When asked if she’s ever been to Canada before this year, British actress Rachael Stirling is quick to say no. And then she pauses for a moment.
“Oh, yes!” she corrects. “I spent one night, an overnight in Toronto with Jonny Lee Miller.”
It’s not what it sounds like. Stirling and the Elementary star were simply working on different projects with the same production company and had a layover on the way to the U.S.
“We went inside the interior of a pool bar—or many pool bars,” she laughs.
That particular night in The Great White North might be a bit hazy in Stirling’s mind, but she got a proper introduction to the country when she filmed The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco in Vancouver this spring, and it was a much more memorable experience.
“The whole thing was an absolute joy,” she says. “Canada looked after us beautifully when we were there.”
Stirling, who phones us from London, played Millie on the 2012-2014 U.K. series The Bletchley Circle, which focused on a group of former Second World War codebreakers who use their skills to solve crimes in 1950s England. In the new spin-off, Millie and Jean—played by Stirling’s fellow original series castmember Julie Graham—follow a murder mystery to San Francisco and form a new codebreaking circle with Iris (Crystal Balint) and Hailey (Chanelle Peloso). After the initial crime is solved, both Brits decide to stay and build new lives in the Bay Area, and more mysteries come their way.
Stirling says she had no qualms about flying to Canada to reprise her role—”I’d just had a baby, I had no time to have any reservations,” she laughs—but it was “an odd thing not to be able to see a script before you sign on. They weren’t all finished.”
However, that script delay ended up giving her the opportunity to influence the growth of her character once production began.
“I think by the end of the show, we really enjoyed the kind of communication [that occurred] between execs and us and our beautiful showrunner Michael MacLennan,” Stirling notes. “It became a symbiotic sort of thing, where we collaborated increasingly, and I very much enjoyed that process.”
Stirling says that Canadian television shoots at a much quicker pace than it does in the UK. This led to a nightly “kick bollocks scramble” known as the “Bletchley Blitz,” where the cast and crew attempted to film the last scene of the day in a short amount of time—often through fits of fatigue-induced giggles. But that breakneck speed exposed the professionalism and “Canadian can-do” that was present on the set.
“It was so different from filming in England,” Stirling marvels. “There feels, to me, like there’s less of a hierarchy on set. Because a script editor can turn into a director. And indeed one of our best directors, Alexandra La Roche, started off as a script editor, and another director had been a [director of photography], David Frazee. I really enjoyed that work ethic. Everyone seems to understand a little bit more about what the other person is trying to do.”
If shooting in Canada was an enjoyable change of pace for Stirling, she believes moving the show’s setting from London to San Francisco was also invigorating for the series.
“I think it’s less dark by virtue that we’re in the California sunshine, and we replicated that pretty beautifully,” she explains. “And there’s something hopeful in the palate of this show. Something a bit more sparkly. It takes itself just as seriously, but I think it’s more fun. There are more hijinks involved. It’s just joyous and a bit more waggily-tailed and a bit less spectacled.”
Another change between the original series and the spin-off is the amount of time dedicated to character growth.
“What I loved about the San Francisco version is that the characters are slightly more interrogated as the show goes along,” Stirling says. “Whereas, the first two [seasons], you had a bit less room to find out who the women were and see how they relate to each other outside of the crime scenes.”
Viewers will particularly get to know more about Millie and Hailey in upcoming Episodes 5 and 6, “Not Cricket” and “Iron in War (written by MacLennan and Daegan Fryklind, respectively, and directed by La Roche),” when the codebreakers try to crack the patterns behind a series of vicious assaults in the city.
“You learn a lot about [Millie’s] history, and there were always certain things in the previous show that were supposed by viewers, and we address that in terms of where she’s been and who she’s been with and where she sees herself in society,” she hints. “It’s a real revelation.”
Stirling says she’d be willing to jet back to Vancouver for another season of Bletchley, so long as her husband, Elbow frontman Guy Garvey (who makes a late-season cameo), and their young son, Jack, can come along like they did this spring. “We were all able to just go together as a family, and I really relished that,” she says.
She also believes that it’s important for the stories to continue to be top-notch because she’s protective of Bletchley‘s characters.
“You just want something to be as good as it can possibly be and not take your eye off the ball,” Stirling says. “That’s how I feel about these women. I want to look after them as best we can.”
The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv.
Images courtesy of Omnifilm Entertainment