Tag Archives: Deborah Grover

Jann: Zoie Palmer on Max and Jann’s “very cool sister dynamic”

Zoie Palmer has well over 100,000 Twitter followers that she interacts with on a regular basis, but back in 2015, she picked up one particular follower who wanted to cast her on a TV show she was developing: Jann Arden.

“Yeah, we met on Twitter of all places, and she talked about me being on the show,” Palmer says. “She’s funny as heck, and she’d been watching a show I did, and I’ve been watching her career forever. We just got on like a house on fire, it was just a natural thing.”

Their online friendship led to Palmer being cast as Max, the fictional sister of fictional Jann Arden, in the CTV comedy Jann. As the series begins, Max finds out she’s pregnant with her fourth child—despite her husband Dave’s (Patrick Gilmore) recent vasectomy—and is well over being the responsible sister who cares for their mum Nora (Deborah Grover) while Jann freely pursues her music career.

But even though Palmer says the siblings “may not know each other” if they weren’t related, she also says that they need each other.

“They bring a lot to each other,” says Palmer. “And because they’re so different, the comedy of that is endless.”

Max and Jann’s complicated, hilarious, and ultimately loving relationship is on full display in Wednesday’s new episode, “Major Party Foul,” as Jann takes over planning Nora’s 75th birthday party from Max.

We spoke to Palmer, who will also be appearing in the upcoming second season of Pure, during a visit to Jann‘s set last fall to learn more about Max and her experience working on the show.

Jann is quite a change of pace from your recent work on Dark Matter, Pure and Wynonna Earp.  Have you found it fun to work on a comedy?
Zoie Palmer: I love it. You know, Dark Matter was amazing, I loved it, it was a great three years. But then when things are over as an artist, the best thing that can happen is that you do something that is nothing like the thing you just did. That’s how I want to make my career, to go from totally unrelated thing to totally unrelated thing.

You play Jann’s sister Max on the show. They seem very different from each other. 
ZP: Jann has no kids and a music career, and Max has three kids and is pregnant, so their lives are very different from one another. And I don’t know if these two people would know each other if they weren’t sisters, you know what I mean? They’re really different. But it’s incredibly complementary and they kind of lean on each other in a weird way. Like, Jann brings to the table what Max doesn’t and Max absolutely brings to the table what Jann needs a lot of the time. So it’s a very cool sister dynamic. I think a lot of siblings have this thing where they think, ‘I don’t know if I’d know my sister or brother if we weren’t actually growing up in the same household,’ and I think it’s the case for these two, but it’s very cool that they are. They bring a lot to each other, and because they’re so different, the comedy of that is endless.

Jann has mentioned how nervous she was about acting in this series. Have you been helping her out at all on set?
ZP: There are technical things, like jargon on set where she might ask, ‘What does it mean when they say this or that?’ But overall really, because she presents such an honesty in her life, she really is an authentic person. The Jann that you saw [during the set visit], the Jann that we see on set is the same Jann that is in the kitchen making coffee. That’s her. I think the reason why that lends itself so well to acting is that she’s able to very easily tap into a real moment, which you need so much as an actor. So she kind of comes by that side of acting quite naturally. She’s pretty real, and she doesn’t have many moments that are not real.

Besides Jann herself, what do you think viewers will enjoy most about the show?
ZP: I think people are going to see their own family on TV in a lot of ways. Because this show presents all of those dynamics: the disagreements, the uncomfortable moments, the love. You know, I have one sister, and my mother used to say, ‘You have to be there for each other. You only have each other.’ I heard it over and over. It was a mantra in our house. So, I think it will be relatable.

You’ve been working all over Canada the last several months, shooting Pure in Halifax and filming Wynonna Earp and Jann in Calgary. Are getting homesick for Toronto at all? 
ZP: I’ve been travelling since May, but I love what I do and I love being in new places and, for me, it’s like a dream. It’s what I wanted to do since I was a kid, was this, so I love it. But, yeah, I have my things I like, my shower I like, and my park that I like to walk in. All the things you have at your house that you want.

Jann airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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Jann: Deborah Grover on Nora’s journey and the “universal story” of Alzheimer’s disease

“Just breathe.”

That was the advice Deborah Grover gave Jann Arden when they began filming CTV’s Jann in Calgary last fall.

Singer-songwriter Arden is an experienced stage performer with enviable comedic ability, but toplining a TV series—and all the line memorization and mark-hitting that goes with it—is new to her. Grover, who plays Arden’s mother Nora in the series, is a veteran actress with a long list of credits, including films Agnes of God and Where the Truth Lies and TV shows Night Heat and Anne with an E, so she knows exactly what to do when someone has acting jitters.

“When you start to panic and go, ‘I don’t remember a single thing, I don’t even remember my first line,’ it’s like, breathe,” Grover says during an on-set interview last October. “Because it’s all sitting inside of you. You’ve done all your work, so just breathe. So [Jann and I] would start a scene, and just breathe, and boom, it’s there. And if it isn’t there, then we start again. Not a big deal.”

Of course, that approach only saves actors who have done their work, and according to Grover, no one arrived on set more prepared or more committed each day than Arden did.

“She came prepared to work, and every day she’s working on her lines and her scenes and her nuance of the scene,” Grover says. “She’s come at it with everything she’s got, and it’s been fascinating to watch. You know, she’s a Canadian icon, so you want this to succeed for her, because man, what we have to give in this journey is personal, but it’s a universal story. It’s so human.”

In the series, Arden plays a mostly fictional version of herself, a version who is on the declining side of fame and struggling to get back on top—which leads to lots of hilariously unflattering scenarios. However, the show also deftly mixes in Nora’s struggles with dementia, which are based on Arden’s real-life experiences caring for mother Joan Richards, who suffered from Alzheimer’s before passing away in December.  

Grover read Arden’s 2017 memoir, Feeding My Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as a Daughter Lives with her Mom’s Memory Loss, before auditioning for the part.

“I read the book, and during my screen test with Jann, I think she felt I had the right feeling, a certain sensibility, and that seemed to work for her vision of her mom,” says Grover.

The connection between them is evident onscreen, counterbalancing the show’s spot-on bits of entertainment industry satire with moments of emotional depth and familial tenderness.

“It is a fictionalized version, there’s no question,” says Grover. “And I think the more we explore the scenes, the more I discover about her mother.”

Grover’s family was also touched by Alzheimer’s when her mother-in-law was diagnosed with the disease. 

I got to experience that on a first-hand basis,” she says. “But it’s totally different with every individual, and people have been very open about sharing their stories with me, going, ‘Well, my mom was this,’ or ‘My grandmom was that,’ so you receive it all, and it all adds to the mix.”

It isn’t a spoiler to say that Nora moves from simply being forgetful—as in a scene from Wednesday’s new episode, “Weeknd at Charley’s,” when Jann loses her patience with her mom for misplacing her phone—to suspecting something more serious is going on as the season progresses.

“As the journey gets more pronounced, you’re seeing a little bit of forgetfulness, the dementia is there, and then there will be the diagnosis at the end of the six-part series,” Grover says. “Hopefully, if there is a second season, there will be an exploration of the journey with mom and what that means and how the family deals with it through humour, through the heartbreak of it all. But you’ll hopefully get all those colours because Jann wrote about it all in her book.”

While a second season of Jann seems like a good bet, thanks to strong early ratings, Grover is also thankful for her recurring role as Aunt Josephine on the CBC/Netflix series Anne with an E, which started filming its third season in March.

“What a lucky actor I am,” Grover says. “I’ve got two amazingly different things on the go, and hopefully, other things that will fill in the cracks. I feel extremely blessed in these character years when you go, ‘Well, isn’t it over?’ No, it’s just beginning. Man, it’s just beginning. I’m having more fun than I’ve had.”  

Jann airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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Jann: Co-creator Leah Gauthier and showrunner Jennica Harper on developing the series and Jann Arden’s star power

During the same week that Daniel and Eugene Levy broke our hearts by announcing the end of their genius mega-hit comedy Schitt’s Creek, another stellar, and very Canadian, comedy debuted.

CTV’s Jann stars iconic singer-songwriter Jann Arden as a mostly fictionalized version of herself. In this alternate universe, Jann is a self-absorbed, down-on-her-luck musician who is desperate to claw her way back into the spotlight—and to get the best of her musical nemesis, Sarah McLachlan. Meanwhile, she’s also dealing (quite badly) with her recent split from long-time girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor) and her mom’s (Deborah Grover) increasing forgetfulness, a situation that echoes Arden’s real-life experiences with her mother, who passed away from Alzheimer’s in December.  The show is sharp, genuinely funny, and at times, deeply moving. It’s also a show fans of Schitt’s Creek might want to check out to help ease their anticipatory grief.

During a visit to Jann‘s Calgary-based set in October, we spoke with series co-creator Leah Gauthier (Motive) and showrunner Jennica Harper (Cardinal, Motive) about developing the comedy—which airs its second episode, “Go With the Flowga,” on Wednesday—pitting Jann against Canada’s sweetheart McLachlan, and Arden’s immense star quality.

Leah, you co-created the series with Jann Arden. How did that come about?
Leah Gauthier: I’ve worked in television for 10 years, on the factual and reality side of TV, and between two shows, I went on the road with Jann as part of her production team. So we met through work but became fast friends. I did three tours with her, and we’ve always talked about one day when we were both ready, we would pitch a show. It’s changed a lot over the years, and she’s been approached a lot to do television, but it was never the right format. Everyone always wanted her to be like a version of Ellen [DeGeneres] and do a daytime talk show. But we knew we wanted something scripted.

So about three years ago, we sat down in her kitchen and we just wrote it out. It started weird. She was very different versions of herself—she lived in a trailer park or she ran a strip mall—and we kind of pared it down to what it is now. We wrote it together on her kitchen island, and then we flew to Toronto and pitched it, and here we are. It’s almost insane. It took a long time, but now it feels like it happened overnight. It took three years.

What were some of the biggest roadblocks you experienced over that three-year period?
LG: I knew I had obviously something super special with Jann because the country really loves her, so I had a foot in the door because of her. I’m aware that this opportunity would have never have happened for me if not for her being my champion. So my biggest roadblocks were all of the things. Jann busted the roadblocks down, and now I get to do this, and I’m eternally grateful.

You and Jann chose Jennica as your showrunner. What was it about her that really stood out to you?
LG: We interviewed a bunch of different people for the position of showrunner and talking to her on the phone, it was just immediately apparent that she had all of the things that we were lacking. You know, together we made just a perfect, complete human. And she also came into the interview pitching great ideas, like there’s a whole rivalry with Sarah McLachlan that was Jennica’s idea. When she came up with that, we were like, ‘This woman gets us.’ She has the right sense of humour for us, she’s clearly talented and very smart and professional, ‘You’re hired.’

Jennica, you have worked on dramas like Cardinal and also have a background in kids comedy. How has it been working on a primetime comedy aimed at adults?
Jennica Harper: I was very grateful to be working in kids comedy for many years and then I had been developing a number of comedy shows, but it’s hard to get one going here. So I sort of interviewed and pitched my take on the show idea and sort of helped flesh it out. I know very well how lucky I am to be one of the people getting run an adult comedy, a primetime comedy in this country. There’s been very few. So I have no illusions about why I’m here. I’m here because I have the experience and because Jann got us a greenlight. Like, I know how our show got greenlit. I did my best with the scripts, I did my best with the story, but we’re here because we have a star and everyone was like, ‘This is a no-brainer. Let’s put this on TV.’ So I got to sort of ride the train, and now I’m sort of steering the train, but the train belongs to Jann.

I think Jann’s rivalry with Sarah McLachlan on the show is hilarious. Why does fictional Jann hate Sarah? 
JH: Right from the beginning, when I understood that the proposal was to do a fictionalized version of Jann and that she is super flawed and jealous and imperfect and a blurter who thinks about herself first, that immediately came to me. I was like, ‘This is going to be so much fun.’ Because that’s where the comedy is going to come from, it’s going to come from the conflict of her against the world. And sometimes that’s her versus her work, and sometimes it’s her versus her family. So I thought she needed a nemesis, and who is a better Canadian nemesis than, honestly, one of the most hard-to-criticize human beings in the world? Someone who is beautiful with an incredible songwriting ability and a beautiful voice and works for charities and creates music schools for children, that that would be somebody who—if you’re really having fun with a flawed person—you’re like, ‘I hate that perfect person. She’s terrible. How does she get everything and I get nothing?’ That kind of vibe.

The series is very funny, but it also has a serious side, particularly in its treatment of Nora’s dementia. Was it at all difficult to strike a tonal balance between those two elements?
JH: I know it’s going to be a big part of the conversation, so I’ve tried to think really hard about all of the aspects that go into finding that tone, but I think partly what’s helped us has been not to worry too much about it, to accept that we’re going to allow for some more serious moments and to not fight it, to embrace them.

We did know that we were kind of starting in a more comedic place and the season’s going to grow and build into more serious moments, and that was really helpful because we felt we were really earning some of them later, as opposed to trying in the pilot to start with really serious things. We’re not really doing that. We’re keeping it light up front and then hoping we’re bringing the audience along for a journey and that they’re going to come with us to a point where they really love these characters, they’re invested in their lives and they want to see what’s going to happen to them that’s not so perfect. And I also think that, even with the more serious moments in the show, we do allow for those responses that are imperfect and flawed and sometimes even funny. Life takes you to those places and you’re still yourself, you still respond the way you respond.

What has it been like working with Jann?
JH: On Day 1, we were kind of bracing ourselves: Is this going to be good? Is it going to work? It’s such a hard job. Can Jann do the job? And then there was a moment on Day 1 where I was watching and I almost cried because realized that it was so far beyond that. I looked at Leah and said, ‘Oh, my god. I think it might be really good. She’s really good.’ It was really exciting in that moment to realize that you were going to be a part of something special. It is an amazingly collaborative group, and we happen to have top-notch people, and I’m really proud of the scripts. I think that all of our writers have done a great job, they’re really strong scripts. But it would live or die with Jann—and it’s going to shine. She’s a star.

Jann airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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Jann Arden is unabashedly herself—sort of—on new CTV comedy Jann

When CTV hosted journalists on the Calgary set of its new comedy Jann in October, series star Jann Arden noted that she was just 17 days into her acting career. The Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter has oodles of experience in front of live crowds and has flashed her wicked wit on shows like The Social, but acting in front of a camera—and being No. 1 on the call sheet—is new. And nerve-wracking.

“I’m scared the entire time,” Arden admits during a press conference with the show’s cast and creators. “I think you have to do things in life that scare you.”

Showrunner Jennica Harper (Cardinal, Motive) confesses that she had last-second jitters about her star’s ability to crossover to television as well.

“We obviously were thrilled to be jumping into this project and also knew that it was going to live or die by Jann,” says Harper. “This is who people were going to be coming to see. And so on Day 1, there was sort of a moment where we were all like, ‘Oh, my god….”

“Can she f–king act?” Arden cuts in, causing the room to erupt in laughter.

Once everyone regains their composure, Harper continues, nodding toward Arden, “Then there was the answer, and it was ‘Oh, my god, she’s fantastic.’ It’s gonna be great.”

As that exchange proves, no one had anything to worry about. Arden has natural comedic timing, and as one of the day’s scenes—which journalists were invited to watch on monitors—later demonstrated, she also has impressive dramatic chops.

In Jann, which premieres on Wednesday, March 20, at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, Arden plays a largely fictionalized version of herself. She’s a recording artist who, unlike the real-life Calgary native, is a bit of a has-been, forced to rent out her beautiful country house to Airbnb guests who are more famous than she is. Her sweet but hapless long-time manager Todd (Jason Blicker) is endlessly supportive and books her all the gigs he can, but the payments are inconsistent at best—unless you’re looking to stock up on cheese wheels.  

On the home front, younger, more responsible sister Max (Zoie Palmer) is raising three kids and caring for their mother Nora (Deborah Grover), but her surprise fourth pregnancy shakes things up and soon mom is moving in with Jann. Meanwhile, Jann’s ex-girlfriend (Sharon Taylor) is moving on with another woman, and a younger, hipper music manager (Elena Juatco) is trying to push Todd out of the picture and resurrect Jann’s career—situations that are skillfully mined for laughs and cringe-inducing moments of second-hand embarrassment throughout the season’s six-episode run.

Harper and series co-creator Leah Gauthier (Motive), who set up their writer’s room in Arden’s kitchen, readily acknowledge shows like Episodes and Curb Your Enthusiasm—where Matt LeBlanc and Larry David played extreme versions of themselves—were heavy influences. And fictional Jann is certainly a narcissist who seems allergic to introspection and good decision making. However, she has a good heart and always manages to remain likable.

“You’re still rooting for her even though she’s making the wrong decisions,” says Gauthier.

And Jann also has a softer centre than those aforementioned shows, which is most evident in the tender and realistic way it deals with Nora’s dementia. Arden’s real-life mother, Joan Richards, suffered from Alzheimer’s and passed away in December, just weeks after filming wrapped. Arden wrote about her mom’s struggle with the disease in her best-selling 2017 memoir Feeding My Mother, and some of those experiences appear in the series.

Following the press conference, Arden returns to set to film a scene with Grover that involves an increasingly confused Nora wandering out to the car to find her missing purse and Jann realizing that something may really be wrong with her mom. The pair performed the scene over and over and over again, some takes ending stoically and some ending with Jann in tears. It is here that Arden and fictional Jann seem to merge, and the moment is quietly devastating.

Part of the blending between real and fiction may be related to Grover’s resemblance to Arden’s mother.

“I think she felt I had the right feeling, a certain sensibility, and that seemed to work for her vision of her mom,” Grover says.

As for any emotional toll that filming such scenes may take on her, Arden is matter-of-fact about it.

“I don’t mind tackling the hard stuff,” she says. “That’s life. It’s not a beer commercial, you’re not running down the beach all the time.”

Besides, Arden says living with her mother’s disease made her a better person—something that one presumes might happen to fictional Jann as well.

“It’s a devastating disease, but I don’t think I’ve ever been a better version of myself because of my mom’s illness,” she says. “You know, she put me in a position where I got sober after a lot of years and didn’t hide behind a lot of stuff. I’ve changed so many things about my health and well-being and got out of a really shitty relationship that went on far too long. And I think it gives you a lot of bravery because my mom is like, ‘You gotta be where you are.’”

It also helps to be who you are.

“I’ve made a living being myself, and just being unique to myself,” Arden continues. “That’s how I’ve made my money. That’s as simple as it is. I’m not the best singer, I’m not the best actor, I’m not the best anything. I do what I do, and it’s indigenous to me. So yeah, it’s great for me to have people see that, to have women see someone like me on television that’s not 5’10” and 100 pounds. There are lots of scenes where I’m in f–king boxer shorts and my hair is in a weird ponytail and people laugh before I even open my mouth, and I’m like, ‘Well, that’s reassuring.’

“Just be yourself.”

Or a version of yourself.

Jann airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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