Everything about Murdoch Mysteries, eh?

Murdoch Mysteries: Charles Vandervaart discusses the Season 12 finale

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the Murdoch Mysteries Season 12 finale, “Darkness Before Dawn, Part 2.”

Wow, what a season finale! After worrying John Brackenreid would never walk again, his second surgery was a success and, it appears, Margaret and Thomas Brackenreid’s marriage may be on the mend. But there are still a few niggling questions left remaining. William knows Miss Hart planted evidence in the murder case and in doing that scored the coroner’s job. Meanwhile, Dr. Dixon has made it VERY clear he’s interested in Julia. Here’s hoping we get answers when Murdoch Mysteries is renewed for Season 13.

To close out my season-long Murdoch Mysteries interviews, I spoke to Charles Vandervaart, who has been playing John Brackenreid for a handful of seasons now, about how he got on the show in the first place and the evolution of John over the years.

Let’s get your origin story. How did you end up on Murdoch Mysteries in the first place? Did you go through the traditional means, an audition? 
Charles Vandervaart: Yeah, I auditioned. I actually originally auditioned for the role of Bobby Brackenreid, funny enough, way back when. I did the scene where he’s playing in the sandbox and he gets abducted. But that didn’t work out. So about two years later, I auditioned for the role of John. You know, I didn’t think it would last this long, this many seasons. But I’ve been very fortunate that they keep writing me in and developing my character. I’m a happy camper.

You have literally grown up onscreen, on Murdoch Mysteries. That must be a little bit mind-blowing to think about.
CV: Yeah. It’s hilarious. And I love watching reruns. It’s like watching old home movies. I’ve been really lucky. This and The Stanley Dynamic was the other show that I was on when I was younger … both of these shows have really helped me get comfortable in front of the camera. I’m definitely a believer that the best of kind of acting lesson is just being on set and being with all these other actors and getting directions from all these directors. I’ve been so fortunate to get all of these acting lessons and to help improve my craft over the years. So it’s been such a blessing at the end of the show.

What made you decide to get into acting in the first place? Is it something you always wanted to do? 
CV: The thing that I said when I was a little kid was, I wanted to be a theoretical astrophysicist in the area of nanotechnology because it was just the longest thing I could think of. I didn’t actually know what it meant at the time. I was just like, ‘This will impress the old people.’ I grew up in a small town about an hour and a half away from Toronto and I went to go see a play there. I was so immersed in it and I thought it was such a magical experience. And I asked my parents if I could try it out and act at the local theatre.

My first role ever as an actor was Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. It just kind of grew from there. I did a couple of plays here in Toronto, and then I got an agent and auditioned. And I couldn’t have done anything without my mom because we live so far away from Toronto. She drove me back and forth to auditions together. She’s just as much a part of it as I am. But I think, maybe at 14, I actually started really committing to it and saying, ‘This is what I love. This is my passion. I want to do this for the rest of my life.’

You mentioned about learning your craft over the years. What have you learned? 
CV: What’s really helped me at being on sets all the time is just getting myself out there. It can be quite a nerve-wracking thing, being in front of a camera and being in front of a camera crew. So, I’m still working on getting those nerves down. But I think it’s also a good thing to have nerves because it means that you care about what you’re doing, you love what you’re doing. I also think that a lot of the times I obsess about the craft. When you’re doing a season, you could be three, four, five months working all day, every day. And then on the weekends you’re obsessed with what you’re doing and you’re constantly memorizing the lines and things like that. And then the season ends and you have a lull because you’re waiting for the next season and you’re waiting for your next project. I’ve had some great talks with some fellow actors about this. It’s really important to keep living your life and to not obsess about what the next thing is. And actors, their whole profession is based on drawing from your experiences. And you do have those lulls. You’ve got to go out with your friends and you’ve got to read some books and go out and watch some movies. So I’m getting better at just kind of putting it aside and using my onset experience and then also my offset experience to draw from.

We’ve really seen this character of John Brackenreid grow up, especially in Season 12. Here’s a guy who is coming into his own as a constable. And now he goes through this season, before even getting shot, his parents divorcing. 
CV: John has always been kind of this character, I think, that’s been on the brink of adulthood. He’s almost there. And this season especially because, before we’ve always seen John as this quintessentially innocent character. And then, all of a sudden, he has all this baggage. His parents and he may not walk again, he’s been sleeping around. It’s a John that we’ve never seen before. It’s great because everyone makes mistakes and has crazy days when they’re just growing up and they’re on the brink of adulthood. And John is really going through some stuff right now. And it’s been a pleasure to play that because I love all the crazy, messy things as an actor.

What was your reaction to the fact that John was going to be shot and maybe not walk again? Did Peter Mitchell pull you aside and say, ‘It’s OK, by the end of the episode you’re going to walk? Did they make you wait? How did that work?’
CV: Apparently, for quite a while, the writer’s room knew that I was going to get shot. And, a few of the crew knew that I was going to get shot. One day I made a joke about me getting shot. And everyone was just kind of like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s funny.’ Even though all of them knew that that was actually going to happen in the season finale. So I think that was a pretty predetermined thing. But, yeah, Peter took me aside and he said, ‘This is what’s going to happen. You’re going to be fine, though, don’t worry about it.’ But I think he knew for a few seasons that he was going to do this.

It must be some of the easiest acting you’ve had to do. You got to lie down. You didn’t have to wear the uniform or anything.
CV: Yeah. For two episodes I had to sit down and lie down. [Laughs.]

A big part of John’s life this season has been the effect of seeing this family break up. How have you felt about seeing your onscreen parents split?
CV: I think it was a great little storyline from the writing perspective and from the perspective of the show. Because they’re both two characters that are very feisty and they’re very opinionated and I really hope that they pull this together. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next season. As a watcher of the show, I’m really hoping that they just come out of this stronger than ever and as a couple, together. It was crazy and it kind of felt a little bit out of body because you have these two fake parents, these two parents that I’ve had for six years. And then they’re going through this divorce and sometimes you catch yourself, you’re like, ‘Oh, this isn’t real.’ I’m really eager to see what happens in the next season.

What have you thought of Season 12 of Murdoch Mysteries? What would you like to see happen in Season 13? Let me know in the comments below!

You can stream past episodes of Murdoch Mysteries on CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Murdoch Mysteries: Talking Ruth Newsome with Siobhan Murphy

She plays perhaps the most talked-about recurring character in Murdoch Mysteries history. Siobhan Murphy made an immediate impact when she debuted as Ruth Newsome, sister of Roger and Rupert Newsome (Cyrus Lane) of the Mimico Newsomes.

As outrageous as her brothers, Ruth caught the eye of Constable Henry Higgins (Lachlan Murdoch) and duo were married with much pomp earlier in Season 12. I spoke to Siobhan Murphy about the role, the clothes and how Ruth “waiting for me.”

I’ve been meaning to talk to you now for a couple of seasons, just because Ruth Newsome is such a fantastic character. I’m excited to talk to you and to really drill down and get to know how you got this role. 
Siobhan Murphy: I’m so excited to talk about Ruth. She’s one of the favorite characters I’ve ever gotten to play. I’m so glad that you enjoy her as well.

Let’s go back to the beginning. What’s the origin story? How did you get the role? Did you audition? 
SM: Murdoch has such a long storied history in Canadian TV. I auditioned several times for various roles throughout the years, which I think every actor has. You know, it’s sort of a rite of passage to get a Murdoch role. Then this was the role that I was waiting for, I guess, because they seemed to sort of see something in me. I can’t speculate from the producers’ point of view, but she was a wonderful mix of sort of funny and irreverent and snobby and posh and all these tropes that I felt very comfortable slipping into. I think it was just that I was waiting for Ruth. Ruth was waiting for me. That was the right fit. I auditioned in the very conventional fashion of going in the room and reading.

Did you hear her voice? Did you get her delivery? Did you understand who this woman was from the get go? Or was it something you had to kind of massage?
SM: For the audition itself, I felt like I had a sense of her. I felt like she was this sort of the poor little rich girl. You know, a bit of just a child who has never been told no and just grew into a woman. So I felt like I had her voice, even in terms of her tone, the way that she speaks in this sort of nondescript accent. My thought was that she’s been sent to a finishing school in England but didn’t really spend enough time in England, so she has one of these sort of strange accent. And I was lucky because, in the breakdown, they mentioned that she was the sister of an already established character, Cyrus’ character, Roger and Rupert, the Newsome twins. So I was able to look back on his episodes and sort of see the affectations he has brought to the voice and the melodic quality. Because there was a very specific Newsome way of speaking.

I was able to use that. Then once I got the part, I delved into the world of Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, just trying to find examples of poor little rich girls throughout cinema. She was sort of a good icon, in terms of just has never heard no and flounces around and leaves sort of an earthquake in her wake but comes out without a hair out of place. That was a bit of my research. And then just going back to the work that Cyrus had done because if I were to be brought in as part of his family and his world, I wanted to make sure the foundation he had laid was respected and further built upon.

The whole Newsome clan is a joy. It’s just incredible how everybody has really loved this family, which is, as I’m sure you know, pretty shocking and rare for this show. Many fans just want to see the core four and aren’t interested in anybody else.
SM: I knew going in. I was like, ‘OK, I know that I’m here for a bit of a comic relief sort or, you know, to alleviate some of the tension of the episodes.’ It’s not about me. I’ll bop in, I’ll bop out. Then I did Season 10 and then in Season 11, I got to do sort of more lovely stuff with Lachlan that was a little bit deeper and truer and not just sort of like ‘Oh, my heavens,’ and causing chaos. I wanted to be very respectful of the fans and loving the format of the show, and knowing they’re probably going to hate Ruth or some people are going to like her, but she’s not going to be for everyone and that’s OK. She’s a lot of noise, and she’s basically a hat that’s become a sentient being. She’s a lot. So won’t take it personally. I’m playing an unlikeable, over-the-top character.

I was really touched that people sort of were drawn to her and didn’t … I mean, I’m sure some people find her so irritating, and that’s also absolutely valid because she certainly is. Absolutely. It is such a testament to sort of the Newsome brand that Cyrus had created, that there was this opening in the fans’ hearts and minds for this other, weird offshoot of the otherwise quite deep and dark and twisty Murdoch world. So I was very grateful for their opening up to this wacky, weird offshoot.

Did that take a lot of time when you were doing the research into playing this character?
SM: I was classically trained at a theatre school in Ontario called York University. They put us through the rigors of you do your research but also you do your research on the voice and the body of the character. Thankfully, as we know, Murdoch gives us these incredible period costumes with the corset, with the padding. So I knew that that would inform so much of how she walked through the world. I knew that I wanted her voice to be established and her way of being, and she is sort of a flighty bird. This is going to sound very actory, but I sort of was looking at things like, as I said, Katharine Hepburn just was someone that I looked at, not because of her voice, which is quite mid-Atlantic, or her posture which at the time was quite sort of considered masculine because she took big steps.

What’s funny is that [Clare McConnell] who plays my cousin, Effie, in the wedding episode, studied Katharine Hepburn, and you can see it in her performance. Her character smokes and has a real sort of languid catlike way of stalking the set. So it was funny because I had thought of Katharine Hepburn, but in a totally different construct. I guess she’s an icon for a ton of actresses. But to go back to what I was saying in terms of actor work. Ruth just really also struck me, this is such an actory thing to say, so I do apologize, as a bit of a bird about to take flight.

You’re already mentioned the clothing, so let’s talk a little bit about the costumes. Joanna has said that it’s a joy to dress you. 
SM: It’s wild. Joanna, this is her first season working with all of us. Before that, the costumes were also incredible, and the hats were amazing. I mean, literally, when I say Ruth is a sentient hat, that’s how I felt when I first got to set. I was 90 percent hat, 10 percent woman. It was fabulous because you’re just like, ‘OK, great. So no matter what I do, the hat pulls the focus. It doesn’t matter if I’m bad. They’re focusing on the hat.’ But it was lovely. It made it sort of so easy to embody this fancy-dancy kind of woman with all these pieces to keep moving through space with.

In this season what’s been quite amazing is the colour, the brightness, and the intensity and the saturation that Joanna dresses Ruth in. And the accessories. She’s giving me parasols and purses and gloves and bracelets and necklaces, which of course you would think is an actor’s nightmare, but it’s fabulous because there’s always a joke in the parasol and there’s something to do with the gloves. She gives me props even in wardrobe, which Ruth would have and is a delight. And the colour, I think, is so lovely because in this season, in the last season, as Ruth is now engaged and all the wedding stuff, the brightness and the joy and the … she’s like a tropical bird in a lot of ways.

I think the high point so far was the Kellogg outfit.
SM: She sent me a photo of the piece. She’s like, ‘I made this.’ First of all, I was like, ‘You’re a goddess and a genius.’ Second, I haven’t read the script yet. What’s happening? ‘Oh, you’re the inspiration for the Kellogg Cornflake rooster.’ I’m like, ‘I’m the bird I’ve always dreamed I’d be. It’s perfect.’ That was a real showstopper when I walked onto set, which is … what a piece! It was truly something to behold. Also, at this point, Ruth is terribly broke. Which is just a testament to the trunk she must have hauled with her from Henry’s apartment.

The other interesting thing about Ruth is evolution of the character, is that kind of comic relief in the beginning but now she’s being involved in storylines in a way that has become more akin to what we’ve seen with Crabtree. Inspiring Kellogg and the knowledge that she wrote these saucy books that Julia has read.
SM: You know, you never want to imbue your character or assume a character is dumb, right? Because you can’t play dumb. That’s not how she was written, but she was written as a bit sort of flighty. I just was like, ‘I can’t wrap my head around that. It’s not that she’s flighty. It’s that she’s distracted.’ So if she’s constantly distracted, what is she distracted by? I didn’t know. I’m not going to pretend that I knew the answer because that would be insane. She’s just got a million things on her mind. They might be small, minute things like where did she leave her gloves or did the servant remember to draw me a bath or all these different things. The first inkling I got of Ruth’s, or what the writers knew of Ruth’s, inner world was in the Christmas episode that Peter Mitchell had written.

There’s this whole turn that happens in the scene where we’re going to take down Ponzi. Suddenly Ruth is swilling whiskey and being like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s typical.’ You realize, wait. I remember talking to Lachlan about it. We would talk sort of in between scenes. I was like, ‘Do you think Ruth is actually from one of these families that started as a gangster family and then maybe made right in the world?’ So this generation of kids went to finishing school, but they really come from generations and generations of criminals.

Of course she’s good at conversation, which is now why she’s sort of a nurse’s aide or a conversationalist in a nurse’s outfit at the hospital. So the fact that she has all these other sort of bizarre lives makes complete sense because it’s not that she’s dumb. It’s just that she’s got so many things on her mind.

Murdoch Mysteries‘ Season 12 finale airs Monday at 8 p.m. on CBC and streams on CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Murdoch Mysteries: Patrick McKenna reveals Slorach’s past and future

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

Patrick McKenna truly is a Canadian television “that guy.” His IMDB page boasts roles on award-winning and notable projects from Traders to RoboCop, The Red Green Show to Crash Canyon, Remedy to Hard Rock Medical.

And, for a four-episode stint so far, Murdoch Mysteries. On Monday night, McKenna’s Inspector Hamish Slorach dropped by Station House No. 4 with an announcement—he was retiring—and a request: would Inspector Brackenreid deliver a speech? Unfortunately, the celebration was marred when an attempt on Hamish’s life was made with a mechanized gun. Thankfully, Hamish survived the attack.

We spoke to Patrick McKenna about how the memorable role came about and his upcoming TV project with Colin Mochrie.

In tonight’s episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Manual for Murder,” we catch up with Hamish Slorach. Before we get into the storyline itself, though, it seems as though it’s a rite of passage if you’re in Canadian television to be part of the Murdoch Mysteries family, and you’re no different. How did the role come up in the first place for you?
Patrick McKenna: Well, I think I was quite lucky that the showrunner now is Peter Mitchell. I met Peter when he was the showrunner when I was doing Traders. We’ve known each probably since about ’95, ’96, I guess. We’ve just been friends. When he went over and did that show, he thought this Hamish character they created might fit me well so they offered me the role. It’s been a sporadic gig ever since.

And a beloved character. He’s a little bit different from everybody else in the station house. Did the way to play him, did that character jump off the script at you? Was it something that you worked with Peter on, or did you come with it on yourself? 
PK: It was interesting. The first two writers, who are no longer involved in the show, they called me and they gave me an outline. They said, basically, it’s John Wayne meets Columbo. I thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of a fun description.’ I kind of went with that, but he’s a manly guy, but he’s just kind of in his own way.

He’s aloof. He’s laid back. He likes to have fun and has made a career out of being a copper.
PK: It was nice because [Thomas Craig] sort of set the tone that way. It was always great playing off him because I knew it to be … I mean, it’s their show and it’s their tones so I didn’t want to come in too strong. If I’m supposed to be a friend of Brackenreid, then I guess I’m going to be his energy, his age, things he likes, so I went off his rhythms a lot of how we were going to form this character. It just kind of fell into place. Often times, the scripts demand that you step up, and other times you lay back, just trying to be that … anybody but Murdoch in the first [episode I was on] because that’s who I was replacing. It was like they have the expectation of this guy walks straight line and very thorough, whereas Hamish Slorach kind of serpentines around line and stumbles into answers, and so on.

What attracts you to a role, Patrick? In the case of Murdoch, they reached out to you. But when you’re looking for a gig, what excites you?
PK: When the opportunity to try something new, to combine a couple of different energies that audiences haven’t seen before. I always look for the sense of humour in a character, even if he’s evil, just to find out what makes that person smile and tick. I mean, that’s how I look at things normally so I thought I’ll just apply that to my characters usually. It seems I can bath into that segment of a character and play that. Even the mean people I play, I know they laugh sometimes.

What’s it been like to be part of Murdoch? At this point, is it like old home week, showing up there on the set and talking to everybody again?
PK: It really is because it’s so nice because the CBC, which I’ve had such an affiliation with, so often times, the crew are people that I’ve worked with on other shows. When you walk in, it’s like with the crew I know, and, of course, the cast I know really well by now. Hamish Slorach is such a fun character for them to have in the show because then you know you’re going to have a couple of silly things happen. It’s not blood and gore all the time. You know it’s going to be a smile. It’s always really nice to go back. It’s such a smooth machine, that show, that set. They’ve been doing it for so long, they know exactly how to dance every week so you just kind of got to get in there and find the rhythm without stepping on too many toes.

You just spoke of the blood and gore. Now, in tonight’s episode, Hamish dodges a bullet. Well, I guess he takes one in the head, but it doesn’t end up being lethal. What were your thoughts when you read that in the script and was informed that an attempt was going be made on his life, at his retirement party no less?
PK: All that information completely unfolded to me like, ‘Oh, OK. I’m retiring. I guess I’m out of the series. I’m almost dead. Now I’m definitely out of the series. Oh, I’m only wounded. I could come back.’ I went through a lot of emotions there, like, ‘Well, OK. I guess this is their way of someone finalizing Hamish.’ But the nice thing about a retired policeman is you can always come back in some form.

That’s true. Now, I don’t know if you remember, but when they’re carting Hamish off, he’s talking about seeing an angel. I wondered if that was something that was in the script or whether you ad-libbed that?
PK: A bit of both. It just said I see angels and then they said, ‘Can you just have fun with that as you’re going out the door?’ It was like, ‘OK, I can do that.’ The nice thing, again, I worked with Warren Sonoda on a film so I knew Warren really well and it was very comfortable. He knew my comfort zone as well, to say he would allow me to play here. Then other times, he’d say, ‘You know what, I need to get this covered so if you can pull back on that a little bit, that’ll allow me this ….’ the vocabulary’s so great. Plus, between Colin Mochrie being on set, who’s one of my best friends for over 30 years, it was like this is the easiest room to walk into, and we all get to wear funny costumes. It was just like grown ups playing. It’s so much fun.

You mentioned being friends with Colin for so many years. Is there a lot of stuff left on the cutting room floor that we’re never gonna see?
PK: Not a lot because both Colin and I, when we step onto a set that has a script, we try and respect it as much as possible, as well as the timeframe they have available to shoot things like that. But you just say what’s on the script, and if they find there’s a little lacking, you can do that. I mean, just by our very presence, there’s an energy to that, especially when Colin walks in. You know there’s gonna be something happening. Sometimes you don’t have to add too much. Some shows you really do, but when somethings been as consistent as Murdoch, sometimes you don’t know a lot of the backstory, so if you drop a line, it’s like, ‘No, we need to hear that because two episodes ago this was mentioned.’ So on and so on. You really just got to walk the map that they’ve laid out there. If there’s any room for some shading of colour, they’re pretty goods about letting you do that. That’s usually why they invite you to the party. It’s like, ‘You can do something with this character.’

As you said, he’s not dead so Hamish could always come back. He could just drop in, mix things up, and go on an adventure with Thomas, or something like that.
PK: That’s what I’m really hoping is that something in his personal life will force him to come back into the precinct.

Is there anything that you’re working on, writing, directing, producing, or anything like that, that you can talk about?
PK: I’m doing all of the above. Colin Mochrie and I are hopefully going to be making a series up in North Bay. Right now, it’d potentially be called The Colin Mochrie Show. I’m writing, and directing, and producing, a lot of that. We’re just getting started and that’s sort of what’s been filling my time since the new year. Everyone’s very aware of it and everyone’s moving forward with it so we hope that it’ll be something that will be in production. It’s tentatively going to be called Chef Colin.

What’s the elevator pitch for Chef Colin?
PK: It’s basically a celebrity chef who falls from grace, and he’s forced to take a job at his daughter’s college.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Preview: Colin Mochrie and Patrick McKenna revisit Murdoch Mysteries

It’s crazy but true. Season 12 of Murdoch Mysteries is speeding towards us. Monday’s new instalment, “Manual for Murder,” is Episode 16. That means just the two-part season finale remains after this week. And, fingers crossed, a Season 13 announcement happens at the Canadian Screen Awards on March 31.

But what a week this one promises to be. Written by Paul Aitken and Robert Rotenberg and directed by Warren Sonoda “Manual for Murder” marks the return of Colin Mochrie as hotel detective Ralph Fellows and Patrick McKenna as Inspector Slorach. Here’s what the CBC has revealed about the A-story:

After the release of Murdoch and Ogden’s book, a series of copycat murders begin to take place.

And here’s some insight from me after watching a screener.

Julia and William hold another book reading
Their first one was a little rocky. Here’s hoping this one is better attended … and more interesting. They are a more enthusiastic group, at least. William is much better with his storytelling this time around, recounting an episode from Season 9, “Barenaked Ladies.”

Ralph Fellows is back
The sarcastic, caustic Windsor House Hotel detective has not softened his stance on Det. Murdoch. He is surly at best during the investigation into a body found in the lobby.

Inspector Slorach returns
The laid-back amiable cop from Station House No. 5 drops in with some big news, and a request, for Brackenreid. Also, Tannis Burnett—last seen as Mavis Chalmers in “Who Killed the Electric Carriage?”—appears as a different character.

Flashbacks aplenty
Kudos to Aitken and Rotenberg for the truly compelling and fun storyline and for Sonoda for his directing. This is a memorable episode of Murdoch Mysteries that, by the end, is now one of my higher-ranking favourites thanks to its references to old cases, longer sideburns and characters long gone. I felt a pang of sadness seeing one character in particular.

Ruth and George have something in common
It turns out that Ruth and George share something other than Henry in their lives; they both have an uncanny knack for discovering or naming landmark inventions.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Murdoch Mysteries: Maureen Jennings talks “One Minute to Murder”

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the most recent episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “One Minute to Murder.”

It’s always fun to catch up with Maureen Jennings. As most of you know, without her there would be no Murdoch Mysteries. I spoke to the author, who created Detective William Murdoch, to discuss the episode she wrote, “One Minute to Murder,” and what didn’t make it into the episode.

Wow, 12 seasons. Are you surprised that Murdoch Mysteries has gone on this long?
Maureen Jennings: Totally surprised. At the beginning, we were literally saying, ‘Maybe we’ll get two seasons out of this,’ and then three, and then four, and then … Yeah. It’s wonderful. It is one of those things where you go, ‘Wow!’

We talked a little bit about this last year, and how the storylines come about. You had told me then that you usually pitch three or four episode ideas and then they select one. Is that how it worked for tonight’s episode, “One Minute to Murder”?
MJ: Actually, no. That’s the typical way, but I was very pressed for time this year. I felt a bit guilty about this. I went in with literally an idea, as opposed to a developed story of any kind. This was the typewriting competition, which I had come across, and I used in another book, actually. I’d come across this at some point with a fantastic photograph of these very, very dressed up folks watching a typewriting competition.

They were very, very popular. I guess the competitive nature of them. Big purses and I don’t know. It’s a bit hard to imagine, somebody going in with a keyboard on his computer and everyone spending whatever amount of money. Hundreds of people coming in watching you do your keyboard. I thought it was very funny.

Anyway, I literally went in with just that idea. Not even what happens, except that it’s around the competition. The writing room was great. They just took that and developed a story. We kind of have to have a crime in there. I didn’t. All I had was a typewriting competition. That’s how that evolved this time.

It’s interesting you say, it’s a little bit shocking imagining a room full of well-dressed people watching a typewriting competition. The thing is there are people that sit and watch people playing video games all the time. We may be and 2019, but people will still watch other people doing things.
MJ: Right. That’s a good way to put it. I would have been impressed, I’m sure, but the speed, the unusual speed of these competitors. I guess the same if you don’t play video games, and you’re seeing these kids doing these brilliant things. You go, ‘Wow! That’s really good.’ I found another picture afterwards that was taken at the CNE, and the same thing. A whole bunch of people crowded around watching this guy typing. So there you go.

You pitched this little nugget of a story idea to the writer’s room. When you say that they developed it, how involved were you in the writing of this episode, besides coming up with this competition?
MJ: Well the typical process is they broke the story. They had all the beats, which is another word they use. I went in and they presented me with that, and there was another story that was already developing about Murdoch and Julia writing a book. There’s been I think at least three episodes where that’s been going on. That was in the episode as well. So they present me with that, and then I went home, and wrote it up, and added my scintillating dialogue. Then it goes back, and people do this and that and the other. I had a little less involvement than typical developing the plot, I must say. And as I said, I felt a bit guilty about that, but it was a fun idea to them, so I think they were OK.

Louise Cherry is an interesting character. A lot of people don’t like her, because of the things that she said about William and Julia in the past. The way that she treats the police. How do you feel about her, and what was it like writing for her?
MJ: Well, good question. How it was initially presented to me was we want to do a story around journalistic ethics, which I was dead keen to do. I like stories about ethics. I did a bit of exploration with that. I called the Ryerson Journalism department. Now, unfortunately, because of the actual time constraints, it’s not a lot of time in the episode, as you know, to develop much of the story. All of that ethical stuff, which I was very interested in, kind of got cut actually, but we had three ‘suspects’ who, for me were each representing an aspect, and ethical aspect of things, which is so current today. But we couldn’t really develop that. I wanted to make Louise Cherry a little more vulnerable. But that got shot down. I wanted her to be a bit softer, and they wanted her to be a bit tougher.

There was that little bit there. She let the wall down a little bit with George. 
MJ: As a character, I think she’s nicely multifaceted, actually, but I certainly, personally always like it when we get a bit of the softer side of her and other people. Anybody, whoever it is. I think we’ve done with a lot of the characters, actually.

When we were discussing the story, the very original draft, [William and Julia] go into an empty room. I said, ‘Actually it’s much more humiliating to have three people than to have no people because I’ve done it.’ When I started out, there were literally two people … I did it at Chapters. My very, very first talk was at Chapters. Two people, the manager, my friend, and my husband. If there’s nobody there, then there’s nobody to witness that you’re going, ‘Oh no.’

Peter Mitchell posted on Facebook the other day, and he wanted to know everybody’s Top 5 favourite episodes. Do you have a couple of favourites or five favourites?
MJ: I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feeling who’s not on my list, as it were, but I particularly have liked ‘The Accident.’ That’s been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award. Way back, I really liked ‘Dead End Street.’ I thought that was very good. I must say I liked ‘Shipwreck,’ which was from my book. I thought that was a good episode, regardless. I liked the most recent episode, too, that Simon did. I thought that was really good.

‘Sins of the Father.’
MJ: Yes. Yes. Again, my whole orientation is definitely to emotion and relationships and the past and everything. I thought that came off really well. Over the years there are things that have been quite outstanding. I look back on them and go, ‘Wow!’ It’s still amazing.

What have you got coming up, Maureen? I’ll, of course, point folks to your website.
MJ: Oh, thanks, Greg. Let me see. I’ve finished a book and it will be released in March. March 23rd. It’s called Heat Wave: A Paradise Café Mystery. This came about because I read that in 1936—it’s set in 1936—there was a heatwave in Toronto, and Canada, that has never been equalled before or since. You know we’ve had some sweltering summers. But this was just beyond, beyond. I really was grabbed by that. I thought, ‘OK.’ I wrote a short story about it for Taddle Creek magazine. Then I said, ‘Hey, I like this. I’m going to develop into a book.’ So, that’s the most recent one, and with a female PI.

I like creating a world that seems real, so in ’36, Murdoch’s son, who isn’t in the TV show but is in my book, is now 40. He comes into the book as and then Murdoch has retired, not to keep bees, but more or less. He’s retired to Nova Scotia. The book before this one is 1917, where I’m completely immersed at the moment, Canada in World War I, Murdoch is 56, and he’s the centre of the story. Then in this most recent book. He’s not. It’s his son. That’s fun.

A long time ago—I don’t know if I ever said this to you—but I often quote this. Peter Robinson said being a writer was a bit like playing with dolls when you’re a kid. That you make things up and they start to have their own personalities, their own characters, and you don’t want them to go away. I sort of think, ‘OK don’t leave me yet, I’ve still got more to say.’

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail