Tag Archives: Joanna Syrokomla

Murdoch Mysteries: Talking Ruth Newsome with Siobhan Murphy

She plays perhaps the most talked-about recurring character in Murdoch Mysteries history. Siobhan Murphy made an immediate impact when she debuted as Ruth Newsome, sister of Roger and Rupert Newsome (Cyrus Lane) of the Mimico Newsomes.

As outrageous as her brothers, Ruth caught the eye of Constable Henry Higgins (Lachlan Murdoch) and duo were married with much pomp earlier in Season 12. I spoke to Siobhan Murphy about the role, the clothes and how Ruth “waiting for me.”

I’ve been meaning to talk to you now for a couple of seasons, just because Ruth Newsome is such a fantastic character. I’m excited to talk to you and to really drill down and get to know how you got this role. 
Siobhan Murphy: I’m so excited to talk about Ruth. She’s one of the favorite characters I’ve ever gotten to play. I’m so glad that you enjoy her as well.

Let’s go back to the beginning. What’s the origin story? How did you get the role? Did you audition? 
SM: Murdoch has such a long storied history in Canadian TV. I auditioned several times for various roles throughout the years, which I think every actor has. You know, it’s sort of a rite of passage to get a Murdoch role. Then this was the role that I was waiting for, I guess, because they seemed to sort of see something in me. I can’t speculate from the producers’ point of view, but she was a wonderful mix of sort of funny and irreverent and snobby and posh and all these tropes that I felt very comfortable slipping into. I think it was just that I was waiting for Ruth. Ruth was waiting for me. That was the right fit. I auditioned in the very conventional fashion of going in the room and reading.

Did you hear her voice? Did you get her delivery? Did you understand who this woman was from the get go? Or was it something you had to kind of massage?
SM: For the audition itself, I felt like I had a sense of her. I felt like she was this sort of the poor little rich girl. You know, a bit of just a child who has never been told no and just grew into a woman. So I felt like I had her voice, even in terms of her tone, the way that she speaks in this sort of nondescript accent. My thought was that she’s been sent to a finishing school in England but didn’t really spend enough time in England, so she has one of these sort of strange accent. And I was lucky because, in the breakdown, they mentioned that she was the sister of an already established character, Cyrus’ character, Roger and Rupert, the Newsome twins. So I was able to look back on his episodes and sort of see the affectations he has brought to the voice and the melodic quality. Because there was a very specific Newsome way of speaking.

I was able to use that. Then once I got the part, I delved into the world of Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, just trying to find examples of poor little rich girls throughout cinema. She was sort of a good icon, in terms of just has never heard no and flounces around and leaves sort of an earthquake in her wake but comes out without a hair out of place. That was a bit of my research. And then just going back to the work that Cyrus had done because if I were to be brought in as part of his family and his world, I wanted to make sure the foundation he had laid was respected and further built upon.

The whole Newsome clan is a joy. It’s just incredible how everybody has really loved this family, which is, as I’m sure you know, pretty shocking and rare for this show. Many fans just want to see the core four and aren’t interested in anybody else.
SM: I knew going in. I was like, ‘OK, I know that I’m here for a bit of a comic relief sort or, you know, to alleviate some of the tension of the episodes.’ It’s not about me. I’ll bop in, I’ll bop out. Then I did Season 10 and then in Season 11, I got to do sort of more lovely stuff with Lachlan that was a little bit deeper and truer and not just sort of like ‘Oh, my heavens,’ and causing chaos. I wanted to be very respectful of the fans and loving the format of the show, and knowing they’re probably going to hate Ruth or some people are going to like her, but she’s not going to be for everyone and that’s OK. She’s a lot of noise, and she’s basically a hat that’s become a sentient being. She’s a lot. So won’t take it personally. I’m playing an unlikeable, over-the-top character.

I was really touched that people sort of were drawn to her and didn’t … I mean, I’m sure some people find her so irritating, and that’s also absolutely valid because she certainly is. Absolutely. It is such a testament to sort of the Newsome brand that Cyrus had created, that there was this opening in the fans’ hearts and minds for this other, weird offshoot of the otherwise quite deep and dark and twisty Murdoch world. So I was very grateful for their opening up to this wacky, weird offshoot.

Did that take a lot of time when you were doing the research into playing this character?
SM: I was classically trained at a theatre school in Ontario called York University. They put us through the rigors of you do your research but also you do your research on the voice and the body of the character. Thankfully, as we know, Murdoch gives us these incredible period costumes with the corset, with the padding. So I knew that that would inform so much of how she walked through the world. I knew that I wanted her voice to be established and her way of being, and she is sort of a flighty bird. This is going to sound very actory, but I sort of was looking at things like, as I said, Katharine Hepburn just was someone that I looked at, not because of her voice, which is quite mid-Atlantic, or her posture which at the time was quite sort of considered masculine because she took big steps.

What’s funny is that [Clare McConnell] who plays my cousin, Effie, in the wedding episode, studied Katharine Hepburn, and you can see it in her performance. Her character smokes and has a real sort of languid catlike way of stalking the set. So it was funny because I had thought of Katharine Hepburn, but in a totally different construct. I guess she’s an icon for a ton of actresses. But to go back to what I was saying in terms of actor work. Ruth just really also struck me, this is such an actory thing to say, so I do apologize, as a bit of a bird about to take flight.

You’re already mentioned the clothing, so let’s talk a little bit about the costumes. Joanna has said that it’s a joy to dress you. 
SM: It’s wild. Joanna, this is her first season working with all of us. Before that, the costumes were also incredible, and the hats were amazing. I mean, literally, when I say Ruth is a sentient hat, that’s how I felt when I first got to set. I was 90 percent hat, 10 percent woman. It was fabulous because you’re just like, ‘OK, great. So no matter what I do, the hat pulls the focus. It doesn’t matter if I’m bad. They’re focusing on the hat.’ But it was lovely. It made it sort of so easy to embody this fancy-dancy kind of woman with all these pieces to keep moving through space with.

In this season what’s been quite amazing is the colour, the brightness, and the intensity and the saturation that Joanna dresses Ruth in. And the accessories. She’s giving me parasols and purses and gloves and bracelets and necklaces, which of course you would think is an actor’s nightmare, but it’s fabulous because there’s always a joke in the parasol and there’s something to do with the gloves. She gives me props even in wardrobe, which Ruth would have and is a delight. And the colour, I think, is so lovely because in this season, in the last season, as Ruth is now engaged and all the wedding stuff, the brightness and the joy and the … she’s like a tropical bird in a lot of ways.

I think the high point so far was the Kellogg outfit.
SM: She sent me a photo of the piece. She’s like, ‘I made this.’ First of all, I was like, ‘You’re a goddess and a genius.’ Second, I haven’t read the script yet. What’s happening? ‘Oh, you’re the inspiration for the Kellogg Cornflake rooster.’ I’m like, ‘I’m the bird I’ve always dreamed I’d be. It’s perfect.’ That was a real showstopper when I walked onto set, which is … what a piece! It was truly something to behold. Also, at this point, Ruth is terribly broke. Which is just a testament to the trunk she must have hauled with her from Henry’s apartment.

The other interesting thing about Ruth is evolution of the character, is that kind of comic relief in the beginning but now she’s being involved in storylines in a way that has become more akin to what we’ve seen with Crabtree. Inspiring Kellogg and the knowledge that she wrote these saucy books that Julia has read.
SM: You know, you never want to imbue your character or assume a character is dumb, right? Because you can’t play dumb. That’s not how she was written, but she was written as a bit sort of flighty. I just was like, ‘I can’t wrap my head around that. It’s not that she’s flighty. It’s that she’s distracted.’ So if she’s constantly distracted, what is she distracted by? I didn’t know. I’m not going to pretend that I knew the answer because that would be insane. She’s just got a million things on her mind. They might be small, minute things like where did she leave her gloves or did the servant remember to draw me a bath or all these different things. The first inkling I got of Ruth’s, or what the writers knew of Ruth’s, inner world was in the Christmas episode that Peter Mitchell had written.

There’s this whole turn that happens in the scene where we’re going to take down Ponzi. Suddenly Ruth is swilling whiskey and being like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s typical.’ You realize, wait. I remember talking to Lachlan about it. We would talk sort of in between scenes. I was like, ‘Do you think Ruth is actually from one of these families that started as a gangster family and then maybe made right in the world?’ So this generation of kids went to finishing school, but they really come from generations and generations of criminals.

Of course she’s good at conversation, which is now why she’s sort of a nurse’s aide or a conversationalist in a nurse’s outfit at the hospital. So the fact that she has all these other sort of bizarre lives makes complete sense because it’s not that she’s dumb. It’s just that she’s got so many things on her mind.

Murdoch Mysteries‘ Season 12 finale airs Monday at 8 p.m. on CBC and streams on CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Thom Allison and Sharron Matthews named co-hosts of the upcoming CAFTCAD Awards

From a media release:

People are either born hosts or born guests (thank you, Max Beerbohm). Thom Allison and Sharron Matthews were most definitely born hosts which is why they will take to the stage at the Aga Khan Museum on Sunday, February 10th to head up the inaugural Canadian Alliance of Film & Television Costume Arts & Design (CAFTCAD) Awards.

“If we are going to do an awards gala, then we are going to do it right. Thom and Sharron bring a triumphant spirit to this event and we are thrilled to have them on this very special night,” said Joanna Syrokomla, Chairman of the CAFTCAD Awards.

Two-time Dora nominee, Thom Allison, can be seen as ‘Pree’ in the hit series, Killjoys, on Space Channel/Syfy Network. Thom has appeared on Broadway in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and in the original Canadian companies of Miss Saigon, The Who’s Tommy and Rent. At the Stratford Festival, Thom has appeared in Romeo and Juliet, Pericles, Threepenny Opera, The King and I, Hello, Dolly and King Henry VIII, and Into the Woods. At the Shaw Festival, he received critical acclaim for his performance in Ragtime, as well as performing in Wonderful Town, A Little Night Music, Guys and Dollsand Follies: In Concert. Some other credits include The Drowsy Chaperone(Vancouver Playhouse, National Arts Centre, Citadel Theatre), OUTRAGEOUS(CanStage), Cabaret (Theatre Calgary), My Fair Lady (Manitoba Theatre Centre), Evita (Manitoba Theatre Centre, Theatre Calgary), Elegies, A New Brain (Acting Up Stage) and Take Me Out (CanStage). Film/TV: Judge on CBC’s Over the Rainbow, Leaving Metropolis, I Me Wed, Road to Christmas, Kim’s Convenience, Murdoch Mysteries, Private Eyes, Your All-Time Classic Hit Parade. Directing: Seussical, Mary Poppins (YPT). His CD, “A Whole Lotta Sunlight” can be purchased on iTunes.

Award-winning actress, writer, singer, producer Sharron Matthews is one of the stars of the CBC’s hit TV drama Frankie Drake Mysteries, airing on OVATION and PBS in the United States and ALIBI in the UK. She has toured her highly acclaimed one-woman shows around the world from New York to London to Cape Town, has acted in movies with stars like Tina Fey (Mean Girls) and John Travolta (Hairspray: The Movie), written for newspapers and magazines across the globe, sung with Canadian icon Jann Arden, and performed on stages alongside comedy legends Mary Walsh and Andrea Martin. As if that wasn’t enough, Sharron is also the host of the CBC digital series, “The Mystery Of…”.

The CAFTCAD Awards will take place on Sunday, February 10, 2019 at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.

ABOUT CAFTCAD 
Formed in 2008the Canadian Alliance of Film & Television Costume Arts & Design (CAFTCAD) is an association of individuals interested in promoting costume design for film, television and media from both an artistic and technical perspective. Our goal is to enrich our community with a national organization that is inclusive of experience and talent. The Alliance provides an open forum for discussion, networking and knowledge sharing for our members through periodic seminars, workshops, exhibits and an online forum. We explore the areas of individual design approach, illustration, and advancements in film technologies. We celebrate the richness of historic and contemporary fashion and its relationship to our craft. Our vision is to increase awareness and the value of costume arts and design as a powerful element in the collaborative process of filmmaking; furthering international recognition of the creative talent we have in Canada.

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Murdoch Mysteries: Costume designer Joanna Syrokomla discusses the show’s stunning clothes

Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched the “My Big Fat Mimico Wedding” episode of Murdoch Mysteries.

Joanna Syrokomla has one of the best jobs in television and film. Yes, being a costume designer is a lot of work, but the opportunity to spend someone else’s money to research, create, make and/or rent the clothes worn by characters sounds incredible.

Syrokomla—who has been the costume designer on such series as The L.A. Complex, Bitten, Backstage and Chateau Laurier (for which she recently won an International Academy of Web Television Award)—joined the Murdoch Mysteries crew for Season 12 and has, in my mind, made an immediate impact. That was never more evident in the stunning clothes worn by Ruth Newsome, Henry Higgins and their guests during Monday’s nuptials. How did Syrokomla design Ruth’s dress? What’s different about Julia’s look? And what items in his wardrobe does Yannick Bisson refuse to change? Read on to find out!

What does the title of costume designer mean, specifically when we’re talking about Murdoch Mysteries?
Joanna Syrokomla: I’m ultimately responsible for every article of clothing that goes on-camera. Obviously, we do the research required for Murdoch. I watched previous seasons of Murdoch—I was already a fan—and the wonderful thing about that is you can see what really works on the characters. I could watch what was really great on Hélène Joy, what made her glow and was successful on her. I’ve tried to update Julia’s look. She’s starting to lean towards 1910 even though it’s 1906 to give it a freshness to the look of Murdoch and to her and to, frankly, accent some of the stock because there are only so many costumes in Canada to rent to all of those day players.

I have a crew that ranges between eight and 15 people, depending on the day. I have a workshop where we build and sew costumes. We make things from scratch for our leads. And if there are any specialty stunts … we’ve been making Ruth Newsome a bunch of stuff because she is amazing. Siobhan Murphy can pull off anything. She can pull off big sleeves, she can pull off a train, she can pull off crazy colours and I’ve really made quite an effort to realize her character more visually. I feel like I’ve been trying to do that with a few of the characters. We know Murdoch is not realistic. So, for me, it’s about making things that the audience is really going to love.

It’s interesting to hear to say that you do keep the fans in mind when you’re designing something.
JS: We also use more modern things. I’ve been buying things are Zara and Forever 21. Violet and Ogden are wearing things that we’ve bought from Forever 21 and just recut and adapted them. At the end of the day, there is a fan base that wants to see pretty clothes. And as long as they don’t distract from the action, we want to bring some colour, texture and warmth. Again, it’s not high realism. High realism at that time was all very brown, cream and tan and hot wool. That’s what I love about Murdoch Mysteries over some other period series. There is a fun element to Murdoch Mysteries. We say, ‘Is it period, or is it Murdoch period?’

What was the inspiration behind Ruth’s gorgeous wedding dress?
JS: Ruth, obviously, is over the top. The style of her dress is a little modern for the period. It’s leaning more towards a 1908-1910 silhouette. The character takes up a lot of space visually and I love that about her. And Siobhan is a stunning creature. The dress started off as a dress we found in a Montreal costume house. We redid the sleeves and changed the train. We ended up changing it so much I’m not even sure you would recognize the original dress. It’s now in two pieces and the costume house loved it so much they said, ‘Don’t change it,’ because sometimes we have to change things back. There was so much action going on we had to make sure she didn’t have a really long train. At first, I wanted her to have this really ridiculous, long train and veil but there so much action that you can’t have that stuff be in the way.

You mentioned Montreal. So, you’re going all over the country for rentals and inspiration?
JS: Absolutely. Toronto does have some really exceptional costume rental houses but we were sent to Montreal for about a week because Montreal has an excellent period stock. I think they might just do more period movies in Montreal. We spent a couple of days in costume houses there and bought a bunch of fabric there. But things to get rented from Vancouver and we do [use items from] Los Angeles a little bit. We’ve also been going to the Shaw Festival and the Stratford Festival, hitting places that Murdoch hadn’t really hit before just for some new stock.

Let’s talk about what the men were wearing during the wedding. What can you tell me about their tuxes?
JS: It’s officially called morning wear. They wouldn’t be tuxedoes. They would be morning coats for an afternoon wedding. It was a lot of fun to put everyone in morning wear. It’s always wonderful when the guys come in in their sneakers and shorts and just the way they stand when they start putting on all this formal gear is beautiful. We even had some pieces sent in from Winnipeg, which has the oldest costume house in Canada. It was the original Malabar costumes and then branched to Toronto and Montreal. We had some pieces from there because we have gunshot wounds in the episode. There is a whole jacket switch that has to happen between Henry and George. In reality, the two of them are not the same size, so we had to find jackets that we were allowed to put gunshot wounds in.

One thing I’m not sure if you noticed and I’m curious if you did. The pyjamas. In the story, everyone goes to the wedding, and everyone has to stay overnight. No one had intended to stay overnight so everyone is wearing pyjamas. And we’re not sure if they were Roger’s pyjamas or Rupert’s pyjamas. It was a way we could put Hélène in those beautiful, silky, pyjamas and Crabtree in the yellow paisley pyjamas and, of course, Murdoch wore some serious ones. That was something that came up. We were in a meeting and I asked what everyone was wearing. I don’t know who it was, it might even have been me, who said, ‘What if it was Rupert’s pyjamas?’

How far in advance are you brought in to discuss clothing?
JS: It’s during the first draft period. I had a little more time for the wedding episode. It was actually one of the first episodes we shot so we had a little bit more time. But it’s basically two weeks.

You’ve already spoken about Julia’s look changing. What about William’s? I don’t imagine his clothing has been altered too much style-wise.
JS: Everybody is very, very happy with his look over the years. And Yannick himself doesn’t want to change it. He wears the same shoes and the same cufflinks from the very first movie and refuses to change them. He wears the same shoes, we just get the refurbished every year. I got him some new cufflinks and he said, ‘No, no, I’ve been wearing the same cufflinks.’ We just made more of the same. He does have some looks this year which are new, but nothing drastic. I even tried to get him a new hat. They don’t make that one anymore. I got it from a vintage seller on eBay in his size and everything. He picked it up and said, ‘Yeah, it’s good as a backup hat.’

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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