Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the latest episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Manual for Murder.”
Patrick McKenna truly is a Canadian television “that guy.” His IMDB page boasts roles on award-winning and notable projects from Traders to RoboCop, The Red Green Show to Crash Canyon, Remedy to Hard Rock Medical.
And, for a four-episode stint so far, Murdoch Mysteries. On Monday night, McKenna’s Inspector Hamish Slorach dropped by Station House No. 4 with an announcement—he was retiring—and a request: would Inspector Brackenreid deliver a speech? Unfortunately, the celebration was marred when an attempt on Hamish’s life was made with a mechanized gun. Thankfully, Hamish survived the attack.
We spoke to Patrick McKenna about how the memorable role came about and his upcoming TV project with Colin Mochrie.
In tonight’s episode of Murdoch Mysteries, “Manual for Murder,” we catch up with Hamish Slorach. Before we get into the storyline itself, though, it seems as though it’s a rite of passage if you’re in Canadian television to be part of the Murdoch Mysteries family, and you’re no different. How did the role come up in the first place for you?
Patrick McKenna: Well, I think I was quite lucky that the showrunner now is Peter Mitchell. I met Peter when he was the showrunner when I was doing Traders. We’ve known each probably since about ’95, ’96, I guess. We’ve just been friends. When he went over and did that show, he thought this Hamish character they created might fit me well so they offered me the role. It’s been a sporadic gig ever since.
And a beloved character. He’s a little bit different from everybody else in the station house. Did the way to play him, did that character jump off the script at you? Was it something that you worked with Peter on, or did you come with it on yourself?
PK: It was interesting. The first two writers, who are no longer involved in the show, they called me and they gave me an outline. They said, basically, it’s John Wayne meets Columbo. I thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of a fun description.’ I kind of went with that, but he’s a manly guy, but he’s just kind of in his own way.
He’s aloof. He’s laid back. He likes to have fun and has made a career out of being a copper.
PK: It was nice because [Thomas Craig] sort of set the tone that way. It was always great playing off him because I knew it to be … I mean, it’s their show and it’s their tones so I didn’t want to come in too strong. If I’m supposed to be a friend of Brackenreid, then I guess I’m going to be his energy, his age, things he likes, so I went off his rhythms a lot of how we were going to form this character. It just kind of fell into place. Often times, the scripts demand that you step up, and other times you lay back, just trying to be that … anybody but Murdoch in the first [episode I was on] because that’s who I was replacing. It was like they have the expectation of this guy walks straight line and very thorough, whereas Hamish Slorach kind of serpentines around line and stumbles into answers, and so on.
What attracts you to a role, Patrick? In the case of Murdoch, they reached out to you. But when you’re looking for a gig, what excites you?
PK: When the opportunity to try something new, to combine a couple of different energies that audiences haven’t seen before. I always look for the sense of humour in a character, even if he’s evil, just to find out what makes that person smile and tick. I mean, that’s how I look at things normally so I thought I’ll just apply that to my characters usually. It seems I can bath into that segment of a character and play that. Even the mean people I play, I know they laugh sometimes.
What’s it been like to be part of Murdoch? At this point, is it like old home week, showing up there on the set and talking to everybody again?
PK: It really is because it’s so nice because the CBC, which I’ve had such an affiliation with, so often times, the crew are people that I’ve worked with on other shows. When you walk in, it’s like with the crew I know, and, of course, the cast I know really well by now. Hamish Slorach is such a fun character for them to have in the show because then you know you’re going to have a couple of silly things happen. It’s not blood and gore all the time. You know it’s going to be a smile. It’s always really nice to go back. It’s such a smooth machine, that show, that set. They’ve been doing it for so long, they know exactly how to dance every week so you just kind of got to get in there and find the rhythm without stepping on too many toes.
You just spoke of the blood and gore. Now, in tonight’s episode, Hamish dodges a bullet. Well, I guess he takes one in the head, but it doesn’t end up being lethal. What were your thoughts when you read that in the script and was informed that an attempt was going be made on his life, at his retirement party no less?
PK: All that information completely unfolded to me like, ‘Oh, OK. I’m retiring. I guess I’m out of the series. I’m almost dead. Now I’m definitely out of the series. Oh, I’m only wounded. I could come back.’ I went through a lot of emotions there, like, ‘Well, OK. I guess this is their way of someone finalizing Hamish.’ But the nice thing about a retired policeman is you can always come back in some form.
That’s true. Now, I don’t know if you remember, but when they’re carting Hamish off, he’s talking about seeing an angel. I wondered if that was something that was in the script or whether you ad-libbed that?
PK: A bit of both. It just said I see angels and then they said, ‘Can you just have fun with that as you’re going out the door?’ It was like, ‘OK, I can do that.’ The nice thing, again, I worked with Warren Sonoda on a film so I knew Warren really well and it was very comfortable. He knew my comfort zone as well, to say he would allow me to play here. Then other times, he’d say, ‘You know what, I need to get this covered so if you can pull back on that a little bit, that’ll allow me this ….’ the vocabulary’s so great. Plus, between Colin Mochrie being on set, who’s one of my best friends for over 30 years, it was like this is the easiest room to walk into, and we all get to wear funny costumes. It was just like grown ups playing. It’s so much fun.
You mentioned being friends with Colin for so many years. Is there a lot of stuff left on the cutting room floor that we’re never gonna see?
PK: Not a lot because both Colin and I, when we step onto a set that has a script, we try and respect it as much as possible, as well as the timeframe they have available to shoot things like that. But you just say what’s on the script, and if they find there’s a little lacking, you can do that. I mean, just by our very presence, there’s an energy to that, especially when Colin walks in. You know there’s gonna be something happening. Sometimes you don’t have to add too much. Some shows you really do, but when somethings been as consistent as Murdoch, sometimes you don’t know a lot of the backstory, so if you drop a line, it’s like, ‘No, we need to hear that because two episodes ago this was mentioned.’ So on and so on. You really just got to walk the map that they’ve laid out there. If there’s any room for some shading of colour, they’re pretty goods about letting you do that. That’s usually why they invite you to the party. It’s like, ‘You can do something with this character.’
As you said, he’s not dead so Hamish could always come back. He could just drop in, mix things up, and go on an adventure with Thomas, or something like that.
PK: That’s what I’m really hoping is that something in his personal life will force him to come back into the precinct.
Is there anything that you’re working on, writing, directing, producing, or anything like that, that you can talk about?
PK: I’m doing all of the above. Colin Mochrie and I are hopefully going to be making a series up in North Bay. Right now, it’d potentially be called The Colin Mochrie Show. I’m writing, and directing, and producing, a lot of that. We’re just getting started and that’s sort of what’s been filling my time since the new year. Everyone’s very aware of it and everyone’s moving forward with it so we hope that it’ll be something that will be in production. It’s tentatively going to be called Chef Colin.
What’s the elevator pitch for Chef Colin?
PK: It’s basically a celebrity chef who falls from grace, and he’s forced to take a job at his daughter’s college.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC and streams on CBC Gem.
Images courtesy of CBC.