Tag Archives: Morwyn Brebner

Coroner: Morwyn Brebner and Adrienne Mitchell preview the finale and look back on Season 1

When we last spoke with Coroner showrunner Morwyn Brebner and executive producer/lead director Adrienne Mitchell, the series had just premiered to solid numbers and the pair hoped they had a winner on their hands. Now, as the season finale approaches, they know the show is a bona fide hit and are rightfully proud of what the cast and crew accomplished during the first season.

“It’s the kind of show where everyone could really bring their artistry,” says Mitchell, on the line from icy Toronto. “And we call it the Collective—it’s the Coroner Collective. I don’t mean for it to sound cheesy, but it’s really true. It’s this continuum of people, and it’s just been a beautiful process.”

Brebner, enjoying warmer weather in New York, concurred, saying, “I’m happy to have made something that was made in a respectful way, which is actually kind of a huge thing. That feels like a milestone for me to have worked in a way where that was also a priority.”

After last week’s shocking penultimate episodewhich flashed up “To Be Continued…” just as Jenny (Serinda Swan) encountered the bloody corpse of former coroner Dr. Peterson (Michael Healey)we had to get Brebner and Mitchell on the phone to preview Monday’s big season finale, entitled “Bridges,” and provide their closing thoughts on Season 1.

Congratulations on a great first season. I was impressed with the way you were able to mix some big issues, including mental illness and police violence, into the season in such a natural, organic way. Was that hard to achieve?
Morwyn Brebner: I feel like it’s not hard in a sense because I think sometimes people think that tones are mutually exclusive, that a show is serious or a show is funny or whatever. I guess we’re really trying to be in the tone of life, which fluctuates between the two. So I feel like we’ve been able to find a good balance because we’ve kept ourselves open to that balance. I know in terms of the writing in the writer’s room—and also in terms of the beautiful visuals of the show—that we really have tried to be open, to not be set in a mode but to try and allow life into the show in a way that feels like life is. I feel like every show has sort of a range of tones and that you can move within that range and it can feel authentic, and we really have been striving for that.

Adrienne Mitchell: Also what really helps keep things from becoming too didactic or issue orientated is the very specific and personal take the characters have as they move through these scenarios and cases. I mean, the writers, Morwyn and the team, really can come up with it, and Seneca [Aaron], Episode 6 was something he wrote. There was just a very personal take, and he also comes from a West Indian background and could bring that to the story and Donovan McAvoy’s perspective, and I think it just gives it a reality and makes it more organic. That’s the thing, you can’t really separate it from the personal, and when you can’t separate it from the personal, it feels more organic. It doesn’t feel like just putting something on top of a story, the story’s infused with the characters.

And that’s why having a diverse writer’s room is so important, that authentic mix of perspectives.
AM: Exactly.

MB: The diversity of the writer’s room and the diversity of the cast were a huge strength for the show.

One of the season-long storylines has involved the mystery of the black dog and Jenny’s sister. In Episode 7, we learned that the dog may have killed Jenny’s sister … or maybe not. Will this all get explained in the finale?
M: I’m so spoiler averse, I’m going to let Adrienne answer.

A: Stayed tuned and watch Episode 8.  I can say we’re going to go back into that world and truth will be revealed.

I like the fact that you’re dealing with Jenny’s clouded memory of the events and then her father, who has dementia, is not really able to clarify the situation. It adds multiple layers to the mystery and demonstrates the unreliability of memory.
AM: That’s exactly it, that’s a very astute observation. That’s exactly what we’re working with. It’s interesting when things from your past are coming up, and your parent who was there, you don’t know if he is a reliable witness or not. The parent is experiencing dementia, so you have no one to confront in a way that you can usually confront. It’s challenging for her.

We also saw more of Gerald Henry Jones in Episode 7. Kudos on casting Rick Roberts in the role. He has kind of a gentle face, but he can also seem really sinister. Did you have him in mind for the part?
MB: Rick Roberts is an actor with incredible range and he’s so good in this part. We did have him in mind, actually, and he did audition, and it was just like a coup de foudre, it was like, he’s the guy.

AM: Yes, we have an amazing casting director, Lisa Parasyn, who understands our aesthetic and is also presenting us with people who are not the usual suspects for any role. It’s almost like this unspoken communication between us where you’re [at first] going, ‘Well, that’s not [who I had in mind],’ and then you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, yes.’ And she knows that we’re the type who will really respond to unusual ideas. So it’s this great bouncing off with her and Morwyn and me, and we get these really exciting casting results.

MB: I feel like Rick brings us a nice layer of nice guy/bad guy and you don’t know in what proportion and you don’t know in what way, and it’s really mysterious.

What can you hint about Jones in the finale? Will McAvoy and Townsend finally take him down?
AM: I can say he comes back, and it will be really compelling. How’s that? It’s an interesting episode because it harkens back to many of the themes that we’ve been building throughout the season. When Morwyn and I started doing this, we really had a desire to treat the whole thing like a feature film, something that’s novelistic and has those elements that run through but also has the cases. Everything is really beautifully intertwined, and I think the last episode will harken back to earlier themes and themes we’re developing in a way that I think will be really poignant and compelling for viewers.

MB: I find it really hard to talk about the show from the outside in a weird way. But I think, from the inside, the finale feels mysterious and correct and exciting and unexpected in the ways that we had hoped it would be.

You also surprised me by bringing back Dr. Peterson, and more, almost making me like him.
MB: Well, we love him as a foil to Jenny. We felt that they brought out interesting things in each other and he was such an interesting person to pair with her in really kind of a little bottle moment. He managed to really get inside her psychology and needle at her at a way that would bring stuff out. We really just loved them together, and that’s why we brought him back.

AM: And life is like this, you know? You can have a certain perspective on somebody, and it may not be the fulsome experience of that person. I love that the situation arises where these two have to show a different side of themselves to each other, and in doing that, they have a new appreciation for each other. And I think that’s really the way life is on some level.

MB: It is completely the way life is. I feel like you know people in different ways and people are themselves in different ways depending on the moment and circumstance. And there is an empathy and a sadness beneath him that’s really evident, and I think that Jenny sees as well. He’s also a person who is unable to overcome a barrier to his full expression of good self, and Jenny has a barrier in her that she is unable to overcome. They’re two people wrestling with that and trying to see each other as individuals over that divide of their own various limitations in the moment. And they do kind of find a sort of synergy together for a while—until it falls apart.

And, boy, did it fall apart. The episode ended with poor dead Dr. Peterson and the second cliffhanger of the season. What does his death mean for Jenny in the finale?
MB: All I can say is that it’s a satisfying ride and I hope that people will feel that it’s a satisfying ride.

AM: It’s going to be a really interesting journey, and things are going to hit you in a really unexpected way. It’s a great season end.

Looking back over the first season, what makes you the proudest?
AM: Wow, that’s a good question. I’m most proud of the creative collaboration between Morwyn, myself, and the team to realize the kind of hybrid way of telling a story, where there’s a really unique balance between personal and case with kind of a quirky sense of humour, yet it was done in a very cinematic way. Before shooting, there was a lot of discussion about tone and how to make it unified, because we’ve got weird bits of humour, we’ve got the personal, we’ve got the case, and there was—not inside our ranks, but outside of our ranks—there was nervousness that we were spending too much time on the personal stories and the personal stories might feel too outside what was happening in the case. But we all felt pretty strongly and stuck to our guns that it was going to work and that it was organic. And, you never know, but I think because Morwyn and I and the team were able to execute this vision, it all just gelled—and it works. It works. Some people might look at this and say, ‘Well, is [the outcome] that unique?’ But it is very unique in terms of all the elements. 

We decided when we got together that we weren’t going to get into a rut and keep doing the same thing, we were going to move and shift and change the way human beings do. And I’m just so proud of my work with Morwyn, so proud to have worked with her to bring all of that into a really beautiful alchemy. As a director, I’ve never been more able to execute my vision visually, through my [director of photography] Samy [Inayeh ] and Elisa [Suave], the production designer. To actually be able to achieve that in a ridiculous timeframe and a Canadian TV budget? I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished.

MB: I’m very proud of everyone’s work on the show. Everyone worked on it with incredible commitment, and everyone was an artist and brought their artistry to it on every level of the show. I’m proud to have made this show, and I’m proud that it was truly collaborative. And I’m proud to have made something that feels inclusive and diverse, proud to have made something that feels in the tone of life, and I’m so happy to have worked with Adrienne.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Coroner: Tamara Podemski on Alison’s backstory and why landing the role was a “huge triumph” for her

Tamara Podemski has been an acclaimed multi-disciplinary performer for over 25 years, winning a Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Acting for the film Four Sheets to the Wind, appearing in the Broadway cast of Rent and guest-starring in such TV shows as The Rez, Heartland and Cracked. But, despite her impressive resumé, she still has trouble getting into the audition room. Or, at least, she has trouble when the part in question is not specifically Indigenous.

“I think I can count on one hand how many times I’ve played a non-ethnic specific role, where it wasn’t in the character breakdown, where it wasn’t a very culturally specific subject matter,” says Podemski, who is of Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi descent, “and this is one of those opportunities.”

“This,” of course, refers to her scene-stealing turn as Alison Trent on CBC’s hit drama series Coroner.  As Jenny Cooper’s (Serinda Swan) assistant, Alison is passionately professional, fiercely protective of the coroner’s office and a just little bit quirky. She also happens to be Indigenous—a fact the show does not belabour.

And that’s just fine with Podemski.

“It doesn’t mean that I don’t get to represent myself and my community,” she says. “It just means that I get to be who I am.”

To help us get ready for Monday’s new episode, “Confetti Heart,” we gave Podemski a call to learn more about Alison, her first TV writing gig on APTN’s Future History (which airs its Season 1 finale Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET), and why she believes becoming a performer saved her life.

You and your two sisters, Jennifer Podemski and Sarah Podemski, all went into the entertainment business. Why do you think you were all drawn to the industry?
Tamara Podemski: My sisters and I had a traumatic childhood which resulted in my mother leaving our father to raise three girls on his own. We were always singing and dancing around the house, but during those difficult years, the world of make-believe allowed us to process and express what we were going through in a profound way. My father took us to every class, audition and rehearsal and worked his ass off so we could have every opportunity to perform and train. He knew it was helping us cause we were thriving. I believe the arts saved my life and I think it saved my sisters, too.

It never ceases to amaze me, the more I hear of how other artists came into their performing voice or found their voice as a performer, when you hear the stories that this grew out of, there is this consistent yearning for a place to express and move all the stuff that’s inside them. And so, forever, my belief is that the arts heal, the arts empower, and the arts allow you to connect with others. Trauma tends to be a very isolating experience, so if you can have this other thing that allows you to come out of yourself, I think it’s kind of the perfect remedy.

What was your audition process like for Coroner?
TP: Luckily, I was able to go into the room to audition. That is a real rarity these days. We’re in a time of self-tapes, which means actors are in their own home putting an audition on tape or going to an audition facility. Some people love that because you’re less anxious and you get to control the environment a little bit more. Me, on the other hand, I prefer being in the room, I think I thrive when I’m in the room because I have people to bounce off of, and this was a very specific scenario where I think I was really able to show my take on this woman.

It did start out as a self-tape that I did in my bedroom with my husband and I remember the way that I interpreted her—and you don’t have much to go on, you certainly don’t have the director or writer to guide you—it was really just based on my interpretation. And so that quirky very passionate about her work, kind of socially awkward not reading social cues very well, that was all my original interpretation of who Alison Trent was. And I remember my husband saying, ‘Wow, you might want to bring that down a bit,’ because I let the biggest version of her come out. But at least they saw something in that tape that allowed me to come into the room.

I didn’t realize she was as funny, like, when the laughs started coming from how she was—and I only speak about her in the third person because I really feel like she’s so different from me. Usually, I feel closer to some of my characters, but Alison is a force. I follow her. I don’t really tell her what to do or how to be. So in the room, we just had so much fun, and then the best thing is they asked me to do an improv with Serinda of coming to work on my first day and explaining to her what she needs to do to basically operate as the coroner on that first day of work, and I went off. And I feel like whatever I found in that moment was Alison from there on.

Alison is in M.R. Hall’s Coroner books. Did you check those out before filming?
TP: I didn’t read the book because I’d known that Alison is very different in the book, and when I heard that they’d really taken her and went in a different direction, I didn’t feel like that would inform what I was doing. I think if they were trying to bring that character to the screen and honour what that original idea was, I would’ve felt more inclined to do that. But, to me, it sounded like we were creating something new for her.

Also, I do have to say that it was not a culturally or ethnically specific role when I went in for it. The majority of my roles are Native women, and so—even though I knew that we weren’t going to touch on those storylines, or from what I’d read that far—I knew that I was bringing a storyline and a background that wouldn’t be in the books from the UK. So I had to come up with a backstory that really was from scratch. I needed to be informed through an Indigenous lens of why a woman would work in the coroner’s office, of what in her life led her to take that path of justice-seeking, of speaking for the dead. We’re just at a time of these really pivotal moments by coroners, by judges, these court rulings that either bring justice for families, or they don’t. And you can see the public uprising in response to these really critical decisions that are being made. So I felt like, OK, there’s a lot of stuff there that I can use for Alison, why she chose to work in a coroner’s office. And so that was another reason why I thought I need to place her in Toronto and place her as an Indigenous woman, and that wouldn’t have been in the books.

I take it that you’re speaking of the horrific history of murders and missing persons cases involving Indigenous women in Canada. 
TP: Yes.

Do you know if the series will address any of those stories in the future?
TP: I have no idea. But I know that it’s my responsibility to myself, to my community, to my character that I’ve created that she’s got to come from somewhere and she’s got to have a story. Somebody who chooses to work in justice and someone who chooses to be a public servant, there are certain paths that lead someone to that work. And when it is a highly controversial department to work in, when you know that it’s at odds with the people and the community that you represent, I think there are rich and great opportunities to delve into that. If we get a second season, that would be a great opportunity.

Showrunner Morwyn Brebner and executive producer/lead director Adrienne Mitchell have stated that they really wanted to accurately represent Toronto by having a diverse cast and writer’s room. How do you think the rest of Canadian TV is doing with that right now? 
TP: There are a couple of parts to the current climate of diversity onscreen. One is that, yeah, Canadian television is certainly more diverse. I do feel like 25 years ago, though, we had a lot of diversity on television. When we did The Rez, that was an entire Native cast on television, and North of 60 was an entire Native cast on television. It’s been a long time that I’ve been doing this, and it’s the same network, and I guess what I feel that I still have to fight for is, can I get into the room if it’s not a Native character?

So that’s why this job was a huge triumph for me as an ethnic actor—as casting breakdowns say, ‘All ethnicities welcome.’ I am still celebrating every time that I get to go into the room where I get to be the actor with 25 years experience, where I get to represent myself as a woman in the world, where I’m not like a quota checklist. So, that’s why this really stands out. I think I can count on one hand how many times I’ve played a non-ethnic specific role, where it wasn’t in the character breakdown, where it wasn’t a very culturally specific subject matter, and this is one of those opportunities.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t get to represent myself and my community. It just means that I get to be who I am. And that’s just a more realistic picture of who we are, especially as urban Indigenous people. We’re all around. We’re amongst you. 

We got to learn a bit more about Alison in Episode 5 when she was invited to Jenny’s for Thanksgiving. We learned she loves to bake and that she’s having her baby on her own.  Are we going to learn a lot more about her personal life this season?
TP: Yes, we’re going to learn more about her. I like how slowly we are let into her world because I think that that is part of her protection. If you think about her and Jenny, they just met four episodes earlier, and so trust has had to build up in that time, and they certainly have developed a working relationship that has been very respectful and beneficial and supportive, and now we see Alison letting her in a little bit. It’s not that she’s necessarily private, but it seems, for instance, when she meets Sabina [Jeananne Goosen], who is close with Jenny, you just see what happens when Alison feels safe and feels welcome and feels included. She feels very surprised by the [Thanksgiving dinner] invitation. Work is a place of duty and responsibility, she takes her job very seriously, so when it crosses into her personal world, she’s maybe slightly too enthusiastic about it. But I think it’s because she really does have a huge heart, I think it’s very indicative of where she’s at in her life, wanting to have a family of her own, and yet not really having the life that fits the picture that we’re told is the way that we’re meant to make families. And so I really love what happens in Episode 5 where we get to see her in her personal world and why she makes some decisions, and what I love most is the confidence and the courage behind the decisions.

I definitely picked up a romantic vibe between Alison and Sabina, who was very quick to offer her a ride home when she said she wasn’t feeling well. Was I right?
TP: Yes! Its hard for me to talk about, because I know what was shot, and I know what we all knew, but it’s always very different how much is revealed to the viewer and what comes across. But if that did come across, that’s great. Because that’s where it was going.

What can you preview about Episode 6?
TP: We get a lot more time with Alison. There’s still great drama and some crazy mysteries that are happening, but Episode 6 does let us into Alison’s personal relationships. Mostly, we’ve seen Alison in the work mode, and what happens with this mid-season shift into these more personal interactions with everybody—just going into Jenny’s home and seeing the family and work people all intermingling—that is a shift. I think it’s a beautiful move into the deeper level of the interpersonal connections between everyone.

You are also working on the APTN documentary series Future History with your sister, Jennifer. How is that going? 
TP: We just finished Season 2, and Season 1 is on the air right now. We were actually writing Season 2 while we were shooting Coroner, so I had to set up my trailer like a little production office and in between scenes, I would go and work on that. It wasn’t the most fun. It made for a very challenging time, but it’s been one of my favourite and most challenging jobs to write this documentary series. It has been a source of inspiration because I get to find and interview the participants that we feature on the show. Each episode has three what we call Rematriation Warriors, people who are reclaiming their Indigeneity, and through language, through policy, they are shifting the colonial narrative in Canada. So interviewing these people is pretty life-changing, to get the one-on-one experience. These are very difficult people to get on the phone, so I feel very blessed to have been the writer of this show. My sister did take a chance on me by giving me my first television writing gig. Thankfully, I delivered, so she brought me back for Season 2.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Coroner: Ehren Kassam on his beard, the butterfly stroke and working with Serinda Swan

A beard almost stood in the way of Ehren Kassam landing the role of Jenny Cooper’s (Serinda Swan) son Ross on CBC’s crime drama Coroner. You see, Kassam is 21, and Ross was originally supposed to be 16.

“They were just a little skeptical about choosing me because I was a little bit older than the character they were going for,” says Kassam. “And they did want to cast it authentic.”

But, despite his status as a legal adult, he was called in for a  chemistry test with Swan and the results upended any reservations the show’s producers may have had.

“Serinda and I really clicked instantly, and Adrienne [Mitchell] the director, was there, too. We all sat and talked for like 15 minutes, and it was really just this natural, electric feeling, and we were all sort of like, ‘Shit, this is really going to be cool.'”

In the end, Ross’ age was inched up to 17 to accommodate Kassam’s scruff, and the former Degrassi: Next Class star was handed the part, which, he says, led to the “best filming experience of my life.”

Ahead of this Monday’s new Thanksgiving-themed episode, “All’s Well,” we gave Kassam a call to learn more about what makes Ross tick and what will be coming up for him in the second half of the season.

You said you had an ‘electric’ chemistry test with Serinda Swan. What was it like working with her throughout Season 1?
Ehren Kassam: I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better partner because she was the most focused actor I’ve ever worked with for sure. She knew exactly what was going on in every character’s head in every scene, and it was so cool and so inspiring to see that because she does take it as seriously as possible, and I really, really respected that. And we just really clicked. I don’t know how else to describe it. We really got along well. We were always joking around and had this really nice chemistry and really nice balance, and we could always sit and have an actual conversation and talk about the scene before doing them.

We would always sit down with [showrunner] Morwyn [Brebner] and Adrienne and sort of discuss wherever we wanted the scene to go, and it was kind of a new experience for me as well because, as a younger actor, you’re sort of used to just being kind of told what to do, and you’re not really given the liberty to experiment as much as you might want and as much as you might think, at least for Canadian network TV, where most of my experience has been. You kind of just get told, ‘This is your character, you’re the heartthrob teenager and play that as much as you can.’ So this was kind of cool because we really got to sit down and experiment with things and try out different things. And I never felt rushed, and I can safely say that it was the best filming experience of my life.

I was going to ask how being on Coroner compared with some of the other shows you’ve been on, such as Degrassi.
EK: Degrassi, don’t get me wrong, was fantastic and I met a lot of people who I’ll call best friends for a long time. It could have been that my character on Degrassi, I really was just the boyfriend to three different storylines for four years. So it was a great experience and a lot of fun, but I didn’t get that experimentation, getting to sort of try out things at my liberty, maybe because the scenes were never really about me then. So it’s interesting when you then switch to a show that has scenes that are focused on you and relying on you, that you are given the liberty to experiment at your will.

But there are pros and cons to both. I was definitely more stressed being on Coroner than I was on Degrassi. Because when I walked on the set of Degrassi, I always knew what I was doing for sure, and it was almost down to a science. Where on Coroner, I would walk in and I would have no idea where the scene would go. So it was definitely an interesting experience.

I understand that you had to learn to swim the butterfly stroke to play Ross.
EK: Yeah, within the first couple of months of casting, there was a little back and forth about, ‘Can you swim?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I can’t do a competitive level stroke, but I can swim.’ So I ended up booking it, and they said they wanted me to learn how to do the butterfly stroke, and I said I could hopefully learn that, which was me confidently, casually saying that I could learn something that I knew nothing about. Because looking back, I definitely had no business doing that stroke. But I did learn it, and I actually went to the woman who taught me how to swim when I was a little kid. I went back to my hometown a couple times a week and had an hour-long lesson, and then I learned I had to get a full-body wax.

Oh, my. How did that go?
EK: I laid there for three hours, and it was not fun. I thought it might have been blown out of proportion, it can’t be that bad to undergo it. For maybe the first 45 minutes, I thought, ‘Oh, this isn’t so bad.’ And then the next hour and a half, I remember being actually angry just wanting it to be over so bad. And then I thought she was done, and she said, ‘Now we have to do your other side.’ I was so upset. But I shouldn’t have to do it again, because I’m pretty sure Ross has quit the swim team forever.

Yes, Ross has been really struggling with his dad’s death, particularly after finding out that he gambled the family’s money away. Are things going to improve for him as the season progresses?
EK: One of my favourite things about the character was the opportunity to portray a real mental illness at that age. He had to go through so much and then he decides he’s going to quit school and you see that scene with Matteo in Episode 3, where Matteo is like, ‘When are you going to come back? I can’t bring your homework forever.’ And that’s a very clear indication that kids that age aren’t used to actually dealing with mental illness and knowing how to deal with somebody who is going through that. Because Matteo is like, ‘What do you mean? Why don’t you wanna come back?’ And Ross can’t even explain why he doesn’t want to come back. How do you put that into words? So that’s definitely a big scene that ends up playing out, and the way he then finds out how to deal with that—like meeting Liam in Episode 4 and deciding to work on the bridge with him—that’s a nice way that he ends up being able to cope with it. But that’s not the end of the unfortunate things that do happen to him, so he definitely also finds ways to deal with it that may be less orthodox.

When you say mental illness, do you mean Ross is suffering from depression, or is there something more going on with him?
EK: It’s primarily depression and a lot of anxiety that he goes through. The depression stems from the actual things that are happening to him, and then he develops this fear and overall anxiety about going to school and leaving the house. At the end of Episode 2 when he’s crying about how he can’t go back, that’s a real feeling of a simple task, which is going to school, and just not being able to do it.

It seems that hanging out with Liam is helping him a lot. What is it about Liam that he’s drawn to?
EK: It’s actually funny because in the read-through, the first scene where he goes to meet Liam in the woods, I think it was originally written as Liam was outside his house doing chin-ups shirtless and Ross walked in on him. And, the way the scene was written, a bunch of us really got the vibe that they were going to have a love triangle between Ross, his mom and Liam, and that wasn’t what happened at all. Éric Bruneau actually suggested that maybe he isn’t shirtlessly doing chin-ups because it just kind of gave a weird intimation to the scene that probably didn’t need to be there.

But I think in Liam, he finds that he doesn’t have to just go through the motions, he doesn’t have to go to school, he doesn’t have to swim if that’s not going to be working for him anymore and if that’s affecting his mental health. And he finds this really nice way to do this co-op with Liam and I think it helps him heal a lot. And I hesitate to say that it may have even given him an older male role model in his life that he might have been specifically craving at that moment because of his dad.

We only got to see Ross’ dad, David, in one scene before he died, but from just that one scene, it appeared that he was very hard on Ross. Is that the backstory in your head?
EK: A lot of the sadness that comes from Ross is the fact that he and his dad didn’t have a great relationship, is the read that I got. He wasn’t a mean and awful father, but he was definitely a stern, very focused, very strict father. And that opens up to a lot of feelings that he might want to talk about, like, ‘Hey, why are you being so hard on me?’ And then his dad just dies. And that’s interesting to me because when someone dies and you’re mad at them, or when somebody dies and maybe you’re not on the best terms with them. it’s a really hard thing to deal with because, as sad as you that they’re gone, obviously, those feelings that you had aren’t not real or not valid because the other person is gone. You’re still allowed to be angry at the person for the way that they treated you.

He had very real feelings of embarrassment and fear toward his father because his dad put so much pressure on him to be the best swim team member, and his dad was a surgeon and he really wanted Ross to follow in his footsteps, so there’s a lot of that and a lot of unspoken feelings that Ross is definitely feeling about his father. And it’s sad because he won’t ever get the closure that he wants. He can’t talk to his dad, he can’t have that conversation.

Ross and Matteo are very sweet. Will we be seeing more of them?
EK: Not as much as I wanted you to see. You do see him in a few really important moments to Ross, but you don’t get to see as much of the Ross and Matteo and Jenny hanging out and eating pizza kind of stuff. That scene was super cute and I really wanted to see more of that. But we do get a lot more plot development with Matteo and Ross, in terms of things happening to Ross, and Matteo is there helping him understand and cope with it.

Do you have a favourite episode or moment from Season 1?
EK: Honestly, the end of Episode 2 was probably the scene I was looking forward to the most, and then there’s another one in Episode 5 when we have Thanksgiving. Overall, I’m excited for people to see the relationship between Ross and Jenny grow and a lot more scenes with Nicholas Campbell, because he is a great grandfather and he is loads of fun to work with. He comes back in Episode 5, so you do get a lot more of him. I find that our scenes are so electric, and we have so much fun on camera together.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Coroner: Serinda Swan on destigmatizing Jenny’s anxiety and what’s coming in the second half of the season

There is a moment in the next episode of Coroner where Jenny Cooper, played by Serinda Swan, suffers a panic attack while working a crime scene. She ducks into an alleyway and tries to talk herself down, all the while struggling to breathe. From first constricted intake of breath to last grounding exhale, the scene takes up nearly two minutes of air time—time that many other crime procedurals would dedicate to dead bodies and case solving.

But Coroner is not like other shows, and that is partly due to series lead Swan. Given wide creative leeway by series showrunner Morwyn Brebner and executive producer/lead director Adrienne Mitchell, the West Vancouver native immerses herself in Cooper’s quirks and coping mechanisms, letting instinct meld with copious mental health research to create unexpected beats of truth in each episode. The extended panic attack in Monday’s new instalment, “Quick or Dead”—the conclusion of an involving two-part hunt for a serial killer—is a perfect example of her process.

“I know we only have a certain amount of time in the show,” Swan says, “but I can’t shorten the panic attack to make it work for television, because that doesn’t represent people who have panic attacks. Most people’s panic attacks average between two and a half to three minutes, depending on the severity. And so I was like, ‘That’s what’s going to happen.'”

Swan gave us a call following her recent appearance at CBC’s Superfun Superfan Weekend in Toronto to tell us about developing Jenny’s emotional landscape, ending the stigma of mental health issues, and what’s coming up in the second half of the season.

I recently spoke with Morwyn Brebner and Adrienne Mitchell about adapting Coroner from M.R. Hall’s novels, and they told me that they loved how real Jenny’s character is. Is that also what drew you in?
Serinda Swan: I think it was. I think it was that possibility of really showing a human’s experience. I think Morwyn has such an incredible capacity to write that and also leave the space for an actor to fill it. She has a beautiful capacity to collaborate as well. So when we got together, it was figuring out what I would come up with and what Morwyn would come up with, and I remember there was sort of a beautiful passing of the character from Morwyn to me, where she was like, ‘She’s yours now, and you get to incubate her and hold on to her and develop her.’

So I did a lot of work to make her as real as possible, and there were days on set where I was like, ‘The blocking doesn’t feel right to me, it doesn’t feel natural. I feel like I need to go over here.’ And it wasn’t for any other reason than I actually felt that I needed to go over there. And it was really grounding her as best as possible in every single choice that she made so that I could show up and, as soon as they yelled action, I was fully Jenny. It was an incredible experience because everybody supported that.

What sort of things did you add to her character?
SS: Everything from her ticks to the way her trauma shows up, her anxiety. She starts to feel anxiety, but that can be as small as your heartbeat raising, or it showing up on your face, or having a twitch, or breaking out in a sweat, or crying. It can be a multitude of things, so figuring out how to show that. But one of the biggest things was showing the imbalance in her life. Everything in her life when she was with [her now-deceased husband] David was very balanced and very controlled. She was very Type A, and as soon as the things that controlled her and held her together start disappearing, like the husband, like the job, like the money, like the house, you start to see her off-balance and you see her out of control.

And so, what does that look like? It’s everything from me not telling Éric [Bruneau] in the scene where Liam walks around the corner and asks her for a beer that I’m going to be slumped over and leaning against a wall, you know, kind of making fun of myself. Because he’s supposed to walk around the corner, and I’m supposed to be standing there and he goes, ‘Hey, do you wanna get a beer?’ And it’s watching his natural reaction to me doing something personal and embarrassing and how that makes the two of them react and how that deepens their relationship right off the bat. Because he likes that she’s weird. It’s little things, like ‘I’m going to lie down in this part.’ And [the cast and crew are] like, ‘What?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to lie down in this part.’ So there were little things that I would do to make her feel more real.

Mental health issues are heavily featured in the show. Jenny sees a therapist, she suffers from anxiety, and she keeps seeing that black dog. What was your approach to understanding that side of her?
SS: I’m sure we all have times where we have mental illness. Whether it’s like a common cold that comes and goes, or more like a disease that stays with you your entire life, we all have bouts of it, we all struggle with it, we’ve all been infected with it. And it can be as simple a regular cold, where you come in contact with the wrong person and they say the wrong thing, and they affect something in your life. It could be either an old memory or an old trauma or something that they have inflicted on you. And it’s so stigmatized, and it’s something that we hide and we’re ashamed of, and it shouldn’t be that way anymore.

Jenny takes pills, Jenny also goes to a psychiatrist, and Jenny also cries in her car. But Jenny is also a super strong female that is fighting for the truth and is better at her job than most of the men that have been there for many, many years—and she’s having panic attacks on the floors. She’s just human. She’s a human being in all of those experiences, and there’s no judgment on it. It’s watching something that could happen to you and seeing how she goes through it. Just because she takes Ativan and drugs to help, doesn’t mean she’s a drug addict, it doesn’t mean she’s going to spiral down into the opioid crisis. Just because she she sees a shrink doesn’t mean she’s crazy. It’s kind of pushing into all of these stigmas and figuring out who she is and letting her figure it out as well as the audience.

Jenny saw the black dog again in Episode 3. What does that mean?
SS: The dog is an integral part of the story, and, seeing how it shows up in the very first scene [of the series], it makes you think it will probably show up near the end as well. The dog leads her to her own personal trauma, and as you get to the end of Episode 4, you start to realize that there’s a lot more going on with her than you or she can see. The dog is a portal into her own trauma, and as she’s searching for answers in her world, and she’s also searching for them in herself.

Jenny has an extended panic attack in Episode 4. What was your preparation like for that scene?
SS: I did a lot of research on it. There’s a young man on YouTube that actually caught one of his panic attacks on camera, and he actually posted it to show what it would look like. And there are several other people you can watch who have filmed and shared what a panic attack looks like for them, and it’s really good that they’ve shared that. At the end of the season, [Jenny] really comes face to face with her panic and tries to figure out where it’s coming from, and again, without judging it. Sometimes you see her fight it, and sometimes you see her take a drug to try and stop it. Other times you see her lie down on the floor and let it pass through her. So, it’s really just a really honest journey about what it’s like to live with trauma and anxiety.

And it’s not the be all, end all, but it’s one of the first times I’ve seen anxiety represented in that way. And I really wanted to make sure that we did it in a very non-judgmental way, that we didn’t put a stigma on it, but that we also didn’t make her somebody who’s, like, so strong that she’s getting through it on her own. It’s a beautiful look at what she’s experiencing. So, yeah, I did a lot of research. I talked to friends who have anxiety, and I’ve also had lots of anxiety in my life. So I reached in and figured out my own shit as well.

I know we only have a certain amount of time in the show, but I can’t shorten the panic attack to make it work for television, because that doesn’t represent people who have panic attacks. Most people’s panic attacks average between two and a half to three minutes, depending on the severity. And so, I was like, ‘That’s what’s going to happen.’ I mean, you can edit it to show the time cut, but I can’t shorten it. Because that’s not true. So when I talked to Morwyn and Adrienne about it, they really gave me the space to do that.

One of my favourite relationships on the show is the one between Jenny and her son, Ross (Ehren Kassam). I like the dynamic where she supports him sometimes and then he supports her. They lean on each other. 
SS: I’d say, from the get-go, their relationship was one of the most important things for me coming into the show. I had to do chemistry reads for two people coming into the show—one being for Liam, and one being for Ross—because it was really important that we had the right chemistry and also the right idea of these characters and who they could be. And Ehren, from Day 1, just let me smush his face and, like, lick my finger and wipe his face and play with his hair and [treat him] like a kid. He allowed me to step into that mother role. So that scene at the end of the second episode, where we have a fight? If that wasn’t set up properly, it could almost look abusive because it’s a young male swiping at his mother. But when you understand the love that’s there, you see that it’s a small child having a tantrum. And these are things that some networks don’t take risks on because it doesn’t look right. But just because it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t mean that it’s not real. And it’s our responsibility as actors to make sure we set the stage so that people understand that this is real and this is part of life. And Ehren was right there with me. I was like, ‘Hey, can you try this? Let’s try having a tantrum and see what that looks like.’ So it was really amazing being able to work with him and develop that relationship, and I love how it grows over the season.

It’s really amazing because there’s a duality between the young son who’s lost his father, that’s angry at his mother and with the whole situation of being uprooted from his school and his house and all of that, and then there is a side of him where they’re so co-dependent. Because she was 19 when she had him. It was a kid having a kid.  So there’s this co-dependency because they both grew up together. We really see how the husband, David, was the glue that held it all together as the mature adult. And then, throughout the season, you start to sometimes see Ross as the parent and she’s the kid, and sometimes she’s the parent and he’s the kid. And you see them struggle and succeed to redefine their relationship.

Over the last couple of episodes, Ross is also developing a friendship with Liam. And, of course, Jenny and Liam are building a romantic relationship. What role is Liam going to play in their lives the rest of the season? 
SS: Everybody seems to like Liam! It’s a wonderful kind of relationship between Liam and Ross. We get to see Ross grow in a way that he hasn’t before. He hasn’t been around a man like that, and we get to see Liam really care about Ross as the season goes on, which is also confusing because Liam and Jenny’s relationship really starts to develop. It’s hard because they’re both wounded. You start to see him, as the season goes on, start to deal with some PTSD and dealing with what that looks like, and how he’s not ready to be in a relationship and [Jenny’s] not ready to be in a relationship. It’s two people who are kind of coming together at the wrong time but have such a fierce attraction to each other. And it’s not just physical. There’s something about the two of them that just connects them, and they have to figure out how to make that work. It’s the most unideal time and situation.

Episode 4 is a big turning point for the season. What can viewers expect to see? 
SS: I think one of the final scenes in Episode 4 really give you an idea of what’s going to happen internally and externally over the next four episodes. She’s really admitting that she’s going to be diving deep into the truth that may have been missed in the cases and also the truth that might have been missed in her own life. She’s deciding that she’s no longer going to be David’s wife, the perfect woman, and no matter what this turns her into in her own eyes, she’s going to dig for her own truth. And no matter what it turns her into in other people’s eyes, she’s going to dig for the truth within these past cases.  And that leads to a very exciting last four episodes.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Coroner: Showrunner Morwyn Brebner and director Adrienne Mitchell on bringing “real” Jenny Cooper to TV

There’s something a little different about Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan), the lead character of CBC’s new drama series, Coroner. Like most crime procedural protagonists, Cooper—the creation of British novelist M.R. Hall—is troubled and going through some tough times, most notably, the sudden death of her hard-gambling and secretly destitute husband.

But instead of engaging in Scandinavian thriller-style brooding like fellow book-turned-TV crime-solvers John Cardinal and Kurt Wallander, Cooper simply gets down to business. Yes, she sucks down anti-anxiety pills and suffers the occasional crying spell in her car, but she shakes it off and keeps going, every step forward a tiny act of defiance. Her superpower is just getting up each morning and doing what needs to be done with as much humour and grace as possible—even when that involves investigating gruesome crime scenes. And that makes her feel refreshingly real.

That realness of character was what made series executive producer and lead director Adrienne Mitchell want to adapt Hall’s The Coroner book series into a TV show. It’s also what enticed showrunner Morywn Brebner, who worked with Mitchell on CBC’s Bellevue, to sign on to the series.

“We were really searching for a series of novels that had a strong female lead who was unpredictable, who was authentic, with a sense of humour,” says Mitchell.

Brebner adds, “[Jenny’s] anxiety, and her fearlessness, and humour, and her deep, deep intelligence—which is really beautifully embodied by Serinda—made me feel like there was something about this woman that was like the woman you wanna be. So flawed, but so committed to living her life the way she feels she needs to.”

To get us ready for Monday’s new episode, “Scattered,” which is the first of a two-part instalment, Mitchell and Brebner gave us a call from Toronto to tell us more about what makes Jenny Cooper special and how they went about adapting Coroner for the small screen.

First of all, how did Coroner come about? I know that you two have worked together in the past.
Adrienne Mitchell: At Back Alley [Film Productions], Janis Lundman and I are the principals, and we were really searching for a series of novels that had a strong female lead who was unpredictable, who was authentic, with a sense of humour. And who was placed in a world that had a very strong investigational line but also a very strong character line that sort of dipped in and out of her work and family. We came across the very talented M.R. Hall’s books and were really were struck by the character Jenny Cooper, who just stood out to us on so many levels, being someone who was full of incredible intelligence but also full of her own theories and going about it in ways that will blow up in her face and also doing it in such a way that she was strangely self-aware. It was just such a fun read to explore her character.

And we were so fortunate to work with Morwyn on Bellvue. I got to know her since I was the lead director, and Morwyn’s voice is a really amazing, unique voice, not only in our country but I think in North America. I thought she would be amazing for this. Janis and I were just praying and hoping that she liked the novels.

Morwyn Brebner: I really liked working with Back Alley on Bellvue, and I really wasn’t looking for anything to do, and I certainly wasn’t looking for anything in the sort of crime realm. But then I read the books myself and was really drawn to the character for the reasons that Adrienne was saying and because she seemed like a real woman to me. Her anxiety and her fearlessness and humour and her deep, deep intelligence—which is really beautifully embodied by Serinda—it made me feel like there was something about this woman that was like the woman you wanna be. So flawed, but so committed to living her life the way she feels she needs to. It’s a really beautiful quality in a woman. She’s not afraid of things. She’s drawn to do the things she needs to do, and it’s really amazing.

One thing I particularly enjoy about the series is just what you said, that Jenny feels real. Unlike a lot of characters in crime procedurals, she doesn’t have any super abilities and she isn’t mopey. While she has anxiety and other issues, she is getting out of bed and showing up every day, choosing to be present. Just like a lot of women I know. 
AM: What you’ve just said there is the best thing and is a cornerstone of this series. She gets up after getting beaten up, and she just keeps getting up. She’ll have an anxiety attack, she’ll wrap her Ativan in wrapping paper during inquests and then pop the pill. She’s got this incredible fight in her and just keeps going. Morwyn and I have talked about this, and we love that she doesn’t dwell and wallow.

MB: For me, what’s really interesting is that a lot of the ways we deal with women who are complex in shows, is we re-traumatize them. That becomes their narrative, exploring the character through re-traumatization, which isn’t quite something that we do with male characters. What I love about Jenny is that that’s not actually her arc. It’s a going through and it’s a moving forward. We used to talk about the quality of her suddenness, which was that she would just do things. And that action and forward living is really exciting to see in a female character. I really love her because she does feel like, as you say, a woman you would know.

I also appreciate the way you deal with Jenny’s grief in the series. It ebbs and flows, recedes and then reappears in new ways. I thought that was an important quality in a series that revolves around death. Is that something you were actively trying to portray?
MB: Her husband doesn’t die in the books, actually. And the impulse to do that, for me, was that I was having trouble fitting the husband into the storyline and then I felt somehow the decision to kill the husband really made the story snap into focus for me. You know, in a Disney movie, you kill the parents so the kids can have an adventure? It was a little like that. And I was trying to figure out how to fully move the show from the books into our world. That was the decision that actually made it happen, and after I did that, I felt that the show really came alive.

AM: Grief is not a linear thing, and we trying to really service that in this series and explore that. Grief comes and goes, and it may trigger something else in your life that’s unresolved, and then that grief merges into something else. So I really tried to explore all the dimensions. Grief is not one thing. It’s active. It can manifest in so many ways. So what you’re seeing is something that we really wanted to work with.

MB: Grief is something that feels within you and lives without you, and that’s the process. You’ll come to see that it’s very integral to the series.

What are some of the other changes you made from the novels?
MB: The relationship with her son, which is beautiful, we’ve altered. M.R. has been very generous about that. The character of Alison [played by Tamara Podemski] is in the book, and we love that character so much, and the character of McAvoy [played by Roger Cross] is in the book, but he’s in one of the books in a different way.

It was really saying, ‘How do we take this beautiful spirit and the beautiful character in these books and make her a really Canadian character, a Toronto character and let her live in a way that feels like she’s really part of our world and really representing for us?’

And how did you go about taking a British story and a British character and making them feel, as you say, “really Canadian”?
MB: That’s a really interesting question. I feel in an adaptation, you try to retain the essence of something, but the specifics of the show are very Canadian. Everything is set very specifically. Everyone speaks specifically.

AM: And all of the cases come from things that have happened in Canada and are inspired by them. The research, the coroner research, the pathologist research, we had consultants who would share things that were happening here in Toronto. We have such a diverse city, which we love, and that’s really reflected in the casting and in the stories. So it just happened kind of organically.

MB: Yeah, I think in order to adapt something, you have to put it into your own perspective and you have to put yourself into it and you have to, you know, have skin in the game. I feel that it was a very organic process, but I do feel like in the end, the transmutation happened while retaining the strength of the source material.

AM: I think our show is a bit more urban, in a bigger city. I think the M.R. Hall version was more English villagey, that small town vibe. So we’re in a much bigger urban environment. One of the biggest changes, too, is that our place of work is quite a big institution. It’s a state-of-the-art facility.

MB: Our coroner’s office in Toronto is the most advanced facility in North America. In the book, it’s much more sort of ad hoc and dusty, and it has a real charm, but it’s very different. We wanted to represent the reality of our situation here. And in the book, she’s a lawyer, because a coroner is a lawyer there, and here, she’s a doctor because that’s the way it is in Ontario.

Adrienne, as the lead director for the show, what sort of look did you want to bring to the series?
AM: I think the juxtapositions in Toronto are fascinating. The city is growing exponentially. There are so many condos and buildings being built. So, one of the things we were looking at visually was the contrast of that versus nature being moved out, people being moved out, the tension of living in that type of environment, where there is constant change and people being squeezed out. Visually, I don’t think Parkdale gets featured a lot in any of the Toronto shows I’ve seen. Parkdale, where there’s so much gentrification going on, where’s there are so many colliding communities.

It’s also very important for us to have geography, locations that inform [Jenny] as the coroner. The coroner is all about looking at the world and how bad shit happens. It’s not so much about her perspective and not so much about convicting a criminal. It’s, ‘How do I prevent this from happening again?’ And, in that way, we need to see the environment of where the death occurred and visually from her perspective, what that looks like.  We also wanted to visually explore something about her personal relationship with death, and we love these moments when she has a little prayer that she says to the dead, and we’re working with all sorts of interesting lenses to really establish her personal connection to the dead and that they’re not just a body, that there is something there, that she has to try to find the truth in the situation to sort of give them peace.

This week’s episode is the kick-off of a two-parter. What hints can you give us about it, and why did this particular story require two parts?.
AM: It needs two parts because it takes Jenny into a really personal relationship with a character whose life is going to be greatly endangered if she doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

MB: And it leads Jenny to make a decision that has strong, strong implications for the rest of the season. These two episodes are just so exciting.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail