same with Karine and Delorme. Yes, they’re incredible actors but I feel they’ve really brought part of themselves to the roles.

Cardinal: Blackfly Season airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

 

 

 

Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and owner of TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from hundreds of television series from Canada, the U.S. and internationally. He is a podcaster, public speaker, weekly radio guest and educator, and past member of the Television Critics Association.
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One thought on “Cardinal: Behind-the-scenes with Sienna Films’ Jennifer Kawaja”

  1. Love this show. I feared that with Season 2 and 3 being announced simultaneously, that there may be no season 4 or 5, but I hope not. I see that ratings for the first episode (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardinal_(TV_series)) have stayed at the 1 milion mark, so that is great news.
    I don’t know who casts the show, but they do a stellar job of getting the right people for the parts. I couldn’t image a better antagonist than Bruce Ramsey this season…so very, very, creepy. And his henchmen seem so perfect too. I liked how Alex Paxton-Beesley portrayed her confusion at the start and then very slowly started to remember too. There’s no point going on about Vanasse and Campbell. They are absolutely perfect!

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