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, Sound On Sight and Digital Journal. 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.

Coroner: Roger Cross on McAvoy’s flaws and “rekindled” passion for the job

Roger Cross is no stranger to playing cops. Over his nearly 30-year career, he’s been cast as just about every type of police officer, detective and special agent imaginable. However, Detective Donovan McAvoy, his character on CBC’s Coroner, is a little bit different from the others.

“I think it’s his flaws [that set him apart],” says Cross. “You learn that he might have been married once or twice, and you learn that he kind of left his old neighbourhood. He tried helping, but, for him, it was like, ‘Well, some people don’t want the help. Why am I going to bash my head against a rock? I’ll leave it alone.’”

That situation was the focus of last week’s timely and poignant episode, “Confetti Heart,” in which coroner Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan) led an inquest into a questionable police shooting involving McAvoy’s community. According to Cross, the events of the episode “allow [McAvoy’s] path to confront him, and when that happens, he’s like, ‘OK, you know what? Maybe the fight is worth it.'”

We called Cross in Los Angeles to learn what this change of attitude might mean for McAvoy going forward and to find out what’s coming up for him in Monday’s new episode, “The Suburbs,” and beyond.

First of all, it looks like Coroner is doing very well in Canada and the UK. How does it feel to be involved in another hit?
Roger Cross: It feels great. You know, you do these things in a bubble, and you do your best and you hope for the best. And the only thing you can control is your intent and what you do on the day, and then you put it out to the people and you see how they respond. All and all, the executives on down, everyone kept watching the dailies as it came along, and they all kept saying great things, and you’re like, ‘OK, that’s good, but let’s see when it gets out there what people really think.’ And it’s lived up to it. It’s a bona fide hit, so it’s great. It’s very fulfilling.

Episode 6 was very timely as well as being politically and emotionally charged. How did you feel about it?
RC: It was a very touching story because it delved into a child getting killed. And wrong or right, good or bad, a child is dead, and how do we prevent these sorts of things from happening again in the future? 

I think it’s a story that needs to be told. It’s like the old cliché, if you bury your head in the sand, it’s not going to make the world go away. So pretending that there aren’t these bad cops out there is not going to make things go away. Yes, people have this ideal where they’d like to think that our cops are here as protectors and that they’re here to take care of us and they’re here to enforce the law, it’s for the people and all that sort of thing. But the reality is there are some bad cops out there and some people who should not have badges. Just like with anything, there are some people who, when they have power, whether it be at work or as cops and things like that, they abuse it. And those are the people we need to get rid of and allow the good people to do their job. Because the good cops don’t want these people in there. They would rather these cops be gone as well. They make them all look bad, and then people start painting them with the same brush.

A funny story, I did a police ride-along when I was in Calgary doing a movie. And this cop and I went out on this ride-along, and they were selling t-shirts to raise money to buy a helicopter. I wanted to buy one of the t-shirts, but I only had large bills on me, and he was like, ‘Oh, let’s just stop somewhere and grab some change.’ We go to this hotel, and I won’t say the name of the hotel, but it was a very fancy hotel. We pull up in front of the lobby, and this cop and I get out of the car, talking and laughing, and we walk into the lobby—and the whole place went quiet. It was silent. We walked to the counter and I asked them to break down a $100 bill for me, and they did. But when we left, the cop was like, ‘That was really weird.’ And I was like, ‘Yes, but sometimes there are people who think it’s weird to see a black guy and a police officer getting along and talking.’ It shocked everyone. It was literally like out of a movie how quiet this big, busy hotel lobby went.

And this [police officer] was honestly a great guy. We talked about family, we talked about everything and we were getting along, and he said, ‘You know, now when some of these guys give me the side-eye and a dirty look as I drive by, I’ll understand it a little more. But it doesn’t make it right.’ And it’s true. Both sides are angry at each other, both sides have those misconceptions of each other, and mistrust is the biggest thing. But we both have to come together and say, OK we both have faults, but it doesn’t make doing the wrong thing right. So I think the episode was very timely, and it could be a conversation starter.

The other thing McAvoy has been dealing with is Jenny’s decision to re-open all those old coroner cases. Why isn’t he onboard with that decision?
RC: Because, for him, there might have been one or two things that were messed up, there may have been one or two cases where they didn’t handle it properly, but by and large, it was handled very well. And so what’s she’s done now, as we see in Episode 5, is people like this murderer [Gerald Henry Jones], he’s got money and now his lawyer is like, ‘Well, now you’ve called everything into question. I want all these things thrown out.’ Without this forensic evidence, criminals are going to walk free, and she’s allowing this to happen without even knowing what she’s doing. He’s like, ‘OK, we missed a few things.’ Because these cops handle a lot of cases, so yes, one or two will fall by the wayside. But what’s she’s done is just open a can of worms. The genie is out of the bottle and it will not go back in.

Why is the thought of Gerald Henry Jones getting out of prison so scary?
RC: Because he’s a sociopath and feels he has a right to kill these people who he thinks are less than human, less desirable to be around. And a guy like that, who is very smart and was almost impossible to put away—we barely found enough evidence to get him convicted on this one murder, much less this other series of murders which we know he did but cannot prove—if the evidence gets thrown out, this man is going to walk the streets. And you know he’s going to do this again. He’s going to find a way to quell his desires if you will.

What can we look forward to seeing from McAvoy over the last two episodes of the season? 
RC: I think you’ll see a rekindling of that younger detective that, when he came there, wanted to set things right. His fire gets rekindled, the passion that he had. Because he was calling it in a little sometimes. Just like with anything else you do for a while, you look at a [crime] scene and go, ‘Oh, that was a murder,’ or ‘That was a hanging.’ You make judgments based on your experience, and you dig past the surface if something doesn’t look right, but you’re not looking too hard for that. Whereas, when you first [get on the job], you’re like, ‘Oh, we gotta do this, and we gotta break it down, and we have to go through everything in detail, and then we’ll find out what happened.’ And he’ll get a rekindling of that—but his personal life won’t get better yet.

What would you like to see happen with McAvoy if there is a Season 2?
RC: Maybe straighten out his personal life a little bit. 

You’ve been in so many good TV series over the years. If you could bring one show back and continue the story, which one would you choose?
RC: Oh, that’s a tough one. But, you know, I loved Continuum. From top to bottom, everyone we worked with, it was like a family atmosphere there. And the Travis Verta character, he had so much more to do. He was a character who could just continue to grow and find his humanity. At a point, we saw that he’d lost a lot of his life and he’s learned things, and that story had a lot more to tell. And even 24 would be a blast to do again. That show was great and had so much potential. But if I had to choose only one, I’d probably say Continuum.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Coroner: Tamara Podemski on Alison’s backstory and why landing the role was a “huge triumph” for her

Tamara Podemski has been an acclaimed multi-disciplinary performer for over 25 years, winning a Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Acting for the film Four Sheets to the Wind, appearing in the Broadway cast of Rent and guest-starring in such TV shows as The Rez, Heartland and Cracked. But, despite her impressive resumé, she still has trouble getting into the audition room. Or, at least, she has trouble when the part in question is not specifically Indigenous.

“I think I can count on one hand how many times I’ve played a non-ethnic specific role, where it wasn’t in the character breakdown, where it wasn’t a very culturally specific subject matter,” says Podemski, who is of Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi descent, “and this is one of those opportunities.”

“This,” of course, refers to her scene-stealing turn as Alison Trent on CBC’s hit drama series Coroner.  As Jenny Cooper’s (Serinda Swan) assistant, Alison is passionately professional, fiercely protective of the coroner’s office and a just little bit quirky. She also happens to be Indigenous—a fact the show does not belabour.

And that’s just fine with Podemski.

“It doesn’t mean that I don’t get to represent myself and my community,” she says. “It just means that I get to be who I am.”

To help us get ready for Monday’s new episode, “Confetti Heart,” we gave Podemski a call to learn more about Alison, her first TV writing gig on APTN’s Future History (which airs its Season 1 finale Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET), and why she believes becoming a performer saved her life.

You and your two sisters, Jennifer Podemski and Sarah Podemski, all went into the entertainment business. Why do you think you were all drawn to the industry?
Tamara Podemski: My sisters and I had a traumatic childhood which resulted in my mother leaving our father to raise three girls on his own. We were always singing and dancing around the house, but during those difficult years, the world of make-believe allowed us to process and express what we were going through in a profound way. My father took us to every class, audition and rehearsal and worked his ass off so we could have every opportunity to perform and train. He knew it was helping us cause we were thriving. I believe the arts saved my life and I think it saved my sisters, too.

It never ceases to amaze me, the more I hear of how other artists came into their performing voice or found their voice as a performer, when you hear the stories that this grew out of, there is this consistent yearning for a place to express and move all the stuff that’s inside them. And so, forever, my belief is that the arts heal, the arts empower, and the arts allow you to connect with others. Trauma tends to be a very isolating experience, so if you can have this other thing that allows you to come out of yourself, I think it’s kind of the perfect remedy.

What was your audition process like for Coroner?
TP: Luckily, I was able to go into the room to audition. That is a real rarity these days. We’re in a time of self-tapes, which means actors are in their own home putting an audition on tape or going to an audition facility. Some people love that because you’re less anxious and you get to control the environment a little bit more. Me, on the other hand, I prefer being in the room, I think I thrive when I’m in the room because I have people to bounce off of, and this was a very specific scenario where I think I was really able to show my take on this woman.

It did start out as a self-tape that I did in my bedroom with my husband and I remember the way that I interpreted her—and you don’t have much to go on, you certainly don’t have the director or writer to guide you—it was really just based on my interpretation. And so that quirky very passionate about her work, kind of socially awkward not reading social cues very well, that was all my original interpretation of who Alison Trent was. And I remember my husband saying, ‘Wow, you might want to bring that down a bit,’ because I let the biggest version of her come out. But at least they saw something in that tape that allowed me to come into the room.

I didn’t realize she was as funny, like, when the laughs started coming from how she was—and I only speak about her in the third person because I really feel like she’s so different from me. Usually, I feel closer to some of my characters, but Alison is a force. I follow her. I don’t really tell her what to do or how to be. So in the room, we just had so much fun, and then the best thing is they asked me to do an improv with Serinda of coming to work on my first day and explaining to her what she needs to do to basically operate as the coroner on that first day of work, and I went off. And I feel like whatever I found in that moment was Alison from there on.

Alison is in M.R. Hall’s Coroner books. Did you check those out before filming?
TP: I didn’t read the book because I’d known that Alison is very different in the book, and when I heard that they’d really taken her and went in a different direction, I didn’t feel like that would inform what I was doing. I think if they were trying to bring that character to the screen and honour what that original idea was, I would’ve felt more inclined to do that. But, to me, it sounded like we were creating something new for her.

Also, I do have to say that it was not a culturally or ethnically specific role when I went in for it. The majority of my roles are Native women, and so—even though I knew that we weren’t going to touch on those storylines, or from what I’d read that far—I knew that I was bringing a storyline and a background that wouldn’t be in the books from the UK. So I had to come up with a backstory that really was from scratch. I needed to be informed through an Indigenous lens of why a woman would work in the coroner’s office, of what in her life led her to take that path of justice-seeking, of speaking for the dead. We’re just at a time of these really pivotal moments by coroners, by judges, these court rulings that either bring justice for families, or they don’t. And you can see the public uprising in response to these really critical decisions that are being made. So I felt like, OK, there’s a lot of stuff there that I can use for Alison, why she chose to work in a coroner’s office. And so that was another reason why I thought I need to place her in Toronto and place her as an Indigenous woman, and that wouldn’t have been in the books.

I take it that you’re speaking of the horrific history of murders and missing persons cases involving Indigenous women in Canada. 
TP: Yes.

Do you know if the series will address any of those stories in the future?
TP: I have no idea. But I know that it’s my responsibility to myself, to my community, to my character that I’ve created that she’s got to come from somewhere and she’s got to have a story. Somebody who chooses to work in justice and someone who chooses to be a public servant, there are certain paths that lead someone to that work. And when it is a highly controversial department to work in, when you know that it’s at odds with the people and the community that you represent, I think there are rich and great opportunities to delve into that. If we get a second season, that would be a great opportunity.

Showrunner Morwyn Brebner and executive producer/lead director Adrienne Mitchell have stated that they really wanted to accurately represent Toronto by having a diverse cast and writer’s room. How do you think the rest of Canadian TV is doing with that right now? 
TP: There are a couple of parts to the current climate of diversity onscreen. One is that, yeah, Canadian television is certainly more diverse. I do feel like 25 years ago, though, we had a lot of diversity on television. When we did The Rez, that was an entire Native cast on television, and North of 60 was an entire Native cast on television. It’s been a long time that I’ve been doing this, and it’s the same network, and I guess what I feel that I still have to fight for is, can I get into the room if it’s not a Native character?

So that’s why this job was a huge triumph for me as an ethnic actor—as casting breakdowns say, ‘All ethnicities welcome.’ I am still celebrating every time that I get to go into the room where I get to be the actor with 25 years experience, where I get to represent myself as a woman in the world, where I’m not like a quota checklist. So, that’s why this really stands out. I think I can count on one hand how many times I’ve played a non-ethnic specific role, where it wasn’t in the character breakdown, where it wasn’t a very culturally specific subject matter, and this is one of those opportunities.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t get to represent myself and my community. It just means that I get to be who I am. And that’s just a more realistic picture of who we are, especially as urban Indigenous people. We’re all around. We’re amongst you. 

We got to learn a bit more about Alison in Episode 5 when she was invited to Jenny’s for Thanksgiving. We learned she loves to bake and that she’s having her baby on her own.  Are we going to learn a lot more about her personal life this season?
TP: Yes, we’re going to learn more about her. I like how slowly we are let into her world because I think that that is part of her protection. If you think about her and Jenny, they just met four episodes earlier, and so trust has had to build up in that time, and they certainly have developed a working relationship that has been very respectful and beneficial and supportive, and now we see Alison letting her in a little bit. It’s not that she’s necessarily private, but it seems, for instance, when she meets Sabina [Jeananne Goosen], who is close with Jenny, you just see what happens when Alison feels safe and feels welcome and feels included. She feels very surprised by the [Thanksgiving dinner] invitation. Work is a place of duty and responsibility, she takes her job very seriously, so when it crosses into her personal world, she’s maybe slightly too enthusiastic about it. But I think it’s because she really does have a huge heart, I think it’s very indicative of where she’s at in her life, wanting to have a family of her own, and yet not really having the life that fits the picture that we’re told is the way that we’re meant to make families. And so I really love what happens in Episode 5 where we get to see her in her personal world and why she makes some decisions, and what I love most is the confidence and the courage behind the decisions.

I definitely picked up a romantic vibe between Alison and Sabina, who was very quick to offer her a ride home when she said she wasn’t feeling well. Was I right?
TP: Yes! Its hard for me to talk about, because I know what was shot, and I know what we all knew, but it’s always very different how much is revealed to the viewer and what comes across. But if that did come across, that’s great. Because that’s where it was going.

What can you preview about Episode 6?
TP: We get a lot more time with Alison. There’s still great drama and some crazy mysteries that are happening, but Episode 6 does let us into Alison’s personal relationships. Mostly, we’ve seen Alison in the work mode, and what happens with this mid-season shift into these more personal interactions with everybody—just going into Jenny’s home and seeing the family and work people all intermingling—that is a shift. I think it’s a beautiful move into the deeper level of the interpersonal connections between everyone.

You are also working on the APTN documentary series Future History with your sister, Jennifer. How is that going? 
TP: We just finished Season 2, and Season 1 is on the air right now. We were actually writing Season 2 while we were shooting Coroner, so I had to set up my trailer like a little production office and in between scenes, I would go and work on that. It wasn’t the most fun. It made for a very challenging time, but it’s been one of my favourite and most challenging jobs to write this documentary series. It has been a source of inspiration because I get to find and interview the participants that we feature on the show. Each episode has three what we call Rematriation Warriors, people who are reclaiming their Indigeneity, and through language, through policy, they are shifting the colonial narrative in Canada. So interviewing these people is pretty life-changing, to get the one-on-one experience. These are very difficult people to get on the phone, so I feel very blessed to have been the writer of this show. My sister did take a chance on me by giving me my first television writing gig. Thankfully, I delivered, so she brought me back for Season 2.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Coroner: Ehren Kassam on his beard, the butterfly stroke and working with Serinda Swan

A beard almost stood in the way of Ehren Kassam landing the role of Jenny Cooper’s (Serinda Swan) son Ross on CBC’s crime drama Coroner. You see, Kassam is 21, and Ross was originally supposed to be 16.

“They were just a little skeptical about choosing me because I was a little bit older than the character they were going for,” says Kassam. “And they did want to cast it authentic.”

But, despite his status as a legal adult, he was called in for a  chemistry test with Swan and the results upended any reservations the show’s producers may have had.

“Serinda and I really clicked instantly, and Adrienne [Mitchell] the director, was there, too. We all sat and talked for like 15 minutes, and it was really just this natural, electric feeling, and we were all sort of like, ‘Shit, this is really going to be cool.'”

In the end, Ross’ age was inched up to 17 to accommodate Kassam’s scruff, and the former Degrassi: Next Class star was handed the part, which, he says, led to the “best filming experience of my life.”

Ahead of this Monday’s new Thanksgiving-themed episode, “All’s Well,” we gave Kassam a call to learn more about what makes Ross tick and what will be coming up for him in the second half of the season.

You said you had an ‘electric’ chemistry test with Serinda Swan. What was it like working with her throughout Season 1?
Ehren Kassam: I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better partner because she was the most focused actor I’ve ever worked with for sure. She knew exactly what was going on in every character’s head in every scene, and it was so cool and so inspiring to see that because she does take it as seriously as possible, and I really, really respected that. And we just really clicked. I don’t know how else to describe it. We really got along well. We were always joking around and had this really nice chemistry and really nice balance, and we could always sit and have an actual conversation and talk about the scene before doing them.

We would always sit down with [showrunner] Morwyn [Brebner] and Adrienne and sort of discuss wherever we wanted the scene to go, and it was kind of a new experience for me as well because, as a younger actor, you’re sort of used to just being kind of told what to do, and you’re not really given the liberty to experiment as much as you might want and as much as you might think, at least for Canadian network TV, where most of my experience has been. You kind of just get told, ‘This is your character, you’re the heartthrob teenager and play that as much as you can.’ So this was kind of cool because we really got to sit down and experiment with things and try out different things. And I never felt rushed, and I can safely say that it was the best filming experience of my life.

I was going to ask how being on Coroner compared with some of the other shows you’ve been on, such as Degrassi.
EK: Degrassi, don’t get me wrong, was fantastic and I met a lot of people who I’ll call best friends for a long time. It could have been that my character on Degrassi, I really was just the boyfriend to three different storylines for four years. So it was a great experience and a lot of fun, but I didn’t get that experimentation, getting to sort of try out things at my liberty, maybe because the scenes were never really about me then. So it’s interesting when you then switch to a show that has scenes that are focused on you and relying on you, that you are given the liberty to experiment at your will.

But there are pros and cons to both. I was definitely more stressed being on Coroner than I was on Degrassi. Because when I walked on the set of Degrassi, I always knew what I was doing for sure, and it was almost down to a science. Where on Coroner, I would walk in and I would have no idea where the scene would go. So it was definitely an interesting experience.

I understand that you had to learn to swim the butterfly stroke to play Ross.
EK: Yeah, within the first couple of months of casting, there was a little back and forth about, ‘Can you swim?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I can’t do a competitive level stroke, but I can swim.’ So I ended up booking it, and they said they wanted me to learn how to do the butterfly stroke, and I said I could hopefully learn that, which was me confidently, casually saying that I could learn something that I knew nothing about. Because looking back, I definitely had no business doing that stroke. But I did learn it, and I actually went to the woman who taught me how to swim when I was a little kid. I went back to my hometown a couple times a week and had an hour-long lesson, and then I learned I had to get a full-body wax.

Oh, my. How did that go?
EK: I laid there for three hours, and it was not fun. I thought it might have been blown out of proportion, it can’t be that bad to undergo it. For maybe the first 45 minutes, I thought, ‘Oh, this isn’t so bad.’ And then the next hour and a half, I remember being actually angry just wanting it to be over so bad. And then I thought she was done, and she said, ‘Now we have to do your other side.’ I was so upset. But I shouldn’t have to do it again, because I’m pretty sure Ross has quit the swim team forever.

Yes, Ross has been really struggling with his dad’s death, particularly after finding out that he gambled the family’s money away. Are things going to improve for him as the season progresses?
EK: One of my favourite things about the character was the opportunity to portray a real mental illness at that age. He had to go through so much and then he decides he’s going to quit school and you see that scene with Matteo in Episode 3, where Matteo is like, ‘When are you going to come back? I can’t bring your homework forever.’ And that’s a very clear indication that kids that age aren’t used to actually dealing with mental illness and knowing how to deal with somebody who is going through that. Because Matteo is like, ‘What do you mean? Why don’t you wanna come back?’ And Ross can’t even explain why he doesn’t want to come back. How do you put that into words? So that’s definitely a big scene that ends up playing out, and the way he then finds out how to deal with that—like meeting Liam in Episode 4 and deciding to work on the bridge with him—that’s a nice way that he ends up being able to cope with it. But that’s not the end of the unfortunate things that do happen to him, so he definitely also finds ways to deal with it that may be less orthodox.

When you say mental illness, do you mean Ross is suffering from depression, or is there something more going on with him?
EK: It’s primarily depression and a lot of anxiety that he goes through. The depression stems from the actual things that are happening to him, and then he develops this fear and overall anxiety about going to school and leaving the house. At the end of Episode 2 when he’s crying about how he can’t go back, that’s a real feeling of a simple task, which is going to school, and just not being able to do it.

It seems that hanging out with Liam is helping him a lot. What is it about Liam that he’s drawn to?
EK: It’s actually funny because in the read-through, the first scene where he goes to meet Liam in the woods, I think it was originally written as Liam was outside his house doing chin-ups shirtless and Ross walked in on him. And, the way the scene was written, a bunch of us really got the vibe that they were going to have a love triangle between Ross, his mom and Liam, and that wasn’t what happened at all. Éric Bruneau actually suggested that maybe he isn’t shirtlessly doing chin-ups because it just kind of gave a weird intimation to the scene that probably didn’t need to be there.

But I think in Liam, he finds that he doesn’t have to just go through the motions, he doesn’t have to go to school, he doesn’t have to swim if that’s not going to be working for him anymore and if that’s affecting his mental health. And he finds this really nice way to do this co-op with Liam and I think it helps him heal a lot. And I hesitate to say that it may have even given him an older male role model in his life that he might have been specifically craving at that moment because of his dad.

We only got to see Ross’ dad, David, in one scene before he died, but from just that one scene, it appeared that he was very hard on Ross. Is that the backstory in your head?
EK: A lot of the sadness that comes from Ross is the fact that he and his dad didn’t have a great relationship, is the read that I got. He wasn’t a mean and awful father, but he was definitely a stern, very focused, very strict father. And that opens up to a lot of feelings that he might want to talk about, like, ‘Hey, why are you being so hard on me?’ And then his dad just dies. And that’s interesting to me because when someone dies and you’re mad at them, or when somebody dies and maybe you’re not on the best terms with them. it’s a really hard thing to deal with because, as sad as you that they’re gone, obviously, those feelings that you had aren’t not real or not valid because the other person is gone. You’re still allowed to be angry at the person for the way that they treated you.

He had very real feelings of embarrassment and fear toward his father because his dad put so much pressure on him to be the best swim team member, and his dad was a surgeon and he really wanted Ross to follow in his footsteps, so there’s a lot of that and a lot of unspoken feelings that Ross is definitely feeling about his father. And it’s sad because he won’t ever get the closure that he wants. He can’t talk to his dad, he can’t have that conversation.

Ross and Matteo are very sweet. Will we be seeing more of them?
EK: Not as much as I wanted you to see. You do see him in a few really important moments to Ross, but you don’t get to see as much of the Ross and Matteo and Jenny hanging out and eating pizza kind of stuff. That scene was super cute and I really wanted to see more of that. But we do get a lot more plot development with Matteo and Ross, in terms of things happening to Ross, and Matteo is there helping him understand and cope with it.

Do you have a favourite episode or moment from Season 1?
EK: Honestly, the end of Episode 2 was probably the scene I was looking forward to the most, and then there’s another one in Episode 5 when we have Thanksgiving. Overall, I’m excited for people to see the relationship between Ross and Jenny grow and a lot more scenes with Nicholas Campbell, because he is a great grandfather and he is loads of fun to work with. He comes back in Episode 5, so you do get a lot more of him. I find that our scenes are so electric, and we have so much fun on camera together.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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AMI’s Mind Set Go inspires Canadians to transform their minds and bodies

I truly relate to the participants of AMI-tv’s documentary series, Mind Set Go, which kicks off its second season on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET. I’ve struggled with my weight for most of my life and have had to deal with the mental blocks that kept me from achieving my health and fitness goals. Over the past few years, I changed my focus from short-term fixes to a long-term wellness plan, and I’ve lost around 50 pounds. Despite that success, it’s still a daily challenge, and I often have days when I have to battle negative thoughts.

As it so happens, overcoming negative thoughts is the entire point of Mind Set Go, which follows the journeys of eight overweight Canadians as they attempt to change their lives for the healthier.

Para-athlete Pamela LeJean helps Mind Set Go participant Danielle on her fitness journey.

“It’s all about the brain, and it’s all about your mindset,” supervising producer Sophie Morgadinho explains during a phone interview from Toronto. “It’s not like a diet. It’s stopping the behaviours that are causing you to be unhealthy, and it really starts with changing the way you think about yourself and what you’re doing every day.”

Helping the show’s participants to transform their outlooks and bodies are fitness and health experts Julie and Lowell Taylor (The Amazing Race Canada) and a group of Canadian Paralympians. One of those Paralympians is Para Hall of Famer and retired para-alpine skier Karolina Wisniewska, who says she was thrilled to take part in the series.

“I think the thing that appealed to me most of all was this opportunity to be in a position to kind of inspire or help someone based on the things I learned as a high-performance athlete,” she says. “And on another maybe more personal level, I retired from alpine skiing in 2011 due to a concussion, and after my retirement, I too had struggled with maintaining my fitness. So I could really relate to what maybe some of these participants on the show were experiencing themselves.”

Each expanded, one-hour episode of the show follows a participant as he or she attempts to get fit and triumph over some of the mental hurdles that have tripped them up in the past. For self-professed “sugar addict” Dana, who is featured in the season premiere and paired with Paralympian powerlifter Ness Murby, that means confronting the grief she tried to suppress with food after her father died. For formerly fit Darryl, who is featured in the sixth episode and paired with Wisniewska, that means coming to grips with a degenerative hearing condition that left him profoundly deaf.

“My strong feeling with Daryl was that he just really needed somebody to bounce ideas off of and to talk him through it and to kind of think about what was resonating with him,” says Wisniewska. “The second aspect, I think, is that he did need a bit of a kick in the butt.”

Para Hall of Famer and former para-alpine skier Karolina Wisniewska.

Wisniewska was more than happy to provide that kick. While she says her history of concussions makes her very empathetic towards those who are facing adversity, being born with cerebral palsy makes her want to push able-bodied people to meet their full fitness potential.

“I’m someone who was born with a disability, and I’ve never understood able-bodied people who take their bodies for granted,” she says. “So that’s where my competitive athlete side comes out, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my god. Stop making excuses. You have no excuse, just do it.'”

At the beginning of their journeys, Dana, Darryl and the other participants all choose a physical challenge to complete at the end of their three-month transformations. These challenges, which include a mountain climb and a long-distance bike ride, are designed to provide a measuring stick for the physical and mental progress each person has made. While the Taylors and the Paralympians are a key part of the process, in the end, the participants have to look inside themselves for the inspiration they need to succeed–a situation Wisneiwska is very familiar with.

“At the end of the day, in ski racing, you’re at the top of the hill, you have to kick out of the start gate, and you have to race that race,” she says. “Nobody else is going to do it.”

According to Morgadinho, watching people overcome their mental demons and achieve their health goals was a motivating experience for everyone involved with the series.

“Working on the show, I have to tell you, it’s been really inspiring because I see people make transformations in their lives,” she says. “And it’s not like Biggest Loser. You’re not going to see someone come back 100 pounds lighter. It’s not about that. But you see a difference in their confidence and their happiness, and they’re healthier, they look better.”

She continues, “For me, it’s very inspiring to look at the things that I can change and go, ‘I know I’m in control of this. I have to change how I look at the problem and how I look at the solution.’ I hope that viewers are also inspired to make positive, healthy changes.”

Upcoming episodes of the series feature Canadian Paralympians  Michelle Stilwell, David Willsie, Ina Forrest, Pamela LeJean, Shawna Ryan and Andrew Haley.

Mind Set Go airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on AMI-tv.

Images courtesy of AMI.

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Coroner: Serinda Swan on destigmatizing Jenny’s anxiety and what’s coming in the second half of the season

There is a moment in the next episode of Coroner where Jenny Cooper, played by Serinda Swan, suffers a panic attack while working a crime scene. She ducks into an alleyway and tries to talk herself down, all the while struggling to breathe. From first constricted intake of breath to last grounding exhale, the scene takes up nearly two minutes of air time—time that many other crime procedurals would dedicate to dead bodies and case solving.

But Coroner is not like other shows, and that is partly due to series lead Swan. Given wide creative leeway by series showrunner Morwyn Brebner and executive producer/lead director Adrienne Mitchell, the West Vancouver native immerses herself in Cooper’s quirks and coping mechanisms, letting instinct meld with copious mental health research to create unexpected beats of truth in each episode. The extended panic attack in Monday’s new instalment, “Quick or Dead”—the conclusion of an involving two-part hunt for a serial killer—is a perfect example of her process.

“I know we only have a certain amount of time in the show,” Swan says, “but I can’t shorten the panic attack to make it work for television, because that doesn’t represent people who have panic attacks. Most people’s panic attacks average between two and a half to three minutes, depending on the severity. And so I was like, ‘That’s what’s going to happen.'”

Swan gave us a call following her recent appearance at CBC’s Superfun Superfan Weekend in Toronto to tell us about developing Jenny’s emotional landscape, ending the stigma of mental health issues, and what’s coming up in the second half of the season.

I recently spoke with Morwyn Brebner and Adrienne Mitchell about adapting Coroner from M.R. Hall’s novels, and they told me that they loved how real Jenny’s character is. Is that also what drew you in?
Serinda Swan: I think it was. I think it was that possibility of really showing a human’s experience. I think Morwyn has such an incredible capacity to write that and also leave the space for an actor to fill it. She has a beautiful capacity to collaborate as well. So when we got together, it was figuring out what I would come up with and what Morwyn would come up with, and I remember there was sort of a beautiful passing of the character from Morwyn to me, where she was like, ‘She’s yours now, and you get to incubate her and hold on to her and develop her.’

So I did a lot of work to make her as real as possible, and there were days on set where I was like, ‘The blocking doesn’t feel right to me, it doesn’t feel natural. I feel like I need to go over here.’ And it wasn’t for any other reason than I actually felt that I needed to go over there. And it was really grounding her as best as possible in every single choice that she made so that I could show up and, as soon as they yelled action, I was fully Jenny. It was an incredible experience because everybody supported that.

What sort of things did you add to her character?
SS: Everything from her ticks to the way her trauma shows up, her anxiety. She starts to feel anxiety, but that can be as small as your heartbeat raising, or it showing up on your face, or having a twitch, or breaking out in a sweat, or crying. It can be a multitude of things, so figuring out how to show that. But one of the biggest things was showing the imbalance in her life. Everything in her life when she was with [her now-deceased husband] David was very balanced and very controlled. She was very Type A, and as soon as the things that controlled her and held her together start disappearing, like the husband, like the job, like the money, like the house, you start to see her off-balance and you see her out of control.

And so, what does that look like? It’s everything from me not telling Éric [Bruneau] in the scene where Liam walks around the corner and asks her for a beer that I’m going to be slumped over and leaning against a wall, you know, kind of making fun of myself. Because he’s supposed to walk around the corner, and I’m supposed to be standing there and he goes, ‘Hey, do you wanna get a beer?’ And it’s watching his natural reaction to me doing something personal and embarrassing and how that makes the two of them react and how that deepens their relationship right off the bat. Because he likes that she’s weird. It’s little things, like ‘I’m going to lie down in this part.’ And [the cast and crew are] like, ‘What?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to lie down in this part.’ So there were little things that I would do to make her feel more real.

Mental health issues are heavily featured in the show. Jenny sees a therapist, she suffers from anxiety, and she keeps seeing that black dog. What was your approach to understanding that side of her?
SS: I’m sure we all have times where we have mental illness. Whether it’s like a common cold that comes and goes, or more like a disease that stays with you your entire life, we all have bouts of it, we all struggle with it, we’ve all been infected with it. And it can be as simple a regular cold, where you come in contact with the wrong person and they say the wrong thing, and they affect something in your life. It could be either an old memory or an old trauma or something that they have inflicted on you. And it’s so stigmatized, and it’s something that we hide and we’re ashamed of, and it shouldn’t be that way anymore.

Jenny takes pills, Jenny also goes to a psychiatrist, and Jenny also cries in her car. But Jenny is also a super strong female that is fighting for the truth and is better at her job than most of the men that have been there for many, many years—and she’s having panic attacks on the floors. She’s just human. She’s a human being in all of those experiences, and there’s no judgment on it. It’s watching something that could happen to you and seeing how she goes through it. Just because she takes Ativan and drugs to help, doesn’t mean she’s a drug addict, it doesn’t mean she’s going to spiral down into the opioid crisis. Just because she she sees a shrink doesn’t mean she’s crazy. It’s kind of pushing into all of these stigmas and figuring out who she is and letting her figure it out as well as the audience.

Jenny saw the black dog again in Episode 3. What does that mean?
SS: The dog is an integral part of the story, and, seeing how it shows up in the very first scene [of the series], it makes you think it will probably show up near the end as well. The dog leads her to her own personal trauma, and as you get to the end of Episode 4, you start to realize that there’s a lot more going on with her than you or she can see. The dog is a portal into her own trauma, and as she’s searching for answers in her world, and she’s also searching for them in herself.

Jenny has an extended panic attack in Episode 4. What was your preparation like for that scene?
SS: I did a lot of research on it. There’s a young man on YouTube that actually caught one of his panic attacks on camera, and he actually posted it to show what it would look like. And there are several other people you can watch who have filmed and shared what a panic attack looks like for them, and it’s really good that they’ve shared that. At the end of the season, [Jenny] really comes face to face with her panic and tries to figure out where it’s coming from, and again, without judging it. Sometimes you see her fight it, and sometimes you see her take a drug to try and stop it. Other times you see her lie down on the floor and let it pass through her. So, it’s really just a really honest journey about what it’s like to live with trauma and anxiety.

And it’s not the be all, end all, but it’s one of the first times I’ve seen anxiety represented in that way. And I really wanted to make sure that we did it in a very non-judgmental way, that we didn’t put a stigma on it, but that we also didn’t make her somebody who’s, like, so strong that she’s getting through it on her own. It’s a beautiful look at what she’s experiencing. So, yeah, I did a lot of research. I talked to friends who have anxiety, and I’ve also had lots of anxiety in my life. So I reached in and figured out my own shit as well.

I know we only have a certain amount of time in the show, but I can’t shorten the panic attack to make it work for television, because that doesn’t represent people who have panic attacks. Most people’s panic attacks average between two and a half to three minutes, depending on the severity. And so, I was like, ‘That’s what’s going to happen.’ I mean, you can edit it to show the time cut, but I can’t shorten it. Because that’s not true. So when I talked to Morwyn and Adrienne about it, they really gave me the space to do that.

One of my favourite relationships on the show is the one between Jenny and her son, Ross (Ehren Kassam). I like the dynamic where she supports him sometimes and then he supports her. They lean on each other. 
SS: I’d say, from the get-go, their relationship was one of the most important things for me coming into the show. I had to do chemistry reads for two people coming into the show—one being for Liam, and one being for Ross—because it was really important that we had the right chemistry and also the right idea of these characters and who they could be. And Ehren, from Day 1, just let me smush his face and, like, lick my finger and wipe his face and play with his hair and [treat him] like a kid. He allowed me to step into that mother role. So that scene at the end of the second episode, where we have a fight? If that wasn’t set up properly, it could almost look abusive because it’s a young male swiping at his mother. But when you understand the love that’s there, you see that it’s a small child having a tantrum. And these are things that some networks don’t take risks on because it doesn’t look right. But just because it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t mean that it’s not real. And it’s our responsibility as actors to make sure we set the stage so that people understand that this is real and this is part of life. And Ehren was right there with me. I was like, ‘Hey, can you try this? Let’s try having a tantrum and see what that looks like.’ So it was really amazing being able to work with him and develop that relationship, and I love how it grows over the season.

It’s really amazing because there’s a duality between the young son who’s lost his father, that’s angry at his mother and with the whole situation of being uprooted from his school and his house and all of that, and then there is a side of him where they’re so co-dependent. Because she was 19 when she had him. It was a kid having a kid.  So there’s this co-dependency because they both grew up together. We really see how the husband, David, was the glue that held it all together as the mature adult. And then, throughout the season, you start to sometimes see Ross as the parent and she’s the kid, and sometimes she’s the parent and he’s the kid. And you see them struggle and succeed to redefine their relationship.

Over the last couple of episodes, Ross is also developing a friendship with Liam. And, of course, Jenny and Liam are building a romantic relationship. What role is Liam going to play in their lives the rest of the season? 
SS: Everybody seems to like Liam! It’s a wonderful kind of relationship between Liam and Ross. We get to see Ross grow in a way that he hasn’t before. He hasn’t been around a man like that, and we get to see Liam really care about Ross as the season goes on, which is also confusing because Liam and Jenny’s relationship really starts to develop. It’s hard because they’re both wounded. You start to see him, as the season goes on, start to deal with some PTSD and dealing with what that looks like, and how he’s not ready to be in a relationship and [Jenny’s] not ready to be in a relationship. It’s two people who are kind of coming together at the wrong time but have such a fierce attraction to each other. And it’s not just physical. There’s something about the two of them that just connects them, and they have to figure out how to make that work. It’s the most unideal time and situation.

Episode 4 is a big turning point for the season. What can viewers expect to see? 
SS: I think one of the final scenes in Episode 4 really give you an idea of what’s going to happen internally and externally over the next four episodes. She’s really admitting that she’s going to be diving deep into the truth that may have been missed in the cases and also the truth that might have been missed in her own life. She’s deciding that she’s no longer going to be David’s wife, the perfect woman, and no matter what this turns her into in her own eyes, she’s going to dig for her own truth. And no matter what it turns her into in other people’s eyes, she’s going to dig for the truth within these past cases.  And that leads to a very exciting last four episodes.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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