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Murdoch Mysteries: Writer Noelle Girard reveals the inspiration behind Monday’s murder

Spoiler alert: Do not continue reading until you have watched the latest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Drowning in Money.”

For a few seasons of Murdoch Mysteries, I thought Mary Pedersen had the most twisted mind in the writers’ room. After all, she aimed to make viewers cry in Season 11’s “The Accident.” But Pedersen has some competition in Noelle Girard, who penned Monday’s latest. The morbid tale of a daughter who poisoned her parents to protect her sibling from mistreatment was downright dark. And, at first glance, seemed in part to be inspired by the real-life deaths of Toronto couple Barry and Honey Sherman.

I spoke to Girard to get the scoop on her storyline.

Watching this episode, I wondered if it was inspired by the recent case of Barry and Honey Sherman. Was your episode ripped from the headlines?
Noelle Girard: That definitely did come up in our many talks about this episode, but it really wasn’t the genesis of it.

What was the genesis of it?
NG: I was reading about Consuelo Vanderbilt, who was the daughter of the Vanderbilt family. This family had immense wealth but her mother, Alva, really craved social standing and a title. It was kind of what money couldn’t buy. She raised her daughter, Consuelo, to marry a duke. I was reading that she was kept locked in her room, would bring in all of these tutors for her and would make her wear this brace to give her perfect posture. She was trying to engineer the perfect woman to marry a duke. Consuelo did marry a duke when she was 18 and she was miserable.

I came to the room saying, ‘I just read about this really interesting woman.’ We were talking about Consuelo and Peter [Mitchell] let me run with some macabre ideas. ‘What if there was a young woman who was being bred to be the perfect woman and she got her revenge on her parents?’ That’s kind of how it started. The Shermans did come up, but it was really centred on the daughter. As we were fleshing out the story, we wondered if the daughter would make the parents’ murder look like a suicide.

I feel like you and Mary Pedersen are competing for twisted ideas. It takes a lot of research to learn scorpion venom is the most expensive poison.
NG: [Laughs.] I just happened to read that scorpion venom is classified as the most expensive liquid in the world. Again, it was me coming into the room and saying, ‘Hey, what if she used scorpion venom? She would use the most expensive thing to kill her parents.’ Pete was like, ‘Great, do it!’

Diana Seymour saying nothing but the best for her parents when referring to the poison was chilling. The actress who played her, Erica Anderson, did a wonderful job.
NG: The actors were great. Joanna, our costume designer, was so great. She really tried to work with one colour palette. We talked about the perfect lady and what they would wear. It was kind of Picnic at Hanging Rock-ish with a lot of whites and making them look virginal and innocent when, really, they were murderers.

I love finding out those little bit of information regarding wardrobe or set pieces.
NG: Everyone who works on the show is at the top of their game and are great people. As soon as they get the script, everyone runs with it and makes it much better than what I envision.

This episode featured another Newsome in Effie. We did meet her in the wedding episode; this time she had a more meaty role when she represented a cousin who was trying to sue George’s garage.
NG: In the wedding episode we wanted to show that Crabtree is still smarting from Nina leaving for Paris. He doesn’t want to date anyone. We had him with a few women at the wedding but we just loved Clare McConnell. We just thought, ‘What if we bring her back and they still have this antagonistic relationship but there is a glimmer of Crabtree being interested in her and she in him?’ We just had fun with that.

You had a lot of characters to juggle in this episode.
NG: I kind of got carried away. I handed in the first draft to Pete and said, ‘I know I just wrote a million characters in a million different locations. I understand if they get winnowed down.’ But he just let me have all my characters.

The final scene, where Persephone was being taken away and Diana was behind bars, was tragic and very emotional.
NG: When we talked about ways to take the story we thought about not having the girls be on each other’s side and how that story would look. But I really liked the idea of the two sisters looking out for each other. Obviously committing murder is terrible but they’re trying to look out for each other.

Next Monday, Nov. 19, Murdoch Mysteries is pre-empted due to the Scotiabank Giller Prize awards.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Preview: Murdoch Mysteries features a ripped-from-the-headlines case

Unlike the Halloween episode of Murdoch Mysteries—which deeply divided new and old fans alike—last week’s instalment, “Brothers Keeper,” was a major hit. Viewers loved getting a peek into Det. Watts’ backstory and were impressed by Daniel Maslany’s performance. One reader thinks he should be nominated for a Canadian Screen Award, and I agree. (Read my interview with Daniel if you haven’t already.)

As for Monday’s new episode—note that on November 19 the show is pre-empted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize—it appears Murdoch Mysteries is going with a rare ripped from the headlines-inspired tale. Here’s what the CBC has revealed as the main storyline for “Drowning in Money,” written by Noelle Girard and directed by Alison Reid.

When a wealthy, high society couple is found drowned in their pool in an apparent double suicide, Murdoch suspects murder.

And here are a few more tidbits I can reveal after watching a screener.

Is “Drowning in Money” based on a real-life case?
It certainly appears the deaths of Franklin and Louise resembles the current investigation into the case of Barry and Honey Sherman. Their deaths were first thought to be a suicide, only to be deemed a double-murder. I’ll be speaking with writer Noelle Girard and will confirm this.

A newish Newsome
OK, we were introduced to Effie Newsome (Clare McConnell) when she and Crabtree met at the Henry and Ruth’s nuptials. Effie is representing a cousin of hers who is suing Crabtree for faulty brake work done on his car.

John Brackenreid in love?
When he’s not working the murder case with Murdoch, Crabtree and Watts, John is speaking with Persephone (Hannah Endicott-Douglas), a daughter of the deceased. They do make a super-cute couple.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Murdoch Mysteries: Daniel Maslany on playing Detective Watts’ and his dark backstory

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched Murdoch Mysteries’ latest instalment, “Brother’s Keeper.”

Back in 2016, Daniel Maslany was part of another CBC series. Four in the Morning featured Maslany as Bondurant, part of a quartet of twentysomethings who stumbled their way into odd adventures in the dead of the night in Toronto. Four in the Morning was cancelled after just one season—I think it was just a little ahead of its time—but it freed up Maslany to play Detective Watts on Murdoch Mysteries. In fact, if it wasn’t for Four in the Morning‘s outrageous production schedule he might not have been hired for Murdoch at all.

“I’d been up the previous night until five in the morning and then had the [Murdoch Mysteries] audition the next day,” Maslany remembers. “And I think it actually really helped. He’s a little bit more grounded and lazy and sloppy, and so, my exhaustion just from shooting the night before really helped.”

That sloppy—yet brilliant—detective has been part the series for three seasons. On Monday night, viewers were treated to Watts’ backstory. We spoke to Maslany to get the scoop on what makes the man tick and what it’s been like being part of the show.

So if you hadn’t been super tired and had that experience on Four in the Morning, Watts might have been totally different.
Daniel Maslany: I mean, Watts might have been someone else. I think there’s so much luck in this business, and I’ve … I can count all the different kind of serendipitous things that fall into place when I did a role and a lot of it is out of my control.

People have said a lot that Watts reminds them of Columbo. Are you seeing that? Was he an inspiration?
DM: In the writing, Columbo was actually written in the original breakdown for the character. It was a reference I didn’t know. I didn’t grow up watching Columbo, so I watched some clips to get some ideas, and then it sort of veered in its own … anything that goes through the filter of someone else, it becomes their own, so yeah, I had that as a reference point, but also so much had been in the script from Simon McNabb in that first episode. Norma Bailey was the director and she was always really encouraging me.

That became sort of a game in that first episode, and I honestly was happy with that being the character and would have been happy to play him in that realm for the rest of these three seasons. I found that really fun world to play in as a foil to Murdoch and be sort of his opposite.

But then I started getting these episodes, especially in Season 11 where it was taking Watts to a more human, emotional place, and that was really exciting to sort open him up in that way.

Your speaking voice with me right now is very different from the way that Watts speaks. What was the inspiration for the language choice?
DM: I think some of it had to do with the fact … we talked about being tired in the first episode and having to wake up earlier, and that kind of thing. I think it was also the most maybe grown-up role I’d ever played? So I kind of felt like I had to play it as grown-up/adult a little bit. So it’s kind of like a false … a false grown-up voice to it, which I think is appropriate, since he’s a really young. He’s a young detective, and he’s filling some big shoes, and he’s playing cops-and-robbers with all these real grown-ups. I feel like he plays a bit older than himself.

When Watts first came on to the scene a lot of fans said, ‘Who is this guy? Why is he coming onto this show? Is he going to replace somebody?’ But now you’ve become a fan favourite. What’s it been like to be embraced by the fans?
DM: It’s super exciting. I mean, I know it is such a loyal fan base, so I was … I kind loved the hot/cold attitude that they had with him, especially early on. It’s fun. What I find with the fans is that they like investing in the reality of the show, so they are actually cheering for the good guys and angry at the bad guys. And obviously no one would want to watch a show where everybody’s happy and good, but a lot of the comments you see online are, ‘I just want them all to be happy. I want the bad guys to go away.’ And the bad guys can’t go away or else there’s no show. So when Watts veers into more of an antagonistic realm, it’s fun seeing them be upset about that, because he’s not always super nice to Murdoch but obviously that’s the fun of it.

We’ve gotten a little bit of backstory into Watts in the last couple of seasons, but man, you really reveal a lot about this character in Monday’s episode.
DM: Yeah, I was as surprised, probably, as people will be watching the episode reading it, because this was all news to me, and with each more dramatic-leaning episode that I’ve had for Watts, I’m learning more about his backstory, and part of me, the nervous, scared actor me, wonders, ‘Oh, is this the same guy?’ and ‘Does this make sense that he would be so quirky and distracted and out of it if he’s had such a tragic past?’

I’ve been sort of realizing that these are his walls and his protection, his barriers that he puts up because he’s had a really tragic childhood, leading up to when he comes to Station House No. 1 and then to Station House No. 4, and then he keeps losing people in his life. So I’ve had this list that I keep going back to when Watts is having a sort of a sadder moment. He’s lost this person, this person, this person, and that list keeps getting longer with each episode. Because a lot of people have just left him or died.

You share some wonderful scenes with Yannick as William Murdoch, especially in the interrogation room. What was it like working with him up close and personal, just the two of you like that?
DM: That was such an exciting day, because we shot all of the interrogation stuff and the scene right before that where I’m getting my arm bandaged all in one day, and we got to shoot it chronologically, which is such a dream, because so often you’re shooting out of order, you’re trying to connect the dots, and especially with this script, because they’re so many alternate versions that are told, and his interpretations that are told.

It was really nice to work chronologically, and Craig David Wallace, the director and I, had a long chat after the first table read of this episode, where he broke down every single interrogation with me, and we went, ‘OK, what are the games being played? What is at stake? Is Watts just protecting himself, or is he protecting Hubert here?’ We kind of designed this whole arc, and also never talked to Yannick about it, because then there was this sort of playfulness and this mystery. But there’s an unknown of how’s the dynamic going to work once we both get in the room together. So Yannick didn’t know about these kind of things that we had discussed, and then it was really fun in the blocking watching Yannick react and see where he goes with it, with anything.

People don’t realize how much homework can go into making a TV show, and you did a lot of it for this episode.
DM: Yeah, I mean, I think everybody has a different process. Coming from the theatre, I really need to spend time with a script before I feel comfortable with it. I’m amazed by actors who can pick up a few pages, memorize it, and then shoot the scene and have such grounded and nuanced performances, but I do need to take some time and actually sort of think about the thought process of the character before I feel ready to share it.

I wanted to ask about the wardrobe that Joanna has created for Watts. She’s new to Murdoch this year with regard to the clothing. I guess that’s just another layer of getting into that character; putting on those suits, putting on that hat really gets you into character.
DM: Yeah, she was so great. She gave me a really fun new suit that’s a green plaid suit this season. It’s great, and I feel like it’s nice that it was established in a really silly Halloween episode, ’cause it fit so much with his really heightened palette there, and now it’s become one of his staples that he wears. In [Monday’s] episode, obviously, Watts shoots his own sleeve, his own arm. And so they have to cut a little hole in it and patch it, but it’s such a beautifully handmade suit, so they were like really worried to damage it at all. So it’s a really nice kind of a patching that they did. It still looks pretty great.

What can you say about Watts’ journey for the rest of this season?
DM: The joke is less about him bumping up against the way things are supposed to be done, and he’s learning to be a team member within the station house and work well with others, so he’s growing as a person and as a detective, and he’s also starting to question his own philosophy. So we see that unravel even a little bit more as the season goes on.

What did you think of this episode? Do you have a message for Daniel Maslany? Let me know in the comments below!

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Preview: Detective Watts is a suspect on Murdoch Mysteries

We Murdoch Mysteries fans have got it pretty good. While many, many television series are cancelled after just weeks or months, we’ve gotten 12 seasons of William Murdoch and his adventures. Over that time we’ve fallen in love with the main characters. We’ve cheered for the good guys and jeered at the bad guys. It’s been a lot of fun seeing the lads and ladies inside and outside of Station House No. 4 in a variety of serious, deadly, hilarious and offbeat scenarios. And Monday’s standalone instalment was certainly offbeat.

I was appalled at the emails and comments on social media denouncing last week’s Halloween episode, “Sir. Sir? Sir!!” Everyone is allowed to have an opinion, but heading online to spew insults at those involved in the show is out of line. To all of those people who have, in the last week, threatened to stop watching: go ahead. I won’t miss you. And learn some manners.

To the cast, crew and writing staff of Murdoch Mysteries: bravo for challenging the status quo and creating interesting tales for these characters to run around in. I appreciate it, and millions of other viewers do too.

As for Monday’s new instalment, “Brother’s Keeper,” here’s what the CBC has said officially:

When Watts (Daniel Maslany) kills a man in self-defence and Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) uncovers the victim’s criminal past, questions surround Watts’ story.

And here is some additional info I gleaned from watching a preview of the episode, written by Paul Aitken and directed by Craig David Wallace.

Detective Watts in the bomb
He showed up in our lives slightly dishevelled and a little scatterbrained, but Watts has shambled his way into my heart. I’m so glad Daniel Maslany has gotten increased airtime on Murdoch because Watts brings a lot to the table. He’s a little off-kilter at times, but he’s as brilliant as William. On Monday, we’re treated to a completely different side of Watts, with Aitken’s script giving Maslany the opportunity to really show off his acting talent. (Speaking of different sides, check out Maslany’s other CBC program, Four in the Morning. It’s weird and wonderful.)

Miss Hart is put out
A cop killing someone is huge, so William asks Julia to oversee the morgue, leaving Miss Hart less than thrilled. Understandable, of course.

Higgins is still married…
And the Higgins-Newsomes are adjusting to life without the finer things. Higgins is suffering from a serious lack of sleep, which may explain what he does to Murdoch just 11 minutes into “Brothers Keeper.”

John Brackenreid returns
Fans have been asking, and Aitken comes through. Turns out John has a real nose for investigations.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Murdoch Mysteries: Props master Craig Grant gets buggy over “Sir. Sir? Sir!!”

Spoiler alert: Do not continue reading until you have watched the latest Murdoch Mysteries episode, entitled “Sir. Sir? Sir!!”

I can’t believe it’s been four years since Murdoch Mysteries’ props master Craig Grant and I last spoke. I just proves that old saying about time and fun. I contend Grant has one of the best jobs in the business, acquiring and building the props you set on every set of Murdoch Mysteries. And, in the case of this week’s Halloween-themed adventure, some otherworldly items. Read on for our chat on the inspiration behind the alien pod design and other tidbits of information.

Has your job changed much in the last few years? I do want to ask you more specifically about 3-D printers, but overall has the job kind of stayed the same? You’re able to come up with these awesome creations on a constant time crunch and under a budget?
Craig Grant: In some ways, our timeline has shrunk a little. We have a little bit less time to shoot an episode now. So, therefore everything’s crunched just a little bit. But otherwise, I think it’s about the same. It’s certainly easier now than it was 15 years ago or 12 years ago when we started because there’s a lot more information available, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. We put something out on the screen or on the story and within 30 seconds people are Googling it and, ‘Oh, this is wrong. No, that didn’t happen then.’ A good example of that was this past episode, somebody posted on Facebook about the triple entente. It didn’t happen until 1907.

Our showrunner responded almost immediately saying, ‘We didn’t say this. They actually ended the episode by saying, oh that’ll get signed sometime in the future.’ But how many people really had heard of that and knew that? Most people would’ve Googled it after the fact and found that we were sort of on track.

I spoke to production designer Bob Sher and he talked about coming into the show and making some changes visually and going a little bit lighter. How has Bob’s involvement in the show impacted on you? And how are things different now for you?
CG: It’s different in that Bob comes from a construction background. Bob has worked the floor. He knows what world well on camera. And what works well for a crew. It’s one thing to design a nice looking set and then walk in there with a crew and realize you can’t film it because there’s not enough room for the camera or just some weird thing right there that blocks the view. Bob has a good sense of space. And having come from a construction background, he can also flip our studio scene really well.

And for those people who don’t know, Studio C is kind of our swing stage at our studio where one week it’ll be the star room. The next week it’s the lobby at the Windsor Hotel. The next week it’s a barn and we always are forever changing. And Bob has really made it a point this season—especially of changing that as much as possible—so that you’re not going ‘Oh, that’s the hallway, but they’ve hung a different picture on the wall.’

How has technology impacted on your job? With the 3-D printing specifically, you’re doing more and more of that, aren’t you?
CG: It’s made it easier to prototype things. Years ago if I wanted to build something like Murdoch’s taser, you would’ve had to either farm it out of the building for certain parts of that, or you would’ve simplified it. With the 3-D printing, or the CMC machine, which I’ve used a lot more this season, you can make 12 different variations fairly quickly and see which one looks better and works better.

Let’s get into this Monday’s episode. The prop that you had to make for the alien cocoon, what was the inspiration for that?
CG: In the script, it called for a cocoon. And the first thought I had was the alien pod in Alien. But at the same time, we didn’t want to look like we were ripping off the alien pod from Alien. So I said, ‘We’ll go a little more hard, more like a meteorite type thing with some sharp edges.’ And then, with the technology these days of LED lighting, I was able to mount lights inside them that I can control with my phone and make them pulse, make them change colour. So there was that scene in the basement in the cavern when we had I think nine or 10 of these pods hanging from the ceiling. Each one of those was individually controlled to slightly change color and pulse in and out to give it a bit of life.

The actual design of them was by accident. I wanted to use a fruit called a jackfruit. And I made one, but it was going to be, it was too small. And Craig [David Wallace], our director said, ‘Oh we need something quite a bit bigger.’ So I had bought all this molding material and I ended up just throwing some crap on a balloon and it worked. And the stuff I used was actually this shell for when you make a mold. When you make a mold the inner part is like a latex that you pour your resin inside. But the latex was soft, so you have to cover it with a plaster or in this case a plastic substance. I ended up using the outer membrane, the outer plastic substance to make those cocoons.

And anybody who’s been to the office since we shot the episode, they’re all hanging in the prop room lit up. So I live with those every day.

I also wanted to ask you about Murdoch’s dart gun watch. The fans really like that. Was that something that you made from scratch? Or did you manipulate an existing watch? 
CG: That was actually one of the simplest props ever because I just took a pocket watch, drilled a little tiny hole in the bottom and shoved a brass tube in it. The actual firing and all of that was completely CGI. So that was actually the simplest thing of the episode to make, that particular episode.

What was the most difficult thing then for that episode?
CG: Probably the cigarette case with the knife in it, only because we wanted it to come in and out. But because of the size of the cigarette case, the blade couldn’t be very long. So we actually had multiple blades depending on what the scene called for if it was sliding in and out it was the short blade. If it was the scene where we held it up to the guy’s neck, we actually put the longer blade in so it looked more menacing. And that was actually 100-and-some-year-old cigarette case that we modified for that action.

When it goes from episode to episode or season to season, are you always trying to one up yourself from season to season as you go along?
CG: I would like to think so. Because if I don’t, it would be kind of boring. There’s a reason I stay with this show because I do get to build things like those gadgets. The Roomba, which is still one of my favourite gadgets of this season. It is really a remote-controlled device that we can drive around the studio. And it will be making another appearance this season.

And coming up, there’s an episode that Pete has alluded to where we invent television. And I had a lot of fun building the items for that. Just because we did the research and we tried to get them as close as Murdochly possible to what a real thing would have been.

You’ve already mentioned the fans. You’re very active on social media, you like to share images of the props that you’ve made for particular episodes. Why do you like engaging with the fans so much? 
CG: Maybe it’s just sheer egotism, but I like to show how we did things. I like to show how I built this stuff. So to me, that’s kind of interesting. I really enjoy Adam Savage and some of his one-day builds and how he goes and tries to figure out how people build things or whatever. So if I can give back a little bit of that to the fans, I would like to … I have pitched a couple of times that we should get a little camera and put it in the prop room when I’m building some of these gadgets and do time lapses or whatever.

We’ve never done it, but I think some of that would be interesting. People seem to be very interested in the behind the scenes and I think props have kind of gotten a little bit more notoriety in the past few years and stuff as people who grew up on Star Wars and things like that have gone back to that and want to collect the items. So I think that’s become a thing. And for some reason, people want to listen to what I have to say or see the pictures. So as long as they want to see them, I’ll keep throwing them out there. There’ll be some fun ones of this episode ‘Sir. Sir? Sir!!’ because the bugs are an interesting part of the episode.

What happened with the bugs is we read the script, we went, ‘OK, we need some bugs.’ So I went to the store and bought basically every toy bug I could find. We brought them back, cut them all up, ended up with a praying mantis with all these other bits and pieces and turned them into what we ended up with.

We sent pictures of that to our prosthetics department who normally just do our dead bodies and stuff and said, ‘OK, we want this bug. Can you guys make us some?’ So they hand-sculpted one, sent us back pictures. We said, ‘Change this, change that. OK great, we love it.’ So we had five or six, I think it was, practical prop bugs on our set. So when Daniel was picking the bug up and looking at it, he was actually holding a real bug in his hand.

They then erased and CGI’d the moving one on his hand. And when they were crawling all over the tree we put a couple on the tree, and our computer geniuses then got rid of those and made them run all over the place. So we had real ones in each situation or prop ones for the actors to interact with, to look at, just so that they had a size of scale and a size of what they were looking at.

And if you look carefully in the episode, in the cavern and in other places around, we were placing our prop bugs in the shots in the background. I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to see them, but some of the times when the guys were carrying the leafy plants around—which was basil by the way—we had bugs hiding in those plants. We had bugs hiding on the water cooler and places in between station. It was just another way that if people are really eagle eyes, they might see them just kind of lurking about.

It’s so great to be able to plant those little Easter eggs for the eagle-eyed fans because you know they’re out there.
CG: Yeah. And I like doing that too. I’m always happy when they get to reintroduce something from past seasons. Later this year there’s a moment where we open the armory and take some guns out. And Murdoch’s taser is dressed into the gun cabinet just as a throwback.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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