Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the Murdoch Mysteries Season 12 finale, “Darkness Before Dawn, Part 2.”
Wow, what a season finale! After worrying John Brackenreid would never walk again, his second surgery was a success and, it appears, Margaret and Thomas Brackenreid’s marriage may be on the mend. But there are still a few niggling questions left remaining. William knows Miss Hart planted evidence in the murder case and in doing that scored the coroner’s job. Meanwhile, Dr. Dixon has made it VERY clear he’s interested in Julia. Here’s hoping we get answers when Murdoch Mysteries is renewed for Season 13.
To close out my season-long Murdoch Mysteries interviews, I spoke to Charles Vandervaart, who has been playing John Brackenreid for a handful of seasons now, about how he got on the show in the first place and the evolution of John over the years.
Let’s get your origin story. How did you end up on Murdoch Mysteries in the first place? Did you go through the traditional means, an audition?
Charles Vandervaart: Yeah, I auditioned. I actually originally auditioned for the role of Bobby Brackenreid, funny enough, way back when. I did the scene where he’s playing in the sandbox and he gets abducted. But that didn’t work out. So about two years later, I auditioned for the role of John. You know, I didn’t think it would last this long, this many seasons. But I’ve been very fortunate that they keep writing me in and developing my character. I’m a happy camper.
You have literally grown up onscreen, on Murdoch Mysteries. That must be a little bit mind-blowing to think about.
CV: Yeah. It’s hilarious. And I love watching reruns. It’s like watching old home movies. I’ve been really lucky. This and The Stanley Dynamic was the other show that I was on when I was younger … both of these shows have really helped me get comfortable in front of the camera. I’m definitely a believer that the best of kind of acting lesson is just being on set and being with all these other actors and getting directions from all these directors. I’ve been so fortunate to get all of these acting lessons and to help improve my craft over the years. So it’s been such a blessing at the end of the show.
What made you decide to get into acting in the first place? Is it something you always wanted to do?
CV: The thing that I said when I was a little kid was, I wanted to be a theoretical astrophysicist in the area of nanotechnology because it was just the longest thing I could think of. I didn’t actually know what it meant at the time. I was just like, ‘This will impress the old people.’ I grew up in a small town about an hour and a half away from Toronto and I went to go see a play there. I was so immersed in it and I thought it was such a magical experience. And I asked my parents if I could try it out and act at the local theatre.
My first role ever as an actor was Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. It just kind of grew from there. I did a couple of plays here in Toronto, and then I got an agent and auditioned. And I couldn’t have done anything without my mom because we live so far away from Toronto. She drove me back and forth to auditions together. She’s just as much a part of it as I am. But I think, maybe at 14, I actually started really committing to it and saying, ‘This is what I love. This is my passion. I want to do this for the rest of my life.’
You mentioned about learning your craft over the years. What have you learned?
CV: What’s really helped me at being on sets all the time is just getting myself out there. It can be quite a nerve-wracking thing, being in front of a camera and being in front of a camera crew. So, I’m still working on getting those nerves down. But I think it’s also a good thing to have nerves because it means that you care about what you’re doing, you love what you’re doing. I also think that a lot of the times I obsess about the craft. When you’re doing a season, you could be three, four, five months working all day, every day. And then on the weekends you’re obsessed with what you’re doing and you’re constantly memorizing the lines and things like that. And then the season ends and you have a lull because you’re waiting for the next season and you’re waiting for your next project. I’ve had some great talks with some fellow actors about this. It’s really important to keep living your life and to not obsess about what the next thing is. And actors, their whole profession is based on drawing from your experiences. And you do have those lulls. You’ve got to go out with your friends and you’ve got to read some books and go out and watch some movies. So I’m getting better at just kind of putting it aside and using my onset experience and then also my offset experience to draw from.
We’ve really seen this character of John Brackenreid grow up, especially in Season 12. Here’s a guy who is coming into his own as a constable. And now he goes through this season, before even getting shot, his parents divorcing.
CV: John has always been kind of this character, I think, that’s been on the brink of adulthood. He’s almost there. And this season especially because, before we’ve always seen John as this quintessentially innocent character. And then, all of a sudden, he has all this baggage. His parents and he may not walk again, he’s been sleeping around. It’s a John that we’ve never seen before. It’s great because everyone makes mistakes and has crazy days when they’re just growing up and they’re on the brink of adulthood. And John is really going through some stuff right now. And it’s been a pleasure to play that because I love all the crazy, messy things as an actor.
What was your reaction to the fact that John was going to be shot and maybe not walk again? Did Peter Mitchell pull you aside and say, ‘It’s OK, by the end of the episode you’re going to walk? Did they make you wait? How did that work?’
CV: Apparently, for quite a while, the writer’s room knew that I was going to get shot. And, a few of the crew knew that I was going to get shot. One day I made a joke about me getting shot. And everyone was just kind of like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s funny.’ Even though all of them knew that that was actually going to happen in the season finale. So I think that was a pretty predetermined thing. But, yeah, Peter took me aside and he said, ‘This is what’s going to happen. You’re going to be fine, though, don’t worry about it.’ But I think he knew for a few seasons that he was going to do this.
It must be some of the easiest acting you’ve had to do. You got to lie down. You didn’t have to wear the uniform or anything.
CV: Yeah. For two episodes I had to sit down and lie down. [Laughs.]
A big part of John’s life this season has been the effect of seeing this family break up. How have you felt about seeing your onscreen parents split?
CV: I think it was a great little storyline from the writing perspective and from the perspective of the show. Because they’re both two characters that are very feisty and they’re very opinionated and I really hope that they pull this together. I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next season. As a watcher of the show, I’m really hoping that they just come out of this stronger than ever and as a couple, together. It was crazy and it kind of felt a little bit out of body because you have these two fake parents, these two parents that I’ve had for six years. And then they’re going through this divorce and sometimes you catch yourself, you’re like, ‘Oh, this isn’t real.’ I’m really eager to see what happens in the next season.
What have you thought of Season 12 of Murdoch Mysteries? What would you like to see happen in Season 13? Let me know in the comments below!
You can stream past episodes of Murdoch Mysteries on CBC Gem.
Images courtesy of CBC.