The last time I spoke to Supinder Wraich, it was about The 410, the excellent CBC Gem series she created, wrote, and starred in.
After gigs on Sort Of, Surreal Estate, Hudson & Rex, Private Eyes and Crawford, Wraich is back, toplining the excellent new Allegiance.
Debuting Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem, created by Anar Ali (Transplant) and showrun by Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern (Flashpoint, X Company), Allegiance follows the journey of new cop Sabrina Sohal (Wraich), who is of Punjabi heritage.
Sabrina is a smart, confident newbie cop. She’s been paired with a veteran training officer named Vince (Enrico Colantoni) and looks to make a difference in her home city of Surrey, B.C. But her personal (and to an extent, professional life) is thrown into disarray when her father, Ajeet Sohal (Stephen Lobo), the revered Minister of Public Safety, in charge of the police, is accused of treason.
With a debut episode packed with action, humour and emotion, we spoke to Wraich about her journey to Allegiance, what Sabrina will face in Season 1, and if there will be more The 410.
How did you end up getting involved in the show? Did you have to audition, or did they have you in mind? How did the journey all begin for you?Supinder Wraich: Well, it was a little bit of both, but I didn’t know at the time that they had me in mind. And so, originally I was under contract for Sort Of, so I wasn’t looking for work because contractually it wasn’t something that was open.
When we found out that Sort Of was coming to an end, it opened an unexpected door. At the same time, I think that the Allegiance folks had been casting for a while in looking for Sabrina. But when I went in to audition, I really didn’t think that they were looking for me. There was a naiveté to this character that where I was in my life at the time I had just played Aqsa. Tonally, in terms of energy-wise, they’re very different characters. And also, I’d just had a son.
And so, when I went into audition, I really just thought my friend Anar Ali had written the show, Anar and I had known each other for years and wanted to work on something, so she was doing me a favour by bringing me in just because I was Sikh Punjabi and we knew each other. I was like, ‘Oh, it’s nice of Anar to bring me in.’ When I got the call that they wanted to offer me the part, it really was a bit of a surprise for me, and I had to figure out, okay, how do I build Sabrina? How do I find this woman and where she’s at in her life?
Was it easy to identify with this character? Could you understand where this character was coming from and being caught and having to deal with racism every day, unfortunately?
SW: Yeah. Some of the things that I had built for Sabrina and was just wondering about her life, I can definitely draw a couple parallels. One major one was that this is my first big leading role and in a way a new position for me that I’ve had to learn as I stepped into those shoes. For Sabrina, similarly, it’s also a new job and something that she’s learning as she goes along, so that I could lean on.
But then, there was also something very different where one of the things that Anar wanted to explore was what does racism look like for a family who’s been in Canada for generations?
And that’s very different from my experience because I was born in India. I was born in Punjab, and I moved here when I was four. And so, finding that balance of what it would feel like to belong to a family that had existed in Canada for generations and the type of confidence that gives you in a way that I didn’t have growing up in terms of real feeling of belonging somewhere and what it means to have that taken away from you is something that I had to define and then allow that fall to happen for Sabrina when her father gets charged and all of a sudden in a very significant way she is confronted by the color of her skin and this particular experience.
What I like about Sabrina and what I connected with right away is how smart she is and how instinctive she is at being a cop. Even though she is a rookie, you’re already getting that feedback that she knows what she’s doing and her gut reaction is good. That’s refreshing to see a rookie cop on television these days.
SW: I think that where that comes from is this confidence that has been instilled in her because of her father.
I remember we had a couple of conversations about who Ajeet Sohal was and how he carries himself in the world. I think for somebody like him, a Sikh Punjabi man who has a beard, who wears a turban, and has confronted so much about his culture, about his religion, and had the confidence to stand up for himself, Sabrina’s watched that happen her entire life. He really is a mentor to her. And so, amid everything else that’s happening, when she embarks on this career, one of the things that she’s really learned to do, and I do believe that it comes from her father, is to trust her instincts.
Speaking of mentors, I love Enrico Colantoni. I’ve spoken to him many times, and I feel as though the character Vince fits him like a glove. I love that there was that connection with Sabrina right away. The dad jokes are all there. What’s it been like working with him?
SW: Oh my god, Enrico’s a dream. We had this genuine chemistry the moment we met, and I can’t explain it. We’d never worked together. I obviously knew who he was and had seen his work, and so I was really excited to work together.
I remember when we were first auditioning together. Enrico wasn’t auditioning. He was there during the test, and there were a couple of different Sabrinas that he tested with. I remember just being enamored in terms of watching him work and thinking like, ‘Oh my god, he’s really in it, he’s really in this scene. He’s very present, and if I got the chance to work with him, I think I could really learn a lot from this person.’
It’s funny how life works. In Sabrina’s situation, Vince is definitely not the training officer that she wants, but he’s very much the training officer that she needs.
Obviously, I wanted to work with Rico as soon as I knew that he might be taking the project. But there is a beautiful thing. I learned a lot from working with Rico. Likewise, I think Sabrina also learns so much from Vince’s relaxed mindset because she’s so driven and so focused, and she begins to figure out what the important things are.
Not to mention everybody else in the cast. Brian Markinson, Stephen Lobo, you already mentioned David Cubitt, from top to bottom, this is a stellar cast. This is a who’s who of Canadian television all on one screen. It is just amazing.
SW: Yeah, and you know what? It makes your job a lot easier when you go to work every day and get to work with people who are so talented. You show up in the scenes, and they’re there with you, and you can play and bounce off of each other.
One of the things that also intrigued me about the show was the script and the dialogue. The dialogue sounds very natural. Everything just felt very natural and conversational to a point.
SW: I would say definitely credit the scripts. I think what’s really cool is that Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis had worked with Rico for years. And so, when it came to developing Vince, and I’ve heard Rico say this, they got him in terms of just his humor. There’s a lot of humor in the show too. He did a really good job of inserting those jokes. And also, just we have a great team of writers.
And the other thing is as showrunners, Mark and Stephanie are not precious about dialogue, that it has to be word-perfect. And so, between them and the directors, there was a fair bit of ad-libbing that was allowed and encouraged.
And Rico and I, sometimes we would just riff, and the directors would let us keep going until we ran out.
Did you do any police training in advance of this role? If so, what was that experience like?
SW: Yeah, we did a little bit of police training just right before we started, and then we would always have someone on set to ensure that what we were doing was accurate in terms of gun control or making arrests or just general walking into a room and where the dangers are, how do you clear a room? And so, we did that.
And then, I also spoke with a couple Sikh Punjabi female RCMP officers just to understand their world and what they dealt with on a day-to-day basis and also just their familial relationships. Because as much as it is a cop show, there’s also so much family stuff. For me, I really wanted to understand Sabrina’s experience, what the reality of it looks like.
And then, also just things that you pick up along the way, like once you’re done training in depot, it’s the little things, even running. You’re trained to run with your hands up so you can protect yourself when you’re fast. And so, Sabrina had a lot of running scenes. I remember it was one of our first days, and it was something that one of my references had told me. She was like, ‘Your body gets used to doing things a certain way, because for six months while you’re in depot, it’s ingrained into you.’ And so, if I was a cop who had been doing this for a while, those things would need to be less specific. But especially when you join the force in those first couple of episodes, I can remember just thinking about whenever Sabrina enters a scene, she’s always referencing the training that she’s had. Because it’s not like it was years ago. It was she just got out of it.
What can you tell me about Sabrina’s professional journey this season?
SW: Without giving too much away about the show, I think that there is a removing of the rose-coloured glasses, because one of the things I think that the show and the writers have done beautifully is to not shy away from the things that we experience, we as in society, and have experienced over the last couple of years with the policing system, right?
Our legal systems are troubled. Depending on who you ask, a lot of people would say that they’re broken, they need to be rebuilt. One of the things that we wanted to look at was what’s legal is not necessarily always what’s fair and what happens to the human hearts that are involved in those negotiations. And so, for Sabrina, I think that the show is really aptly named in terms of allegiance because this thing happens to her father, and then all of a sudden this organization that she’s taken an oath to serve and to protect is no longer serving and protecting her and her family. In fact, they’re a threat.
And so, that journey, I think, it’s a fascinating one to watch as she negotiates being… When she comes in, she believes in the system normally. And then, she really does have to at some point choose sides in terms of who is she going to serve. Truly, what does it mean to be caught within those two worlds?
And then, I think there’s also a strength. I think for a long time in Sabrina’s life, she’s benefited from being her father’s daughter. And then, without him around to protect her, to show her the way, she really has to go on this journey where she has to become her own woman and be in this police force in her own right.
Okay, last question. In your bio, it mentions future seasons of The 410. So, what can you tell me?
SW: I’ve been working on the hour-long version for The 410 for, I think, since we’ve released The 410. And so, I’m working with a showrunner in India.
His name is Vikram Motwane. He did Sacred Games on Netflix. It’s this big crime series. And so, right now for the last little bit, we’ve been developing the hour-long version, and now that the strike is over, we’re going to take it back out to mostly American networks and start pitching the show.
Allegiance airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.
Images courtesy of CBC/Lark Productions/Darko Sikman.