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Hudson & Rex’s Justin Kelly: “I get to really play with these quirks”

I first became aware of Justin Kelly’s work back in 2015 when he was part of the ensemble cast of YTV’s cancelled-way-too-soon family drama Open Heart, playing a sarcastic scamp named Wes. Followed by roles on Citytv’s Between and Space’s Wynonna Earp, Kelly has returned to his old Citytv stomping grounds on Hudson & Rex.

Kelly plays Jesse, described in the show’s press materials as “the quintessential millennial: young, driven, more than a little awkward, and right at home in front of a computer.” What should be added to that logline is one more word: unlucky. With just four episodes broadcast so far, Jesse has been shot, drugged and almost drowned. We spoke to Kelly about his dangerous new gig.

So far Jesse has been shot, and in the latest episode, he was roofied and almost drowned. What’s going on with this poor guy?
Justin Kelly: I mean, that’s what happens when he decides to leave the desk. He gets into trouble. A lot goes down in the first few episodes with him. And we later learn that he might just be better behind his desk than being out in the field. But the field stuff is fun, so hopefully, we can expect more of that.

St. John’s is particularly special to me. What about you?
JK: Absolutely. It was a bucket list thing for sure, wanting to get out there. And I’m just lucky enough that I was able to get out there for work and for such a long period of time. It’s a beautiful, beautiful city. We’ve been shooting there throughout its winter, which can be pretty harsh, especially this winter has been a little crazy, there are still so many reasons to love it in spite of that. And I had the opportunity to really explore the city and walk around and do what the locals do. Yeah, I love the city, it’s great.

Tell me how you ended up being on the show in the first place. Did you go through the usual audition process?
JK: I did, yeah. It came out of nowhere. It was presented to me as this opportunity, that is like, ‘Come in and audition for this role of Jesse.’ I read one of the scripts, and it was something I hadn’t done before. I loved the idea of working for a major crimes unit in a police station. That was last summer, and it was around the time I was working with Shaftesbury on an episode of Frankie Drake Mysteries. I had gotten to know a few of the producers from Shaftesbury through that first, and then I auditioned. And about probably a week later, I found out I got the part, and the next thing I knew, I was out in St. John’s. It’s been a bit of a wild six months.

What goes into your thinking when you’re choosing a role? On a show like Open Heart, Wes was funny. On Wynonna Earp, Robin was a little bit strange and funny as well. Jesse’s a little bit offbeat, definitely the youngest guy in the team. What do you look for in a role?
JK: I think that’s exactly it. I’m a huge fan of comedy myself. One thing that these roles have in common was there was a place to go in terms of finding these quirks in these characters. I feel like every character needs to have something quirky and something off centre about them. That’s something I saw in Wes when Open Heart happened, was that he was the sarcastic Chandler Bing character that I grew up watching.

Robin was very similar. Robin was hilarious and this amazing damsel in distress, and was weirdly unaffected by all this crazy stuff that was happening around him in Purgatory. And with Jesse, I get to really play with these quirks and explore the nerdy comedic side of him, because he’s the youngest one on the team. He’s the millennial. He makes the jokes that the older folks don’t quite understand. That’s something that I just always latched onto and always really enjoyed.

The interesting thing about Hudson & Rex is that this group of humans are really tight. These characters don’t feel as though they’re the straight men to the dog. It’s great to have a dog on the show, but you also want to have characters that interact well with each other.
JK: Completely. You’re absolutely right, and that’s really important to me as well. When you deal with a certain formula of TV, where every episode is a different case, and you’re not necessarily following a linear pattern, you’re watching these characters grow within each episode. We’re so lucky that we have a great cast and that we get along really well. That happened right away, and that’s something that we’ve been playing with. A lot of these scenes that we have in the bullpen is really our opportunity to see how these four, and the dog, all react with one another. That’s the thing that keeps us going as well, is wanting to learn more about these characters as well as the dog.

What’s it been like working with Diesel?
JK: Having Diesel on-set is almost like … it’s almost like having Al Pacino on set. He’s so good, and he’s so well trained. He’s this presence, that as soon as he’s on set doing his work, everybody’s in awe of him a little bit. He’s this regal dog and is just there to do his job and is in it for the roast beef. And he’s all business, and it’s great to see. The episode that we just watched, ‘School Days,’ he’s pulling me out of a pool. To see how that all panned out and how it all worked was pretty amazing because they obviously did tests before, but he’s pulling me out. I’m wearing wet clothes and adding up to probably about 175 pounds. He’s just panting, trying to get me out. It’s really neat to see him work, and it really brings a bit of the camaraderie to the set, and everybody’s really just happy to have him there.

You just spoke about being in the pool. Was that a long day of production for you? 
JK: I think I was in and out of the pool for about five hours. I didn’t have to do a whole lot in terms of swimming, or anything. You come to find after about an hour, that treading water with wet clothes on is a lot harder than it seems, and it can really knock it out of you. I remember going home that day … I was finished by one o’clock, and I just konked out, and was like, ‘Wow, that was tough.’ I mean, I just watched the episode on video with my fiancée probably about an hour ago, and I was like, ‘I’m really happy with how that cut together and how it looks.’

Jesse is described as being this quintessential millennial. He’s young, driven, more than a little bit awkward, and right at home in front of a computer. What else are we going find out about this guy?
JK: Not to give too much away, but we really learn about how much his work means to him. I like to think that he’s going home and he’s still working, and he has that personality. So we really see how invested he becomes in this job and in working with these people. And that just continues to grow and grow.

Hudson & Rex airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Rogers Media.

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Hudson & Rex’s Kevin Hanchard: “This guy felt different, and it felt right”

Kevin Hanchard has played a lot of authority figures, including doctors, lawyers and police officers. Many police officers, on such shows as, most recently, Orphan Black, Cardinal and Cavendish.

Hanchard can currently be seen on Hudson & Rex, Citytv’s human-canine cop drama, portraying Superintendent Donovan. But unlike the officers he has played in the past, Hanchard describes Donovan as “different.” We spoke to him to find out exactly why, and we get a sneak peek into an upcoming episode where viewers learn more about Donovan.

How did you come to be on Hudson & Rex in the first place?
Kevin Hanchard: It was providence. I was offered the role of Superintendent Donovan. We thought about it and it made sense. I’m sort of at a place in my life, where I’m a little bit older, and I play a lot of doctors, lawyers and cops. And I have played a few cops in the last few years, but this guy felt different, and it felt right. It felt like there was a maturity and gravitas and weight to this guy than other cops I’ve played. It made sense for me to do this. I had been to Newfoundland before to shoot Republic of Doyle, I think going on eight years now, and I remember having a great time out there, loving the people, loving the landscape, the vistas and the sights, the restaurants and all of that. I was thinking, this is just a great opportunity to spend some time in a part of the country I don’t know if I’m going to get a chance to visit.

I’m impressed at how much Hudson & Rex is about the team investigating these crimes. I love the interaction not just between Rex and Charlie, but the team dynamic too.
KH: I really do think it’s an ensemble. Charlie and Rex are the heart of the series, but the four of us really seem to work together as actors and the characters seem to work well together. I think that’s good and bodes well for the future of the show. It just feels right, you know? The balance is where it should be. Even though I’m the superintendent, I’m not there with an iron fist like the guy from Beverly Hills Cop going, ‘Foley!’ That’s not his nature. He’s a little more like a mentor, which allows for some comedic moments and levity in the face of, you know, a murder each week. I think those are the things that allow for the audience to care for the characters and give the show some legs. I don’t think there could be three better people for me to work with than Mayko, Johnny and Justin. They’re super-talented actors and they’re good people. We genuinely enjoy spending time together. They may tell you something different about me, but I’ll at least take the high road. [Laughs.]

How do you feel about Diesel?
KH: Diesel is the only one of us to consistently hit his mark and never forgets his lines. He’s so smart and intelligent and has such a great spirit about him. You can see it in his eyes; there is a wisdom and a depth there that allows him to be the heartbeat of the show. Even though he is a dog and most people are watching for the dog, it’s not exploitive. It’s not a dog getting dressed up in a tutu and going undercover. He’s fantastic. And, for someone who has wanted to own a dog his entire life, this is a great consolation prize.

Looking forward to the episode entitled, ‘Haunted by the Past,’ we’re going to get a bit of a peek into Donovan’s personal life.
KH: We get to find out about his family situation and the fact that he has a teenage daughter. I’m the father of a child that has just gone through his teens and another about to go into his teens and these are every dad’s worst nightmare. Is my child doing drugs or, even worse, is my child hiding something from me? Donovan is human. He isn’t just a cop who is detached from his kid and is all about the work. He truly has an interest in her well-being. All of those fears and hopes and dreams that every parent has is delivered in this guy as well. It’s a wonderful little side story in that episode.

Hudson & Rex airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Rogers Media.

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Link: Canada’s top dog whisperer Sherri Davis barks orders to Diesel on the set of Hudson & Rex

From Bill Brioux of Brioux.tv:

Link: Canada’s top dog whisperer Sherri Davis barks orders to Diesel on the set of Hudson & Rex
“Film work is a little different than just training them to be a house pet. There’s so much that goes into it. It honestly depends not on the breed but on the disposition of the dog and their temperament. You don’t want a dog that’s really hyper and off the wall; at the same time you don’t want a dog that’s lazy and could care less about you.” Continue reading. 

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The Murders’ Jill Carter: “The highlight of my career so far”

It’s been almost two years since I spoke to Jill Carter. Back then, it was a podcast to discuss her directing work on Spiral, a creepy web series. We also talked about her experiences directing episodes of Murdoch Mysteries and how she got into the Canadian television industry in the first place.

I caught up with Carter last week for her latest project, The Murders. Created by Damon Vignale, the series stars Jessica Lucas as Kate Jameson, a rookie homicide detective whose mistake on Day 1 leads to tragedy. And, unlike directing on an established series like Murdoch, Carter was on the ground level for The Murders, meaning she collaborated with Vignale on how Citytv’s Monday night drama would look and feel for four episodes, starting with the pilot. It is, as she says, “the highlight of my career so far.”

How did you get involved in The Murders? Had you worked with Damon Vignale before? 
Jill Carter: I’d actually never met Damon. My agent was dogged about pursuing this for me. The producers and Damon and Rogers were interested in discussing the show with me, and so they sent me the bible and the pilot episode, and I read it a couple of times, and did some homework in terms of what kind of police homicide detective shows I thought were interesting and maybe kind of relevant to the type of show that they were discussing. Damon had mentioned the show Marcella to me. So, I looked at that and then I looked at a couple of others that I also liked. Actually, they were all British shows.

And then, I let my imagination run wild and had a good conversation with the Muse producers and Damon and they, in the end, obviously, we’re happy with how that conversation went and were interested in hiring me and then they asked me to do one more thing before it could become official. They wanted me to do a look book, which was to basically create a document that represented what my thoughts and visual ideas would be in terms of how I would approach the show.

What was in your look book? 
JC: I pulled some reference stills from the shows that I was inspired by, and also the show that Damon had talked about, and ones that I liked the framing of or the colour palette of. We had also talked about wanting to have a very different take on a police station. I’m really pleased because I think we ended up achieving that. I had pulled some references for police stations, but not specific to that. I actually found, in Dwell magazine, an old post office that this digital company had repurposed, that looked really cool. I thought could be an interesting space or reference for a space for a police station. And then just shots of Vancouver and the diversity in culture and the diversity in landscape, and sort of the beautiful, soft colours of the west coast. But also the sort of darkness and rich colours of the mountains and when you get those rainy grey days, that kind of colour palette.

I basically pooled all of that and then hired a graphic designer to work with me on creating a pleasing book that would represent the show’s feeling. At the end of the day, you want to create something that people can really get a sense of the feeling and the tone and the style that you want to embody.

Is this the project where you had the most input?
JC: I never had that much input on a show before. And obviously, every show that you direct, they’re hiring you for a reason, so you try, within the sandbox that you’re given, to infuse your own taste and style and artistic value to that show. But you’re dealing with, as the director that followed me on The Murders, was they had to sort of follow what we had set out to be the tone and the style of the show. Which is fun, and it’s you trying to find a way in on something that already kind of exists, so it’s a different sort of challenge.

But, obviously, the most fun is when you can really have a hand in creating something and having the most ability to weigh in on what the sets are gonna look like, what locations you have. You always have that when you’re directing, but if you’re directing a show that’s already in place, you haven’t picked any of the original locations, you’re just handed whatever doctor’s office or police station you’ve been given.

I really got to, with Damon, go and decide. We saw a bunch, and there was a couple that we saw that was already dressed as police stations, and I’d look at him immediately and be like, ‘Nope,’ and he would agree. The two of us were very much on the same page about it. And we’re excited to find something different that we hadn’t seen before. And I think we really did that.

One of the things that I loved about our police station is that it’s right at street-level, and you see traffic passing by. I think it adds a real authenticity to the fact that they’re working in a location that they’re also servicing for their job. You feel like they’re in the thick of it, and it just adds another layer and sort of nuance to the scenes that are in the bullpen, and also give a buzz almost, like an extra something to every scene that’s there, and just life that you don’t often get a chance to see when you’re in those type of sets. I loved that element.

What are some of the unique challenges of filming in a city, on location, at night?
JC: The biggest challenge is time because you have restrictions in terms of the hours that you can be shooting. So that, I’d say, is kind of the biggest factor, because how you’re shooting or where you’re shooting really kind of remains the same in terms of like whatever situation you’re gonna have to deal with. It’s really just the restriction on how long you can shoot in that location.

A question about Jessica Lucas. People know her as an actress, but she’s also a producer on The Murders. What was it like working with her? 
JC: As an actress, she’s incredible. She really carries the show. Her character is quite stoic and very internal. Everything’s sort of kept close to her chest, and you know she’s very protective and very serious about what she’s doing. And Jessica is very expressive as an actress, and her face says a lot. Her style and ability as an actress really lends itself well to this character and was wonderful and really killed it, I think.

As a producer, she was open and collaborative and really, I think for her, was an opportunity to get her feet wet in an area that she’s interested in and would probably like to do more of. It was starting out in a space that she’s comfortable, meaning a show that she was working on as an actress as well, I think helps pave the way.

It was an opportunity to have a larger voice in terms of weighing in, especially on the script and in the story in terms of in pre-production and production, on what she felt was working or needed to be maybe adjusted for her character. But, also, the script as a whole, and wanting to make sure that we were all moving forward in the same direction, in the right direction, and having discussions about wardrobe and things like that. Getting more into the nuts and bolts of stuff that you maybe don’t normally get a chance to do as an actor for hire, when you’re not producing as well.

What can viewers expect as they get into the second episode and the meat of the season?
JC: If you saw the first episode and the preview of Episode 2 coming on Monday night, you’ll know that it’s a bank heist, and I had a ton of fun directing that. I’d never done one before, and that was super fun to do. All of my episodes have been different and fun. We learn more about Kate’s past and her family relationship.

And also you start to understand the dynamic of the group of detectives that are working together. If you’ve seen Episode 1, you know that we don’t shy away from presenting images that are difficult or challenging. That stays through the entire season, so I think people can be looking to be gripped and excited and presented with entrusting ideas and also just get to know our characters a little better.

The Murders airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Taro PR.

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Hudson & Rex showrunner Ken Cuperus: “I read it, and I actually turned it down”

I’ve been writing about Canadian television for years and thought I’d heard every story possible both on and off the record. But Ken Cuperus shocked me when we spoke about Hudson & Rex.

He initially turned it down.

“When I came into the show, it was kind of a grim and grey kind of procedural,” Cuperus said recently. “And I read it, and I actually turned it down. I said, ‘I feel like the material is too dark.’ I’m more of a comedy guy. I’m more of a heart guy. I feel like a show with a dog, you’ve got to have fun with it.” Executive producer Christina Jennings agreed with his assessment and told him to make the series he wanted.

In Monday’s new episode, “Fearless Freaks,” written by Cuperus and directed by Felipe Rodriguez, Charlie (John Reardon) and Rex (Diesel vom Burgimwald) unravel a conspiracy surrounding the death of a thrill-seeking daredevil.

We spoke to Cuperus about developing the series, the writing room and being allergic to his canine co-star.

How’s production been going? 
Ken Cuperus: It’s been really great. We’ve had some challenges throughout because we’re trying to do more of a spring and fall show. But we’re in Newfoundland for the winter, so it’s been a little tricky with the weather there, and getting rid of snow and all that stuff. So that’s kind of an added challenge, but other than that, it’s been great.

How did the show all come about in the first place?
KC: I actually came onto the show pretty late in the process considering. I believe that Shaftesbury has had these rights for this show for at least a decade. They’ve been trying for the last 10 years to get somebody to bite on it, so to speak. I think they were really close about five years ago, and that didn’t quite work out. Christina Jennings just really strongly believed in it, held onto it. And finally, they called me in about a year and a half ago and said, ‘Listen, we have this show. We really, really think it can work. We want to do a lighter touch.’

When I came into the show, it was kind of a grim and grey kind of procedural. And I read it, and I actually turned it down. I said, ‘I feel like the material is too dark.’ I’m more of a comedy guy. I’m more of a heart guy. I feel like a show with a dog, you’ve got to have fun with it. It’s a cop who has a dog for a partner. There’s an inherent lightness to that concept that I didn’t think was being utilized. So I said, ‘No, thanks.’

When Christina found out the reasons why I turned it down, she called me directly and said, ‘Listen, that’s the take we want. We want to see what you can do with that.’ And I couldn’t turn that down. I probably took it too far at first in more of a comedic like direction, and so we just kind of wrangled it into a shape that more strongly resembled what would be ultimately a Citytv show.

You didn’t want this to be Cujo.
KC: Yeah, exactly. But it was True Detective. The tone was just wrong. It wasn’t an 8 p.m show, which is what a dog and a cop show really could be. We got there, I think.

I like the tone of how serious things were. You jumped right in with the action with this kid being kidnapped. You get an idea of this is a serious show, but it’s going to have light moments as well.
KC: Yeah, that was the idea, the stakes have to be real or the concept is also not going to work. It was a balancing act.

Do you find that difficult?
KC: Not really. I’ve done a lot of procedural and if the stakes aren’t high, even in a lighter procedural, you’re just not going to engage the audience. The stakes have to be high. The stories have to be a little twisty. There have to be surprises. Then you layer everything else into that. You layer in the lightness. You layer in the heart and the comedy on top of that.

I know you are largely from children’s programming, from Mr. Young and The Stanley Dynamic. Do you feel as though working in the children’s genre has changed the way that you write?
KC: Well, I actually started in preschool. I think preschool writing is the hardest writing, and it trained me to take on those challenges in a way that made everything else I’ve done much easier, strangely. You’d think it would be the other way, but it is a very difficult genre. I get bored easily, so I’ve never wanted to just do one thing. I love going back and forth. I love going from an animated half hour to a laugh track, a multi-camera comedy, to a high stakes procedural. I love bouncing around like that. That’s something that only Canadian writers really get to do.

How many folks did you have in the writer’s room with you?
KC: We were a very small staff because we started with a smaller order of eight episodes. We did a couple of scripts before we were picked up. When our show was picked up, we already had two scripts. We only needed six more, so we started with a staff of four writers. And by the time it came time to move production and get it down to Newfoundland, there were only two writers. What happened was they added a back eight and we had to, basically, build the writing staff from scratch again. It was kind of like doing Season 1 and Season 2 at the same time and overlapping. It was quite a challenge, but it was a thrill to get more episodes.

Who did you have in the writer’s room?
KC: When we started, it was myself and Avrum Jacobson. We had Jessie Gabe and a writer named Celeste Parr, who is terrific. We had a writer named Kate Melville who only stayed with us a short time. She moved on quickly because she got a Netflix series. We were excited for her. And then [Murdoch Mysteries‘] Simon [McNabb] and Paul (Aitken] had come into the development room and done a script as well. We couldn’t keep them because Murdoch keeps coming back and stealing all the writers.

What about the experience filming in Newfoundland? It’s a beautiful part of the world. How has it been for you logistically and everything? You already talked about the weather a little bit. What’s it been like working with the crew?
KC: Oh my god, the crew is an A-plus crew there. They only have really one crew. You have to stagger your production with anything else that’s going on there. But man, you couldn’t ask for a better, stronger crew. You can throw anything at them. They’re so hardened from the difficult shooting conditions and the weather. Nothing phases these guys. I’ve worked with a lot of Toronto crews, and with no disrespect to them, they don’t hold a candle to how efficient the crew in St. John’s is, for a lot of specific reasons that are related to the environment.

Are you a dog person, a cat person? 
KC: I’m actually allergic to animals. I’ve found this show is great because when we’re outside, the dogs don’t bother me or anything like that. I have a quite mild allergy to dogs. If this was a cat show, I probably would have had to turn it down. Because of my allergies, I never thought in a million years I’d work on a dog show. I was a little bit fearful of it. I discovered that it didn’t bother me at all because the studio is so big that it’s not like you’re contained in a box with all that dog hair or anything. We keep it clean, and I’ve never had one single problem. I feel like up until now, I’ve wasted a lot of opportunities to work with animals because of it. And now, I think moving forward I won’t have that fear. So it’s actually been great for me.

What’s it been like working with this canine co-star?
KC: I think we were incredibly lucky with Diesel. He was a very young dog, so he was being trained specifically for our needs about a year in advance because we were already preparing for our pilot. I feel like he was very specific to us. He is just such a spectacular dog. I can’t believe the number of things he wants to do. He’s excited every day to come to set.

I can’t prove this because I don’t speak dog. But I could swear he gets jealous when we bring in the other dogs to do the distance work or the stunts. I think he’s got a look in his eye like, ‘Why are you bringing in that other dog?’ He’s been a joy. I can’t believe it. I honestly think we were just very lucky in that regard because like they say, it’s very difficult to work with dogs. If they don’t cooperate, your whole day is shot. We didn’t lose one hour to a dog misbehaving this entire shoot.

Hudson & Rex airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Rogers Media.

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