Fortunate Son’s Kari Matchett: “This part is perfect for me. I can’t even imagine a better part for me.”

How would the stresses of breaking the law—no matter how well-intentioned—affect a marriage and a family? That’s explored in Fortunate Son, CBC’s Wednesday night miniseries.

Created and written by Andrew Wreggitt, Fortunate Son stars Kari Matchett as Ruby Howard, an American activist in Canada who isn’t merely happy with vocally protesting the Vietnam War; she does something about it. That includes helping smuggle American soldier Travis Hunter (Darren Mann) over the border into Canada. And though her husband, Ted (Rick Roberts), supports his wife, increased scrutiny on the family hints something has got to give.

We spoke to Kari Matchett about Ruby, getting into character and signing on to Fortunate Son.

I was speaking to Andrew Wreggitt and I asked him about the casting of you and he said that as soon as he saw you audition, he knew that you were the perfect person for this role. What’s your reaction to that?
Kari Matchett: That’s great. I didn’t know that. He didn’t tell me that. Wow. Well you know, my initial reaction through reading the character description was, ‘I must play this part. This part is f–king perfect for me. I can’t even imagine a better part for me.’ It encapsulated so much of what I’m interested in. The late 60s … I’ve always, since my teens, been obsessed with that era. I also love what was happening at the time politically. The social unrest, the issues with inequality of the sexes, of the races. All of those things are still happening now.

And it, I felt, was the perfect time to do a show about this. And I also thought, ‘I can’t believe nobody’s ever done a show about this time, this era before.’

I knew nothing about the sheer number of Americans that were coming over the border during this time to avoid the Vietnam War. This was all new to me.
KM: In 1968 after [Pierre] Trudeau became prime minister, he instructed the border guards—which doesn’t mean they did this, but he instructed them—to not ask draft-age men, whatever in the way you want to look at them, not ask them anything about it. Trudeau stood up against what was going on in Vietnam. When you see American governance, he was anti-Vietnam. So it’s a really proud moment in Canadian history as well.

I was talking to an older friend of mine the other day and I said, ‘Look, was it the political arena that was less heated, but in terms of was it easier? Would it have been easier for Trudeau at that time to do that then, let’s say now?’ And he said, ‘No way.’ Which is why we love Pierre Trudeau. It is a real proud time in Canadian history, that Canada did that.

Getting into the characters a bit, I love the interaction that Ruby has with Travis. I just loved his performance and the scenes that the two of you had together are just fantastic. 
KM: I loved working with him. In fact, I think Darren and I are very similar in that we’re actually quite serious and so we gave each other a lot of space and oxygen, but we also when we’re not shooting, we have a great time together. So it’s sort of serious on the set, plus it is really serious stuff, and he was going through serious stuff. Ruby’s going through serious stuff. We’re both quite quiet when we’re working and we both do our own thing and then when we’re not working we sort of have an amazing time. He’s a lovely guy. I just love him.

How did the wardrobe and hair help you get into Ruby’s headspace?
KM: Every character that I’ve done, whether or not it’s a period piece, the clothing is a major part of the character. It took us a long time with the wardrobe to find the right things that worked for Ruby. Ruby is in her mid-40s so, I mean she was born in about 1922 so it’s not like Ralph and Destiny where I was just like, ‘Let’s throw on a long skirt and big hoop earrings and let’s go do the hippie thing.’ I would’ve loved that, except that that just wasn’t the case. Women were not allowed to wear pants in institutions.

Ruby hasn’t been working in an institution for two years, but she’s still a woman who was born in 1922 and she’s a firebrand and a political activist and she’s her own woman. So who is she? The coming together of all of those worlds, how does that work in terms of what she wears? So, just naturally from having worked in Princeton, she would have had a lot of skirts in her closet that she would still wear, because she grew up wearing skirts, she’s comfortable in skirts. She wore skirts, you know, but also has to wear pants. It’s a political thing. And I’m going to wear pants because I can wear pants. But it was still relatively new for women to do that at that time.

And then deciding to wear a pair of boots because it rains a lot and she lived in a country that’s being muddy. So putting all of those things together. When we finally got to her skirts with her boots and she put her hair up because she’s working in the scarf. Then suddenly it was like, ‘Here she is.’ She appeared, but it was a lot of elements to put together to make that happen. It didn’t fall off the truck that way.

As the first two episodes unfold, there is this relationship with her husband, played by Rick Roberts. He’s into the smuggling and helping. But to a point, he’s still got to keep that front up and is urging her to keep that front up as well. It’s fascinating to see this relationship become very at odds because of this kid that she’s helping out.
KM: It’s a complicated relationship, and I mean we find out later that Rick’s character is actually sort of the original activist, but then he sort of pulled back and things changed. And, as marriages do and people evolve in different ways. He became a little calmer and a little mellower and didn’t want to be so on the front lines of the activist world. How does a marriage survive that? How do you parent together? How do kids fare in that world? And Andrew, he’s such a brilliant writer, he wrote these complicated characters in situations that were just rich.

Fortunate Son airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.