Cardinal director Nathan Morlando on Season 4: “It was super, super physically intense”

It’s no secret that I love Cardinal‘s winter settings most. The cold and snow are another character, keeping Algonquin Bay’s citizens inside and cut off from each other. That distancing adds to the isolation and gives an added level of dread to the crimes that are happening.

And while it sure looks good and contributes to the story, the extreme climate played havoc during Season 4 of Cardinal. As co-showrunner and season director Nathan Morlando told us, it was a challenge to bring unforgettable scenes to life.

Morlando, who wrote and directed the feature film Citizen Gangster and directed Mean Dreams, gave us a behind-the-scenes peek at the process.

What was it like to come into Cardinal where the world had already been built?
Nathan Morlando: Fantastic, actually because it had been so strongly established. The only negative, and it’s a very temporary negative, is the stress and anxiety you feel initially by inheriting such a successful show. So before it gets really, really, really going, there’s always that voice in your mind, ‘Are you going to be the one who’s going to screw this up?’ But once the machine gets going, like after the first half-hour of shooting, the voice was gone because there was no time for it.

The positive was to inherit such a great show. And to have been invited to follow on the heels of everyone else that preceded me was really amazing. The Cardinal crew themselves were very loyal, passionate; they are super fans of the show. They care so much and they work so hard. This year we spent the first month in February, which was North Bay’s coldest recorded month in their history. Outdoors it was super, super physically intense and psychologically intense because of that. But the crew was just an extraordinary team. And because they are so loyal to Billy, Karine, to the show, to [producers] Julia [Sereny] and Jennifer [Kawaja], there was never a complaint, there was never, ‘We can’t do this.’

Wow!
NM: For the last episode, we spent a week in the woods. And before we shot that last episode, we had the biggest snowfall in North Bay’s history, it was four feet of snow. And suddenly, the paths and how we thought we were going to shoot this thing and move our trucks, we couldn’t conceivably move in the forest. We had an emergency production meeting two weeks before, whether or not it was even feasible to get in there, to get in and out.

Part of our crew spent days, day and night, flattening paths so that we could actually move in the woods. Steve Cosens, the cinematographer, and I had to go into the woods two weeks before to imagine the movement of all these various scenes. Then we had to imagine where our camera was going to move because. So we had to create the actors’ paths and the camera’s paths two weeks in advance.

Aside from all that planning, what about your cameras? They’ve got to get cold to a point where the shutters won’t close.
NM: Yeah, exactly. For the first couple of weeks, because of these cameras [and temperatures], the camera crew had to get on set earlier and stay sometimes four hours after to heat the lenses because the lenses would fog. They had to work extremely long hours to make that happen. So yeah, there were a lot of equipment challenges. We were using a drone, we were really concerned that the drone would crash in the cold. Fortunately, it didn’t.

My favourite seasons of Cardinal have been the winter seasons. I think it really plays well into the feeling, that isolation that you feel, that you’re supposed to feel.
NM: For sure. And the outer environment, so winter, is actually a character this year, which I really loved. And that’s really, that’s the slow mystery actually, is the character of the environment.

What was it like to work with Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse?
NM: They were amazing, as actors and as people, truly. And the crew worked the way they did because they were committed to Billy and Karine. The crew would do anything for Billy and Karine, and that isn’t always the case … that is not often the case. And the crew feels that way about them because of the way Billy and Karine treat people. This is what’s special about them: there is no hierarchy in their perception. Billy and Karine are friends with everyone and they respect everyone. They care for everyone and they make sure everyone is doing well. They’re real team players and team leaders. We were able to do what we did because of the leadership from Billy and Karine. I was very indebted to that and to the crew for feeling that way.

Cardinal airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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