The Wedding Planners’ Michael Seater: “It speaks to themes I think everybody can get”

Frequent visitors to this site know I cover Murdoch Mysteries extensively. That means fans of the show know the name Michael Seater intimately. The veteran Canadian writer, director, producer and actor may very well be best-known for his portrayal of serial killer James Gillies on the period drama. But Murdoch isn’t his only acting gig.

Aside from Life with Derek, 18 to Life and Bomb Girls, Seater can be seen every Friday night on The Wedding Planners. There, he co-stars as James Clarkson—alongside Paige (Kimberly-Sue Murray) and Hannah (Madeline Leon), who take over their mother’s wedding planning business after she passes away suddenly.

We spoke to Michael Seater about The Wedding Planners, being an independent producer and … yes … playing James Gillies.

You’ve got a production company going. I know you’re making feature films. How did you end up playing James on The Wedding Planners?
Michael Seater: Beth Stevenson, who runs the show, was at Decode Entertainment, which did my first series back when I was a kid. She and I had a meeting earlier this year to talk about different things, sort of a general meeting and different things out there, from directing to acting. The Wedding Planners came along a couple of months later, which seems like good timing. It’s a really fun show. It speaks to themes I think everybody can get, which are loss and family and love.

James has a really interesting story. What’s the journey for him this season?
MS: Well, I think it’s interesting in that he’s left and there’s the appearance that he has figured it all out and doesn’t need this small-town life anymore, and I think the big city is more his speed. But bright lights, big city, things aren’t always as they seem. What happens to a lot of people in a big, giant metropolis like that, you quickly are living beyond your means. In how we operate today in an Instagram culture, we have this pressure, which I think has always existed but never more than now, to present like you are living a certain way that maybe you can’t afford.

I don’t think he plans on staying for long, but that might change because circumstances change. I think when you suffer such a great loss, you realize how important and valuable family is. Even if on the surface James plays sarcastic often, that he doesn’t really care that much about being there, I think that’s all a deflective veneer that he uses so people don’t see that he’s lost his mom and he’s hurting and he needs to be around his sisters right now.

Can you speak to any of the input you had into this character?
MS: There is a lot of dialogue in finding the voice, and a lot of figuring out the nuanced nature of, especially, a queer character. Making it feel that it’s honest and not put-on. I’m a queer person myself. I watch a lot of Drag Race. I want the language to be authentic. Then, there’s the story aspect of making sure that when we promise something in a story that we deliver on it.

You have a production company with Paula Brancati. Is working in somebody else’s sandbox, in your view, an exercise in not flexing producer’s muscles and getting back into the acting? 
MS: Yes and no. I give myself a talk sort of before I do a project where I am hired solely as actor. I am not shy with my opinions, and so I need to make sure that I’m not stepping on too many toes.

The three siblings are sort of the head of the department, and we are very inherently involved in stories. So, I think, from actors I’ve known throughout the years who when I was young, I kind of looked at as examples. Peter Outerbridge on ReGenesis is somebody who was a really magnificent lead on a show and how he works on how he pushed for the script to always be the best it could be. He looked out for younger or guest actors who don’t have a voice the way that he did.

But then, on the other hand, I tell myself, ‘OK, you’re not the director of this. Don’t try and get involved and say, ‘Well, what are you doing with the cameras?’ You’ve got to let somebody else do their job.’ And I hope I do that. Making a TV show, making a film is always such a collaborative endeavour anyways. Lots of people wear different hats, but even if you only ever wear one hat, your department affects another department. So, it’s always about communicating with one another and the best idea wins. That’s how I try and operate.

Murdoch Mysteries fans know you play James Gillies, perhaps the ultimate villain on that show. What was that like playing that character?
MS: I have the best time going to play on that show. I mean, a bunch of crew on that show was from shows I had done previously. I knew a lot of the cast, especially the longer I did the show. So, I would go back every summer and it was like visiting your favourite aunt and uncle for a week in the summer. It was family. We had such a good time and just got to play.

Gillies is so much fun because he’s one of those wonderfully truly classically evil characters. And by the later episodes, everyone knows he’s evil. So, it’s not like, ‘Oh, I need to hide this and play nice till the very end and we get the reveal at the end.’ I get to come in guns blazing and hold needles to babies’ necks and hairpins to women’s throats and all this fun stuff and get my face mangled. It was so good.

Also, I wouldn’t ever say that we’ve seen the last of Gillies. I’ve always said that was just his good twin and see, the evil twin used that weird brain thing that made the guy do the talking, use that on his good twin and the evil twin’s still alive and kicking. That’s just my opinion.

The Wedding Planners airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Rogers Media.

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