Tag Archives: Roger Cross

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.

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Serinda Swan on her CBC series Coroner and why Canadian actors in L.A. should come home

The last time I spoke to Serinda Swan, she was co-starring in A&E’s excellent and cancelled-too-soon Breakout Kings. Filmed in Toronto, Swan played one of a handful of criminals who worked with the U.S. marshals to collar prison escapees and have time taken off their own sentences.

Now Swan is back in Toronto, on the other side of the law in CBC’s new drama Coroner. Debuting on Monday at 9 p.m., the drama—based loosely on the books by M.R. Hall—stars Swan as Dr. Jenny Cooper, a recently widowed new coroner who investigates suspicious, unnatural or sudden deaths in Toronto. Created by Morwyn Brebner (Saving Hope) and produced by Muse Entertainment, Back Alley Films and Cineflix Studios, Coroner features Roger Cross as homicide detective Donovan McAvoy; Lovell Adams-Gray as pathologist Dr. Dwayne Allen; Tamara Podemski as Alison Trent, Jenny’s assistant; Kiley May as River Baitz, Dr. Allen’s assistant; and Ehren Kassam as Ross, Jenny’s son.

I chatted with Swan and Cross during CBC’s winter media day in November.

How did you get involved in Coroner, Serinda? Were you looking to come back to Canada?
Serinda Swan: I’ve had my eye on projects, Canadian projects, for a while because I feel there’s this new face of Canadian television that’s coming up or new perception of Canadian television that I think, as Canadian actors, we need to come back. We need to come back to Canada and we need to stop this archaic idea that in order to make it, we need to go to the U.S.

I think that dilutes the Canadian talent pool because we all leave, and then our team and our managers and agents don’t want us to come back, and I think this is a time that’s really exciting for Canadian television because we’re having these shows come out, and they’re becoming more specific. We’re not making Canadian television for American markets anymore. We’re making Canadian television for Canadian markets, and in that specificity, it becomes more universal.

Roger Cross: It’s making quality television, and it translates universally.

SS: I read a script a few years ago [for] Bellevue. And I loved it, I absolutely loved it, I thought it was incredible. And we got very, very close to actually doing it, and it didn’t end up working in the end, and so I had my eyes on [the production companies]. I was like, ‘OK, this is a pretty incredible group of humans that are orbiting around some really interesting material.’ They called me when this role came up, and said, ‘Would you be interested?’

And they sent me the bible for it, and it just was such an interesting perspective, the imagery that they used in it, the way that they described the character. The fact that she was more human than she was coroner … And so when I read it, I was like, ‘Oh this is some character work. I’m gonna be able to physically, emotionally and mentally change.’ And they were all for it. I was like, ‘I want my character to cut off her hair, I want to be able to put on weight, I want to be able to change my physicality, I want to be able to have a minute and a half panic attack on television. I want to show mental health issues, I want to show a diverse cast. I want to be able to have gay, straight, trans, black, white, First Nations on our show and not exploit it, but celebrate it. Show what Canada really is.’

And they literally went, ‘Yeah, of course.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, my people.’ This is exactly where I want to be, and I want to stop being a part of the problem, and just doing what I think cool American TV is.

A show like Dark Matter, just thinking most recently Roger, it’s just good TV regardless of what country it’s from.
RC: Yeah. And that’s the thing, you want to get rid of those labels. Let’s forget about, ‘It’s good for this,’ or, ‘You’re good because you’re a woman.’ And hopefully we evolve to that point where we can do that one day, and that will be great.

Jenny has her world ripped apart, and you see her struggle at times, but evolve and grow throughout it.
SS: To show the bad and the ugly. She makes good choices, bad choices and then some lovely choices.

I love the chemistry that Jenny and Donovan have. They have a really good repartee.
SS: I think that comes from both of them not really giving a shit about the other one. To be honest, she doesn’t care if he likes her, he doesn’t care if she likes him, and so there’s this relaxed sense of just being who you are, that is really interesting when it comes to two different characters. Because, normally, it’s two people don’t like each other and they’re fighting to make each other like each other, and that’s not it. I’m after the truth here, with or without you, I’m going after the truth. And so it’s this breaking down and figuring it out.

RC: One of the things that homicide detectives have is a consultant we talk to. We had real pathologists, real detectives, we had real SWAT members come out … We had some great people to lean on, and ask them, ‘When you are cutting a body out, would you do this? How would you handle evidence? How would you do things?’ We had these great people to lean on. And one thing this homicide detective said to me was, ‘Listen, we’re the main thing, it’s our world. They all serve to assist us to find the murderers and find these other people.’ And so, Donovan’s been used to that world where, ‘OK, we need you, coroner. We need you over here, we need these other people. But we run the show and we know what’s going on.’ He’s been used to doing things his way and had a coroner that would sign off on things, saying, ‘Yes, that’s how it’s done.’ ‘Yeah? OK good.’ [Jenny] comes in and she’s like, ‘Nah, ah, ah, ah, ah. I’m not signing off until I’m absolutely sure that that’s right.’ He’s like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Just stay in line, do your thing.’

SS: He started as Jenny, and then slowly it dulled out, based on the constant rubbing of people just trying to get the quick fix. And so eventually, it’s that knife, he comes in very sharp and by the end, you’re like, ‘I’m worn out, man.’ She’s coming in strong, and so there is that friction of, ‘Don’t mess up my life,’ on both sides.

With Morwyn Brebner as the creator, it’s no surprise Coroner is a roller coaster of emotion. It just came across like it’s a cable show. Yes, it fits on CBC, but it also very much as a cable show where you can have those moments, those long moments to really let a scene breathe and let those emotions come out.
SS: That was something that was really important to me because that’s how I act. I don’t react, I act, and in order to act, you have to hear, you have to listen, truly listen and you have to process and then you have to figure out how you want to act. And it could be a reaction, but there is that moment of processing.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Additional casting confirmed as Muse, Back Alley and Cineflix start production on CBC original drama Coroner

From a media release:

With production now underway in Toronto, Ontario, Muse Entertainment, Back Alley Films and Cineflix Studios today revealed additional casting for new CBC original drama CORONER (8×60), set for a winter 2019 broadcast and streaming premiere on CBC, the CBC TV app and cbc.ca/watch. Inspired by the best-selling series of books by M. R. Hall and created by Morwyn Brebner (Saving Hope), the series centres on newly appointed coroner Jenny Cooper as she investigates suspicious deaths in Toronto.

CORONER stars Serinda Swan (InhumansBallers) as Jenny Cooper, a brave, determined yet vulnerable coroner, former ER doctor, and recently widowed mother, driven by an intense desire for the truth. She loves her son more than life itself and strives to support him while also trying to take care of herself. The passing of Jenny’s beloved husband has unlocked a primal connection to death, tied to a secret in her past that is only now coming to the surface.  With storylines based on real-life cases, Jenny is a coroner for our time, an advocate for the dead even when it’s inconvenient for the living, and a defender of those who are powerless or in peril.

Joining the series are Roger Cross (The X-Files) as Donovan “Mac” McAvoy, a police detective who partners with Jenny; Éric Bruneau (Blue Moon) as Liam, Jenny’s new neighbour; and Ehren Kassam (DeGrassi: Next Class) as Ross, Jenny’s 17-year-old son. Also joining the cast are Tamara Podemski (Rabbit Fall) as Alison Trent, Jenny’s eccentric colleague; Allison Chung (UnReal) as Taylor Kim, a smart, junior homicide detective; Lovell Adams-Gray (Second Jen) as Dr. Dwayne Allen, an idealistic young pathologist; and Saad Siddiqui (Madame Secretary) as Dr. Neil Sharma, Jenny’s insightful psychiatrist.

A CBC original series, CORONER is produced by Muse Entertainment, Back Alley Films and Cineflix Studios. Morwyn Brebner is creator, executive producer and showrunner, Adrienne Mitchell (Durham County, Bellevue) is lead director and executive producer for Back Alley Films, Jonas Prupas is executive producer for Muse Entertainment with Peter Emerson and Brett Burlock executive producers for Cineflix Studios. For CBC, Sally Catto is General Manager, Programming; Helen Asimakis is Senior Director, Scripted Content; and Sarah Adams is Executive in Charge of Production. Cineflix Rights has the exclusive worldwide distribution rights to CORONER.

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Dark Matter’s Melissa O’Neil and Anthony Lemke talk Season 3’s explosive return

When we last left the crew of the Raza on Dark Matter, things looked pretty dire. EOS-7 had exploded and we weren’t exactly sure who’d survived. Thankfully, we can confirm everyone made it out alive—you’ve seen this photo gallery, right?—but find themselves in varying states of distress and with a brand-new enemy to face.

Season 3 of Dark Matter returns with two back-to-back episodes this Friday beginning at 8 p.m. ET on Space until moving to its regular timeslot of 9 p.m ET next week, with “Being Better is So Much Harder” and “It Doesn’t Have to End Like This” setting the stage for what promises to be another 13-episode thrill ride from Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie. (We don’t like to give much away prior to broadcast, but The Android flat-out steals two scenes in Episode 1.)

What’s in store for Two (Melissa O’Neil), Three (Anthony Lemke), Five (Jodelle Ferland), Six (Roger Cross) and The Android (Zoie Palmer) now that it appears Four/Ryo (Alex Mallari Jr.) turned against them? We got O’Neil and Lemke to give us the scoop!

Season 2 begins with the aftermath of the explosion at EOS-7 and our heroes are scattered. There is plenty of action and humour, but there are some very serious and emotional moments, including a nice one between Two and Six.
Melissa O’Neil: Two and Six represent both sides of the topic with regards to the enemies they face this season. I didn’t really think about it until now but it’s kind of a continuing Mommy-Daddy relationship that flows throughout the season. I really loved shooting that scene with Roger. In all of my scenes with Roger, we always get to talk about the big questions and what it means to be a good person. I love playing off of him; he’s so earnest and wonderful.

I never thought of the Mommy-Daddy angle before. It certainly makes sense. Then you have the ornery teen…
Anthony Lemke: … and the drunk uncle.

MON: No, you’re the ornery teen!

AL: Actually, Three is the teen and the parent. He’s both and he walks that line.

I love it when the crew is together, having dinner. That’s happened more than once in the past two seasons and we get it again in Episode 1.
AL: It’s funny. The table has been this push-pull. The directors come in and say, ‘OK, how do we shoot this room?’ And we’re like, ‘We sit at the table.’ When I watch the show I really identify with the idea that the family that eats together stays together and I think the audience responds to that. It’s important, those moments. They don’t happen every episode, they happen every once in awhile when it’s important.

MON: In Season 3 especially we have everyone going off on their single journeys and there were spans of time when we forgot that we worked with each other. Alex, we barely saw him, so it does feel important not only in the context of the story but as a cast thing.

Does that mean much of this season sees the team spread apart?
AL: I think it’s been an evolution since Season 1. The first season we were almost cloistered and were, literally, in almost every scene together. We tend to be on more isolated journeys than we were in the previous two seasons.

MON: Two has a big struggle with leadership, making choices and whether or not she should be the one to make choices on the behalf of other people, especially when the costs are so high when she makes the wrong decision.

The Android appears to be on an interesting journey as well. Her wardrobe choices in Episode 1 were outstanding.
MON: It’s massive too. The exploration of that is going to be a big fan favourite, I think.

What can you say about Three’s own journey or story arc?
AL: Three’s through-line story has been about his past and discovering that a bad guy isn’t all bad. We learned in Season 2 the root of that complexity; he is a caring and very soft person, but that bravado is real too. Both of those sides live within this character and that’s what makes it fun to play. When he says, ‘Let’s go steal stuff and kill some people,’ he means it. We continue on that journey in Season 3 and that will spin into Season 4 in a totally awesome way. So please, everyone, tune in a lot so that we can get a Season 4!

Dark Matter airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on Space.

Images courtesy of Space.

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Interview: Continuum’s Roger Cross is enjoying his career ride

There’s something you should know about Roger Cross. The man exudes positive energy and loves to laugh. Far from his Continuum character of Travis, the Vancouver-raised actor is a staple of Canadian programming. If you film a TV show in this country, odds are Cross will be in it.

With Continuum‘s penultimate episode, “The Desperate Hours,” set to roll this Friday, we grabbed five minutes with Cross to talk Liber8, auditioning and filming in his favourite city.

Can you talk about the tentative relationship between Liber8 and Kiera this season? It’s foreign to die-hard fans.
Roger Cross: What I love about it is that it shows growth. I grew up very religious, Christian. That’s my belief system and my doctrine, but later on you discover there’s a lot of beauty in the Muslim religion and in Buddhism. If you expand you mind and your views … you know. With Kiera, she came in with this one mind that we’re so bad, but in the end we’re trying to help people. It’s a great growth for her and for us as well. Travis has a very militant way of doing things and he learns that maybe that’s not always the best way. It’s a coming together and learning from each other.

What are you taking from the set?
I’m going to take some gear. Or maybe a piece of a time ball. Where’s the prop department? I need to cozy up to them. [Laughs.]

The CBC did a piece on the burgeoning TV and film industry in Vancouver. What’s it like for a guy like you to be working here so much?
People think they know about it, but they really don’t know about it. I think the segment said there are 42 projects filming in Vancouver. That’s a busy city and I think that’s why Hollywood is upset too. There are a lot of major productions here.

You’ve made your career out here. Every show filming in Vancouver seems to feature you in some way.
They keep me busy. It’s a great thing.

Do you have a favourite Canadian city for filming?
They’re all so different. I do have a special place for Vancouver because where else do you get this view? You have the water, the lush greenery, the mountains, the fresh air … it’s a special place. It’s home for me. I moved here when I was 11. Yes, I live in L.A. and I love it there too, but as you know, you don’t get the lush green in L.A. Toronto has its own energy and its own way of doing things. I’ve been there for the last two years filming The Strain and now Dark Matter, and I’ve gotten to know Toronto a lot better.

How do you get gigs for The Strain and Dark Matter? Are you auditioning, or are folks writing parts with you in mind?
It happens both ways. There are times when I get a call where someone is thinking of me for a part, but yes, I still do audition by going in and earning my pay. Guillermo del Toro isn’t handing anything to anyone on The Strain. I did the auction for that and got it, which was great. For Dark Matter, I was in the Dominican Republic and recorded the audition tape down there and sent it back and got the role.

How great is technology? You’re on vacation and can film an audition on your laptop and send it off.
[Laughs.] It really is. You just use your iPhone to record it, upload it and boom!

Continuum airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showcase.

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