Tag Archives: Michael Shanks

Unspeakable: CBC miniseries revisits Canada’s tainted blood scandal

I was a teenager in the early 80s, and I remember when the AIDS crisis began. It was a mysterious disease killing people and no one seemed to know why. Being a teen, I was caught up in my own life, one of high school and part-time jobs so I wasn’t aware of the very Canadian angle to the story that included a second virus called Hepatitis C.

Robert C. Cooper was infected with Hepatitis C through tainted blood back then. Now the man behind such series as Stargate and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is telling the story on a world stage. Unspeakable, premiering Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CBC, 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.

Unspeakable stars Sarah Wayne Callies, Michael Shanks, Camille Sullivan, Shawn Doyle. We spoke to Cooper, Callies and Doyle about the project during a recent media day.

Robert, I know about the personal story and the connection to Unspeakable that it has. How did it end up coming to CBC?
Robert C. Cooper: Well, I had a relationship with CBC … and I will forever be indebted to [them] for allowing me to tell this story. I was exposed to Hepatitis C. I spent 30 years or so dealing with that, trying to get rid of that after several arduous treatments, but then in 2014 I was finally cured. I took a treatment that worked finally, and I think some of the catharsis of that gave me the strength and energy to in some ways stop being a victim. I looked at it more from the point of view of the storyteller. And also felt like I had maybe come to a point in my life where I was a little more mature and had a little more ability to be fair and take a more, certainly not objective, more objective point of view of the story.

Having said that, what I did was write this stream of consciousness, angry diatribe that I just said, ‘Sorry, but this is what I have.’ And then, actually, the folks at CBC admitted later that they had not ever bought into so much development on so little. It was just really an angry rant.

In a way three and half, four years later, that’s the most important thing that translated into the show, which is that I knew from the get go. Once I dove into the research, much of which I myself didn’t know.

I became aware of the scope of the story. And I was incredibly daunted and terrified taking this on, and wondered sort of in a way what I had gotten myself into, but felt like if nothing else we would never be able to tell the whole thing in eight hours in a dramatic format. What we needed to was somehow convey the emotion of what it was like to live through, and to translate that experience from a more emotional standpoint.

The anger, the fear, the terror that you felt, and the sadness that the victims who didn’t make it carry with them. Their families, the survivors carry with them everyday. So yeah, it sort of became more and more of a holy crap, this story is almost too big.

What I think what’s unique about it from a storytelling point of view is incredibly challenging when we started getting down to executing it is that unlike a lot of disaster stories it’s not just about the one event. It’s about the long haul.

How old were you when you got diagnosed?
RC: Well, like the story it’s not 100 per cent clear. What happened was when I was about 14, I got sick. They didn’t have a test for that, and so what they did was they called it Non A and Non B, and then it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that they actually came up with a test that told you, ‘Oh yeah, by the way you have this.’

And by the way, that’s how I was told. ‘By the way you have Hep C.’

Sarah Wayne Callies: What was the germane thing they were addressing to which the by the way?
RC: This and that. You’re all good, and on the way out …

Sarah, why did you get involved?
SWC: Well, I was growing up in the States at the time it was going on. My parents had a catastrophic marriage. My dad’s second marriage was no better. The people who taught me what love was was a gay couple named Joe and Clifford. And they had fun, and they cooked together, and they inspired each other. It was this beautiful relationship.

And then one day when I was in junior high my mom came home, and said, ‘Joe has AIDS.’ We didn’t even know he was HIV positive, and he was one of our closest friends.  And watching him die … it left a really lasting impression on me, and so when Rob brought this up to me, the Hep. C angle was new to me. The Canadian part of it was new to me, but the idea that we’ve castigated and isolated parts of our populations and decided that it’s OK if they die of diseases.

And Rob’s mentioned this before, but also at a moment when at least south of the 49th peril the media is under such a concentrated attack. This is a story about two men who are journalists who investigate and write books and bring things to light that protect the public.

Like Ben going into his editor saying this is story, and basically the editor saying it’s not a sexy enough story type of thing. It’s just incredible to look at it back with 2018 eyes, and just think that that was the way that everybody thought.

Unspeakable airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.


CBC and Sundance TV confirm casting for Unspeakable, including Shawn Doyle, Michael Shanks and Camille Sullivan

From a media release:

CBC and SundanceTV today announced casting for the dramatic eight-part miniseries UNSPEAKABLE, which chronicles the tainted blood scandal beginning in the 1980’s. Acclaimed actors Sarah Wayne Callies (Colony, The Walking Dead), Shawn Doyle (Bellevue, Big Love), Michael Shanks (Stargate SG-1, Saving Hope) and Camille Sullivan (The Disappearance, The Man in the High Castle) will lead the series. Production on UNSPEAKABLE begins spring 2018 in Vancouver, BC, for broadcast on CBC in Canada and SundanceTV in the U.S.

Created by Robert C. Cooper (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Stargate SG-1, Stargate: Atlantis) and based on first-person experience and non-fiction books, Bad Blood by Vic Parsons and The Gift of Death by Andre Picard, UNSPEAKABLE chronicles the emergence of HIV and Hepatitis C in Canada in the early 1980s and the tragedy that resulted after thousands of people were infected by tainted blood. One of the largest medical disasters in Canadian history, the blood scandal triggered a federal inquiry and precedent-setting lawsuit resulting in billions of dollars in compensation to victims.

A CBC and SundanceTV original series, UNSPEAKABLE is produced by Mezo Entertainment, with Cooper and Meridian Artists’ Glenn Cockburn serving as executive producers. The series is a passion project for Cooper, who himself was a victim, having contracted Hepatitis C from tainted blood. The series is written by Cooper, Carl Binder, Adriana Capozzi and Lynn Coady, with Cooper and Callies set to direct episodes.

AMC Studios will manage worldwide distribution outside of Canada.


Sarah Wayne Callies has made an indelible impression on audiences worldwide by bringing complex and unique female characters to life on screen. She was recently seen in National Geographic’s miniseries The Long Road Home, opposite Michael Kelly, Kate Bosworth, Jason Ritter, and Noel Fisher. She also currently stars on USA’s drama series Colony, opposite Josh Holloway. In addition to her projects with NatGeo and USA, Callies recently starred in the season five reboot of FOX’s critically acclaimed series Prison Break. Another notable role held from 2010-13 was starring as Lori Grimes, on the internationally renowned, record breaking series The Walking Dead. On the film front, Callies most recently starred in This Is Your Death, alongside Josh Duhamel and Giancarlo Esposito, which premiered at the SXSW film festival in March 2017. She also recently appeared in Warner Brothers’ action-packed Into the Storm, directed by Steven Quale. Other feature credits include: The Other Side of the Door, Pay the Ghost, Black November, Whisper and Benoit Phillipon’s Lullaby for Pi; where she composed and performed an original song in addition to acting opposite Rupert Friend.

Shawn Doyle can currently be seen on WGN America starring opposite Anna Paquin in CBC’s Bellevue. He recently wrapped filming a role starring opposite Keon Alexander and Genevieve Kang in UCP’s Impulse for YouTube Red as well as season three of the SyFy series The Expanse, starring opposite Thomas Jane and Steven Strait. He can also be seen on TV starring opposite Jason Momoa in Netflix’s Frontier. He was last seen in theaters starring opposite Joanne Kelley and Jason Priestley in the independent film Away From Here, directed by Justin Simms. Shawn also starred in season three of the Emmy® nominated Netflix seriesHouse of Cards, as well as season one of Fargo and USA’s Covert Affairs. Shawn starred opposite Tatiana Maslany in the Sundance hit Grown Up Movie Star, and played “Joey” (Bill Paxton’s unlucky brother) in the critically acclaimed HBO show Big Love.

Michael Shanks, after a decade-long stint as fan-favourite Dr. Daniel Jackson in sci-fi series Stargate SG-1, has gone on to star on several other hit series, TV movies, and films, including, most recently, the drama series Saving Hope which earned him a Leo Award for Best Lead Performance by a Male in a Dramatic Series in 2013. Shanks has also directed three episodes of the series, after making his directing debut in 2001, directing Stargate SG-1. Shanks appeared in a three-episode arc on the Emmy Award®-winning drama 24, and recurred on the hit series Smallville, as Carter Hall (a.k.a. Hawkman). Shanks played opposite Anne Archer in the made-for-TV movie Judicial Indiscretion, and portrayed the hockey legend Gordie Howe in Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story, a role which earned him a 2014 Leo Award for Best Lead Performance by a Male in a Television Movie, as well as a Canadian Screen Award nomination. His other television credits include a recurring role on Burn Notice and guest-starring roles on CSI: Miami, Stargate: Atlantis, Mr. Young, Endgame, Supernatural and more. He also co-starred in the Emmy Award®-winning William H. Macy telefilm Door to Door and the film adaptation of Jack London’s Call of the Wild.

Camille Sullivan is an award-winning Canadian actress. Most recently, she was nominated for a 2018 Canadian Screen Award for her work on the miniseries The Disappearance. Sullivan has twice been nominated for Gemini Awards: once for her portrayal in the series lead role of Amy Lynch on Shattered, and then again for her portrayal of Francine Reardon in Chris Haddock’sIntelligence for CBC. She played a lead role in the drama pilot Mistresses, and other recent television credits include recurring roles on Man in the High Castle, Rookie Blue, Red Widow and Hellcats. She has guest starred on shows including Proof, Motive, Falling Skies, Combat Hospital, Alcatraz, Flashpoint and The Killing. Past film projects include the much lauded Ally Was Screaming for which she won the UBCP/ACTRA Best Actress Award for her stunning performance. Sullivan was also luminous opposite Gabrielle Rose in the heartbreaking film Birdwatcher for which she garnered another UBCP/ACTRA Best Actress Award. Another lead credit includes Carl Bessai’s multiple award-winning dramatic feature film, Normal. Her performance in Normal won her a Leo Award for Best Actress in a Feature Length Film. Other starring roles include Mount Pleasant, written and directed by Ross Weber, Mothers and Daughters, an improvised film directed by Carl Bessai for which she earned another LEO nomination. Sullivan also appeared in Bessai’s Fathers and Sons and now completes the set with Sisters and Brothers.




Link: Saving Hope’s Erica Durance on her directorial debut

From Christy Spratlin of The TV Junkies:

Saving Hope’s Erica Durance on her directorial debut
“I personally like being behind the camera quite a bit. One of the reasons that I fell in love with the business is all of the work that it takes to get that one moment. I find everything that’s happening behind the scenes quite fascinating. So me being behind the camera experiencing it all, and having all of their help and support and seeing all the things from that perspective was awesome. Then seeing the whole project through editing, and how important the whole process is, it gives you a whole other perspective of things. It was really great.” Continue reading.