A few weeks ago, I ran an interview with Patrick Tarr. Our chat happened over a year ago, before he took over showrunning duties for Season 3 of Cardinal.
Now that the third cycle, “By the Time You Read This,” is in full flight, I wanted to reconnect not just to ask about what it was like to work with Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse, but why he decided to change some key plot points from Giles Blunt’s source material and his experiences working with director Daniel Grou.
First of all, congratulations on Season 3 of Cardinal. You captured the look and feel of the series while putting your unique mark on it. Have you watched a broadcast episode and, if so, what were your thoughts?
Patrick Tarr: Thanks! When I was first approached about writing Cardinal, the first season wasn’t even finished. I watched episodes with temp score, no VFX, timecodes on the screen. But you still could see what it was, that there was something special in the characters and their world. A few months later, Noelle Carbone, Shannon Masters, Aaron Bala and I were in the writer’s room when the first season started airing. And suddenly it was a hit, it really seemed to resonate with viewers. So the pressure was on: don’t screw this up. I spent a lot of time in post-production of Season 3, I’ve seen these episodes so, so many times. And we all get to the point where we think and hope it’s good, but who knows? So finally seeing it on the air and getting to see that people are reacting positively is a huge relief. Now onto worrying about screwing up the next one.
You did change a few things from the book. In Crime Machine, Roman and Irena are decapitated. And, Noelle Carbone told me she had originally written it as the couple on a burial platform. Why did you decide to change that?
PT: When you get a couple of seasons into any series, you have to be careful about repeating things. There are things that might not feel repetitive in books but will feel much more so in a series, especially one that you can binge. So when we looked at Ray Northwind in Season 2 and the dismemberment in that terrifying shed of his, it seemed like we needed to find something different for our first victims. But of course, it had to be something visually creepy and filled with dread because it’s Cardinal. These are the kinds of conversations we have. We cycled through a few ideas and there was indeed a burial platform version, which I loved, but then that boat image hit and it felt so right. It also tied into stuff that comes out later in the season, both visually and thematically. It connected some dots for all of us. And the way that rising boat shot was executed by Daniel Grou, Dylan McLeod and the whole crew … I find it so grimly beautiful.
And, also, Mama is male in Crime Machine. Why change the character to female? I’m not complaining. I’m just wondering from a storytelling point of view.
PT: Before Sarah Dodd started writing Season 2, she and I got together at Sienna Films for a couple of days with a pile of the Giles Blunt books and talked about what Seasons 2 and 3 might be. There was some shifting around of material, and we also realized that Ray Northwind from Blackfly Season and ‘Papa’ from Crime Machine bore a few similarities to each other that weren’t glaring in the books, but definitely would be on television. The moment that the idea of ‘Mama’ arose, it was electric. I hadn’t ever seen this character before. That is always the most exciting feeling—I have not seen this before.
Rya Kihlstedt is fantastic as Mama. Did she audition and, if so, was there something she did in her audition that cemented she was perfect for the role?
PT: Early on one of our casting directors, Jon Comerford, sent an email with a link saying something like, ‘Hi this is Rya Khilstedt and she should be Mama but we need to move fast.’ So we all watched her reel and within five minutes it was ’YES!’ from everyone. It was instant—this was Mama. And then Rya came in with such energy and excitement to play this character. And on set, the relationship that Mama’s surrogate kids (Alex Ozerov, Sophia Lauchlin-Hirt, Nick Serino) had with her and with each other was very sweet. They bonded like a real family. Because their story runs separately to the main action for a while, we shot almost all their scenes in the space of a week or so, like its own little indie film.
The Jack/Mama relationship is an interesting one. Before she laid him down on the bed to strap him, it felt overtly sexual. Was that intentional?
PT: Yes, it was. That scene was pivotal, and it became a real challenge to find the right balance. It moved around in the editing a few times. Originally the scene played later after you’d already spent some time getting to know Mama, Jack, Lemur and Nikki. But making this Jack and Mama scene the very first scene of the episode was a bold choice that was like, ‘OK, here we go, meet the family.’ We had spent two episodes convincing the audience that Jack is a terrifying predator (which he is), only to reveal in the first scene of Episode 3 that he’s completely under someone else’s power.
It’s a big moment of character development for both Mama and Jack as you see that she knows exactly which buttons to press to make Jack do what she wants. Which is different from the way that she manipulates Lemur or Nikki. Even within that scene, she uses love and fear, intimacy and pain to keep Jack under her spell. In the book, Papa’s use of sex as a means of control is much more overt. And even though what we shot was pulled back some, I’m sure a lot of people are going to be uncomfortable watching it. I’m not looking forward to the phone call I’m gonna get from my mother on this one.
When I last spoke to you, we were in North Bay and your cycle hadn’t started filming. What was it like working with Billy and Karine?
PT: They have both internalized these characters so much. Their scenes together have all this tension, but it’s not tension borne out of traditional conflict. It’s a deeper thing, I think. They’re both a little afraid of each other, or of what they mean to each other. And as actors, they are both so driven to do more with less. It’s a lot of work, the way that they use looks and silences to convey emotional moments rather than to find pauses between them. Sometimes Billy would come up and ask if I thought he needed to say a certain line and I learned immediately to trust those instincts. It was always better without the line. And Karine finds these emotional beats within beats. The way that she plays Delorme, every scene is really telling a story about her.
I know Podz from his directing of 19-2. What does he bring to the table as a director and what do you learn from someone like him?
PT: The writer/director relationship on Cardinal is not like on other shows I’ve worked on. Because Daniel directs the entire season, it really had to become a creative partnership. He knows his job and I know mine, but there is a lot of overlap between them. We got good at finding compromises and balancing what we each saw in the story along with what our producers at Sienna and our network saw in it. I trusted his instincts because I loved his work in the first season and I’d seen what he’d done with 19-2. What I really got from watching Daniel work is that his every directorial choice is motivated by emotion. Camera moves are emotional. Location choices, wardrobe, casting—it all comes from that place for him rather than what would look cool. The way he speaks to the actors, they can tell he’s put himself into the hearts of the characters and can engage with them about what they’re feeling. And I think that helps them feel trust and comfort and to find something true in what they’re doing in a scene.
I love that, this season, Lise has taken the lead and Cardinal is reporting to her. It has really refreshed that relationship for me, as a viewer. I’m assuming it was fun for you too.
PT: It was indeed. We kind of expected a bit of pushback on that, as suddenly the guy that the show is named after isn’t in charge anymore. But everyone was so into that new dynamic, and how it allowed the characters to go to places they hadn’t before. Cardinal is on this emotional journey and Delorme is taking up his slack and then some. They’ve been through the shit together and she has proven herself to him over and over. So when he starts to lose focus she’s right there calling him on it the way he called her out for digging into his past in Season 1. It also gave a new dynamic to Delorme’s relationship with Kristen Thompson’s Dyson character. Those two are each bearing silent burdens in this season, each of them trying to support someone through grief while struggling with issues of their own.
What can viewers expect from the rest of this season?
PT: Next week’s episode, written by Shannon Masters, is such a showcase for Karine Vanasse. She’s flipping from action scenes to big dramatic scenes, and she’s just so intense and incredible through all of it. You really feel the disappointment in Delorme that her partner is failing her and leaving her to deal with this huge, awful case alone. But even as she feels that she still sympathizes with him and has the patience for him. Moving into the end of the season, as things start to close in on John Cardinal, Billy Campbell will break your heart. Not to mention, we have Mama and her family headquartered at the remote cabin of Lloyd Kreeger (Tom Jackson). They are a volatile bunch. It’s a complicated season with multiple storylines and points of view, but it all comes together in the end. Things that didn’t seem like they would ever connect end up becoming hugely important. There are visual sequences that still take my breath away after multiple viewings. I really hope people will connect with it and want to come back to see what happens next.
Want to score the ultimate Cardinal contest? Visit CTV.ca to enter for a chance to win an on-set experience by watching the latest episode of Cardinal, Season 3, and visiting CTV.ca to submit your answer to the trivia question.
Cardinal airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.