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Jann’s Elena Juatco on channeling Cale and the Season 2 finale

On CTV’s Jann, Elena Juatco plays Jann Arden’s hip new music manager, Cale—a ruthless deal-maker who has no time for social pleasantries or touchy-feely nonsense. 

In real life, the Vancouver-born actor and singer, who first rose to fame during the second season of Canadian Idol, is an extroverted people person. 

“I’m much more friendly, chatty, and outgoing than Cale is,” Juatco says during a phone call from Ottawa, where she’s filming the Hallmark holiday movie The Key to Christmas. “It’s funny, I’ll talk to someone for like an hour, and then someone will say, ‘That’s Cale from Jann,’ and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, my God!’ and feel betrayed. Because I’m different, I smile, I gesticulate with my hands, but when we put my hair up in a bun and I put on the Cale face, something else takes over.” 

Juatco’s steely “Cale face” and deadpan line deliveries contrast wonderfully with series star Arden’s zany physical comedy and witty zingers. The odd couple’s bickering over the direction of Jann’s career has been one of the central storylines of Season 2, with Cale relentlessly pushing Jann out of her comfort zone and Jann finding increasingly hilarious ways to resist. Tensions came to a head in last week’s episode when Cale learned that Jann has been secretly getting advice from her ex-manager, Todd (played by the underrated Jason Blicker). 

To get us ready for Monday’s season finale, “The Tunies,” we chatted with Juatco about channeling Cale, working with Arden and Blicker, and whether Cale and Jann will end the season on a positive note.  

First of all, 2020 has been a crazy year. How have you handled COVID-19 and the strange events that came with it?
Elena Juatco: I’ve been very blessed. I’ve been healthy and safe in Toronto with my husband and my dog. I was actually in Los Angeles until March 11.  I flew back home from Los Angeles, and when I was in the air, Trump announced the European ban, the NBA shut down, Tom Hanks got it. When I landed in Toronto, my husband said, ‘You’re not gonna believe what just happened.’ But I was blessed that that was a scheduled flight, that I never got stranded. I’ve been lucky, and I’m even more blessed that I’ve been able to get back to work because Canada has been able to keep their numbers low.

But Season 2 of Jann was expected to run much earlier than it did, and we were all supposed to be at the Canadian Screen Awards together. I’d just gotten my dress when they cancelled the event. So the sad part, with these announcements, and [Season 3] being renewed, and the premiere of the season, we haven’t been able to be together in person to celebrate the achievements as a cast together. I can’t wait to get back at it.

You have a background in the music industry. Did you base Cale on any managers you’ve met?
EJ: I didn’t base her off anyone. I channeled her from myself I guess, that power, the laser-focus, the going after it, and the knowing how to get there. And so much of it is fearlessness. She doesn’t care what people think about her. She doesn’t care if people judge her. She doesn’t need to be nice to anyone, but she knows how to get what she wants. I think that’s just a really powerful thing that I think every woman has. So to get to play Cale, I get to channel that. It’s a bit freeing and fun. 

In Season 1, Cale stole Jann  from Todd because she thought it would be easy to revive her career. But in Season 2, she’s found out what a challenge Jann can be. What can you tell me about their relationship this season?
EJ: I think from the very first time you see Cale in the Season 2 premiere, when she pulls that curtain back and tells Jann’s mom to stop texting, she’s an absolute mess. Like her hair’s a mess—I mean, she still has her bun in, but it’s a frizzy—you can tell right away that Jann is breaking her down, and it’s a lot more difficult than what she was expecting. When you meet her in Season 1 and she’s representing Feist, I think she’s just used to people doing what she says. And with Jann, there’s just been this clash of heads throughout this season, of Cale trying to get Jann to do things she doesn’t want to do. But I put her through the ringer. It would be hard for me to think if my manager did some of the stuff Cale did. I don’t know if I could handle that. Like the balls in the avatar episode, I’m just like, ‘Cale, what are you doing?’ It’s really hilarious.

Speaking of the ‘Covered in Balls’ episode, is it hard to keep a straight face when Jann Arden is doing things like rolling around in a motion capture suit?
EJ: There’s something that does come over me when I’m Cale that I won’t break, and they actually noticed that in my audition. I auditioned with Jann and with Jason Blicker, who plays Todd. Jason was doing some ad-libs, and I was just staring at him and I would not break. And I remember the table was like, ‘How is Elena not breaking?’ I was just Cale, and I will always be unimpressed with Todd, that will never change. So there is some of it where I’m just Cale and I will not break, but then sometimes you have those days. When we filmed the finale, at the Tunie Awards, that was an 18-hour day. It was a long day, and sometimes you’re tired and Jann is going off and she won’t stop. I can hold it for so long, but then it’s when Jann keeps ad-libbing past when you think someone would stop and you’re like ‘Oh, my God, they’re not calling cut.’ Then it’s like I’ll start to break and pray I don’t ruin the take. That’s happened a few times in Season 2. But you can’t blame me. I mean, it’s Jann. 

I love the rivalry between cool, calculating Cale and sweet, loyal Todd. What’s it like to work with Jason Blicker?
EJ: I love him so much. Honestly, when I got the part, my next thought was, ‘I hope that Jason Blicker got Todd.’ I remember being in Calgary for the first read-through, and I saw him turn the corner, and I was like, ‘I’m so happy it’s you.’ Because in our call-back, there was just this great chemistry we had, and it’s so easy and so fun. I love all of our scenes together.

It’s such a great relationship, too, the power dynamic. I love how in Season 2, you see him kind of get to Cale. Whereas before, she was kind of like, ‘Ugh, I’m not threatened by you, old little man.’ But then he starts getting to her. He can kind of crack her open a little bit, and you see maybe a little bit of insecurity come out.

In last week’s episode, Cale found out that Jann had been secretly seeking Todd’s advice.  Can you give us any hints about how that revelation will play out in the finale?
EJ: There’s definitely a clash between Jann and Cale, and something will happen in the finale.

Oh, that sounds cryptic. Is that all you can say?
EJ: Something will happen. 

What was your favourite episode of the season?
EJ: I really loved the episode ‘Covered In Balls.’ The ball gag and the avatar and the scenes that I had with Todd, the one long take that we did walking through the entire studio. You kind of see that shift in our relationship, where she asks him for help. I also really loved the one where k.d. lang makes a guest appearance, because obviously k.d. lang, but I also love that you got to see Jann play a song and sing. You’re reminded that in all the craziness and the mess and how horrible she is to her family, that at the core of it, Jann the character is an artist that has a real talent that touches people through music. I really loved that moment, and also, Cale got a one-on-one concert and Jann sang a line for her. That face when I’m watching her, that was a real face, it was me listening to Jann sing, because in real life, gosh, she’s got a talent. But with Cale, a manager cares about a client because they believe in their talent. So even in that moment, you see that Cale does see Jann’s talent and understands that. 

Schitt’s Creek, which you guest-starred in during its last season, became an international hit after Netflix started streaming it, and it was just announced that Hulu will soon be streaming Jann in the U.S. How excited are you that another great Canadian comedy is going to get a wider audience?
EJ: I’m absolutely thrilled. This is such an exciting time for Canadian comedy, and watching Schitt’s Creek sweep the Emmys, it was a win for all of us. We all shared that. It was an absolute honour to be on their very last season, to make it in and to be in such a pivotal episode as well, where my character got to play a hand in the fate of the family. It was such an honour to be a part of that and to witness the success it’s had.

They’ve been really amazing trailblazers to show that we’ve got amazing comedies up here. We’ve got incredible writers, actors, comedians, such great content is made here. [With Hulu], a wider audience will get to be exposed to Jann and, hopefully, share the laughs. I’m over the moon. 

Jann airs Monday at 8 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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