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Preview: Little Dog gets back into the ring for Season 2

Life for Tommy “Little Dog” Ross isn’t getting any easier. In fact, it’s looking a lot tougher for him in Season 2. And, honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. That makes it all the more rewarding when he punches his way—literally or figuratively—out of a bad situation.

Returning for Season 2 this Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on CBC, Little Dog picks up moments after the Season 1 finale. Tommy “Little Dog” Ross (Joel Thomas Hynes) was on the run after winning his rematch with Rico “Havoc” St. George (Dwain Murphy). Why? Because that went against Tucker’s (Mary Walsh) wishes. The win also messed up Lowly’s (Stephen Oates) bet against his own brother. The result? Sylvia (Ger Ryan) lost her house.

When we catch up with Tommy, he’s in a bad way. Battered and bruised physically from the showdown with Rico and hurting emotionally thanks to his family turning against him, Tommy pedals into the night and seeks shelter in an old shack. Freezing and frustrated, he lashes out at a bird fluttering overhead and kills it. Shaken, Tommy adopts the now empty bird nest and its egg contents as his own. Finally, this is something he can control and care for and not even a bad canned spam will stop Tommy from mothering the eggs.

Show creator, executive producer Hynes and showrunner, executive producer Sherry White have created something truly special in Little Dog in general and Tommy more specifically. Hynes brings an incredible amount of hurt, longing and vulnerability to Tommy. It’s truly special. Amid the maelstrom of life in the Ross clan, he’s the sensitive centre, a guy who wants to be loved and cared for but gets dumped on at every turn. It doesn’t appear as though things will be getting any easier for Tommy. By the end of Thursday’s return, Tommy is introduced to the child he had with Pamela (Julia Chan), opening a new door for Tommy to stumble through: fatherhood.

I can’t wait to see how he handles that.

Little Dog airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.

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Shawn Doyle speaks of Unspeakable and some regrets playing Canada’s first prime minister

Unspeakable was, as the title suggests, once just that. The CBC miniseries delves into the tainted blood scandal in Canada that took place during the 1980s as the AIDS crisis was unfolding. A time when there was a misunderstanding in the disease, how it was spread and how some Canadians, as a result, were infected with Hepatitis C. It was something not talked about. Not anymore.

As I already covered in this previous story, writer Robert C. Cooper acquired Hepatitis C because of tainted blood. He turned his personal experience into the basis for Unspeakable, which tells the story from the perspective of two families caught in a tragedy that gripped Canada, as well as the doctors, nurses, corporations and bureaucracy responsible.

Shawn Doyle stars in Unspeakable as Ben Landry, a journalist. By the end of Episode 1, Ben and his wife, Alice (Camille Sullivan), learn of their son’s Hepatitis C diagnosis and realize it could have been prevented. That sends Ben on an investigative path to find out who is responsible. We spoke to Doyle about his most recent project and reached back into the past to talk about his portrayal of John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister.

Give me the background, Shawn. How did you end up finding out about Robert’s project in the first place, and what attracted you to it?
Shawn Doyle: Robert approached me about doing it, and he sent me the first few scripts, and then a couple outlines. I didn’t know a lot about the scandal other than the fact that my mother stood the risk of actually becoming infected because she had a number of transfusions in the early 80s. I read the script, and Robert had told me to look at the character, Ben, that I played. I actually originally was more attracted to the other character, Will, in so far as he was more volitional, you know?

I suppose on an unconscious level, there was a resistance within me about playing a character that ultimately is so paralyzed, feeling so impotent at the top of the series. Robert and I talked about it, and he kind of clarified why he thought I was appropriate for Ben. Ultimately, the result of that conversation and reading those scripts, I was just honoured to play the role because it felt like he was really entrusting me with kind of an awesome responsibility.

This project was personal for Robert. What about for you? You mentioned your mother.
SD: For me, it was really about dealing with the humanity of his relationships, the minute-to-minute experience of trying to reconcile himself with his wife and his son, and also trying to seek some direction in his life. In some ways, my job as the actor was to fill those very human moments and allow the larger story to take shape as Robert dictated through the writing.

In the first episode, it’s established that we’re starting to find out information. There’s a virus that’s in the States and is creeping its way into Canada. There’s fear, but there’s also frustration, that people don’t seem to be taking this seriously. They think that it isn’t a big deal. That really resonated with me.
SD: Yeah, I think everybody is in the dark, and there was nobody to turn to. That’s kind of the clear message that comes through, and certainly, it doesn’t take much of an extrapolation to figure out current-day examples of the same thing. We trust all these governing bodies to guide us in the proper direction, be it health or environment or safety. Constantly, we come face to face with evidence that nobody really knows, and often, people don’t care.

Sometimes we get a little bit blasé and smug in this country. When it comes to something like this project, Walkerton with the water and people dying, or Maple Leaf Foods, people getting sick, contaminated foods … We really can’t afford to be smug in this country because stuff has happened here, and people have died in this country, too.
SD: I would second your statement there. And I would go so far as to say that we often thumb our noses at the States and feel that we have some sort of superiority when it comes to taking care of our own and not being affected by the same level of corruption. But the truth is, like you just said, with Walkerton, with this, with the fact that private blood companies are still on the rise in this country, are still trying to be not regulated. I mean, this stuff happens, and it will continue to happen unless there are watchdogs out there looking after everybody.

In something like Unspeakable a historical precedent is set. It’s based on real events. As an actor, is it any different taking on something that’s historically accurate, or something like Bellevue, where it’s fiction? Does that matter to you when it comes to a project? Is one more difficult than the other?
SD: I think that the subject matter dictates how difficult a project is. For example, I played John A. Macdonald, and that required very specific preparation in terms of dialect and movement and look. In some ways, that kind of work frees your emotional life because it supports all the other kind of work you do from the moment-to-moment acting work. In some ways, I treated this more like fiction than trying to portray a real-life person because, in fact, I was an amalgam of other people. It was less about trying to pin down a specific person, a specific character that existed, and more about just trying to find it in the moment with my fellow actors.

The speech Ben gives in Episode 1 is stirring. You’re under makeup and you can feel the age in your voice. You can just feel the weight of what’s gone on in Ben’s life coming through in his voice as he stands in front of that group of people. It was pretty amazing.
SD: Oh, thanks for saying that. That was one of the most terrifying days in my career, I would say, to get up in front of 300 background people and be in age makeup and trying to play someone in their 70s who’s gone through this experience. That all happened very early in the shooting, too, so it wasn’t as if I had the momentum or the weight of having done a number of scenes. It was really very close to the top shooting, and so it really relied on imagination and trust and just trying to jump off the cliff. Also, when you’re in that kind of makeup, it’s really important that you try not to act your age, act that age because it’ll just weigh too much. Yeah. I haven’t seen it, and I don’t know if I want to see it, to be honest with you.

It’s so funny that you say that that was nerve-racking for you to be up in front of a group of people in makeup and saying that speech. That’s so funny. Out of all the work that you’ve done over the years, I find that interesting.
SD: Well, first of all, I hate speaking in public. I have a huge fear of it, as a lot of actors do unless they’re hiding behind a character. But secondly, there’s just so many traps to fall into when you’re playing … First of all, when you have a prosthetic on your face, and second, you’re playing such a different age. But more than anything, for me, it was the eagerness to try to capture the weight of history, the years that had gone by as he has struggled to keep a family together and not always won. I wanted to find ways to live that inside and not have to feel as if I had to act that, if that makes any sense, to present it. I didn’t want to present it. As much preparation as a five-page speech does in that context, it also requires time to just allow your heart and your mind to travel through what that must be like. Because again, we hadn’t done enough of the series yet for me to have physically experienced it, so it was all imagination. So, that’s what was terrifying about it.

Because you brought up John A. Macdonald. John A.: Birth of a Country was recently available on Encore +, so it’s readily available for people for free via YouTube. How does it feel to have that available online now for a new generation of viewers to see?
SD: I have very mixed feelings about it. I think it’s actually a very good film. I’m very proud of the work that we did, and I’m proud of the work I did. But post-playing John A. Macdonald, I discovered that I am First Nations. I have my First Nations status and I also now have a life partner who is an Indigenous artist, Métis, Cree and Saulteaux. My worldview of that particular part of our world has just expanded so dramatically, and I understand that there’s a glorification that happened in our production that I can no longer get behind.

Now, the idea was to do four films through his four major tenures as a prime minister. I think if we would have had that journey, we could see the frailty of the man or his flaws. We didn’t get a chance to do it in the one film, and unfortunately, we lionize him a little bit in a way that I regret based on what I’ve since learned about his behaviour towards First Nations people. Because when we did that movie back in 2009, I did my due diligence, and I read biographies and everything. There weren’t any anti-Macdonald biographies easily and readily accessible, so we didn’t dwell on that in the films, obviously. I didn’t really uncover that in my own research, and that’s something that I just have to carry with me.

So whenever things have come up with his anniversary a couple years ago, I have decided to kind of publicly talk about that, certain situations, because I think it’s important.

Unspeakable airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Murdoch Mysteries: Paul Aitken talks “Annabella Cinderella”

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the latest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Annabella Cinderella.”

Well, that as quite the road trip for Constables John Brackenreid, George Crabtree and Detective Watts, wasn’t it? I always get a kick out of road trip episodes and this one was a lot of fun, even with an accused axe murderer at the centre of the story. With Inspector Brackenreid gone from our lives for now and Julia and William back on Toronto planning to write a police handbook containing the latest forensic sciences available, it was up to the trio to collar Annabella and investigate the truth behind her case.

We caught up with the episode’s writer, executive producer Paul Aitken, for details.

It’s been a great season so far.
Paul Aitken: Yeah, I think it’s been good. I’m curious to see how it all turns out. I know how the stories turn out, but I haven’t seen it in frame.

Oh really? Is that common?
PA: It’s common for me because once we get past a certain point in the story, I like to just see it in its whole.

We’ve seen a little dip into Watt’s past, and certainly a lot more into Brackenreid’s past. As somebody that’s been with the show from the very beginning, what’s it like to dip into these back stories and find out a little bit more about these characters as we’ve been going along this season?
PA: Oh I think it’s a really useful well to dip into because you can get story ideas out of the past that you can’t if you just are going forward. There’s something you can use that’s interesting, and you can build a story around it, and it also deepens the character. I think it’s fun for the audience because they get to see and come to understand the characters in a way that they wouldn’t have in the past, and it’s also just a really useful story tool.

The story getting a peek into Watts’s history was fantastic, emotional. Daniel Maslany did a wonderful job.
PA: I thought so too. I thought that worked really well. We didn’t know Watts very well, and I think he was a bit of a mystery, and I think this grounded him. It picked up on story elements we introduced in earlier episodes. But I think it’s true with any character, if you can pull something out of the past, it’s fun to watch and it’s fun to write.

Let’s get into tonight’s episode. I immediately thought of Lizzie Borden. Was that an inspiration at all? 
PA: No, actually, it wasn’t, not at all. We came to the idea of the axe because we wanted her to be dangerous. It’s more fun if your quarry is someone who could kill you. And it also made her dangerous. You want to buy that this character could be nice and flirting with John, but at the same point would drive an axe into his back if necessary. And I think the mother aspect of it, because Lizzie killed her parents, that was a plot that seemed to work best. So first came mother, then came the axe. And Lizzie Borden wasn’t just an afterthought. We did think of referencing it, but I’d already referenced Lizzie Borden in an earlier episode in Season 3. We’ve had several women wielding axes on the show, and we can’t reference Lizzie Borden every time. But yeah, there are a lot of parallels. She killed her mother, there was someone coming into the house at the time, someone running out of the house. I can’t remember exactly what happened with Lizzie Borden, but yes. Obviously, I can see why you would think that.

It’s been nice to see Charles Vandervaart get more screen time, and clearly, you were able to touch a little bit into the fame that goes behind supposed serial killers or just killers at large, this fascination that he had with her was pretty great.
PA: I thought so, too. We’ve been trying to make this an episode for a while. And I always pictured it as the person that they are escorting to justice, and then they escape. I always thought of that person as a man. It’s kind of like, what’s that movie with Jack Nicholson back in the early 70s? He was escorting a sailor to be incarcerated. [Editor’s Note: The Last Detail.] I always wanted to make an episode like that, and so that was how it started out and then we realized that it was actually a lot more interesting if the protagonist was a female that John Brackenreid had a crush, and we could play that flirty angle. So that’s how that came about.

I did want to ask about William and Julia. There are a lot of fans out there that always want to see the two of them front and centre every episode, and in this one, they certainly weren’t. They weren’t a major part of the story, although they did have their own fun kind of storyline. Is it nice to have them in the background and not be having them do the heavy lifting? 
PA: As regards to heavy lifting, I think it’s always good if you can give your main actors a bit of a break, because so much is demanded of them, just on a humanitarian crowd I think it’s a good idea. And in terms of the story, in terms of what the audience wants, yeah, they want to see the main guys, but it’s also kind of fun and challenging for an audience to not be able to see the main guys in the main role all the time, to see someone else step up. I think it’s kind of fun to be able to do that. And I know that the audience, I think, will sort of just go along with it. Murdoch will be back next episode, there’s no danger about it, and I think it’s unusual to have Murdoch not be involved in any way in the actual mystery except at the very beginning and the very end.

Will their storyline continue? The publishing storyline? Or is that kind of a one-off?
PA: We’ll see where it goes.

What can you say about Margaret and Thomas going forward as we get closer to the end of this season?
PA: I think, obviously that will be when the season goes along, but it’s a season long story. And I think it’s a really good story. I think it resolves, or doesn’t resolve, I think, where it goes, how it goes is actually really interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing it myself.

What did you think of this episode? Are you excited to see where Julia and William’s writing careers go? Let me know in the comments below.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Preview: Murdoch Mysteries carries on with an axe murderer

I think this season of Murdoch Mysteries has been just great. I know a few don’t agree with me and that’s OK. Some folks only want the “core four” to feature in every case and have everything wrapped up in a neat bow by the time the hour is up.

Me? I’m loving the deeper dives we’re getting into who Ruth, Watts, Higgins and Brackenreid in Season 12. With so many years under its belt, I truly feel like Murdoch Mysteries has become a well-rounded show boasting a wealth of riches when it comes to cast, crew and stories.

But back to the present, and Episode 11. Here’s what the CBC has released as an official storyline for “Annabella Cinderella,” written by Paul Aitken and directed by Sherren Lee.

Crabtree and John are transporting a convicted axe murderer to prison when she escapes to exact revenge on those who testified against her.

And here are more tidbits from me after watching a screener.

George and John team up
John Brackenreid has been vaulted onto centre stage now that his father has left Toronto. That’s good news for fans of he and actor Charles Vandervaart (for even more Charles, catch him Saturdays on Family Channel on Holly Hobbie). Personally, I love it when George and John are paired up. Not only is there usually a bit of comedy but I also view their dynamic as what William and George’s was back in the early days of Station No. 4.

Rachel Van Duzer guest stars
Rachel Van Duzer plays the woman at the centre of this episode. I’ll have to confirm this with the episode’s writer, but I feel like “Annabella Cinderella” is loosely based on Lizzie Borden‘s story. As for Van Duzer, she’s wonderful in this role, giving dimension to a villainous character. Her scenes with Vandervaart, in particular, will tug at your heart.

A television critic makes his Murdoch Mysteries return
Bill Brioux, a friend and veteran television critic (check out his website for Canadian and U.S. coverage), first appeared in a non-speaking role in Season 5’s “Murdoch of the Klondike.” His triumphant return is marked this Monday as “Ticketman” at the Pickering train station. I expect a Canadian Screen Award nomination soon.

William and Julia are in demand
The pair doesn’t get a lot of screen time on Monday, but they make up for it in a deliciously entertaining storyline involving police manuals and publishing.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Coroner: Éric Bruneau on Liam’s “demons” and his first English-language role

When the world rang in 2019 a couple of weeks ago, we wouldn’t be surprised if actor Éric Bruneau was a little reluctant to let 2018 go–it was a momentous year for him.

In June, Bruneau and his partner Kim Lévesque-Lizotte welcomed their first child, a baby girl. In addition, the Quebec native was cast in his first English-language TV series, landing the role of enigmatic handyman Liam Bouchard opposite Serinda Swan’s Jenny Cooper in the new Morwyn Brebner-created CBC crime drama, Coroner.

Bruneau, who already has an absolutely bustling TV, film, and theatre career in Montreal, says he wasn’t actively trying to score English-speaking roles, but Coroner executive producer and lead director Adrienne Mitchell saw his work on another project and asked him to submit a self-tape. Soon, he was shooting in Toronto.

In last week’s series premiere, viewers learned that Liam is a military veteran who feels an instant connection to Jenny. But Bruneau said there’s much more to come for his character.

“He’s a little bit cocky, but he’s fun sometimes and he’s romantic,” he says. “I hope people are going to get into his journey in the show. He’s a great guy. I know he’s mysterious, but they’re going to learn to love him, I hope.”

To get us ready for Monday’s new episode, “Bunny,” Bruneau–whose other credits include films Laurence Anyways and The Reign of Beauty as well as TV series Blue Moon, Le Jeu and Trop–recently phoned us to tell us more about Liam and his first experience working in English.

I understand that Coroner is your first English-language TV series. Were you looking to break into more English roles?
Éric Bruneau: I’m not on a mission for playing in English. I really appreciate the experience and I’d like to do it again, but it always depends on the project. In Montreal, I’m working a lot in French. So it’s more about the director and the character and the stories and the experience. But yeah, I’d like to work again in English if the project and the character are great. But now I have a baby, and to be moving your family, the project needs to be good.

Did you find any challenges to working in English?
EB: Well, I worked with a dialect coach, so I had a little bit of the accenting on my mind, but at some point, you just need to hit your mark and be attentive as much as possible and be with the other actors. There was not that much of a difference. What I really appreciate and what I like is that nobody knew my work, so it was like when I finished my film theatre school. I was green and with new people and acting with new actors. I really love that because I’m working a lot in Montreal, so being with new directors and new actors and new producers, it’s good. Artistically, it was great. It was challenging.

Let’s talk about your character, Liam Bouchard. He’s a bit mysterious in the first episode. All we really know is that he’s a Canadian Army vet and he has a strong attraction to Jenny. What else will we find out about him?
EB:  He has a dark side. He has something that he’s trying to avoid. So when he connects with Jenny, he sees something in her. When we were building the character with Adrienne, I met some veteran people who were like Navy SEALs but in Canada to prepare for the role, and I met this guy who told me, ‘My nightmares are worse than yours.’ He’s a sniper. And I thought, OK, this is going to be the key for my character. It’s a thing where he’s having post-traumatic episodes. So we tried to build something around what he saw when he was over there, and how he felt when he was in Afghanistan. We’re going to see how he’s going to deal with his own demons as we see the series.

I like the scene in Episode 1, where Liam and Jenny compare their physical scars. I thought it was an interesting way of echoing their inner trauma. 
EB: Totally. Because it’s fast with them. They both see in each other that they have to deal with some ghosts. This is where they connect.

What about Coroner sets it apart from other shows?
EB: Well, first of all, it’s Serinda’s show, and I hope people are going to love what she’s doing with the character. And what Roger [Cross] did, too, because I think they have a great relationship. After that, it’s always about human beings. In the trailer, it says, ‘Every body has a story,’ but everybody has demons. So I love the dark things about the characters, actually.

I really like the darker, psychological aspects of the show.
Yeah, it’s about these people spending every day with dead people and trying to be…alive. There’s something in them that responds to being in their day-to-day job, being with dead people, trying to find out what’s happening, and trying to stay alive. So, for me, it was beautiful to see these characters fighting for themselves.

You’re also in a great French-language comedy called Trop, which has been renewed for a third season. Have you started filming yet?
EB: No, we’re filming in two months.

Can you say anything about what’s coming up for your character, Marc-Antoine, in the new season? 
EB: I can’t say anything yet, but we can talk about it in a couple months if you want! [Laughs.]

We’re chatting during the first week of 2019. Did you make any big New Year’s resolutions? 
EB: Be the best of me, that’s my resolution. Because, sometimes, you get tired and you accept being a little less. But since having my kid, I’m like, no, no, I need to be the best of me always. For her, with her.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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