The arrival of Season 4 of Frankie Drake Mysteries brings changes. When viewers tune in this Monday at 9 p.m. on CBC, they’ll notice a couple of things. As the show advances further into the 1920s the wardrobe and hair sported by Frankie (Lauren Lee Smith), Trudy (Chantel Riley), Mary (Rebecca Liddiard) and Flo (Sharron Matthews) are changing to reflect that. So, too, are the characters themselves, with professional advancement for Flo and personal for Trudy, Frankie and Mary.
Changes were afoot behind the scenes on Frankie too, something I learned while speaking to Rebecca Liddiard. She joined the Frankie Drake Mysteries writer’s room in Season 4, which she and I discussed, along with upcoming storylines and the upcoming animated series Mary and Flo: On the Go!
How did COVID-19 affect the filming of Frankie Drake?
Rebecca Liddiard: I actually found, overall, it didn’t really change very much. I’m sure there was a lot more going on behind the scenes, but from our perspective, yeah, we had to wear masks, we had to check in and have our temperature checked every day. There’s a lot more hand sanitizer, but other than that, you know, it seems to me like business as usual. Every once in a while there was a moment of panic. You know, there’s a lot of people in a room or, you know, there’s a lot of, it seems like things are getting relaxed, there are people without masks on, but for the most part, everyone is trying to keep each other safe, no one wanted to get sick. So once we get settled into that, you know, we’re off to the races.
Do you know whether any storylines changed as a result of the pandemic and you filmed outdoors more often than in the studio?
RL: I do, because I was also a part of the writing team here. I co-wrote an episode with [showrunner] Peter Mitchell, actually.
So I was privy to a few of the changes that were made. It was pretty basic things, like the number of people in the scene had to be reduced. The thinking was, if there were four people in this scene, then there can be three people. If there are three people, then there can be two people. There was a lot more dialogue between two people and the scenes got extended. We also had more recurring characters this year, which seems a bit strange. But when you think about it, it just meant that we could put these actors on hold and ask them not to do other jobs and they were coming in regularly. So we just kind of expanded that core group of people that we had trust with.
Was being part of the writing team on Frankie Drake a result of Mary and Flo: On the Go? Did Mary and Flo: On the Go come first and then the episode?
RL: I had an idea for an episode last season and I spent a couple of weeks coming up with a treatment. I went to Pete and I said, ‘I’ve got an idea, what do I do?’ He said, ‘Give me your idea.’ So I did, and they kind of sat on it for a while. That would have been like August, September, and then during this time, Mary and Flo started developing. So right when we started the writer’s room on Mary and Flo, which was early March, I had just found out that indeed I was going to be joining the writing team on Frankie. Within a week I suddenly found myself being a writer.
Has writing been something that you wanted to do and that you’ve been doing while you’ve been acting?
RL: I’ve always been a writer. Honestly, I never thought it would be something that I would do professionally. If anything I have this kind of dream of maybe getting into directing someday and I never really thought about writing. And then I had this idea for Frankie and it turned out to have some legs and everyone was really excited about it. It was like, ‘Oh, I think I can do this. I know how mysteries work. Surprise, surprise. I’ve only been doing it for four years now.’ It was a good surprise for me. I mean, it was difficult. It was a very steep learning curve, but Pete Mitchell was my co-writer and he was a great mentor and he made it pretty easy. He was very supportive and let me do my thing and solve my own problems. When I got really stuck, he jumped in and got me unstuck. It’s kind of opened up this door that I didn’t realize it was there.
Let’s get into Mary and Flo. You and Sharron co-created this. It is nine episodes of seven minutes each. Is that right?
Was it the result of the two of you just kicking around ideas while you were at craft services or just in between takes?
RL: Pretty much just what you described. I mean, on Frankie, Mary and Flo have a habit of going off and doing kind of these sort of side ventures that supplement the story, and which Sharron and I love, and over the years we’ve kind of increasingly made meals at these adventures that will go on and we just thought, ‘You know, we’re kind of joking around, but it would make a really fun cartoon. Like what if these adventures were like proper adventures?’ There’s a third co-creator named Carmen Albano. He was our prop master. He worked on props on Frankie and he came up with the first session of the first images of Mary and Flo.
We finally sat down around this time last year and we’re like, ‘Let’s talk about this what could this be?’ Carmen has created a couple of really successful children’s shows. Sharron and I had all these ideas and Carmen was the one who really helped focus them and helped give us that structure. The three of us made a really, really great team.
What can people expect when they tune in to watch Mary and Flo: On the go?
RL: Each episode, Mary and Flo go on an adventure and in Season 1, we kept it all to Canada. That doesn’t mean they can’t go to other places, we just found lots to do in Canada for this season, and they meet a historical figure. Sometimes it’s a historical figure who’s well-known—for example, we meet Lucy Maud Montgomery in one episode—and sometimes it’s historical figures that are lesser-known, but we would argue equally as important or as influential or exciting to Canadian history and they help this person solve a mystery or solve a problem. Our show is history, mystery, ancestry. So there’s a historical element. There’s always a mystery and there’s always an aspect of helping someone out of a jam and helping them go on their way to be whoever they are going to be.
Can you give me a peek into the Frankie episode you wrote?
RL: I really wanted to write an episode about Martha Graham because I have always been a Martha Graham fan and I just think as a personality, she’s very Frankie. She’s exactly the kind of woman that would fit into this world. I was reading her autobiography and she talks about having to work and perform as a dancer even when you’re really, really sick and how it’s such a difficult life. I just came up with this idea regarding the Spanish flu. So I was like, ‘That would be like a high stakes, super dramatic plot point.’ It was already in the works in the fall, so when everything happened in March …. hopefully it’s not too on the nose. I mean it is impossible to escape, but you know, hopefully, we did a nice job of kind of combining this very topical element but with some more, and deeper rooted, human aspects of the characters in Frankie and the dance world and everything else. Hopefully, it’s not too blunt.
What can you say about Mary’s journey over this fourth season?
RL: I really loved Mary’s story this season. I mean, she’s always so much fun, she is just continuing on her journey of growing up and becoming the woman that she is going to become. Not that Mary is childish in any way, but I think when we first met her in Season 1, she’s sort of naive. She thought she knew what she wanted and she thought she knew what was right and wrong. And over the last three seasons, we’ve seen that change and you seeing her worldview grow and that just continued this season. And I think a few things happened in the season that I don’t think Mary would have been able to handle in Season 1. As an actor, I’m proud of her that she’s doing these things.
Frankie Drake Mysteries airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.