All posts by A.R. Wilson

A.R. Wilson has been interviewing actors, writers and musicians for over 20 years. In addition to TV-Eh, her work has appeared in Curve, ROCKRGRL, and Sound On Sight. A native of Detroit, she grew up watching Mr. Dressup and The Friendly Giant on CBC, which led to a lifelong love of Canadian television. Her perpetual New Year's resolution is to become fluent in French.

Burden of Truth: Meegwun Fairbrother on Beckbie’s journey and bringing an Indigenous POV to the writer’s room

Over the course of three and a half seasons, Millwood Police Chief Owen Beckbie has become one of Burden of Truth’s most intriguing characters as he’s confronted racism within the police department and faced distrust from the Indigenous community he grew up in.  

As portrayed by actor Meegwun Fairbrother, Beckbie is conflicted but highly moral, a brooding hero trying to both uphold the law and correct injustices that have been inflicted on Indigenous people in his town. However, he wasn’t originally conceived as a good guy. 

“I was apparently written as a bad guy at first, which made sense to me at the time because I was playing a lot of different bad guy characters, like in Hemlock Grove, Haven and some other shows,” Fairbrother says. “But they took one look at me [at my costume fitting] and said, ‘I don’t think you’re a bad guy.’”

The unexpected change allowed Burden of Truth creator Brad Simpson and the rest of the show’s writers to reimagine Beckbie’s story arc and make him a central part of the series. 

“Over the years, we just grew the character, because there was something interesting there—this Indigenous police officer who’s straddling two worlds, a foot in the Native and non-Native worlds, and also in a position of power,” says Fairbrother. “How does he, and how do all of us contemporary Indigenous people living in Canada, live and survive in a world that isn’t quite set up for us, isn’t quite made for us? That’s the journey, I think, of this character.”

Beckbie’s broadened role also led to Fairbrother, who is of Ojibway and Scottish origin, being added to the show’s writer’s room, first as a consultant in Season 3 and then as a writer in Season 4. He co-wrote this Thursday’s penultimate episode, “Where the Shadows Lie Waiting,” with co-producer Eric Putzer. 

To get ready for the instalment, we chatted with Fairbrother about playing Beckbie, making the jump to the show’s writer’s room, and writing stories that are “truly Indigenous.”

Beckbie is a fascinating character. How did you initially approach playing him?
Meegwun Fairbrother: Just before I booked the role, I had started practicing Okichitaw Indigenous arts, it’s a Plains Cree martial arts, developed in the Winnipeg area, on this land, and it’s taught by Master George Lepine … So I was practicing that, and I was really building myself in that way, and I got to know Master George quite well, and I actually learned that he is a former police officer in Manitoba. So we had a lot of talks, and I actually based the character a lot around him. Like imagining that George Lepine was a younger man, and the younger George Lepine working in his community, straddling two worlds, working in that bigotry but also trying to do something good for his community, all the same time developing this system that would help his community to raise themselves up and to help process trauma. 

Over the years, I think we just kept growing that, and that’s why you see the tomahawk throwing in Season 3, that’s part of the martial arts system. We wanted to pitch more and Brad [Simpson] got really interested in it and what it was, but we may leave that for the next show that we do. But we were able to bring that into the world, and I would say that the culmination of that story of working with him and building the character over four years is in a scene with Beckbie and Kip [played by Skye Pelletier] in [this week’s episode] when he’s showing him a knife, a historical dagger. I invoke a name in that scene, Ambrose Lepine, who is actually George Lepine’s great, great uncle. So that’s life and art all spiraling and culminating in that moment. 

Speaking of this week’s episode, how did you transition from being an actor on the show to also being in the writer’s room?
MF: I would say that it actually started in Season 2. I was invited in for a one-day consultant session, and I was just able to bring some perspective from my understanding, from my family’s understanding and help these non-Indigenous writers have an understanding into the world of what it is like to be an Indigenous person and what Indigenous people face. It really is like two different worlds that exist here in Canada: the Canada that everybody knows and the Canada that the Indigenous people live in and experience every day. So I tried to bring as many stories from my father, from my sister, from my brother and aunties and uncles and people from my own life, and I think it really shifted a lot of the writers. They didn’t have that perspective before and I think it really had an impact on them, especially Brad and Adam [Pettle], the showrunner. I think after that, they were just interested in having me around some more.

So in the third season, they invited me in as a full-time consultant. I was with them for six or seven weeks and got to really understand how to put a show together, how to pitch, and how each script is developed from infancy all the way to production level scripts, and understand all the moving parts. Whereas before I was just an actor—and I don’t want to say just an actor, but I was an actor playing a part in somebody else’s world—now I’m understanding how those worlds are built. And finally in the fourth season, I get to have a hand in creating the world and actually writing something. 

Is there anything in particular that you wanted to contribute to the writer’s room?
MF: The group of people that are creating the show are just wonderful human beings, and I learned a lot from them. And I understand now that that’s quite a privilege to have, to be able to be in a writer’s room, and not many people get to have that opportunity. I would say one of the biggest things that has come out of [me being in] the writer’s room is probably the amount of shows and things that will be affected by that room. All those writers going out into different shows, I was able to give them a little bit of perspective and insight into the world of what we’re dealing with. 

And I really believe that in order for stories to be truly Indigenous, we have to be there at the seed of the idea, which is the writing or producing or directing. Directing is great, we’re having more directors now, we have a lot more actors now, but it’s been a lot of non-Indigenous people writing Indigenous characters. But this season, we had Madison Thomas writing an episode and directing two episodes as well. Madison was also in the room during the third season with me and launched Kodie Chartrand, the character who was played by Sera-Lys McArthur. So all of that lends itself to better stories, more well-rounded characters, getting rid of what I like to call ‘the wooden Indian.’ I’m not wooden, none of my family is wooden, we’re all dynamic, fully fleshed out people with hopes and dreams and trials and tribulations. So complex Indigenous characters is what I hope comes out of my sharing and my connection to these writers and the rooms that they’ll go off into, the stories that they’ll share, because hopefully I’ve deputised them as allies so that they will be fighting the good fight in any room and any space that they walk into.

You co-wrote ‘Where the Shadows Lie Waiting’ with Eric Putzer, who has been a writer on the show for three seasons. What was that experience like for you?
MF: I’ve always liked Eric. Even from Season 1, we were always talking on set and talking about stories and coming up with things, so we were always in a creative mindset and liked working together and talking with each other. So it just felt like a natural progression to him to be the one that I was co-writing the episode with. Over the last few seasons, he’s gotten to be known as Mr. Episode 7, Mr. Penultimate Episode. He got very, very good at telling a really dynamic story and also having us on the edge of our seat . . . So to have him as my co-writer was a dream, and he’s a very good teacher, and he’s very patient because I had a lot of questions. And he was very good with setting deadlines, and I was able to meet them, and I think he really appreciated that on my part. We were a good team. And a lot had to be done in Episode 7. There had to be some wrap-ups, there had to be some getting of people, and so it’s a super dynamic, super fast-paced kind of complex episode, and that’s a result of all of our years working together and getting to know each other. 

Were you allowed to write your own dialogue in the episode?
MF: That was a question, I think, right from the beginning. Everybody was like, ‘I don’t know if we’re gonna let write his own stuff.’ But in the end, I did have a hand in pitching my own scenes, which I guess is probably not a normal thing. I think they trusted me enough to know that I was able to detach myself from the character and put my writer’s hat on, taking care of all the characters, taking care of the story, the wider movements of the drama, which in the end is more important than one character’s journey. How do all the characters move together in the story and get to a really exciting finish? So, yes, I did have a hand in creating and birthing the scenes, but TV is such a collaborative endeavour in terms of creativity. Eric and I created the episode, but then we had our head writer, our showrunner, and the writer’s room giving notes and also writing on it and changing it and adjusting it until we all are moving in the same direction and getting to the best product. 

This season, Beckbie has been trying to help Kip, who has been living in an unstable situation since his dad was killed in a racist incident. How does that play out in Episode 7?
MF: In terms of Beckbie wanting to help Kip, thinking that he can control everything and he’s going fix it all, he learns that he needs Diane [played by Nicola Correia-Damude] and he needs his community and he needs the people around him, he needs his officers, he needs help to raise this child. But even then, he goes at it a bit of the wrong way, and then he has to work all that out in the next episode, of course. 

What parts of the episode are you most excited for viewers to see?
MF: It’s hard to say. I love every character’s storyline so much. I guess, in particular, I really love Taylor’s [played by Anwen O’Driscoll] storyline this year. It’s very important to me. That story in our community is still very much present and for us to take down a bad guy like that is very satisfying for me. I think I will be writing a lot of those kinds of storylines in the future, getting the bad guy. I think if I can dream it up in my fiction and my drama, maybe it will start happening more in the real world, too. 

It sounds like you’ve been bitten by the writing bug. Is acting still your first love?
MF: I’m very intrigued by the writing, but you know, I’m a storyteller. That entails singing, that entails speaking, that entails acting, writing, painting, sculptures, you name it. I’ll do it all. However people will have me perform and tell stories, that’s what I’ll do. So in no way am I only going to be a writer now or anything like that. But I have seen the power of writing and how we can bring stories into the world at the seed and have it be a much more dynamic and complex story if Indigenous people are part of the writer’s room, are part of the initial creation of stories. So I’m going to definitely be writing a bunch of pilots and a bunch of stories that I’m gonna try to put out in the world and learning how to be as good as I can be, so I can get the stories that I know my community wants to see. 

I understand that the CBC recently awarded you funding to develop your one-man show Isitwendam (An Understanding) into a TV pilot. How is that going? 
MF: Oh, you’ve done some homework. Yes. I worked on a play with a friend of mine, Jack Grinhaus, for around 10 years, and last year, we got to show it to Toronto and the Talking Stick Festival in British Columbia, and then the pandemic hit . . . so we decided to put it to sleep for a little while and then the [CBC Creative Relief Fund] came up and decided, ‘You know what? We always wanted to do something with it in terms of film and television, so let’s go for it,’ and we put in an application, and we were awarded it. I just handed in my outline to CBC, and I am awaiting notes on the first draft of my outline. Hopefully, we can push that story forward and keep developing it. 

What else are you working on?
MF: Madison Thomas and I are also co-directing a short film. It just came together, it’s kind of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi short where we’re fighting aliens, but it’s a comedy. It’s called Shoot Your Shot, and it’s going to star myself and Skye Pelletier and Victoria Turko, who plays Dee in this season of Burden of Truth, as well as Stephanie Sy, who is a local Winnipeg actor extraordinaire. I don’t know if this is true, but it might have a home at Netflix this spring or summer. 

Burden of Truth airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Coroner: Morwyn Brebner and Adrienne Mitchell on Season 3’s “strange, magical” vibe

From the opening moments of Coroner’s Season 3 premiere, it’s clear that COVID-19 has invaded Dr. Jenny Cooper’s (Serinda Swan) world. There are social distancing measures during her group therapy class, full-body protective suits at her workplace, and in one painfully familiar scene, raw marks on her skin when she removes her mask.

“Yeah, that was a striking image,” creator and showrunner Morwyn Brebner says during a phone interview. “And it really did just evoke all the images that we’ve seen of the health care workers and the hours and hours and hours that they had to work in those masks.”

Executive producer and lead director Adrienne Mitchell concurs, adding that the scene demonstrates “the truth of people trying to make their way through this, from doctors down to personal care workers in homes, and just the physical toll that that took.”

Since Coroner is a medical-crime drama that focuses on death, Mitchell and Brebner felt it was natural to incorporate COVID-19 into the new season, which kicks off Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBC. However, aside from the first episode’s plot involving the death of a long-term care worker who lacked access to PPE, they say the pandemic will influence the ambience of the series more than its storylines.

“The weird thing about the pandemic is that … it proposes the possibility of different ways of living,” explains Brebner. “We can go into different worlds and go through them with a real sense of curiosity and wonder.”

Over the course of this season’s 10 episodes, up from last year’s eight, Jenny and Detective Donovan McAvoy (Roger Cross) will investigate a slew of mysterious deaths in a variety of new environments.

“Because it’s been a COVID-19 year, where time is stopped and everything is surreal and you’re put on pause, you can invite unusual things into your life and hold them in a way that is perhaps more playful,” says Mitchell. “That’s what’s fun about this season: You can go from horror to haunted houses to witches to strange magic.”

This season will also have a different vibe because Jenny faced down several personal demons—including her complex relationship with her dad, Gordon (Nicholas Campbell)—during the show’s dark and psychologically fraught second season, letting her approach Season 3 with a fresh perspective.

“[Jenny]’s decided to be open to life, and that makes her vulnerable, but it also presents an incredible opportunity,” says Brebner. “It’s like allowing things to come at her while she’s embracing her trauma a little and trying to see what it is to her, as opposed to being afraid of it.”

According to Mitchell, series lead Swan—who has always tackled Jenny’s mental health issues with fearlessness and compassion—was completely onboard with her character’s emotional shift.

“Serinda was very much interested in exploring trauma as a tool,” says Mitchell. “So instead of [Jenny] succumbing and being paralyzed by it, now that she has a bit more of an understanding of it, how can she use it and draw from it to move through the world and connect with people who have their own individual traumas? … It’s very interesting. It’s a different journey for her this season.”

Behind the camera, Mitchell used “flares of light and the magic of light” to visually represent Jenny’s newfound appreciation for life, choices that are evident during a trippy, drug-infused sequence in the first episode.

“Only Morwyn can write about a weed journey in the middle of a very hard COVID-19 case, but it works,” laughs Mitchell. “Because [the way we normally live our lives] is sort of on pause because of COVID-19, it allows for unusual, strange, and living-in-the-moment events to take place, and there are some opportunities to have what I would call ‘strange joy.’”

However, not everything will be rosy for Coroner’s characters this season.

According to Brebner, McAvoy will have a health scare that forces him to face his mortality in a new way.

“He deals with death all the time,” she says. “He’s a homicide detective, he’s an incredibly stoic person, and he’s up against something that’s a new kind of adversary for him.”

Meanwhile, Liam (Éric Bruneau)—who left Jenny in last season’s finale—will still be struggling with his war-related PTSD.

“We ended Season 2 with the decision that they needed to be apart to heal, and that being together was going to be an obstacle to their healing,” says Mitchell. “And then the question is, where does that take them? Is that going to bring them back together or not?”

As for Brebner and Mitchell, they’re both trying to recover after Season 3’s exhausting, COVID-delayed five-month shoot, which ended on Jan. 22.

“We brought in a COVID-19 health management team, so we had about three or four rotating nurses and daily screens, in terms of temperature and questionnaires. We also had weekly COVID tests and a strict regimen of mask-wearing at all times,” Mitchell says.

The cast and crew were also required to stay six feet apart as much as possible, which was hard, Brebner notes, because TV production “is really a business where we stand close together and hand each other things.”

Still, they both say it was a “privilege” to work during the pandemic and are proud of the result.

“We go to deep, emotional places, but we also go to a lot of fun places,” Brebner says. “This season has a really strange and magical integrity to it.”

Mitchell concludes, “It’s just weird, but it’s a cool weird.”

Coroner airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Burden of Truth: Kristin Kreuk breaks down Joanna’s Season 4 struggles

Burden of Truth could have ended after last season. The Season 3 finale wrapped up the legal show-turned-family drama’s storylines in a neat bow, with lead character Joanna Chang, played by Kristin Kreuk, completing her metamorphosis from emotionally damaged corporate lawyer to self-aware justice seeker and mom-to-be.

But just like after the show’s first season—which so efficiently resolved its legal-heavy environmental plot that it looked like it had nowhere left to go—it found a way forward by digging deeper into its characters.

“This year, we thought the only way to really do another season is to take it all away from Joanna and see what happens,” says Kreuk, who is also an executive producer on the series.

And in the Season 4 premiere, airing Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBC, Joanna is clearly struggling. She and Billy (Peter Mooney) are trying to find their footing as new parents while waging a legal battle against a powerful mine company that wants to reopen an old gold mine outside of Millwood.

“[Joanna] and Billy are really trying to parent without any support,” says Kreuk. “They’re just doing it on their own in a vacuum while both of them are working.”

The situation is made worse by the mine’s ruthless legal team—who use the same aggressive tactics that Joanna did when she was a corporate lawyer.

“She sees this mining company come in with predatory behaviour that she was part of in her past,” Kreuk explains. “So she’s trying to defeat her shadow self.”

We recently caught up with Kreuk and asked her to break down Season 4’s biggest storylines and explain what it was like to film during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect production this year?
Kristin Kreuk: We got kind of a late pickup for the show this year due in part to, in March, nobody knew what was going on or what would happen or how quickly the pandemic would resolve itself. Then we started shooting later than we normally would for our show. We didn’t start shooting until basically the end of August.

In Winnipeg and Manitoba at that time, they had very few cases, they hardly had a first wave. And so for a while there, it looked like we may be able to skate by a little bit. But even from then, before we even got on a plane, we got tested. We tested the minute we arrived. On set, everybody was wearing masks and shields, everyone was kind of placed in pods. People had to step away from set to eat, and there were hand-washing and hand sanitising stations. We worked shorter work days so people could get more rest, so they didn’t get tired and their immune systems didn’t weaken.

So a lot changed, and it was a very different season of television. And Winnipeg’s cases started to go up quite a bit in the fall, and they were the worst in Canada for a while, so towards the end, we got worried. But it always felt safe because of all the precautions. In many ways, I felt safer on set than I did anywhere else.

Were there any story changes because of the pandemic?
KK: Yes, totally. One of the main things was ensuring that we didn’t have very many background performers, so we didn’t do courtroom scenes really. We used to have big courtroom set-pieces at the end of every season, and we didn’t do that this year. We had to change it up.

Season 3 ended on a very positive note for Joanna, but as this season begins, she’s having some problems adjusting to motherhood and also finding it hard to be on the less powerful side of a corporate case. What can you hint about her journey this season?
KK: Joanna and Billy, when we left them last season, were probably in the happiest place they’ve ever been. The pregnancy wasn’t too hard for Joanna, she was able to work, they were doing very well, and she had kind of healed a bunch of her stuff. At the top of this season, the reality is sinking in more for them, and Joanna’s really struggled. She’s feeling the pressures of what motherhood should be and feeling all of the narratives that have been put on motherhood, and they weigh on her.

And then there’s the fact that the job she does is so dangerous in many ways because she’s taking on the underdogs in cases. It’s something that the other mothers that she’s meeting aren’t able to comprehend. So she’s kind of in this place of doubt.

As you said, Joanna and Billy were in a very happy place at the end of last season, but being a new parent is hard. How are they going to handle that?
KK: What I love about Joanna and Billy is that they love each other, that’s not a question. But this year, you’ll see the differences in what makes them feel secure and safe. For Joanna, it has to do with her ability to do the things she’s best at, particularly because she feels like she’s failing at being a mom, which is debatable. If you just look at what she’s doing, she’s not, but she really feels like she is. She feels most secure through being able to be great at her job.

Billy’s sense of security also comes through Joanna being great at her job, but he also wants a more traditional life. And I think those two things butt up against each other because that’s not what Joanna wants or needs, but that is what he wants and needs. So we kind of see that unfold between the two of them, particularly because Joanna’s choosing, similar to last year, a case that isn’t helping them to make money for their firm.

Two recurring themes I’ve noticed are finding the meaning of home and finding your identity after trauma, and it looks like Season 4 will continue that trend. Was it always the show’s intention to explore those themes?
KK: We are aware of what you’re talking about, but I think that when we started the show, we only understood one small aspect of what that meant—at least, I don’t know if this was [series creator] Brad [Simpson]’s scheme all along. I think that we were really focused on Joanna’s own trauma, and we weren’t looking at it as completely, but each season we’ve delved deeper and deeper into that.

A manifestation of that through Taylor [Anwen O’Driscoll] this season is her trying—and her storyline is so beautiful this year—to find her place in a town that she thought she’d never come back to, that’s a representation of her horrible relationship with her father and her loss of a future she saw for herself, of having to like reacquaint herself with her dreams and her place on that land. This season is very much about kind of repositioning yourself on your land and in your home and how you can do that while incorporating the trauma of your past into that without forgetting it.

I thought Owen Beckbie’s fight against racism in the police department was a very interesting storyline last season, and Meegwun Fairbrother did a great job with it. What will happen with Beckbie this season?
KK: [Meegwun] wrote half a script this year, so he’s been a big part of the season. Beckbie’s in an interesting place where he’s finding himself in a position of power, and he thought maybe, as an Indigenous man in a position of power, could change things. But he’s realizing through being on the ground that that isn’t true, that the system is the system. And so this season is sort of about him evaluating his place in that system and how he can create the changes he wants. You see that through the cop aspect of [the story] and also through this kid, played by Skye Pelletier, who he sort of takes on. His relationship with Beckbie is a big part of the season.

Burden of Truth hasn’t been afraid to hold up a mirror to some of the darker aspects of Canada’s history, particularly its treatment of Indigenous communities. Have you gotten a lot of positive feedback about that?
KK: Honestly, I think people are mostly really excited that we’re delving into those stories. Some people have told me that they’re actually learning from the show, which is kind of sad because our education system should be doing that. But it’s also great that we can do that because I have always believed that one of the powers of scripted television or feature films is that you fall in love with people, with characters and then you can develop empathy for them in a way that you feel more connected to. So feedback wise, people have said that to me, people really appreciate it. But I’ve also seen some really negative stuff about how we’re super white-hating, which is clearly also not true.

Did you have a favourite episode or storyline this season?
KK: It’s hard to say because it’s such a serialized show, but there are images that have stuck in my head as I’ve watched them through all the edits. There’s a moment with Beckbie, he has a scene with Crystal [Michaela Washburn], who we briefly saw in Season 3. She’s a criminal and he is a cop, and they’re both Indigenous and they have an all-out, intense discussion. It’s a very good scene, and there’s a small moment that follows that I find really moving, where Beckbie is kind of facing his cop self.

There’s stuff with Luna [Star Slade] that’s really powerful this year as she tries to decide what path she wants to take for her career, whether she wants to focus on legal aid, or if she wants to sort of go in the direction that Joanna went, and she has to decide what will make more of an impact based on what she wants to do with her life.

And there’s stuff with Billy and Joanna as they manage being parents that I find really beautiful. They come to an understanding with each other and they have therapy scenes, which I think are also really interesting. There are a lot of things to look forward to from all these characters.

Burden of Truth airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Jann’s Elena Juatco on channeling Cale and the Season 2 finale

On CTV’s Jann, Elena Juatco plays Jann Arden’s hip new music manager, Cale—a ruthless deal-maker who has no time for social pleasantries or touchy-feely nonsense. 

In real life, the Vancouver-born actor and singer, who first rose to fame during the second season of Canadian Idol, is an extroverted people person. 

“I’m much more friendly, chatty, and outgoing than Cale is,” Juatco says during a phone call from Ottawa, where she’s filming the Hallmark holiday movie The Key to Christmas. “It’s funny, I’ll talk to someone for like an hour, and then someone will say, ‘That’s Cale from Jann,’ and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, my God!’ and feel betrayed. Because I’m different, I smile, I gesticulate with my hands, but when we put my hair up in a bun and I put on the Cale face, something else takes over.” 

Juatco’s steely “Cale face” and deadpan line deliveries contrast wonderfully with series star Arden’s zany physical comedy and witty zingers. The odd couple’s bickering over the direction of Jann’s career has been one of the central storylines of Season 2, with Cale relentlessly pushing Jann out of her comfort zone and Jann finding increasingly hilarious ways to resist. Tensions came to a head in last week’s episode when Cale learned that Jann has been secretly getting advice from her ex-manager, Todd (played by the underrated Jason Blicker). 

To get us ready for Monday’s season finale, “The Tunies,” we chatted with Juatco about channeling Cale, working with Arden and Blicker, and whether Cale and Jann will end the season on a positive note.  

First of all, 2020 has been a crazy year. How have you handled COVID-19 and the strange events that came with it?
Elena Juatco: I’ve been very blessed. I’ve been healthy and safe in Toronto with my husband and my dog. I was actually in Los Angeles until March 11.  I flew back home from Los Angeles, and when I was in the air, Trump announced the European ban, the NBA shut down, Tom Hanks got it. When I landed in Toronto, my husband said, ‘You’re not gonna believe what just happened.’ But I was blessed that that was a scheduled flight, that I never got stranded. I’ve been lucky, and I’m even more blessed that I’ve been able to get back to work because Canada has been able to keep their numbers low.

But Season 2 of Jann was expected to run much earlier than it did, and we were all supposed to be at the Canadian Screen Awards together. I’d just gotten my dress when they cancelled the event. So the sad part, with these announcements, and [Season 3] being renewed, and the premiere of the season, we haven’t been able to be together in person to celebrate the achievements as a cast together. I can’t wait to get back at it.

You have a background in the music industry. Did you base Cale on any managers you’ve met?
EJ: I didn’t base her off anyone. I channeled her from myself I guess, that power, the laser-focus, the going after it, and the knowing how to get there. And so much of it is fearlessness. She doesn’t care what people think about her. She doesn’t care if people judge her. She doesn’t need to be nice to anyone, but she knows how to get what she wants. I think that’s just a really powerful thing that I think every woman has. So to get to play Cale, I get to channel that. It’s a bit freeing and fun. 

In Season 1, Cale stole Jann  from Todd because she thought it would be easy to revive her career. But in Season 2, she’s found out what a challenge Jann can be. What can you tell me about their relationship this season?
EJ: I think from the very first time you see Cale in the Season 2 premiere, when she pulls that curtain back and tells Jann’s mom to stop texting, she’s an absolute mess. Like her hair’s a mess—I mean, she still has her bun in, but it’s a frizzy—you can tell right away that Jann is breaking her down, and it’s a lot more difficult than what she was expecting. When you meet her in Season 1 and she’s representing Feist, I think she’s just used to people doing what she says. And with Jann, there’s just been this clash of heads throughout this season, of Cale trying to get Jann to do things she doesn’t want to do. But I put her through the ringer. It would be hard for me to think if my manager did some of the stuff Cale did. I don’t know if I could handle that. Like the balls in the avatar episode, I’m just like, ‘Cale, what are you doing?’ It’s really hilarious.

Speaking of the ‘Covered in Balls’ episode, is it hard to keep a straight face when Jann Arden is doing things like rolling around in a motion capture suit?
EJ: There’s something that does come over me when I’m Cale that I won’t break, and they actually noticed that in my audition. I auditioned with Jann and with Jason Blicker, who plays Todd. Jason was doing some ad-libs, and I was just staring at him and I would not break. And I remember the table was like, ‘How is Elena not breaking?’ I was just Cale, and I will always be unimpressed with Todd, that will never change. So there is some of it where I’m just Cale and I will not break, but then sometimes you have those days. When we filmed the finale, at the Tunie Awards, that was an 18-hour day. It was a long day, and sometimes you’re tired and Jann is going off and she won’t stop. I can hold it for so long, but then it’s when Jann keeps ad-libbing past when you think someone would stop and you’re like ‘Oh, my God, they’re not calling cut.’ Then it’s like I’ll start to break and pray I don’t ruin the take. That’s happened a few times in Season 2. But you can’t blame me. I mean, it’s Jann. 

I love the rivalry between cool, calculating Cale and sweet, loyal Todd. What’s it like to work with Jason Blicker?
EJ: I love him so much. Honestly, when I got the part, my next thought was, ‘I hope that Jason Blicker got Todd.’ I remember being in Calgary for the first read-through, and I saw him turn the corner, and I was like, ‘I’m so happy it’s you.’ Because in our call-back, there was just this great chemistry we had, and it’s so easy and so fun. I love all of our scenes together.

It’s such a great relationship, too, the power dynamic. I love how in Season 2, you see him kind of get to Cale. Whereas before, she was kind of like, ‘Ugh, I’m not threatened by you, old little man.’ But then he starts getting to her. He can kind of crack her open a little bit, and you see maybe a little bit of insecurity come out.

In last week’s episode, Cale found out that Jann had been secretly seeking Todd’s advice.  Can you give us any hints about how that revelation will play out in the finale?
EJ: There’s definitely a clash between Jann and Cale, and something will happen in the finale.

Oh, that sounds cryptic. Is that all you can say?
EJ: Something will happen. 

What was your favourite episode of the season?
EJ: I really loved the episode ‘Covered In Balls.’ The ball gag and the avatar and the scenes that I had with Todd, the one long take that we did walking through the entire studio. You kind of see that shift in our relationship, where she asks him for help. I also really loved the one where k.d. lang makes a guest appearance, because obviously k.d. lang, but I also love that you got to see Jann play a song and sing. You’re reminded that in all the craziness and the mess and how horrible she is to her family, that at the core of it, Jann the character is an artist that has a real talent that touches people through music. I really loved that moment, and also, Cale got a one-on-one concert and Jann sang a line for her. That face when I’m watching her, that was a real face, it was me listening to Jann sing, because in real life, gosh, she’s got a talent. But with Cale, a manager cares about a client because they believe in their talent. So even in that moment, you see that Cale does see Jann’s talent and understands that. 

Schitt’s Creek, which you guest-starred in during its last season, became an international hit after Netflix started streaming it, and it was just announced that Hulu will soon be streaming Jann in the U.S. How excited are you that another great Canadian comedy is going to get a wider audience?
EJ: I’m absolutely thrilled. This is such an exciting time for Canadian comedy, and watching Schitt’s Creek sweep the Emmys, it was a win for all of us. We all shared that. It was an absolute honour to be on their very last season, to make it in and to be in such a pivotal episode as well, where my character got to play a hand in the fate of the family. It was such an honour to be a part of that and to witness the success it’s had.

They’ve been really amazing trailblazers to show that we’ve got amazing comedies up here. We’ve got incredible writers, actors, comedians, such great content is made here. [With Hulu], a wider audience will get to be exposed to Jann and, hopefully, share the laughs. I’m over the moon. 

Jann airs Monday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

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Jann co-creators Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier on the success of the show and writing Season 2

CTV’s sitcom Jann is an undeniable critical and ratings success. Its first season garnered rave reviews, millions of viewers, and a 2020 WGC Screenwriting Award for Best Comedy Series.

However, there was a time when the show’s co-creators and executive producers, Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier,  were unsure if the series—which stars singer-songwriter Jann Arden as a highly fictionalized version of herself—would work.

“It was a real act of faith at first,” says Harper, explaining that Arden “was very funny and very talented” but unproven as a comedic lead. There were also some concerns about the show’s unique blend of tones: part entertainment industry satire, part slapstick comedy, part family dramedy.

“It’s not a comedy in the conventional way, it’s a little bit more cable, I think,” says Harper, who also acts as the series showrunner. “There’s a bit more of a blend of very silly comedy right up to, hopefully, poignant, dramatic moments. We’re trying to kind of have our cake and eat it, too.” 

Harper and Gauthier got their cake and more when CTV quickly greenlit the series for Seasons 2 and 3. But having a hit show creates new worries.

“You immediately put pressure on yourself,” Gauthier says. “Like, ‘Can we do it again in the second season?'”

The answer to that is a resounding yes. The first four episodes of Season 2 have provided some of the series’ funniest moments as chronically narcissistic Jann works to win back her family after ditching them to go on tour last season. Her hilarious quest has featured a wrestling match with Sarah McLachlan (who guest-starred in the first episode of the season), some bizarrely unconventional couple’s therapy with girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor), and a disastrous camping adventure with sister Max (Zoie Palmer) and mom Nora (Deborah Grover).

On Monday’s new episode, “Drop the Single,” Jann is in for more uncomfortable situations when Cale (Elena Juatco) pushes her to record an electronic dance track and she shares a talk show couch with a very unimpressed k.d. lang. The instalment also features some of the show’s patented family drama as Dave (Patrick Gilmore) brings the baby to visit his mom.

We recently chatted with Harper and Gauthier about their approach to writing the new season and what to expect in the show’s second half.

Season 2 has been excellent so far. Did you find it easier or harder to write than the first season? 
Jennica Harper: Easier. When we were breaking the stories for Season 2, I was just so excited because it became clear who the characters are and we had the casting. When we wrote those [Season 1] scripts, we hadn’t cast anybody yet, other than Jann, of course, and now that we know those actors and those characters, it was a lot more playful. 

Leah Gauthier: For sure. And as we watched [the actors] as we were making Season 1, we were like, ‘What are these characters naturally great at that we can pick up on in seasons following? Is this character really good at panicky situations? Has this person come up against Jann as a buddy or as an enemy? Where can we expand on what organically happened on its own and lean into it?’ Because the Charley character, she becomes sort of a social influencer in Season 2, and that was because we were watching Alexa [Rose Steele] in real life, and were thinking, ‘This woman is very interesting and her social media following is huge’. That’s the kind of thing that we sort of lean into and pull from real life, that’s kind of what we’re doing in these later seasons, and I feel it’s more fun to write. 

JH: Another example was with Nora, Jann’s mom, who’s played by Deb Grover. There are these moments where she’s kind of sassy, not just this sort of sad person going through her early stages of memory loss, and we loved that.

How does an episode of Jann begin in your writers’ room? 
JH:  We essentially develop a story arcs document for the season, and that’s something that Jann, Leah, and I do together. Traditionally, that would be the three of us going to Jann’s house in Calgary for a few days and just talking about the shape of the season, because it’s serialized, and what the theme is before we figure out what some individual funny story would be within that. For example, in Season 2 it was about whether Jann could make things up to the people she pissed off and also Cynthia and Jann giving it a go and her relationship with Cale, with Cale being someone who has a lot of ideas that Jann is uncomfortable with.

The three of us developed a road map for the season and some story ideas that could go with that and had them fleshed out. So when we get together with the rest of our writers, we’re presenting our thoughts for the whole season, ‘What do you think?’ Then we ask them to respond and help us refine that and start talking individual stories. That’s not necessarily typical on other shows. Sometimes you just show up and there’s a blank page and you kind of have to figure out one by one what the episodes are going to be. But we kind of come in with some of that work done, so that we can really be running when we have the writers together.

Where do you come up with some of the crazier situations that Jann gets herself into? 
JH: We pull from Jann’s personal stories for sure, anytime we’re chatting about something that kind of works. For some of the family storylines, we have more relatable stories [from our own lives] that apply. But there’s also a lot of what-ifs. You know, ‘What if Jann and Cynthia went to couple’s therapy and maybe this person isn’t even a therapist?’ There’s a lot of just pitching jokes and story ideas in the writers’ room. 

LG: Our writers’ room is a really comfortable space. Everyone feels really comfortable to pitch any idea, even if it’s crazy. Sometimes people will start with, ‘OK, this is a bad pitch, but what if Jann is hanging from her crotch on a barbed wire fence?’

And Jann is game for doing whatever. She understands that the physical comedy lands really well. She’s really helpful because no one is scared to say, ‘I was thinking we’d put you in boxer shorts and you drag garbage cans out the front’ because she’s not ever gonna shut it down. 

JH: She actually pitches it sometimes. She’s the one in the camping episode that really ran with the idea of having an emergency situation in the woods. She went all the way. She went, ‘What if I use a sock?’ That was in the script for a little while, and then we thought this is bizarre for even us. But I think the show works because she is fully committed to looking ridiculous. 

LG: And she’s such a good sport. In the last episode, when she’s on that inflatable pink couch, she was flipping around upside down and sideways on that thing, and she’d just had her gallbladder removed about 15 days before. That’s how committed she is to doing whatever it takes to make people laugh. She’s a true hero. 

Speaking of the inflatable pink couch, how much of the physical comedy is specifically scripted and how much of it is just finding funny situations that allow Jann Arden to be Jann Arden?
LG: For the pink inflatable chair thing, it was scripted that she was stuck in it and she couldn’t reach her pop and she knocks the pop over and says, ‘What a waste.’ But then she kept going, like flipping up and back. That was just her going for it. 

JH: We try to create the space, like you said, for her to run with it. And sometimes we realize later and add it. Like in Episode 3 with the fall out of the rickshaw, Charley pulls up outside the school and Jann is texting and she gets out and she falls, and it’s very funny. 

LG: That was her own stunt. We put a pillow underneath the black mulch, and then we [told her], ‘You’re good.’ 

JH: Yeah, ‘Just fall like you mean it!’

LG: And she did. 

I love Jann’s relationship with Cynthia. I’m a woman of a certain age, gay, and in a relationship, and it’s rare to see characters and humour representing my demographic.
JH: When we were recently talking about Season 3, Leah said how important it is that we feel we are writing a woman in her 50s and living her best life. I mean, obviously, Jann is not actually living her best life yet, but there’s sort of an aspirational quality to it. You know, we want to see women in relationships, we want to see women in sexuality. That’s really important to us and we feel it’s really underrepresented. I think people who haven’t watched the show maybe don’t know how progressive it is.

LG: We’re writing Season 3 now, and in one of our Zoom writing rooms, I said to everyone, ‘As we’re wrapping up our first drafts, can we look back at them with an eye for the moments where Jann can be very proud of herself. ‘ She’s a woman in her 50s that is not done. She’s not over, we haven’t forgotten about her, she’s still excited about stuff, she still gets to do really cool shit, the game’s not over. I want people to watch this and go, ‘I can still do lots of stuff. I have so many days ahead of me that I can do some great things.’ 

And Jann is so helpful in those rooms, too, because she’ll just tell us a story from her real life and we’ll just be like, ‘Got it. Hot flash, girlfriend, laying on the bathroom floor. Cool, it’s in the show!’ 

You’ve had great guest stars this season, including Sarah McLachlan, and in the next episode, k.d. lang. How was it to work with them?
JH: Intimidating. I was very excited, but there were definitely moments where I couldn’t believe this was happening.

LG: Jennica was freaking out. 

JH: I was, in my calm way, freaking out. No, it was very cool, and they were so different. Sarah was really like, ‘Let me do the silly stuff, I’m totally excited about this,’ and k.d. was more reserved, but I thought it was hysterical how she, just with her facial expressions, absolutely nailed the ‘I can’t, this woman is ridiculous,’ vibe. 

LG: She’s very cool and calm, that k.d. lang. She drove herself there and dressed herself, nailed it, and then drove home. 

What can you preview about the second half of the season?
JH: A big thing that’s ramping up is Jann and Cale’s adversarial business relationship. It’s going to really come to a head.

LH: I’m excited about [an episode where] the sisters go on a road trip. I really like the sister dynamic, so putting them in a car together and sending them off was really fun. That’s Episode 207, and I’m really looking forward to that. 

Can you tell me anything about Season 3?
JH: We plan to shoot after the new year, so a little later than normal. We’d normally be shooting now. We’ve already scripted the whole season, we’ve got drafts of the whole thing. We’re revising and punching them up a bit, but we have a story to tell, so we’re pretty excited. 

Jann airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

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