As the second season of Coroner begins, it’s clear that Dr. Jenny Cooper—the hit CBC crime drama’s competent but anxiety-prone heroine—still has a lot of personal demons to confront. She’s overmedicating and she’s developed a disturbing sleepwalking habit.
However, according to series lead Serinda Swan, Jenny doesn’t want to deal with any of this.
“She just suppresses and suppresses and suppresses,” Swan tells us during a phone interview from her Los Angeles home. “She is taking six Ativan a day. She’s really numbing herself.”
It’s easy to understand why Jenny isn’t eager to dwell on her emotions. After all, Season 1 began with her husband’s death and ended with the revelation that she accidentally killed her sister when they were both children, a fact that her father Gordon (Nicholas Campbell) hid from her. That sort of trauma can be messy and time-consuming to unpack, but—unlike her character—Swan has no interest in glossing over the process.
“One of the things I find can happen in television is that we establish a big tragedy in someone’s life and deal with it in the first season, and by the second season, we are kind of like, ‘Well, we solved that!’” says Swan. “You sort of lose that fundamental, true human trauma that we all have in various different ways. And mental illness was something that, if we were going to do, for me, you really have to do it justice.”
Swan’s commitment to her character’s mental health struggles led to a key moment in last week’s Season 2 premiere, where Jenny threw her bottle of anti-anxiety pills across a vegetable garden and then started to have a panic attack.
“Those are the types of scenes where I’m like ‘Hey, guys, I need about 15 seconds here to be able to show the panic,’” Swan says. “Because in that scene, she didn’t have any of that panic. It’s just written that she throws it and says, ‘Damnit,’ and goes after it.”
Swan’s license to change scenes on the fly are a tribute to the deep trust showrunner Morwyn Brebner and executive producer/lead director Adrienne Mitchell place in their headliner’s creative instincts and acting methods.
“This is the first project where I’ve really worked on asserting myself and said, ‘You guys, this is how I really, truly feel about this character,’ and have been given the space to be able to say it,” Swan says. “Adrienne and Morwyn have been so supportive of me this season—they were, of course, last season—but this season, Adrienne came to me and said, ‘I trust your instincts and you need to do what it is that you feel is right for Jenny.’ It was this beautiful sort of symbiosis.”
To get us ready for Monday’s new episode, “Borders,” we asked Swan to tell us more about her creative approach to Season 2 and preview how Jenny’s relationships with Gordon, who is suffering from dementia, her son Ross (Ehren Kassam), and her boyfriend Liam (Éric Bruneau) might evolve in upcoming episodes.
When we last spoke, you told us that you helped develop some of Jenny’s physical quirks, such as the crooked way she cut her bangs, in the first season. What were some of the details you wanted to emphasize in Season 2?
Serinda Swan: We started again with the physicality. Her hair has grown out, and I let it go a little bit lighter. It’s a little bit more feminine, it’s a little bit more relaxed because that where she feels like she is. It’s sort of the outward expression of ‘I’m doing great!’ Then quickly, within the very first scene [of Season 2], you see her lighting a candle for Ross and the match burns down and burns her finger, but she doesn’t react, and you start to realize that she’s numbed herself in a way and that she doesn’t have normal reactions to things. So for me, it was sort of, ‘Oh, look at Jenny, she’s so fancy! We put her in a dress!’ And then it quickly becomes clear that it’s a coping mechanism. I wanted to show the polarity between the two.
There was one other thing that we were playing with that was really interesting for Jenny physically, which was that she is afraid of her anger and is afraid of her physical anger. At the opening of the season, we see her tackle Kelly [Nicola Correia-Damudeand]. Originally, that wasn’t written in the script, and I said, ‘We need something physical in here to trigger Jenny’s sleepwalking, because that is the next iteration of the dog [from Season 1], right? How do we trigger it?’ The last time Jenny got so mad that she touched someone, she killed them, and that was her sister. At this point, she’s so mad, that [she decides] not another person is going to die in front of her. Nobody else is going to help this woman, and she just runs and tackles her, and this odd reaction comes out, her screaming ‘No!’ at this woman.
What else can you hint about Jenny’s journey this season?
SS: I think that moment where I throw my Ativan is a great analogy for the season. Obviously, she just talked to Dr. Sharma [Saad Siddiqui], and he’s like, ‘You need to feel, Jenny,’ and I’m like, ‘Why? I understand what happened, I understand the feeling is going to be sadness and all of those things. But I know what that is, I’m getting on with my life, I don’t need to go into it.’ She’s kind of reverting into something that she did before, which was control, control, control.
It’s this constant suppression and avoidance and eruption this season. All of a sudden she has to face her demons. She has to face what happened in the past, and she has to have some really human conversations. She has to have them with herself, she has to have them with her son, with her boyfriend, and this season, a lot of it is around the conversations she won’t have, and eventually has to have, with her father around his choice to protect her from the truth—that inevitably just ended up protecting himself—because it hurt her so badly. There is a resentment there, and think that’s a really interesting thing to see.
In the premiere, we found out that Ross didn’t graduate from high school. How is that going to go over with Jenny?
SS: At first, she acts like a parent with him, and says, ‘You are in so much trouble and you’re going to get a job,’ and the typical parent reaction, but then, there’s this just utter betrayal that he didn’t tell her the truth, so it’s something for her that hits her at a really deep level.
But it’s also sort of an interesting dynamic as Gordon deteriorates more and more, the relationship between Ross and Jenny gets more and more strained because he doesn’t understand Jenny’s anger toward her father. It’s a really interesting thing for Ross and Jenny to deal with. They’re going through a growing spurt, you could say.
And we found out that Liam, who continues to struggle with PTSD, is now living with Jenny. Will they be able to support each other emotionally, or will there be conflict?
SS: Again, we try to ground everything in reality as much as possible. When you have these traumas, you either share them all, and that’s how you bond or you don’t share them at all, and that’s how you bond. And it seems like, at the beginning this season, they are doing the latter. They’re both ignoring the fact that they have work to do, and doing work outwardly, instead of inwardly. So Liam takes on the house as a project and keeps renovating for her and doing acts of service for her and kindness and all that, and Jenny’s out solving crimes and they’re both doing the thing that they think they need to be doing but really not talking about it. And as you see for Jenny, that the truth starts to bubble up, the same starts happening for Liam, he starts getting faced with his demons, and that becomes a point of contention within the relationship, of “Are you going to talk to me?”
And so it’s a struggle between two people who may have gotten into a relationship a little too soon but ultimately love each other so much. The love that’s in this relationship is really beautiful and really true for both of them. It’s just the timing that’s really interesting. They both kind of come into each other’s lives as lessons instead of as true, healthy partners, and so watching them kind of navigate that this season now that they’re in such close proximity is beautiful and lovely and funny and really heartbreaking.
What are you most excited for viewers to see this season?
SS: For me, it’s having the audience continue Jenny’s journey. I’ve had so many messages from people who deal with mental illness letting me know that they felt seen within the show and within the character, and having that kind of responsibility and then sharing that with our creators and insisting on it in every scene and moment that I possibly could is what I’m excited to share this season. And how adamant I was in holding that we all have cracks, we all have tears, we all have points of trauma in our life, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not capable, it doesn’t mean that we’re not strong, but it also doesn’t mean that we are able to deal with them all the time in the best possible way.
I’m excited for people to see that, and I’m so grateful that people had that reaction the first season and shared it with me. Not only does it solidify why I’m an actor, but it also makes all the tough conversations that you have to have within the production on why you need a little more time to prepare to get ready for the panic attack or why you feel that Jenny needs to tackle someone rather than sit with someone a lot easier. It makes it easier to walk into a room and take up space for a second and say what I feel. And the beautiful thing about working with a room full of women is they go, ‘Oh, yes, of course, come sit at the table and let’s hear what you have to say.’ And that’s such a rewarding job to have.
It’s like being forced to do paint-by-numbers your whole career and then suddenly someone gives you a blank canvass and says, ‘These are the colours you have, this is the character you have, but you’re allowed to paint the picture that you want.’
Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.
Images courtesy of CBC.