Tag Archives: Adrienne Mitchell

Coroner: Showrunner Morwyn Brebner and director Adrienne Mitchell on bringing “real” Jenny Cooper to TV

There’s something a little different about Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan), the lead character of CBC’s new drama series, Coroner. Like most crime procedural protagonists, Cooper—the creation of British novelist M.R. Hall—is troubled and going through some tough times, most notably, the sudden death of her hard-gambling and secretly destitute husband.

But instead of engaging in Scandinavian thriller-style brooding like fellow book-turned-TV crime-solvers John Cardinal and Kurt Wallander, Cooper simply gets down to business. Yes, she sucks down anti-anxiety pills and suffers the occasional crying spell in her car, but she shakes it off and keeps going, every step forward a tiny act of defiance. Her superpower is just getting up each morning and doing what needs to be done with as much humour and grace as possible—even when that involves investigating gruesome crime scenes. And that makes her feel refreshingly real.

That realness of character was what made series executive producer and lead director Adrienne Mitchell want to adapt Hall’s The Coroner book series into a TV show. It’s also what enticed showrunner Morywn Brebner, who worked with Mitchell on CBC’s Bellevue, to sign on to the series.

“We were really searching for a series of novels that had a strong female lead who was unpredictable, who was authentic, with a sense of humour,” says Mitchell.

Brebner adds, “[Jenny’s] anxiety, and her fearlessness, and humour, and her deep, deep intelligence—which is really beautifully embodied by Serinda—made me feel like there was something about this woman that was like the woman you wanna be. So flawed, but so committed to living her life the way she feels she needs to.”

To get us ready for Monday’s new episode, “Scattered,” which is the first of a two-part instalment, Mitchell and Brebner gave us a call from Toronto to tell us more about what makes Jenny Cooper special and how they went about adapting Coroner for the small screen.

First of all, how did Coroner come about? I know that you two have worked together in the past.
Adrienne Mitchell: At Back Alley [Film Productions], Janis Lundman and I are the principals, and we were really searching for a series of novels that had a strong female lead who was unpredictable, who was authentic, with a sense of humour. And who was placed in a world that had a very strong investigational line but also a very strong character line that sort of dipped in and out of her work and family. We came across the very talented M.R. Hall’s books and were really were struck by the character Jenny Cooper, who just stood out to us on so many levels, being someone who was full of incredible intelligence but also full of her own theories and going about it in ways that will blow up in her face and also doing it in such a way that she was strangely self-aware. It was just such a fun read to explore her character.

And we were so fortunate to work with Morwyn on Bellvue. I got to know her since I was the lead director, and Morwyn’s voice is a really amazing, unique voice, not only in our country but I think in North America. I thought she would be amazing for this. Janis and I were just praying and hoping that she liked the novels.

Morwyn Brebner: I really liked working with Back Alley on Bellvue, and I really wasn’t looking for anything to do, and I certainly wasn’t looking for anything in the sort of crime realm. But then I read the books myself and was really drawn to the character for the reasons that Adrienne was saying and because she seemed like a real woman to me. Her anxiety and her fearlessness and humour and her deep, deep intelligence—which is really beautifully embodied by Serinda—it made me feel like there was something about this woman that was like the woman you wanna be. So flawed, but so committed to living her life the way she feels she needs to. It’s a really beautiful quality in a woman. She’s not afraid of things. She’s drawn to do the things she needs to do, and it’s really amazing.

One thing I particularly enjoy about the series is just what you said, that Jenny feels real. Unlike a lot of characters in crime procedurals, she doesn’t have any super abilities and she isn’t mopey. While she has anxiety and other issues, she is getting out of bed and showing up every day, choosing to be present. Just like a lot of women I know. 
AM: What you’ve just said there is the best thing and is a cornerstone of this series. She gets up after getting beaten up, and she just keeps getting up. She’ll have an anxiety attack, she’ll wrap her Ativan in wrapping paper during inquests and then pop the pill. She’s got this incredible fight in her and just keeps going. Morwyn and I have talked about this, and we love that she doesn’t dwell and wallow.

MB: For me, what’s really interesting is that a lot of the ways we deal with women who are complex in shows, is we re-traumatize them. That becomes their narrative, exploring the character through re-traumatization, which isn’t quite something that we do with male characters. What I love about Jenny is that that’s not actually her arc. It’s a going through and it’s a moving forward. We used to talk about the quality of her suddenness, which was that she would just do things. And that action and forward living is really exciting to see in a female character. I really love her because she does feel like, as you say, a woman you would know.

I also appreciate the way you deal with Jenny’s grief in the series. It ebbs and flows, recedes and then reappears in new ways. I thought that was an important quality in a series that revolves around death. Is that something you were actively trying to portray?
MB: Her husband doesn’t die in the books, actually. And the impulse to do that, for me, was that I was having trouble fitting the husband into the storyline and then I felt somehow the decision to kill the husband really made the story snap into focus for me. You know, in a Disney movie, you kill the parents so the kids can have an adventure? It was a little like that. And I was trying to figure out how to fully move the show from the books into our world. That was the decision that actually made it happen, and after I did that, I felt that the show really came alive.

AM: Grief is not a linear thing, and we trying to really service that in this series and explore that. Grief comes and goes, and it may trigger something else in your life that’s unresolved, and then that grief merges into something else. So I really tried to explore all the dimensions. Grief is not one thing. It’s active. It can manifest in so many ways. So what you’re seeing is something that we really wanted to work with.

MB: Grief is something that feels within you and lives without you, and that’s the process. You’ll come to see that it’s very integral to the series.

What are some of the other changes you made from the novels?
MB: The relationship with her son, which is beautiful, we’ve altered. M.R. has been very generous about that. The character of Alison [played by Tamara Podemski] is in the book, and we love that character so much, and the character of McAvoy [played by Roger Cross] is in the book, but he’s in one of the books in a different way.

It was really saying, ‘How do we take this beautiful spirit and the beautiful character in these books and make her a really Canadian character, a Toronto character and let her live in a way that feels like she’s really part of our world and really representing for us?’

And how did you go about taking a British story and a British character and making them feel, as you say, “really Canadian”?
MB: That’s a really interesting question. I feel in an adaptation, you try to retain the essence of something, but the specifics of the show are very Canadian. Everything is set very specifically. Everyone speaks specifically.

AM: And all of the cases come from things that have happened in Canada and are inspired by them. The research, the coroner research, the pathologist research, we had consultants who would share things that were happening here in Toronto. We have such a diverse city, which we love, and that’s really reflected in the casting and in the stories. So it just happened kind of organically.

MB: Yeah, I think in order to adapt something, you have to put it into your own perspective and you have to put yourself into it and you have to, you know, have skin in the game. I feel that it was a very organic process, but I do feel like in the end, the transmutation happened while retaining the strength of the source material.

AM: I think our show is a bit more urban, in a bigger city. I think the M.R. Hall version was more English villagey, that small town vibe. So we’re in a much bigger urban environment. One of the biggest changes, too, is that our place of work is quite a big institution. It’s a state-of-the-art facility.

MB: Our coroner’s office in Toronto is the most advanced facility in North America. In the book, it’s much more sort of ad hoc and dusty, and it has a real charm, but it’s very different. We wanted to represent the reality of our situation here. And in the book, she’s a lawyer, because a coroner is a lawyer there, and here, she’s a doctor because that’s the way it is in Ontario.

Adrienne, as the lead director for the show, what sort of look did you want to bring to the series?
AM: I think the juxtapositions in Toronto are fascinating. The city is growing exponentially. There are so many condos and buildings being built. So, one of the things we were looking at visually was the contrast of that versus nature being moved out, people being moved out, the tension of living in that type of environment, where there is constant change and people being squeezed out. Visually, I don’t think Parkdale gets featured a lot in any of the Toronto shows I’ve seen. Parkdale, where there’s so much gentrification going on, where’s there are so many colliding communities.

It’s also very important for us to have geography, locations that inform [Jenny] as the coroner. The coroner is all about looking at the world and how bad shit happens. It’s not so much about her perspective and not so much about convicting a criminal. It’s, ‘How do I prevent this from happening again?’ And, in that way, we need to see the environment of where the death occurred and visually from her perspective, what that looks like.  We also wanted to visually explore something about her personal relationship with death, and we love these moments when she has a little prayer that she says to the dead, and we’re working with all sorts of interesting lenses to really establish her personal connection to the dead and that they’re not just a body, that there is something there, that she has to try to find the truth in the situation to sort of give them peace.

This week’s episode is the kick-off of a two-parter. What hints can you give us about it, and why did this particular story require two parts?.
AM: It needs two parts because it takes Jenny into a really personal relationship with a character whose life is going to be greatly endangered if she doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

MB: And it leads Jenny to make a decision that has strong, strong implications for the rest of the season. These two episodes are just so exciting.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Additional casting confirmed as Muse, Back Alley and Cineflix start production on CBC original drama Coroner

From a media release:

With production now underway in Toronto, Ontario, Muse Entertainment, Back Alley Films and Cineflix Studios today revealed additional casting for new CBC original drama CORONER (8×60), set for a winter 2019 broadcast and streaming premiere on CBC, the CBC TV app and cbc.ca/watch. Inspired by the best-selling series of books by M. R. Hall and created by Morwyn Brebner (Saving Hope), the series centres on newly appointed coroner Jenny Cooper as she investigates suspicious deaths in Toronto.

CORONER stars Serinda Swan (InhumansBallers) as Jenny Cooper, a brave, determined yet vulnerable coroner, former ER doctor, and recently widowed mother, driven by an intense desire for the truth. She loves her son more than life itself and strives to support him while also trying to take care of herself. The passing of Jenny’s beloved husband has unlocked a primal connection to death, tied to a secret in her past that is only now coming to the surface.  With storylines based on real-life cases, Jenny is a coroner for our time, an advocate for the dead even when it’s inconvenient for the living, and a defender of those who are powerless or in peril.

Joining the series are Roger Cross (The X-Files) as Donovan “Mac” McAvoy, a police detective who partners with Jenny; Éric Bruneau (Blue Moon) as Liam, Jenny’s new neighbour; and Ehren Kassam (DeGrassi: Next Class) as Ross, Jenny’s 17-year-old son. Also joining the cast are Tamara Podemski (Rabbit Fall) as Alison Trent, Jenny’s eccentric colleague; Allison Chung (UnReal) as Taylor Kim, a smart, junior homicide detective; Lovell Adams-Gray (Second Jen) as Dr. Dwayne Allen, an idealistic young pathologist; and Saad Siddiqui (Madame Secretary) as Dr. Neil Sharma, Jenny’s insightful psychiatrist.

A CBC original series, CORONER is produced by Muse Entertainment, Back Alley Films and Cineflix Studios. Morwyn Brebner is creator, executive producer and showrunner, Adrienne Mitchell (Durham County, Bellevue) is lead director and executive producer for Back Alley Films, Jonas Prupas is executive producer for Muse Entertainment with Peter Emerson and Brett Burlock executive producers for Cineflix Studios. For CBC, Sally Catto is General Manager, Programming; Helen Asimakis is Senior Director, Scripted Content; and Sarah Adams is Executive in Charge of Production. Cineflix Rights has the exclusive worldwide distribution rights to CORONER.

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Season 2 of Bellevue being developed, but show seeks a new home

It turns out Bellevue‘s fate is as mysterious as the show itself. After reporting last Friday that a second season was being developed for CBC came a troubling update: there is no home for the Anna Paquin-Shawn Doyle led series after all.

Co-creator, Episode 1 director and executive producer Adrienne Mitchell contacted TV, Eh? on Tuesday night with the following information:

“To clarify, though Season 2 of Bellevue has been in development with CBC, unfortunately, production of a follow-up season is currently not moving forward,” Mitchell wrote. “We are incredibly proud of our talented cast and crew who worked so tirelessly to bring this beautiful series to life. We also feel there are more stories to tell and we’ll be looking for other opportunities to bring this to fruition. In a town like Bellevue, the future is never as it seems!”

Fellow Bellevue co-creator Jane Maggs is going to be part of next month’s Writers Talking TV event—find details on how to attend that here—and we’re sure the topic of a new home for the program will come up. Produced by Mitchell and Janis Lundman’s Back Alley Film Productions Ltd. and Muse Entertainment Enterprises, Bellevue was co-created by Mitchell and Maggs with the latter serving as senior writer, executive producer and co-showrunner with Mitchell.

Season 1 of Bellevue starred Anna Paquin as Annie Rider, a brilliant but troubled cop in the town of Bellevue whose past returned to haunt her following the death of a transgender teen. During the course of her investigation, old wounds were opened and secrets revealed, putting her at odds with her ex-husband, Eddie (Allen Leech), her superior, Police Chief Peter Welland (Shawn Doyle) and putting the relationship with her daughter, Daisy (Madison Ferguson) in jeopardy. Season 1 also starred Billy MacLellan, Sharon Taylor, Janine Theriault, Amber Goldfarb and Sadie O’Neil.

Listen to Maggs discuss her career and the creation of Bellevue during our recent podcast and read Carolyn Potts’ reviews; here’s the link to her season finale review.

Where do you think Bellevue should go if it doesn’t return to CBC? Comment below.

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Bellevue: Producers and stars Anna Paquin and Shawn Doyle talk CBC’s darkest drama

Let’s get this out of the way right now. Bellevue isn’t a feel-good drama. You won’t walk away from it whistling and snapping your fingers. You may very well want to retreat to a corner, curl up and rock slightly. It’s CBC’s darkest drama, akin to fantastic shows from the UK and Netherlands like Hinterland, Shetland, Broadchurch, The Fall and Wallander. And that’s exactly why you should be tuning in.

The eight-part Bellevue, debuting Monday at 9 p.m. on CBC, seems like it should be a traditional whodunit: Det. Annie Ryder (Anna Paquin) is called in to investigate when a teenager goes missing in her small town of Bellevue. She and police chief Peter Welland (Shawn Doyle) dig for clues and uncover plenty of secrets. But the secret teen Jesse Sweetland (Sadie O’Neil) is keeping—that he wants to transition to female—is just the beginning. Annie’s past is fraught with tragedy. Her father killed himself when she was a girl and, soon after, she started receiving mysterious notes signed by him. Now her past is intersecting with the present because notes addressed to her are starting to show up again.

Filmed partly in Thetford Mines, Que., the blackened hills—the area used to be an asbestos mine—night scenes and blue filter exude a sense of dread that crosses the line into the downright scary. Bellevue is a town struggling to survive and not everyone living there is nice.

We spoke to series creators and executive producers Jane Maggs and Adrienne Mitchell, and stars Anna Paquin and Shawn Doyle about Bellevue:

Jane, I understand Bellevue was a little different before you brought it to Adrienne. How was it different?
Jane Maggs: It was a little smaller. There was still a mystery and a disappearance, Annie and her relationship with her family was a very strong part of the series, and a mysterious person from her past that comes back. That was the kernel of the story. What we did with Adrienne was make the world bigger and, in some ways, more relevant. We brought a lot more of the town into it and making it more complex.

Adrienne Mitchell: Together we also probed what it would be like to have the character that was missing be the hockey hero and also struggling with gender identity. I read Jane’s initial pilot while I was on a flight and what Jane brought to it was that these characters were all there and had this authenticity and specificity that leapt off the page and felt real. I read a lot of scripts and don’t often see that kind of sophistication.

Aside from the eerie moments and scariness, Bellevue asks some serious questions about sexual identity and religion.
Jane Maggs: The questions around identity came about because we wanted to explore what it was like to be different in a small town. It’s not the same as being different in a big city. We explore that through Jesse and other people in the town, including Annie herself. As for religion, in Bellevue the church has a bit of an archaic form there. The people have their checklist of values they believe in and live by and those don’t alway line up with what it means to be a good person.

How is Annie viewed by the townspeople? Is she seen as damaged goods after everything she’s been through?
Jane Maggs: It depends on who you ask, but I think to the masses there is an element of damaged goods to her. Everybody knows her history and she grew up there and flailed in front of people. She was wild and made a lot of mistakes in front of people; they have their view of her and it goes back years. I think Peter, her superior, and Eddie [Allen Leech], her partner, have different views of her.

What was it about the scripts that you read that attracted you to Bellevue?
Anna Paquin: The scripts are very, very well-written. Jane is a wonderful writer. They’re complex, rich, smart and detailed and like most things, I was sent a script for the pilot. I read it and was like, ‘Well, what happens next!?’ Literally, over the course of a few hours, I was emailing, asking for the next one and the next one. I got to Episode 4 and there were no more scripts left. Then I asked, ‘OK, when can I meet with these people?!’ [Laughs.] It’s not just that the plot kept me engaged, it’s a very rich and complicated character. She occupies a world that is seemingly a nice, small town. But, like any town, there are dark things that happen. She lives life on the edge and is passionate in a way that is reckless, but it all comes from a very good place.

What about you Shawn?
Shawn Doyle: I wasn’t that interested, to be honest. I’ve played a lot of cops, as you know. With cops, you have to go through all of the procedural stuff because it’s part of the story but it’s only engaging to an actor to a certain extent. But then I read the scripts and they were very good. I had faith in what they told me. The didn’t tell me exactly what was going to happen. And, in fact, once Anna and I started working together, based on our connection they started to extrapolate the storyline based on that and created back story and a way forward based on what they were seeing from us, which was exciting. My character grew very complex and presented an interesting challenge.

What can you say about the relationship between Peter and Annie?
Anna Paquin: Peter was a young cop and sort of mentored by Annie’s dad. As we get further into the mystery surrounding this missing teenager in present-day, there are aspects and elements of the circumstances surrounding the death of my dad that come to light that are challenging to our relationship. He has taken on looking after Annie’s well-being in a bigger sense.

Shawn Doyle: As the story deepens and Annie finds out more, we begin to understand the reasons why I’ve taken such care to take care of her and guide her and become almost a father figure to her. The reasons behind that become more apparent.

Thetford Mines adds another character to this story.
Adrienne Mitchell: It’s an interesting way to depict the dark shadow hanging over the town. It’s a town in transition, they don’t know how they’re going to survive. They are kind of fossilized like the asbestos mountains are. The woods are always moving, and they can be beautiful and fucked up at the same time. Those, visually, are two things playing off each other.

Bellevue airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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