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Jann: Tenaj Williams on Trey’s calming influence and joining the Season 3 cast

If not for the pandemic, Tenaj Williams wouldn’t be playing Trey on the third season of Jann. In fact, he likely wouldn’t be acting on television at all. 

Until 2020, the Calgary-based actor and singer was happily ensconced in the theatre world, performing in various musicals and plays around the country. But when COVID-19 shut down theatres, he decided to make the jump to film and television, landing small parts in Wynonna Earp, Big Sky and the Hallmark movie Meet Me at Christmas

When Williams nabbed a role in Jann, airing Mondays at 7 p.m. ET on CTV, he assumed it would be small as well. But he soon found out that Trey, Jann’s (Jann Arden) new personal assistant, is no bit part. On the contrary, the calm, nurturing former nanny will be a major, season-long presence as he works to bring order to Jann’s chaotic universe and develops a strong bond with her mom Nora (Deborah Grover). 

“The part was much larger than I thought it was going to be,” Williams says.  

During a phone interview from Calgary, Williams told us how he approached playing Trey and explained why he loved joining Jann’s Season 3 cast. 

What was your audition process for Jann like?
Tenaj Williams: Typically now with COVID, it’s all self-tapes, and I actually really like that. I like that I can control the environment I’m in and my level of anxiety and stress. The way I’ve devised to tell if my self-tapes are good or not is, I always watch back my self-tape before I submit it, and if I find myself distracted by things like ‘Why do you look like that?’ or ‘What are you doing with your teeth?’ or ‘What are you doing with your mouth?’ then it’s not a good take. But if at the end of the take I find that I’m just smiling the whole time, that means I was [in the moment] as a viewer and then I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah, that must be a good take.’

With Jann, I sent off the tape, and I knew who Jann was, and I had seen commercials of the show, but I had never actually watched the show before. And then I got shortlisted for it, but I’d been shortlisted for things before, and I know not to get my hopes up for anything. So I continued on with my life, no big deal. I didn’t tell anybody anything, because I didn’t want to be like, ‘Hey, I’m shortlisted, and then I didn’t get the part. So I just pretended like life as usual, and then I got an email from my agent saying, ‘We’re just waiting for network approval,’ and I didn’t really know what that was. I assumed that it could still fall through, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up for that either. And then I got the job, and I was super excited, but I for sure didn’t understand the magnitude of what I was doing. I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll be in one or two episodes, which will be cool,’ you know what I mean? And it wasn’t until I got my script maybe like a week later and I did a fitting that was two and a half hours, and I was like, ‘How many costumes do I have?’ and I looked through the script and I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m in all the scenes, I’m in every episode.’ And then I was invited to a table read, which that’s never happened to me before, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is actually a big part,’ and that’s when I got excited.

Trey is a very calm, collected guy who loves astrology. How did you approach playing him?
TW: Honestly, first I watched all the episodes of this show, all of them. And it didn’t take me long to do it, either. I really enjoyed the show. When the first season ended, I thought I was like two episodes in, but I’d finished the whole season. And the same thing happened with the second season. And I kind of pieced together Trey from Jann, who has very chaotic energy, and that’s an understatement. I thought, if she’s looking for a personal assistant, I’m imagining she needs the opposite of what she is. You could play it really crazy and really high energy and matching that kind of energy, but I thought it might be more interesting if he comes in and juxtaposes that kind of energy. So I tried to bring him into a more Zen-like place. So that was my main focus, I thought that’s what she would benefit from, someone to balance her off. 

And I’m not much into astrology personally, but I did look into a little bit and I talked to a few friends who are into it, and I looked into my own sign—I’m an Aquarius—and I thought, ‘Oh, these are actually quite accurate.’ 

As you mentioned, Jann’s world is pretty chaotic. How is poor Trey going to handle that as the season goes on?
TW: Well, what I will say without giving any spoilers away is, he says in the first episode that he really likes a challenge, and I think that he finds it. I think he finds not only a challenge in Jann but in the people that live in Jann’s house that he’s now surrounded by. So he has a very ridiculously destroyed version of Cale [Elena Juatco], and I think he finds that very fascinating in a terrifying way, and you also have the energy of Nora. I think he’s attracted to the different situations there and the different energies and what that means. I think the challenge of bringing that all together is really exciting. 

When we recently spoke with Jann Arden, she told us that Trey develops a strong relationship with Nora. What can you tell us about that?
TW: Something about Nora triggers something in his past that he’s dealt with himself. He sees something in Nora that he wants to nurture. He wants to take care of this person, and I think he finds a really good friend in Nora, and I really, really love their relationship. I think that Nora is looking for a friend just as much as Trey is looking to take care of this type of person. Because she’s around Jann’s chaotic energy a lot, and she’s also been, not kicked out by Max, but kind of seeing that we need a change, and I think she’s looking for some stability. I think that Trey provides that for her in a way.

I imagine it’s not always easy to join an established TV show. What was your first day on set like?
TW: It was crazy, honestly. It was crazy that I had binged these two seasons and then I did this Zoom reading where I got to see all the faces that I got to see on screen, where we went over the whole season. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe it.’ And they were all such professionals. I cannot rave highly enough about the group of actors that they have brought together, beautiful human souls who genuinely want to make the work so good. There are no egos or anything like that, everybody was so welcoming and warm. 

The first day, I was wildly nervous, I didn’t really know what to expect, and my first scene was a two-hander with Jann, and I was like, ‘Of course it is. Of course, my very first day is with the star of the show in a scene that’s just the two of us.’ And so I freaked out and thought, ‘OK, don’t mess up any of your lines because if you mess up even one line, they’re going to kick you to the curb.’ 

And I was standing there and Jann was with me—and our first time really meeting was on set, the first scene we were doing—and we were just having a very casual conversation, and we just stood there for a second and it was quiet, and Jann just turns to me and is like, ‘So, are you nervous?’ And I thought, ‘How do I answer this question?’ and I was like, ‘You know what? Yeah, I am. I’m very nervous.’ And she just looks at me and said, ‘Oh, thank God, me, too.’ And that actually really helped things. 

Did you ever find yourself cracking up at some of Jann’s one-liners and antics while shooting?
TW: I would like to tell you that I got to the point where I was like, ‘Oh, I’m a professional, I don’t laugh anymore, I don’t break,’ but that never was the case. I was always breaking, I was always ruining scenes. It’s [Jann’s] show, and if she wants to try something completely different…she’ll just go on the most hilarious tangents, and I’m like, ‘Please don’t zoom the camera into my face, please don’t zoom the camera into my face.’ I just couldn’t keep it together. 

What was the best thing about joining the cast this season?
TW: The biggest thing was, honestly, it felt like I was part of something so great. I was just so proud of the work. I was laughing out loud constantly while we were doing the work. The script was so funny, everybody was so funny, we had such good chemistry as a cast, they welcomed me in so much, that it just felt like I was playing around. I mean, it’s crazy to me that I’m in a sitcom with Jann Arden and a bunch of other really talented people. I got paid to just literally play with the funnest, wonderfullest people. I tried not to take that for granted.

Jann airs Mondays at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, CTV.ca and CTV app.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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CTV Comedy Channel orders original comedy series, Acting Good

From a media release:

As announced today from Content Canada’s Digital Summit, CTV Comedy Channel has ordered the all-new original scripted comedy, ACTING GOOD, loosely based on the life of stand up comedian Paul Rabliauskas (THE STAND UP SHOW WITH JON DORE). Produced by Kistikan Pictures Inc., the series was co-created by Rabliauskas, who is also set to star in the series, Amber-Sekowan Daniels (DIGGSTOWN), Eric Toth (STILL STANDING), and Pat Thornton (FILTH CITY). The hilarious 10-part, half-hour comedy follows self-conscious and gullible Paul (Rabliauskas), who falls flat on his face in the big city and tries to slip back into life on his fly-in rez as if nothing happened. But his eccentric family is having none of it. ACTING GOOD is set to shoot on location in Manitoba early next year, with production and additional casting details to be announced in the coming months.

ACTING GOOD is set in the fictional fly-in reserve of Grouse Lake First Nation in Northern Manitoba, a community that lives by its own set of rules. The series is inspired by Paul Rabliauskas’ own isolated reserve of Poplar River First Nation, and the family and friends that inhabit the community. Pat Thornton, Amber-Sekowan Daniels, and Eric Toth are co-writers for the series along with Rabliauskas.

This all-new comedy series joins Bell Media’s robust 2021/22 development and production slate that includes drama series SULLIVAN’S CROSSING and LITTLE BIRD, as well as scripted comedy series DU ME A FAVOR and LETTERKENNY spinoff series, SHORSEY.

ACTING GOOD is produced by CTV Comedy, in association with Kistikan Pictures Inc. Producers are Tina Keeper (Kistikan Pictures) and Jennifer Beasley (Buffalo Gal Pictures) with Phyllis Laing (Buffalo Gal Pictures) as Executive Producer. Amber-Sekowan Daniels, Pat Thornton, and Eric Toth serve as co-showrunners.

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Ben Mulroney announces departure from Your Morning

From a media release:

As announced today on CTV’s YOUR MORNING, Co-Host Ben Mulroney is departing the national morning show to focus on a new career developing scripted and unscripted projects, following a 20-year career with the broadcaster. Mulroney’s last day on YOUR MORNING will be this Friday, October 1 on CTV.

“After 20 years, I have made the difficult decision to leave CTV and YOUR MORNING to pursue a career as a producer, developing unique projects for both Canadian and global audiences,” said Mulroney. “I have had an incredible run at CTV, but it’s time to take the leap and fulfill what has been a life-long dream for me. I look forward to connecting with Canadians in this new way and for the opportunity to develop ideas with Bell Media in the future.”

“Ben is regarded as one of Canada’s premier TV hosts, a broadcaster who helped to put Canada on the map in the world of entertainment news,” said Karine Moses, Senior Vice President, Content Development and News, Bell Media. “As Ben transitions from reporting on stories in front of the camera to telling stories from behind it, we look forward to the opportunity to collaborate with Ben again, and we wish him nothing but the best in his new venture.”

Ben joined CTV as an entertainment reporter for CANADA AM in October 2001, before joining ETALK in its debut season as Co-Host in 2002. Ben was also a member of the broadcast team for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, reporting on entertainment news for CTV, and was the host of CTV’s CANADIAN IDOL for six seasons, which at the time was the most-watched English-language Canadian television show on record. He became Co-Host of YOUR MORNING when it debuted in 2016.

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Jann Arden returns with “Fun, Farcical” third season

Jann Arden is back, and she’s in top form.

“I’ve never felt or looked better, you should see me,” she gushes over the phone when asked how she’s doing.

Arden’s just joking, of course, using her trademark self-deprecating humour to get through a long day of interviews promoting the upcoming third season of her comedy series, Jann. But all banter aside, the singer-songwriter-actor really is at the top of her game. She has a hit TV show, she’s recording a new album, and she’s planning an international tour for 2022—provided the world has “calmed the f–k down by then.” Things are going well for her.

The same can’t be said for Arden’s hilariously self-sabotaging TV alter ego.

In Jann’s Season 3 premiere, airing Monday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, we find fictional Jann holed up in her house with her mom Nora (Deborah Grover), surrounded by pizza boxes and enough home spa products to fill an Amazon warehouse. Apparently, the events of last season—firing her manager Cale (Elena Juatco), getting spurned by her girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor), and inviting Nora to live with her—have caused the singer to embark on a months-long online shopping spree, responsibilities and utility bills be damned.

“Things are kind of falling apart at the seams,” Arden says of TV Jann’s situation. “It’s hard for me to manage my life even when I’m by myself, so add my mother living with me full-time, being newly single, struggling with my career…it’s just a lot of chaos.”

And Jann isn’t the only one spinning out of control. Cale’s attempts to “ground” herself after getting sacked involve sleeping in the woods. She shows up on Jann’s doorstep dishevelled with twigs in her hair, prompting Jann to ironically scream, “How can anyone go so far downhill, so fast?” Meanwhile, Max (Zoie Palmer) and Dave (Patrick Gilmore) are finding it hard to run their household without Nora’s help, resulting in piles of laundry and their kids dressing like “Victorian orphans” for school picture day.

To get her life back on track, Jann hires personal assistant Trey (Tenaj Williams), commits to recording a new album from the heart, and starts dating a younger man (Charlie Kerr). Never mind that she poached Trey from Max and Dave’s nanny interviewees, can’t get funding for her record, and keeps running into Cynthia.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” says Arden. “But that makes it fun. It’s quite farcical.”

We phoned Arden at The Warehouse Studio in Vancouver to learn more about Jann’s Season 3 antics.

Season 3 brings some new people into Jann’s life, including Trey, her personal assistant. Is she going to butt heads with him?
Jann Arden: I think Jann butts heads with anybody who tries to come into her life. Jann wants help, but she wants it on her own terms. So I think Trey brings so much fun because he deals with Jann in a very matter-of-fact way. He doesn’t put up with any crap. Plus, he really loves my mother, so they get along like a house on fire, and I’m kind of on the outside looking in. So I think you’ll see that, not unlike Cale, he’s constantly dealing with the complete lack of respect Jann has for the people around her. He and I together are very funny.

Speaking of Cale, it looks like getting fired has really sent her into a tailspin! I didn’t expect that.
JA: Well, she’s never been fired in her life, so she was probably raised by a Tiger Mother, perfectionism the whole way across. She’s not used to not getting her way, she’s not used to any kind of failure. It’s an unacceptable outcome to do anything in her life without it turning out exactly the way it was in her head. And what she finds, as a lot of people do in life, is that’s not how it goes. You have to face obstacles, you have to change, you have to face adversity and challenges, and Cale is Failure 101. She’s going down a road where she needs to figure out really what life’s about, and I love getting to explore a character like hers because like you said, no one expects to see Cale go on a journey of self-discovery and trying different things.

Cynthia turned down Jann’s marriage proposal at the end of Season 2, and Jann bounces back by dating a younger man later this season. I love the nonchalant way the show approaches her fluid sexuality.
JA: It is what it is. It’s a fluidity, it’s a person who absolutely dates whoever she wants and does what she wants and has no labels. And, you know, some people probably in the LGBTQ community would disagree with how we’ve approached it, but this is completely my doing, this is how I wanted to approach it and not ever make it into an issue for anyone.

On the contrary, Nora is quite taken aback that I’m dating a man. She’s like, ‘I thought you were done with men,’ she’s almost discouraging me from having a boyfriend, which is kind of the antithesis of what you think our society sort of tells us we should be doing. So my mother’s very much on Cynthia’s team. She would love to see us get back together. But I really find myself in sort of a throuple this year—I always think that word is so funny—but I’m literally playing two people, and I think that I can get away with it.

Nora’s storyline is very personal to you. What is going to happen with her this season?
JA: You know, the reason that obviously Nora is a character with Alzheimer’s is because of my own mother. Even before we started the show, I said that’s just a storyline that we need to tackle. Of course, my mother’s Alzheimer’s stretched over a 10-year period, and it was a very slow decline, it wasn’t rapid. So we feel that we have lots of time to uncover how dementia works, that it’s definitely varying degrees. No, a person can’t live by themselves, they can’t really be left alone. Nora has moments obviously where she’s there and she’s funny, but she also has moments when she doesn’t know where she is, she doesn’t know why she’s doing things, and that is the very frustrating part of memory loss.

[Having a loved one with Alzheimer’s] is not an easy thing, but it’s doable, it’s survivable. You’re never going to win against Alzheimer’s, you’re not gonna win the narrative, you’re not gonna win the fight, they’re not gonna get better. And that’s hard for people to admit to. And that’s why those control issues come in all the time, and my character’s always dealing with that because I think I can control the outcome of what’s coming, and I won’t be able to. It’s gonna be really interesting to see that unfold.

You’re very active on Twitter and frequently tweet about issues that are important to you. Are your followers ever shocked at how socially aware you are compared to TV Jann, who is so overtly self-involved?
JA: I don’t think so. I think that people who have followed along with my career the last 30 years, certainly the last 10 years or so of being on social media, know what I’m all about. Thank God I’m not TV Jann, her decision-making drives me crazy. She always makes terrible decisions, but that’s what makes it funny.

In my life, I’m not going to be one of those people sitting on my hands waiting for other people to do the heavy lifting, whether that’s in women’s health issues or animal welfare issues or voting or being vaccinated and worrying about the people around you and not just yourself. I don’t care. I block so many people every day, you have no idea. I don’t care what other people think, but I do care about how they feel. And that is two different things. So I’ll always be outspoken. I’m gonna kick my clogs someday, and I’m just not gonna go and leave this world quietly. At all.

Jann airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, CTV.ca, and CTV app.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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Award-winner Mary Berg is back on TV with Mary Makes it Easy

There’s a reason Mary Berg has resonated with audiences and judges, first on MasterChef Canada and then with Mary’s Kitchen Crush. What you see is what you get with Berg, and you can’t help but cheer her on.

The two-time Canadian Screen award winner is back with her latest series for Bell Media, helming Mary Makes it Easy. Debuting Monday at 8 p.m. Eastern on CTV Life Channel, Berg brings viewers into her real-life kitchen for easy-to-make (and equally easy to tweak) recipes, delivered with her trademark smile and humour.

We spoke to Mary Berg about Mary Makes it Easy, what viewers can expect from Season 1 and what it’s like to be an award winner.

How did Mary Makes it Easy come about? Is this something that you pitched to Bell or was this a collaboration?
Mary Berg: I think it was a bit of both, to be honest. We definitely pitched it to Bell. It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a straight-ahead cooking show, in the kitchen, showing you how to make something, walking you through it, cooking show. And we definitely did that in Mary’s Kitchen Crush. With Kitchen Crush, it was about the end result. It was about the people coming over and making dishes inspired by people who you’re going to meet at the end, that was the payoff. In Mary Makes it Easy I think we did a good job at conveying this is it’s all about you and me in the kitchen together, because that is the biggest hurdle for most people. 

It’s not necessarily having someone over. It’s how do you make something for friends, or even just your family that you live with or even just yourself? It is a hard thing to do when there are so many other options. This is about you and me, the person who doesn’t want to be pulling their hair out at the end of it when their guests arrive. It is just about prepping and making delicious food and making it as confident-filled and comfortable as possible for everybody.

You’ve always made it very accessible with your ingredients. Has that always been something that’s been important to you? Just keeping it easy for the home cook? 
MB: Totally. When I write recipes, I want someone who’s experienced in the kitchen to not think, ‘Oh, this is an easy recipe,’ but I want someone who isn’t also to feel like I’m there with them walking them through. With ingredients, especially over the last year and a half, my cooking style changed kind of completely. I don’t go to the grocery store every day anymore. I go once every two weeks, pretty much still like I’m still on that kind of schedule and it’s totally changed the way I cook. This show has a lot more options for substitutions. There are a lot more suggestions for if you don’t have this or you don’t like it, that’s fine. It’s not going to ruin the recipe. Make it yours because it’s about you.

How do you develop recipes?
I love recipe development and I love food science. Basically, I have this Nancy Drew-style notebook, a composition book that I write my ideas in. I write what I think is going to work. I write estimated measurements and I just think about flavours that I think would go well together. It’s summertime right now, so obviously, everything I do has peaches and tomatoes in it because both of those things go so well together. So taking cues from what’s at the market, what’s at the grocery store, even what’s on sale, and then trying to figure out ways to do it in exciting but accessible and accomplishable ways.

You film Mary Makes it Easy in your actual kitchen. Was that always the plan?
MB: This show was always going to be in my kitchen. I think I wanted to have people in my house [because] there’s a comfort level there that I think you can’t convey in a set in the same way. So having that and giving this whole show more of a comfortable, tight-knit, cozy, homey vibe, it feels a little more like you’re just hanging out at my, at my breakfast bar pretty much the whole time. 

I enjoyed the bloopers at the end of the first episode.
MB: Thanks, man! I wanted, throughout the show and throughout the episodes, to keep flubs in too. We kept things in where something goes wrong because that’s how it works. No one is perfect. In my world, in the kitchen, there’s no failing. You’re just like trying something and it might not work, but that means you learned how to make it not work. Sometimes things go wrong and you just roll with the punches and keep going.

Can you give me a hint about some of the upcoming episodes? The first is chicken.
MB: We’ve got 25 episodes, and it was really fun coming up with the ideas for each episode because we wanted to think of common issues in the kitchen. For instance, chicken. It’s a great staple, so we wanted to do one that with 100 percent all on chicken. The next episode is date night. The thing with date night is no, you shouldn’t make like a souffle. That is an insane thing to do when you’re trying to impress someone because it’s going to go wrong. You need to do things that are quick, really impressive, but also still look like you aren’t sweaty and you just had a crying fit on the floor before your date arrived. There’s get ahead recipes, there’s one-pot there are lunches, there’s baking, baking recipes for like real beginners. Like if you want to make bread, I’ve got the bread for you as a beginner and you want to make a cheesecake, I got the cheesecake for you.

You recently won a second Canadian Screen Award. How does that feel? 
MB: It’s one thing to put something out there and think that you really like it and that the folks at Bell Media really like it, but it’s another when people vote and you find out that the Academy really likes you too. So how does that feel? Um, mindboggling. Oatmeal brain is what I call it. The fact that the show also won is so huge because so many people worked so hard on it. I know everyone says this, but I truly did not expect it either time.

I was a participation ribbon kid. I was the kid who you’re playing soccer and I’d be like, ‘No, I’m going to sit down and find a four leaf clover.’ It is really exciting and thrilling to work so hard on something and have that peer and Academy-based recognition.

Mary Makes it Easy airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CTV Life Channel.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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