APTN and Prairie Dog Film + Television’s new one-hour crime drama series, TRIBAL begins production today in Calgary.
TRIBAL follows a First Nation Tribal Police Force as they navigate a controversial new Chief amid allegations of corruption and takeover from the federal government. TRIBAL’s award-winning cast includes Jessica Matten (Frontier, Blackstone) and Brian Markinson (Mad Men, Unspeakable). The series will also feature the talented Michelle Thrush, Justin Rain, Garry Chalk, Adam MacDonald and Julian Black Antelope.
In TRIBAL, the department of Federal Justice attempts to save political face under the mask of inclusion and collaboration as they take control of the Tribal Police Force. Interim Tribal Chief Samantha Woodburn (Matten) attempts to overcome political red tape, and must also prove herself amongst the old-white-boys club of the Metro Police. Thrust into an unfamiliar world, she navigates politics and procedure as she clashes with her new partner, Chuck “Buke” Bukansky (Markinson), a seasoned but broken-down Metro Police detective. This season examines First Nation crime stories based on real-world cases, including mistaken identity, pipeline controversy, healing lodge justice, social services, tobacco and missing Indigenous Peoples.
TRIBAL Showrunner and Director Ron E. Scott is a prolific producer and innovator, who has contributed to over 190 episodes of TV that have broadcasted globally on Netflix, including the ground-breaking one-hour dramatic series Blackstone, now streaming on APTN and CBC.
Filming locations include Calgary and the Tsuu T’ina First Nation in Alberta, Canada. TRIBAL is produced by Ron E. Scott, Janet Hamley, Adam Frost and Nancy Laing from Prairie Dog Film + Television. The series will broadcast in Canada on APTN.
Unspeakable was, as the title suggests, once just that. The CBC miniseries delves into the tainted blood scandal in Canada that took place during the 1980s as the AIDS crisis was unfolding. A time when there was a misunderstanding in the disease, how it was spread and how some Canadians, as a result, were infected with Hepatitis C. It was something not talked about. Not anymore.
As I already covered in this previous story, writer Robert C. Cooper acquired Hepatitis C because of tainted blood. He turned his personal experience into the basis for Unspeakable, which tells the story from the perspective of two families caught in a tragedy that gripped Canada, as well as the doctors, nurses, corporations and bureaucracy responsible.
Shawn Doyle stars in Unspeakable as Ben Landry, a journalist. By the end of Episode 1, Ben and his wife, Alice (Camille Sullivan), learn of their son’s Hepatitis C diagnosis and realize it could have been prevented. That sends Ben on an investigative path to find out who is responsible. We spoke to Doyle about his most recent project and reached back into the past to talk about his portrayal of John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister.
Give me the background, Shawn. How did you end up finding out about Robert’s project in the first place, and what attracted you to it?
Shawn Doyle: Robert approached me about doing it, and he sent me the first few scripts, and then a couple outlines. I didn’t know a lot about the scandal other than the fact that my mother stood the risk of actually becoming infected because she had a number of transfusions in the early 80s. I read the script, and Robert had told me to look at the character, Ben, that I played. I actually originally was more attracted to the other character, Will, in so far as he was more volitional, you know?
I suppose on an unconscious level, there was a resistance within me about playing a character that ultimately is so paralyzed, feeling so impotent at the top of the series. Robert and I talked about it, and he kind of clarified why he thought I was appropriate for Ben. Ultimately, the result of that conversation and reading those scripts, I was just honoured to play the role because it felt like he was really entrusting me with kind of an awesome responsibility.
This project was personal for Robert. What about for you? You mentioned your mother.
SD: For me, it was really about dealing with the humanity of his relationships, the minute-to-minute experience of trying to reconcile himself with his wife and his son, and also trying to seek some direction in his life. In some ways, my job as the actor was to fill those very human moments and allow the larger story to take shape as Robert dictated through the writing.
In the first episode, it’s established that we’re starting to find out information. There’s a virus that’s in the States and is creeping its way into Canada. There’s fear, but there’s also frustration, that people don’t seem to be taking this seriously. They think that it isn’t a big deal. That really resonated with me.
SD: Yeah, I think everybody is in the dark, and there was nobody to turn to. That’s kind of the clear message that comes through, and certainly, it doesn’t take much of an extrapolation to figure out current-day examples of the same thing. We trust all these governing bodies to guide us in the proper direction, be it health or environment or safety. Constantly, we come face to face with evidence that nobody really knows, and often, people don’t care.
Sometimes we get a little bit blasé and smug in this country. When it comes to something like this project, Walkerton with the water and people dying, or Maple Leaf Foods, people getting sick, contaminated foods … We really can’t afford to be smug in this country because stuff has happened here, and people have died in this country, too.
SD: I would second your statement there. And I would go so far as to say that we often thumb our noses at the States and feel that we have some sort of superiority when it comes to taking care of our own and not being affected by the same level of corruption. But the truth is, like you just said, with Walkerton, with this, with the fact that private blood companies are still on the rise in this country, are still trying to be not regulated. I mean, this stuff happens, and it will continue to happen unless there are watchdogs out there looking after everybody.
In something like Unspeakable a historical precedent is set. It’s based on real events. As an actor, is it any different taking on something that’s historically accurate, or something like Bellevue, where it’s fiction? Does that matter to you when it comes to a project? Is one more difficult than the other?
SD: I think that the subject matter dictates how difficult a project is. For example, I played John A. Macdonald, and that required very specific preparation in terms of dialect and movement and look. In some ways, that kind of work frees your emotional life because it supports all the other kind of work you do from the moment-to-moment acting work. In some ways, I treated this more like fiction than trying to portray a real-life person because, in fact, I was an amalgam of other people. It was less about trying to pin down a specific person, a specific character that existed, and more about just trying to find it in the moment with my fellow actors.
The speech Ben gives in Episode 1 is stirring. You’re under makeup and you can feel the age in your voice. You can just feel the weight of what’s gone on in Ben’s life coming through in his voice as he stands in front of that group of people. It was pretty amazing.
SD: Oh, thanks for saying that. That was one of the most terrifying days in my career, I would say, to get up in front of 300 background people and be in age makeup and trying to play someone in their 70s who’s gone through this experience. That all happened very early in the shooting, too, so it wasn’t as if I had the momentum or the weight of having done a number of scenes. It was really very close to the top shooting, and so it really relied on imagination and trust and just trying to jump off the cliff. Also, when you’re in that kind of makeup, it’s really important that you try not to act your age, act that age because it’ll just weigh too much. Yeah. I haven’t seen it, and I don’t know if I want to see it, to be honest with you.
It’s so funny that you say that that was nerve-racking for you to be up in front of a group of people in makeup and saying that speech. That’s so funny. Out of all the work that you’ve done over the years, I find that interesting.
SD: Well, first of all, I hate speaking in public. I have a huge fear of it, as a lot of actors do unless they’re hiding behind a character. But secondly, there’s just so many traps to fall into when you’re playing … First of all, when you have a prosthetic on your face, and second, you’re playing such a different age. But more than anything, for me, it was the eagerness to try to capture the weight of history, the years that had gone by as he has struggled to keep a family together and not always won. I wanted to find ways to live that inside and not have to feel as if I had to act that, if that makes any sense, to present it. I didn’t want to present it. As much preparation as a five-page speech does in that context, it also requires time to just allow your heart and your mind to travel through what that must be like. Because again, we hadn’t done enough of the series yet for me to have physically experienced it, so it was all imagination. So, that’s what was terrifying about it.
Because you brought up John A. Macdonald. John A.: Birth of a Country was recently available on Encore +, so it’s readily available for people for free via YouTube. How does it feel to have that available online now for a new generation of viewers to see?
SD: I have very mixed feelings about it. I think it’s actually a very good film. I’m very proud of the work that we did, and I’m proud of the work I did. But post-playing John A. Macdonald, I discovered that I am First Nations. I have my First Nations status and I also now have a life partner who is an Indigenous artist, Métis, Cree and Saulteaux. My worldview of that particular part of our world has just expanded so dramatically, and I understand that there’s a glorification that happened in our production that I can no longer get behind.
Now, the idea was to do four films through his four major tenures as a prime minister. I think if we would have had that journey, we could see the frailty of the man or his flaws. We didn’t get a chance to do it in the one film, and unfortunately, we lionize him a little bit in a way that I regret based on what I’ve since learned about his behaviour towards First Nations people. Because when we did that movie back in 2009, I did my due diligence, and I read biographies and everything. There weren’t any anti-Macdonald biographies easily and readily accessible, so we didn’t dwell on that in the films, obviously. I didn’t really uncover that in my own research, and that’s something that I just have to carry with me.
So whenever things have come up with his anniversary a couple years ago, I have decided to kind of publicly talk about that, certain situations, because I think it’s important.
Unspeakable airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.
I’ve been desperately trying to watch Seasons 1 and 2 of Frontier online since you mentioned they were available. I’ve been really enjoying the series so far and I expect Season 3 will be just as great. One of my favourite characters is Jessica Matten’s Sokanon. She is such an unpredictable character and I never know where she will go in any scene. I hope Sokanon makes it to the end of Frontier! —John
I agree that the showrunners should stick to the original format of [Murdoch Mysteries], in terms of showing the main four and covering their backstory. William, Julia, Brack and George are the only characters that I like to see have the main focus of each show. I actually wrote a letter to Peter Mitchell telling him that the show has too many characters since S9; Nina, Louise, Marilyn Clark, Ruth, Watts and even put more focus on Henry, John and Margaret. I told PM that I hoped Louise would get murdered, because that be the most interesting story with her in it. I also said that I didn’t like that H, J and M were getting more screen time. The point that I was trying to make with you was that, if this season is doing something a bit “fresh,” by having episodes that give more of a backstory to the main four, then I’m OK with that. Watts is an OK character but yeah, I could’ve done without an ALL Watts episode. Basically, I don’t think the writers will be doing these kinds of episodes in S13 (fingers crossed). —Crystal
I think it’s selfish of viewers to expect the same product in every episode of any show. Creative people feel boxed in when they can’t follow their instincts. I like the profile stories of Watts and Brackenreid for the depth and enrichment of the characters, for the stretching of the writers’ imaginations, for the challenge to the actors. Doing the same thing with minor variations and over is BORING. For them and for me. One reason I’m such a fan of MM is their all-over-the-place unpredictability. Obviously this fluidity works for most of us since MM is on its 12th season with only a few changes to cast. They’re happy, let them do their thing. —Sadie
Got a question or comment about Canadian TV? Email greg. firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tv_eh.
Just in time for the chilly days of winter, Season 3 of Frontier blows into town on Discovery.
Returning Friday at 10 p.m. ET with two back-to-back episodes, the Canadian original once again crashes through the brush with its tales of adventure, heroics and bloodshed among feuding fur traders and trading companies. What can fans look forward to when Frontier checks in later this week? The Hudson’s Bay Company is cracking heads and Declan Harp (Jason Momoa) is on a mission to rescue Grace Emberly (Zoe Boyle) from Lord Benton’s (Alun Armstrong) clutches. Meanwhile, Sokanon (Jessica Matten) plots to free Indigenous women from being bought and sold around James Bay.
For more insight into Frontier, we turned to writer and co-executive producer Kerri MacDonald for more details and behind-the-scenes scoop!
So talk a little bit about working with co-creators Rob and Peter Blackie. What’s it like working with those two?
Kerri MacDonald: Oh, my God, it’s the most fun ever. It truly, truly is. I love working with those guys. They operate … it’s funny to work with people who are very close as siblings, right? They have a very specific relationship. They do have a very specific brotherly relationship, which makes for an enormous amount of laughter and humour in [the writing] room for sure.
As a creative unit, I love working with them because they do have really very much a shared vision for the show, and when you talk to one, you’re talking to the other in that way. It’s really comfortable and it’s really great because like I said, they know what they want for the show, and it’s my job then to support it, and then to laugh at all of their hilarious jokes in the room.
Does working on Frontier include some research that you had to do, some deep dives into the history of Canada to formulate these characters?
KMD: Yeah, the boys did a lot of research out of the gate about the time and the trade, and the players involved. I think the show was never intended to be something that was built on the accuracy of some sort of historical engine. It was always meant to be an action/adventure series with the trade as the backdrop. So that in and of itself was interesting because we were building a world. We were building a world in a way that we hadn’t before for sure with the other shows that we’ve done. That was really, really interesting.
As far as the way people talk in our world can slide into feeling very contemporary. There was a conscious choice early on not to be super formal with the dialogue. That was sort of helpful in some ways because you’re not tied to certain types of speaking.
Now, of course, certain characters in the show, like Lord Benton, or we have a new character that we are introducing this season by the name of Lord Fisher, played by Jay Simpson. These guys, of course, are aristocratic, well-born, and well-learned men, so of course, they speak differently. They speak more formally. Then, of course, you have our Scottish guys, who use all kinds of great colloquialisms and stuff.
For me, I find tapping into my voice as a Newfoundlander is one of my strongest points in terms of voicing. Newfoundland is an incredibly unique place, and therefore my voice, my experience, my family, the place I grew up, all of that sort of informs how I write. It’s a really fun show to write. The characters are all so different, and all so rich, and all have such different voices that I embrace that challenge of that sometimes.
Not only are the characters rich, but the wardrobe and the sets are just incredible. It’s one thing to write those scripts, but I would imagine as the actors and actresses get into their clothing and get into those sets, man, it just really helps them get into their characters.
KMD: Oh, yeah, 100 per cent. Our costumes are magnificent and they’re hand-sewn, and they have weights, and function, and all of those things that would help anybody sort of step into another time. Absolutely. We have an incredible crew of people, and the people who make those decisions, Michael Ground and Gord Barnes, just like really spectacular work.
How many were there in the writers’ room, aside from yourself and the Blackies in Season 3?
KMD: It was me and the Blackies and Sherry White and Chris Roberts and Russ Cochran and Michelle Latimer.
After you spent time in the room, you’re batting around ideas, you’ve worked out the beats for the episode and that type of thing, and then you go off by yourself to write an episode, are you the type where you can go to a coffee shop and write or do you need a room that’s quiet to write?
KMD: For me personally, I am a real creature of habit. I find when I’m writing a script, there’s sort of levels to it. There’s the stuff that if I’m feeling challenged on that day I’ll write the easy stuff, or if I’m really digging into it, I can write the difficult stuff. I find that not everywhere is easy to write sometimes, but my favourite place to write is literally on my couch in my basement in front of my television. Like everything I write, I say to my friends all the time, it’s quite funny, that anything I’ve ever written has basically been in a four-foot square space in my basement.
Is the TV on or is it off?
KMD: Oh no, it’s on. I always have the TV on. I’m an only child. I was raised partially by television, so it’s not unusual for television to be always on in my house, even if I’m not.
One of the characters that I’ve been fascinated with is Cobbs Pond, played by Greg Bryk. I spoke to him last year, and he just loved talking about playing this twisted character, this crazy character, and just being able to unleash the inner madman in him.
KMD: Pond is one definitely of our most interesting characters on the show. He’s in some ways … he’s boundary-less in a lot of ways, so for that, he’s a really fun character to write, because he’s really unpredictable and kind of all bets are off with him.
Something that sort of happened this season is that some of the storylines have broken away from this main thrust of Harp, so that’s allowed us to open up the world and cross over the characters in interesting sort of new dynamics, so this season you’ll see Pond in a bit of a different position, and you’ll see him from a slightly different angle, but that doesn’t mean you should settle into him being anything different than you know.
Is there a character that you particularly find that you’re able to find their voice for quickly? Is it Pond? Is it Harp? Is it another character that you really like to write for?
KMD: One of my favourite characters to write for is Malcolm Brown [played by Michael Patric]. Malcolm always says what’s on his mind, and he’s never really hiding anything, he’s kind of blustery and old, and it’s kind of fun that way because there are certain characters that have certain levels of restraint in this show, and sort of societal boundaries, but Malcolm doesn’t really, and he’s fun to write that way. He’s a bit of an id.
Writing for the female characters on the show is a treat. History wasn’t kind to women during that period, and being able to bring to life these ladies who are such survivors, who maintain their agency at any cost while remaining at the mercy of the men around them, is an exquisitely fun job. And when you’re lucky enough to have the extraordinary talent of the actresses we have on our show, it’s thrilling to see these badass ladies kicking Frontier ass all over the place. They are so inspiring.
What can you say about working with Jason Momoa?
KMD: Jason’s great. I haven’t had a lot of close interaction with him really. It’s just sort of a here and there, but I had the chance last season to kind of work with him a little bit more, and he’s a terrific collaborator and really genuinely excited about that character, so when you write for him, all you wanna know is whether or not he really likes it.
He knows what he wants. Nobody knows Declan Harp really more than Jason Momoa, and he brings him to life in a way that I certainly couldn’t, to be honest. He and Pete work really, really closely on his character, and I sort of defer to whatever the guys want, because they know that character, they know how to tell that story really, really well.
I just really, really liked working with Jason. It was a really awesome treat.
Frontier airs Fridays at 10 and 11 p.m. ET on Discovery.