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Coroner: Adriana Maggs and Adrienne Mitchell on “surreal, resilient” Season 4

Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan) has been through a lot over the last three seasons of CBC’s Coroner. Her husband suddenly died; she discovered she killed her little sister in a freak childhood accident; her on-again, off-again boyfriend Liam (Éric Bruneau) also unexpectedly died; and her mother Peggy (Jennifer Dale), who abandoned the family decades ago, reappeared out of the blue. Oh, and there was also the pandemic. 

Given those events, it wasn’t surprising to find Jenny hiding in a camper van, having temporarily given up autopsies for the peace and quiet of gardening in last week’s Season 4 premiere. What was surprising, however, was that the episode managed to poignantly portray the impact of cumulative grief—Jenny’s voicemail to Liam felt heartbreakingly real—while still conveying a fragile sense of hope and strength. (Yes, I got misty at the end of the instalment when Jenny’s fledgling plants were knocked to the floor and she picked them up with a brave, “It’s fine; it’s OK.” )

The opportunity to explore resilience in the face of trauma was one of the main reasons new showrunner Adriana Maggs, who took over for creator and executive producer Morwyn Brebner, was excited to join the series. 

“Just because you’re going through a pandemic doesn’t mean that you’re going to stop being a coroner and people aren’t going to get killed and you’re not going to have to figure these mysteries out,” says Maggs. “It’s like the fridge magnet [that says], ‘It’s not about waiting for the rain to stop, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.’ As tacky as that is, there’s some wisdom in it.”

Executive producer and director Adrienne Mitchell says writer/director Maggs—whose other credits include films Grown Up Movie Star and Goalie and TV shows Pretty Hard Cases, The Hardy Boys and Rookie Blue—was able to pick up the threads of previous seasons and weave them into something new for the fourth season.

“Morwyn brought such a great sense of humour and kind of a sense of absurd to things, and I think that Adriana is such a great writer and artist to embrace that and bring her own individual stamp to it.”

To get us ready for this Thursday’s new episode, “Cutting Corners,” which sees Jenny returning to work and McAvoy (Roger Cross) and Malik (Andy McQween) drifting apart after the events at the pharmacy, we spoke with Maggs and Mitchell about seamlessly switching showrunners, Serinda Swan’s directorial debut, and what viewers can expect in Season 4.

Adriana, I’ve seen your writing credit pop up on my TV screen many times over the years, and, as a lifelong Detroit Red Wings fan, I really loved your film Goalie, so I was very excited to learn you were becoming the new showrunner for Coroner. How did you become involved with the series? 
Adriana Maggs: I really lucked into it, honestly. I hadn’t been on the show at all, and I guess Morwyn [Brebner] was needing to kind of step back and, and my very good friend Noelle Carbone had been on the show forever. She’s an EP on the show, but she has very small children, so she was like, ‘Bring Adriana on.’ And I [assume] Adrienne thought that was okay.

Adrienne Mitchell: Oh my god, yes, I’m so excited. I have had the pleasure of working with Adriana on development projects, and we’ve always really just hit it off. It’s always been so exciting to see how Adriana just seizes material and just dives into all sorts of realms that you’re not used to going but they still feel very familiar and relatable. She has such a fresh voice, and we’ve been so fortunate to have her on board for Season 4. When your name started circulating, we just seized it.

Maggs: We were kind of working on something in development when Coroner took off. So Coroner broke us apart and then reunited us.

What was it like taking over showrunning duties midstream? What’s involved in a handover like that?
Maggs: I worked very closely with Morwyn on the season arc. I wasn’t ready to let her go. I mean, there are horror stories of showrunners coming on and the show just kind of fundamentally letting audiences down and it just not ringing true and not being the same. I did still have Adrienne for the most part, and I inherited most of the writers’ room. So I was very, very fortunate, and, hopefully, it will seem seamless. 

A lot of big things happened during the finale of Season 3, including Liam’s death and Jenny’s mother Peggy coming back into her life. Adrienne, what were some of the reasons for those story decisions, and how were you hoping they would further Jenny’s story going into Season 4?
Mitchell: Noelle Carbone wrote Episode 9 and Morwyn wrote Episode 10, and I directed both of the episodes, so I got to work with both of them on this, and I think that their intention was that Jenny’s not really going to turn full circle around what happened to her unless she has a sort of emotional dance playing out with her mother. Because even though we could understand on one level that her mother left because she couldn’t handle the fact that her own daughter killed her other daughter, we don’t understand why she had left for so long. And I think that there is something about that long absence. We just thought, ‘What would it be like in Season 4 for Jenny to deal with this company, this presence in her life now that [her mother] is with her?’ [To have her issues with her mother be] something very lively, something that was not in the past but something that has come to confront her in the present. 

And we felt that the relationship with Liam sort of ran its course. We thought that it would be more interesting for her to not have this support system of a boyfriend to deal with her mother, that she was really going to have to navigate her mother herself without a support system, how it would make her more vulnerable, but it might make her have to reach further into herself to deal with it. Those were some of the reasons why we set it up the way we did.

And so taking over in Season 4, Adriana, what were your first thoughts on how to approach Jenny’s story going forward?
Maggs: I think when you have so much trauma going on, at a certain point you’re going to have to look at your primal wound, look at what went wrong in the first place. We talked about the inner child or the primal wound, and it’s this relationship that we’re trying to fix. [Jenny’s] mother is not there, and whatever sense of self-worth that she’s struggling with, she’s trying to fix it on everyone and everything, but it’s this core emptiness. And now it’s coming back, and she has a chance to kind of deal with that.

I was ready to explore the resilience of spirit. I think we have incredibly important things going on in society today, but also, there’s a tendency to lean a little bit into one’s own victimhood, and it wasn’t the way I was raised or brought up. What I love is when life is just kind of really humbling you and you are resilient and brave in the face of it. So it’s like, ‘Oh my god, how much trauma can this poor woman take?’ But I’m like, ‘No, it’s an opportunity to show strength.’ Every single day, Jenny faces people who have it worse. They really do, because even though Jenny loses a lot, she has love. She has so much love, and she has opportunities and second chances. And so I think I wanted to explore her toughness and her heart and how she can continue to bring hope to other people, even though she’s not necessarily in a super great place herself.

And how will that play out for Jenny over the course of the season?
Maggs: One of the things I loved so much over the last few seasons is the kind of internalized, I’m not gonna say supernatural, but the mysterious kind of figure that Jenny needs to get to the bottom of and explore. So I was like, ‘Well, we’re doing that because I love that so much.’ So her mother does trigger that. There’s a mystery that she needs to solve before things with her mother can get better. And her work very much has to do with navigating her relationship with the woman who abandoned her so many years ago and having to rebuild herself, so Jenny gets to go down really fun roads this year while she’s struggling with that … but it’s not a terribly dark, sad, maudlin season. Everyone’s dealing with a pandemic, everybody’s kind of emerging from this really strange situation and kind of dipping their big toe back into life, and then we’ve got to go back in, and then we come back out. We want Jenny’s journey, her experience with her mother to mirror that kind of shaky legs, ‘I don’t know how to do this, I forget how to do this, but I’m gonna do it’ [vibe]. So we kind of play around with that the whole season. Even some of the cases deal with things that have happened over the past year, some of the more political things like stress with the police, repealing abortion, anti-Asian hate, big corporations and pharmaceutical companies.

Mitchell: Yeah, and there’s a lot of wellness cults that are coming out of the pandemic, and we really sort of deep dive into that, which I’m so excited I was able to do the culminating episode on that, and it’s something that Adriana and team have planted from the beginning of the season. There is this whole presence of a cult that has its own arc throughout the season, and it’s very, very apropos to what’s going on right now, with conspiracy theories, and misinformation, and selling information that has no basis in fact but has a kind of sense of forward momentum that everybody wants to get out of this sort of Doomsday, yet it has all sorts of entrapment issues and a nefarious side. Those are some of the really interesting things that this season is dealing with. 

And just to hearken on one thing that Adriana is picking up on, which she has done, is when she refers to sort of those internal moments that what we’ve done in Seasons 1,2, and 3. We sort of externalized mysteries through Jenny’s visions of pieces from her past. In Season 1, it was the black dog, Season 2 it was visions of her deceased sister, and Season 3, those visions kind of took a concrete form with the appearance of her mother. And Adriana sort of pulled another element out of that and worked it through Season 4. She’s found a way to visualize a part of Jenny’s psyche that leads her to unraveling a mystery, but she’s done it in a really cool, unique way. 

Maggs: It’s weird. It gets really weird. 

Let’s talk about McAvoy a little bit. He went through a big cancer scare last season, and in last week’s premiere, he had a surprising–and dangerous–reaction to learning that he was in remission and his surgery was a success. What’s going on with him?
Maggs: One of our writers had gone through cancer, and one of the things she said is how you don’t trust [remission], but yet you want to distance yourself so much from [the disease], and I thought that was really interesting. It’s like McAvoy does not want anyone in his life that sees him as that person that had cancer, that person that was attacked, or suffered, or that was weak. And so that leads him to a person from his past who saw him as strong who didn’t know him through this kind of thing, and there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye and he gets in trouble. And it’s fun. 

Mitchell: Out of feeling like he’s cheated death, he now puts himself in a really, really dangerous situation, which creates a whole bunch of other reverberations for him. So he’s dealing with some of his wounds, the old trauma in a very new way as a result of how he’s moving through the world. So that really has consequences for the whole season.

What else can we look forward to?
Mitchell: Oh, how about River [Kiley May] and Dennis [Jon De Leon]? 

Oh, I love them. 
Maggs: They have some significant stories this year, particularly in Episode 10. I don’t know if I can say what they do, but it’s hilarious. There’s so much fun from these two, whose relationship is developed in the lab. It’s Season 4, and it’s time for us to go home with them and kind of see what they do and who they are, so 9 and 10 really kind of sink into that pair. 

Mitchell: What I really love, and what Adriana and team have done so well, is Dennis and River could be in the middle of like a really gruesome autopsy and they’re dealing with their relationship, like, ‘What’s the next step? Is the next step meeting your parents, or is the next step meeting my family? I don’t have my parents, I have a ‘fam’ family, but you have your biological family. And what area would we move into if we did move out? Well, my family lives in the suburbs, I live downtown, and I don’t want to leave my downtown.’ [They deal with] these really important life issues as they’re working, and it’s funny, and it’s beautiful, and you see something growing and evolving within.

Maggs: We’re exploring kind of how the queer community—and I don’t know how universal this is— but Toronto gets so expensive and living downtown gets more and more expensive, but moving to the suburbs is sometimes not that appealing to marginalized people because that’s not where their chosen family resides. So we play with that a lot, and it’s one of my favourite things that we get to explore. 

Mitchell: And I can’t wait for you to get through the season and land on Episode 11 and 12 because there’s a twist that you will not see coming and in a space where Jenny and Peggy land that is so surreal that it just about knocked me out, I just about fell on the ground, I was so blown away by it. And this is after three seasons. I just can’t wait for people to see it. 

Adrienne, I wanted to talk a little bit about your creative process as lead director for the series. What are some of the things you do to set a visual tone each season? 
Mitchell: I will say that this season, I worked quite differently. I only directed one episode this season because, like Morwyn, I sort of wanted to pass the baton and step away, and actually Ruba Nadda directed the first two episodes and Adriana did some really amazing, amazing additional directing. All that beautiful work that you see of Jenny inside her station wagon truck, dealing with all the emotional fallout, it’s all directed by this talented gal, Adriana.

But the first three seasons, it’s really all about feel. I like to get really inside of the intention of the writer and find a way to visualize it. So any things I’m offering up as I read material is like, ‘Is this what you’re trying to do? Could it be realized this way? Would this be on point to what you’re doing? This might be a better way to realize it, just because it may lend itself more from what you’re trying to work with on the page to the screen.’ So I kind of approach things that way, and I think very visually. With Morwyn, often I would read the scripts, and I would just pull images from the Internet, from anything that would come at me when I was reading, or even things that are not on the page, just images that would come in my sort of subconscious or in my sort of surreal realm of my psyche, and I would throw all those images on a board—even moving clips from films—and I would just show her I’d say, ‘OK, here’s where I’m thinking this is going,’ and she would say ‘Yes’ to this and ‘Maybe not so much’ to that and then it that would become the sort of visual palette of the episode, and we would construct it over the season.

So it’s like I would try to sort of map out what the visual image systems are. So for example—and Adriana you could talk about your screens because you added that [theme to the season]—today, we’re all so into virtual reality, we’re in it. We’re always watching things, we’re not feeling people, we’re watching things through screens. And so that was one of the image systems that we were working through in the season, and I was very much working through that in a kind of climactic way in Episode 8, which I directed. 

Maggs: Yeah, we were [all about] screens and gardens this whole season. I’ve never worked with a director who has felt as visual as Adrienne, and even though you did step back this year, something that you have always done on all your shows is, you treat a television show like you’re an auteur director. And you could step back this year because that pattern has been established now. And you also expect the directors that come on to do that as well, and it’s really inspiring and it’s beautiful. And it also means that sometimes you’ll be writing, and Adrienne will come into the office and go, ‘Skull on a stick!’ It’s just infectious, and it’s like you get so excited, and it’s such a wonderful way to work.

Serinda Swan directed Episode 6 this season. How did that come about?
Maggs: She has been around the industry so long, I would’ve been surprised if she couldn’t direct. She’s just so invested in her character, but also in the scripts and also in other people’s characters. And I just think she was obviously interested in doing it, and it was time. 

Mitchell: Yeah, working with her on the set, she was always very keen on how things were being shot and asked him lots of questions about our approach visually and what was exciting us, and I think she really did find the sort of visual approach to Coroner very exciting and unique and wanted to embrace that and was really interested in exploring that side of herself. I think she just really got it when we were doing blockings and would explain, ‘Well, you know, we’re not actually at that angle, we’re at this angle because we’re trying to create more suspense, we don’t want to show all the angles.’ So she really leaned into that and, even as an actor, she really leaned into that as we were working through the visual system. So I think she just reached a time where she started directing some of her own shorts, and she just really thought, ‘Hey, I’m really up for doing something like this.’

Maggs: We waited until we had an episode where—she’s not written down, she has a significant story in the episode she directs—but we kept it all in a courtroom setting so that her storyline is almost a bottle. [That meant that filming on one day] would be tough, but the other days would be better. But she knocked it out of the park. Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone work so hard. There were websites that she loved that would pull stills from movies, and she would surround herself in images, and her storyboards are still up in the office that she was in, and they’re beautiful. Her visual presentation was really amazing.

If you had to sum up Season 4 using just three words, what would they be?
Mitchell: I would say kinetic, surreal, and sometimes blindsiding.

Maggs: Surreal, human, brave and resilient, tough, strong.

Coroner airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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CBC’s hit original drama Coroner begins production on Season 4

From a media release:

Muse Entertainment, Cineflix Studios, and Back Alley Films are thrilled to announce that production has started in Toronto and Ontario on season four (12×60) of the CBC original series and audience favourite CORONER, starring Serinda Swan (Inhumans, Ballers) as coroner Dr. Jenny Cooper with Roger Cross (Dark Matter, Caught) as Detective Donovan McAvoy. Inspired by the best-selling series of books by M.R. Hall and created for television by Morwyn Brebner (Saving Hope, Rookie Blue), the new season will debut on CBC and the CBC Gem streaming service in Winter 2022. 

This season, Serinda Swan will feature her talents behind the camera for her television series directorial debut. Swan joins a dynamic and acclaimed group of directors including Adrienne Mitchell (Durham County, Bellevue), Ruba Nadda (Frankie Drake Mysteries), Farhad Mann (Murdoch Mysteries), Samir Rehem (Tiny Pretty Things), Cory Bowles (Pretty Hard Cases) and Liz Farrer (Coroner). Award-winning writer/producer Adriana Maggs (Caught, Grown Up Movie Star) will lead the series as Showrunner with a celebrated and illustrious writing team including Noelle Carbone (Wynonna Earp), Shannon Masters (Cardinal), Laura Good (Burden of Truth), Nathalie Younglai (Super Zee), Seneca Aaron (Nurses), Wendy ‘Motion’ Brathwaite (Akilla’s Escape), JP Larocque (Another Life), Mazi Khalighi (Foraldraskap) and Lindsey Addawoo (Promise Me). 

CORONER stars Serinda Swan as Dr. Jenny Cooper with Roger Cross as Detective Donovan McAvoy; Ehren Kassam (Degrassi, Next Class) as Ross; Nicholas Campbell (Da Vinci’s Inquest, Bad Blood) as Gordon Cooper; Jennifer Dale (SurrealEstate) as Margaret ‘Peggy’; Andy McQueen (Station Eleven) as Malik Abed; Kiley May (It Chapter Two) as River Baitz; Shawn Ahmed (Awake) as Alphonse; and Jon de Leon (Downsizing) as Dennis Garcia. Thom Allison (Killjoys) joins the cast this season in the recurring role as the highly competitive and commanding Dr. Elijah Thompson. 

CORONER was the highest-rated new drama series premiere on CBC in 2019. Following that, NBCUniversal International Networks (NBCUIN) acquired the rights to all three seasons of the series for multiple territories from global distributor Cineflix Rights. The third season premiered across NBCUIN’s channel portfolio in Sub-Saharan Africa, France, Spain, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Latin America and Brazil. In Germany, season three premiered on 13TH Street. CORONER airs in the U.S. on The CW network and is available on their digital platforms including the CW app. Season three will premiere on Thursday, August 19th at 8pm. CORONER premiered on Sky Witness in the UK, with season three currently on air. Cineflix Rights has also sold the series to the UK’s Channel 4 for its More 4 channel. Most recently CORONER is slated to air on Nine Network (Australia), Sky (UK), Paramount+ (Nordics), SBS (Belgium), Sky Italia, Globoplay (Brazil), and Stöð 2 (Iceland). The series also launched on Netflix Canada in 2020.

A CBC original series, CORONER is produced by Muse Entertainment, Cineflix Studios, and Back Alley Films with the financial participation of the Canada Media Fund, the Bell Fund, the IPF’s COGECO Television Production Fund, TVA, the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, and the Ontario Film and Television Tax Credit. Adrienne Mitchell is executive producer for Back Alley Films, Aren Prupas and Jonas Prupas are executive producers for Muse Entertainment with Peter Emerson and Brett Burlock as executive producers for Cineflix Studios. Serinda Swan is also Executive Producer with Showrunner Adriana Maggs, writer Noelle Carbone as well as Morwyn Brebner and Suzanne Colvin-Goulding.

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Links: Coroner Season 3 finale

From Heather M. of The Televixen:

Link: Adrienne Mitchell and Morwyn Brebner talk Coroner Season 3 and preview the finale
“She is very powerful, as a person and as an actor and can blow people off the screen. It’s not that she wants to. It’s just that’s what she brings. So they met and just had a chemistry that worked.” Continue reading.

From Heather M. of The Televixen:

Link: Adrienne Mitchell and Morwyn Brebner talk the Coroner Season 3 finale
How’s everyone doing after that finale? We’ll have to wait until Season 4 (fingers crossed) to break down that loaded look from Jenny at the end, but to tide you over, here’s the second part of my chat with co-showrunners Adrienne Mitchell and Morwyn Brebner about the other things we can discuss. Continue reading.

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Coroner: Morwyn Brebner and Adrienne Mitchell on Season 3’s “strange, magical” vibe

From the opening moments of Coroner’s Season 3 premiere, it’s clear that COVID-19 has invaded Dr. Jenny Cooper’s (Serinda Swan) world. There are social distancing measures during her group therapy class, full-body protective suits at her workplace, and in one painfully familiar scene, raw marks on her skin when she removes her mask.

“Yeah, that was a striking image,” creator and showrunner Morwyn Brebner says during a phone interview. “And it really did just evoke all the images that we’ve seen of the health care workers and the hours and hours and hours that they had to work in those masks.”

Executive producer and lead director Adrienne Mitchell concurs, adding that the scene demonstrates “the truth of people trying to make their way through this, from doctors down to personal care workers in homes, and just the physical toll that that took.”

Since Coroner is a medical-crime drama that focuses on death, Mitchell and Brebner felt it was natural to incorporate COVID-19 into the new season, which kicks off Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBC. However, aside from the first episode’s plot involving the death of a long-term care worker who lacked access to PPE, they say the pandemic will influence the ambience of the series more than its storylines.

“The weird thing about the pandemic is that … it proposes the possibility of different ways of living,” explains Brebner. “We can go into different worlds and go through them with a real sense of curiosity and wonder.”

Over the course of this season’s 10 episodes, up from last year’s eight, Jenny and Detective Donovan McAvoy (Roger Cross) will investigate a slew of mysterious deaths in a variety of new environments.

“Because it’s been a COVID-19 year, where time is stopped and everything is surreal and you’re put on pause, you can invite unusual things into your life and hold them in a way that is perhaps more playful,” says Mitchell. “That’s what’s fun about this season: You can go from horror to haunted houses to witches to strange magic.”

This season will also have a different vibe because Jenny faced down several personal demons—including her complex relationship with her dad, Gordon (Nicholas Campbell)—during the show’s dark and psychologically fraught second season, letting her approach Season 3 with a fresh perspective.

“[Jenny]’s decided to be open to life, and that makes her vulnerable, but it also presents an incredible opportunity,” says Brebner. “It’s like allowing things to come at her while she’s embracing her trauma a little and trying to see what it is to her, as opposed to being afraid of it.”

According to Mitchell, series lead Swan—who has always tackled Jenny’s mental health issues with fearlessness and compassion—was completely onboard with her character’s emotional shift.

“Serinda was very much interested in exploring trauma as a tool,” says Mitchell. “So instead of [Jenny] succumbing and being paralyzed by it, now that she has a bit more of an understanding of it, how can she use it and draw from it to move through the world and connect with people who have their own individual traumas? … It’s very interesting. It’s a different journey for her this season.”

Behind the camera, Mitchell used “flares of light and the magic of light” to visually represent Jenny’s newfound appreciation for life, choices that are evident during a trippy, drug-infused sequence in the first episode.

“Only Morwyn can write about a weed journey in the middle of a very hard COVID-19 case, but it works,” laughs Mitchell. “Because [the way we normally live our lives] is sort of on pause because of COVID-19, it allows for unusual, strange, and living-in-the-moment events to take place, and there are some opportunities to have what I would call ‘strange joy.’”

However, not everything will be rosy for Coroner’s characters this season.

According to Brebner, McAvoy will have a health scare that forces him to face his mortality in a new way.

“He deals with death all the time,” she says. “He’s a homicide detective, he’s an incredibly stoic person, and he’s up against something that’s a new kind of adversary for him.”

Meanwhile, Liam (Éric Bruneau)—who left Jenny in last season’s finale—will still be struggling with his war-related PTSD.

“We ended Season 2 with the decision that they needed to be apart to heal, and that being together was going to be an obstacle to their healing,” says Mitchell. “And then the question is, where does that take them? Is that going to bring them back together or not?”

As for Brebner and Mitchell, they’re both trying to recover after Season 3’s exhausting, COVID-delayed five-month shoot, which ended on Jan. 22.

“We brought in a COVID-19 health management team, so we had about three or four rotating nurses and daily screens, in terms of temperature and questionnaires. We also had weekly COVID tests and a strict regimen of mask-wearing at all times,” Mitchell says.

The cast and crew were also required to stay six feet apart as much as possible, which was hard, Brebner notes, because TV production “is really a business where we stand close together and hand each other things.”

Still, they both say it was a “privilege” to work during the pandemic and are proud of the result.

“We go to deep, emotional places, but we also go to a lot of fun places,” Brebner says. “This season has a really strange and magical integrity to it.”

Mitchell concludes, “It’s just weird, but it’s a cool weird.”

Coroner airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Coroner: Serinda Swan on Jenny’s Season 2 journey and the joys of creative freedom

As the second season of Coroner begins, it’s clear that Dr. Jenny Cooper—the hit CBC crime drama’s competent but anxiety-prone heroine—still has a lot of personal demons to confront. She’s overmedicating and she’s developed a disturbing sleepwalking habit.

However, according to series lead Serinda Swan, Jenny doesn’t want to deal with any of this. 

“She just suppresses and suppresses and suppresses,” Swan tells us during a phone interview from her Los Angeles home. “She is taking six Ativan a day. She’s really numbing herself.”

It’s easy to understand why Jenny isn’t eager to dwell on her emotions. After all, Season 1 began with her husband’s death and ended with the revelation that she accidentally killed her sister when they were both children, a fact that her father Gordon (Nicholas Campbell) hid from her. That sort of trauma can be messy and time-consuming to unpack, but—unlike her character—Swan has no interest in glossing over the process.  

“One of the things I find can happen in television is that we establish a big tragedy in someone’s life and deal with it in the first season, and by the second season, we are kind of like, ‘Well, we solved that!’” says Swan. “You sort of lose that fundamental, true human trauma that we all have in various different ways. And mental illness was something that, if we were going to do, for me, you really have to do it justice.”

Swan’s commitment to her character’s mental health struggles led to a key moment in last week’s Season 2 premiere, where Jenny threw her bottle of anti-anxiety pills across a vegetable garden and then started to have a panic attack.

“Those are the types of scenes where I’m like ‘Hey, guys, I need about 15 seconds here to be able to show the panic,’” Swan says. “Because in that scene, she didn’t have any of that panic. It’s just written that she throws it and says, ‘Damnit,’ and goes after it.”

Swan’s license to change scenes on the fly are a tribute to the deep trust showrunner Morwyn Brebner and executive producer/lead director Adrienne Mitchell place in their headliner’s creative instincts and acting methods.

“This is the first project where I’ve really worked on asserting myself and said, ‘You guys, this is how I really, truly feel about this character,’ and have been given the space to be able to say it,” Swan says. “Adrienne and Morwyn have been so supportive of me this season—they were, of course, last season—but this season, Adrienne came to me and said, ‘I trust your instincts and you need to do what it is that you feel is right for Jenny.’ It was this beautiful sort of symbiosis.”

To get us ready for Monday’s new episode, “Borders,” we asked Swan to tell us more about her creative approach to Season 2 and preview how Jenny’s relationships with Gordon, who is suffering from dementia, her son Ross (Ehren Kassam), and her boyfriend Liam (Éric Bruneau) might evolve in upcoming episodes. 

When we last spoke, you told us that you helped develop some of Jenny’s physical quirks, such as the crooked way she cut her bangs, in the first season. What were some of the details you wanted to emphasize in Season 2?
Serinda Swan: We started again with the physicality. Her hair has grown out, and I let it go a little bit lighter. It’s a little bit more feminine, it’s a little bit more relaxed because that where she feels like she is. It’s sort of the outward expression of ‘I’m doing great!’ Then quickly, within the very first scene [of Season 2], you see her lighting a candle for Ross and the match burns down and burns her finger, but she doesn’t react, and you start to realize that she’s numbed herself in a way and that she doesn’t have normal reactions to things. So for me, it was sort of, ‘Oh, look at Jenny, she’s so fancy! We put her in a dress!’ And then it quickly becomes clear that it’s a coping mechanism. I wanted to show the polarity between the two. 

There was one other thing that we were playing with that was really interesting for Jenny physically, which was that she is afraid of her anger and is afraid of her physical anger. At the opening of the season, we see her tackle Kelly [Nicola Correia-Damudeand]. Originally, that wasn’t written in the script, and I said, ‘We need something physical in here to trigger Jenny’s sleepwalking, because that is the next iteration of the dog [from Season 1], right? How do we trigger it?’ The last time Jenny got so mad that she touched someone, she killed them, and that was her sister. At this point, she’s so mad, that [she decides] not another person is going to die in front of her. Nobody else is going to help this woman, and she just runs and tackles her, and this odd reaction comes out, her screaming ‘No!’ at this woman.

Kelly becomes a very big part of her life this season. So this is a journey for the two of them, which is really interesting to see. 

What else can you hint about Jenny’s journey this season?
SS: I think that moment where I throw my Ativan is a great analogy for the season. Obviously, she just talked to Dr. Sharma [Saad Siddiqui], and he’s like, ‘You need to feel, Jenny,’ and I’m like, ‘Why? I understand what happened, I understand the feeling is going to be sadness and all of those things. But I know what that is, I’m getting on with my life, I don’t need to go into it.’ She’s kind of reverting into something that she did before, which was control, control, control. 

It’s this constant suppression and avoidance and eruption this season. All of a sudden she has to face her demons. She has to face what happened in the past, and she has to have some really human conversations. She has to have them with herself, she has to have them with her son, with her boyfriend, and this season, a lot of it is around the conversations she won’t have, and eventually has to have, with her father around his choice to protect her from the truth—that inevitably just ended up protecting himself—because it hurt her so badly. There is a resentment there, and think that’s a really interesting thing to see.

In the premiere, we found out that Ross didn’t graduate from high school. How is that going to go over with Jenny?
SS: At first, she acts like a parent with him, and says, ‘You are in so much trouble and you’re going to get a job,’ and the typical parent reaction, but then, there’s this just utter betrayal that he didn’t tell her the truth, so it’s something for her that hits her at a really deep level. 

But it’s also sort of an interesting dynamic as Gordon deteriorates more and more, the relationship between Ross and Jenny gets more and more strained because he doesn’t understand Jenny’s anger toward her father. It’s a really interesting thing for Ross and Jenny to deal with. They’re going through a growing spurt, you could say. 

And we found out that Liam, who continues to struggle with PTSD, is now living with Jenny. Will they be able to support each other emotionally, or will there be conflict?
SS: Again, we try to ground everything in reality as much as possible. When you have these traumas, you either share them all, and that’s how you bond or you don’t share them at all, and that’s how you bond. And it seems like, at the beginning this season, they are doing the latter. They’re both ignoring the fact that they have work to do, and doing work outwardly, instead of inwardly. So Liam takes on the house as a project and keeps renovating for her and doing acts of service for her and kindness and all that, and Jenny’s out solving crimes and they’re both doing the thing that they think they need to be doing but really not talking about it. And as you see for Jenny, that the truth starts to bubble up, the same starts happening for Liam, he starts getting faced with his demons, and that becomes a point of contention within the relationship, of “Are you going to talk to me?”

And so it’s a struggle between two people who may have gotten into a relationship a little too soon but ultimately love each other so much. The love that’s in this relationship is really beautiful and really true for both of them. It’s just the timing that’s really interesting. They both kind of come into each other’s lives as lessons instead of as true, healthy partners, and so watching them kind of navigate that this season now that they’re in such close proximity is beautiful and lovely and funny and really heartbreaking. 

What are you most excited for viewers to see this season?
SS: For me, it’s having the audience continue Jenny’s journey. I’ve had so many messages from people who deal with mental illness letting me know that they felt seen within the show and within the character, and having that kind of responsibility and then sharing that with our creators and insisting on it in every scene and moment that I possibly could is what I’m excited to share this season.  And how adamant I was in holding that we all have cracks, we all have tears, we all have points of trauma in our life, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not capable, it doesn’t mean that we’re not strong, but it also doesn’t mean that we are able to deal with them all the time in the best possible way. 

I’m excited for people to see that, and I’m so grateful that people had that reaction the first season and shared it with me. Not only does it solidify why I’m an actor, but it also makes all the tough conversations that you have to have within the production on why you need a little more time to prepare to get ready for the panic attack or why you feel that Jenny needs to tackle someone rather than sit with someone a lot easier. It makes it easier to walk into a room and take up space for a second and say what I feel. And the beautiful thing about working with a room full of women is they go, ‘Oh, yes, of course, come sit at the table and let’s hear what you have to say.’ And that’s such a rewarding job to have. 

It’s like being forced to do paint-by-numbers your whole career and then suddenly someone gives you a blank canvass and says, ‘These are the colours you have, this is the character you have, but you’re allowed to paint the picture that you want.’

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

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