Tag Archives: Rick Roberts

Mental health remains top of mind in Season 2 of Ghost BFF

When we last saw Ghost BFF‘s Amy (Vanessa Matsui), things weren’t going well. She and Mitchell (Dan Beirne) had broken up, and she’d been haunted—literally—by Tara (Kaniehtiio Horn), Amy’s best friend who had committed suicide.

Season 2 is a struggle too.

Available on Shaftesbury’s KindaTV now, Ghost BFF reunites the two best friends—one living, one dead—for more hijinks. Created and written by Matsui, she admits to being caught off-guard by a second season renewal.

“Never did I think a second season was going to happen,” she says with a laugh. “I had to write it really fast, much faster than I did with the first season. I learned that’s a real rookie move. You should have multiple seasons in mind in case that green light keeps going.” Like the debut season, Ghost BFF digs more deeply into Amy’s struggles as she addresses unemployment, single life, unexpected challenges, and the continued grief of missing her friend.

Often, a web series doesn’t allow for a ton of character growth outside of the main player. Not so with Ghost BFF. Horn’s Tara evolves, in search of closure with her mother (Angela Asher), to help Amy heal and to gain a better understanding of her own narrative of what happened the day she died.

“I have a hard time not finding layers in the characters that I portray,” Horn says. “It’s not fun to play someone who is one-note. This is a comedy about suicide and I didn’t want the humour to come at the expense of such an intense, serious subject.” Eight PSAs accompany the new episodes, offering advice on mindfulness, depression, anxiety, boundaries and self-care. With COVID-19 continuing to wreak havoc with our lives—and many Canadians staying indoors—mental health continues to be important and talking about it even more so.

“In Season 1, Amy would use band-aid solutions to deal with her mental health,” Matsui says. “In Season 2, she isn’t wearing band-aids. She is being forced to deal with her real self, which is I think what a lot of people have had to do in this very isolating time.”

“Normalizing talking about mental health is really important,” Horn says. “I used to joke about having a glass of wine in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other. But that was my coping mechanism. I was very lost for a long time. But the pandemic has forced me to face myself. And, with things like Ghost BFF, I’ve started to talk about my mental health.”

Season 2 of Ghost BFF is available on KindaTV now.

Images courtesy of Shaftesbury.


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 episode—which 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.


Web series Ghost BFF puts the focus on mental health via two friends. And one of them is dead.

It’s important to talk about mental health. And while Bell does a great job stressing that one day a year in January, it’s something that should be done the other 364 days too.

Launching its first season of 11 episodes, Ghost BFF is available for streaming on Elizabeth Banks’ WhoHaHa’s website now. The brainchild of creator Vanessa Matsui (Lost Girl, Seed), Ghost BFF explores suicide and mental health through the eyes of Amy (Matsui). It’s been three years since Amy’s best friend, Tara (Tiio Horn, Letterkenny) died of a drug overdose. Amy has given up painting, is engaged to Mitchell (Dan Beirne, Space Riders: Division Earth) and battles with anxiety and a bad tummy. Suddenly, Tara appears—her ghost BFF, get it?—and throws Amy’s life into total disarray.

For Matsui, the idea for Ghost BFF came from a deeply personal place.

(l-r) Cristina Rosato and Vanessa Matsui

“It’s loosely inspired by a time when one of my best friends, following a period of depression, almost died by suicide,” Matsui says. “It was a very dark time. And, also, it was coupled with wanting to create my own work and being inspired by incredible female creators.” Ghost BFF is a project three years in the making, first as a short play Matsui performed in a friend’s basement before the possibility of being a short film was explored; ultimately Matsui pitched Ghost BFF as a web series to Katie Nolan (Hot Mom), who partnered to co-write and co-produce it.

The Centre for Mindfulness Studies features in several episodes as Amy strives to explore her own mental health, where she’s going in life and what her relationship with Tara was and still is. There are, of course, characters in Ghost BFF who advise Amy to “snap out” of what she’s going through mentally and stop taking her medication because they think she’s “fine.” It’s frustrating to know there are still people with that attitude towards mental health, and just drives home the need to educate and discuss.

(l-r) Jane Moffat, Dan Beirne, Rick Roberts

Yes, Ghost BFF concerns a serious topic, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of laughs thanks to Matusi’s physical humour as Amy, Horn’s foul-mouthed Tara and the gloriously shallow Mitchell, and truly heartfelt moments too. Amy and Tara’s screaming match in a later instalment opens the door to honesty and regret.

“We definitely felt like we were walking a fine line [with the content],” Matsui says. “Obviously, I wanted to be respectful and sensitive to anyone who has suffered from depression or is suffering from depression. But, at the same time, my instinct was always to make this a comedy. Comedy can be cathartic. Sometimes through pain comedy emerges.”

Ghost BFF is available for streaming on WhoHaHa’s website.

Images courtesy of Babe Nation Creations.




This Life’s Rick Roberts on Matthew’s marriage mess

When CBC’s This Life premiered last year, conservative, reliable Matthew Lawson appeared to have the perfect life with his loving wife Nicole (Marianne Farley) and their daughter, Abby. A season and a half later, his marriage is on the rocks after Nicole discovered he had an affair—and a son—with another woman.

Last week, Matthew made a last-ditch effort to win Nicole back by introducing her to his secret family. The move was jaw-dropping, but actor Rick Roberts sees a certain steadiness in his character’s approach to cleaning up his mess.

“What I admire about Matthew is it seems like he continues to make terrible decisions, but he doesn’t leap into those decisions,” Roberts says.

The Hamilton, Ontario, native also appreciates the way the show’s writers have handled the meltdown of Matthew and Nicole’s marriage.

“They still manage to keep upping the stakes on the complications and being very, very truthful, not tipping over into melodrama, and not just dropping the ball and resolving everything and moving on to something else,” he says. “They really investigate the drama.”

Joining us by phone from Toronto, TV and stage veteran Roberts tells us what to expect from Matthew in the second half of Season 2.

Matthew’s life has changed a lot since the first season, when he was seen as the most stable and responsible Lawson sibling. Did you know he was going to get such a meaty storyline when you started the series?
Rick Roberts: I didn’t know. When I read the conundrum that he had put himself in, it’s one of those secrets that cannot be kept. It was somebody struggling against the inevitable, so that gave me a sense. Certainly, I recognize that people, when you put yourself in a situation—in that case, having a secret child, wanting to be in that child’s life, and wanting to keep it from his wife and not ruin his marriage—it’s one of those things that will never work, and he was kind of in denial right off the top of the show. So I didn’t specifically know where it was going to go, but I knew it had to go somewhere. It had to complicate itself.

Last week, Matthew made a desperate move to save his marriage by taking Nicole to meet Beatrice and Julian. Why did he think that was his best last-ditch plan?
I think, on the one hand, he correctly knows that in order for this to have any possibility of working, they would have know each other, and it would have to all be mutually agreed upon. Having said that, how he did it was not the way to do it. I think the reason he did it then is because Nicole kept saying, ‘We’re done, we’re done,’ and I think he saw it as his only option. Like it was to try, ‘If you saw the family, if you see these people and then you will see that it’s the right thing to do, and then we’ll move forward.’ And the horrible thing that happened was that she did see that he did have to commit to the other family and also that she was not going to be able to go down that road with him, which was the unforeseen thing for him.

The scene where Matthew is sitting between Beatrice and Nicole was so uncomfortable. Is filming something like that the most difficult day of the week or the highlight?
It’s a combination of the two because you emotionally put yourself in that situation, but it’s the best day of the week, too, because having scenes with those kind of stakes and that kind of drama and awkwardness are very, very fun to play. I also think it’s a sign of great writing when you can get those kind of stakes that feel like life or death stakes—very domestic, to do with people’s identity and their hearts and their sense of who they are—without pointing a gun at somebody. Marianne, I thought, just played that beautifully in that scene, just kind of watching things shatter around her psychologically.

This Life 204

And Matthew saying, ‘Tell her I don’t love you!’ was cringeworthy but riveting.
I know! I would love to be in the writers’ room, because he also withheld information from Nicole that sabotaged the whole thing. And this is a fun thing to think about as an actor, and I do believe this about people, that you subconsciously make things happen that you consciously say you don’t want to happen. I think bringing things to a crisis and bringing things to an impossible situation is not the healthiest way of saying, ‘We need to move on,’ but I also think it’s going to be their greatest opportunity, and it’s also kind of a gift to your partner in the sense that you do something irrevocable that makes everyone go, ‘OK, now we have to move into something else.’ But I think there are probably healthier ways to do it.

What I also love about Matthew is I go, ‘Oh, man, I wouldn’t do that,’ but then you take a few seconds and go, ‘Oh, OK, I could do something like that,’ or, ‘I’ve made decisions equally as bad.’ People are really like that when they are with themselves, they go, ‘Oh, fair enough, I’ve botched my life in equally bad ways when I really think about it.’

Now that Nicole has told Matthew she can’t go forward with him, what can you preview about Episode 205, “Scanxiety”?
I think for Matthew and Nicole, the first four episodes of Season 2 really bring to a conclusion the story of their marriage as it was, and the next things are really genuine steps out into a new world for both of them that involves how to relate to each other, how to parent, how you make the next move for yourself. I think it’s harder for Matthew. I know he really longs for the family to be back together, but I think he understands that all the old ways of doing that are not going to work.

And the great thing over the course of the season, but it begins in earnest in Episode 5, is I think that I want them to get back together, but I don’t want to feel cheated. When I was reading the scripts, I’m going, ‘Oh, I want this,’ but you want it to be satisfying, so you don’t want some little thing to happen that they get back together, or that they just give up completely. So it’s really just riding that line of two people that really still love each other and find themselves in an impossible situation.

You repeatedly have emotionally fraught scenes with Marianne Farley. You must have a tremendous amount of trust in each other as acting partners.
Marianne and I hit it off from Day 1. I feel completely at ease with her, and we completely trust each other. We also have a great rapport off camera, and we try to make that the bass note of love between us that really has to be there for all the other stuff to work, which is often quite antagonistic and lots of pain and anger around that. But Marianne is a great actor, and part of that is a real generosity. So we’re always checking in with each other to make sure the other person is OK, because sometimes you just kind of feel lonely if someone’s yelling at you. [Laughs.]

Matthew’s marriage problems could throw a kink in Natalie’s custody plans. Is he still capable of looking after Emma and Romy?
I do think Matthew would do anything to make that happen, but what are his actual capabilities? I’m curious to see where all that goes because now we have all the desires of the kids, and David, and Natalie, and it’s kind of shifting now . . . I think the short answer is I know he would definitely do whatever it takes to reassure Natalie that he is there for her.

What can viewers look forward to with Matthew in the second half of Season 2?
There’s some really beautiful writing around self discovery, solitude, what it means to love somebody, parenting, and I’m really in awe of the writers in terms of how they find drama in the minutiae of people’s behavior. And sometimes it comes down to the tiniest exchange of dialogue. So, to me, what was really interesting was the evolution of Matthew and Nicole’s relationship and how they come together, even though what does coming together look like? And if it works out. What I love about the writing is that they do stay very generous with each other and some big things happen in the season that are very, very, very difficult. It gets pretty dark towards the end, and how people show up for each other and two people who love each other navigate all of that. I think it’s really beautifully observed by the writers, particularly between Matthew and Nicole.

In addition to your extensive television career, you do a lot of theatre work. Do those two creative outlets nourish each other?
That’s a great way of putting it. They do really nourish each other, and I can’t imagine doing one without the other. I do love in theatre that immediate reaction that you get from an audience. But having said that, doing This Life, the reaction on the street is quite rewarding . . . The audience response on the street isn’t just, ‘I saw you on Suits!’ or ‘I saw you play the criminal on this.’ People come and talk about their lives or the difficulty in a certain episode or ‘Is he coming back?’ because they’re really hooked into the lives of the characters. It’s the next best thing to that live theatre reaction.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


This Life reveals its secrets

This Life‘s tagline on transit ads and billboards states “Every family has drama.” But in the case of CBC’s new Monday night drama, “Every family has secrets” would be just as apt.

After all, almost every major character was holding something back from their loved ones, from Matthew and his second phone to Ariel’s pregnancy, what happened to Oliver’s partner, Tom, and—of course—Natalie keeping her cancer diagnosis from the kids. (Caleb already knows, but Nat doesn’t know he knows.)

“My cancer’s back.” Those three words from Natalie on Monday brought a screeching halt to the bickering between Emma and Romy. Those words also send This Life into another direction; where do we go from here? If Natalie listens to Dee’s cellular reprogrammer, Sybil, who challenged her to stop trying to solve the kids’ problems and worry about herself, that would include embracing the days Natalie has left and being happy.

This Life may, at its core, be about a woman dealing with cancer, but everyone else has issues of their own and many of the aforementioned secrets came to light on Monday. Oliver, after a drug relapse, admitted to Matthew that Tom had passed away of an aneurism. Ariel told Caleb she was pregnant, and now the 19-year-olds need to weigh their parenting options. Emma wanted to go on the pill and turned to Maggie, of course, for help in that department. The only secret I can still see as being unresolved is why Matthew has a second cell phone and who he’s calling on it.

Meanwhile, the most intriguing character five episodes in is Romy. What I first dismissed as a rambunctious kid rebelling against the world because she’s smarter beyond her years has really drawn me in lately. Her questioning of faith and the levels of Hell is interesting (I did a lot of that when I was her age.), and the back and forth between she and the psychologist is fascinating to watch. I’m looking forward to seeing how she reacts to Natalie’s announcement in the coming weeks.

This Life airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.