Tag Archives: This Life

This Life 210: Season 2 comes to an emotional conclusion in “Choose Life”

In last week’s penultimate episode of This Life, the Lawsons suffered twin traumas, as Janine suddenly passed away from a heart attack and Natalie was rushed into emergency surgery. In Sunday’s Season 2 finale, “Choose Life,” the family struggles to regain their footing as they gather for Janine’s funeral.

Here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come.

Natalie recovers from surgery
But learns her treatment options are now severely limited. Can she finally make peace with the unknown?

Oliver tries his hand at love and responsibility
With mixed results. Shannon Kook makes another welcome appearance as Oliver’s new love interest, JD.

Matthew and Nicole move forward
Which means not reverting back to the way things were.

Caleb, Emma and Romy follow their own paths
All three of Natalie’s kids end the season with a better sense of who they are and where they’re headed.

Listen for a Leonard Cohen tribute
Did you expect anything less from a show that so proudly showcases Montreal music?

No word yet on Season 3
But “Choose Life” serves as a lovely series finale if the show is not renewed. Savour another round of fine performances by the entire cast, but take a special moment to recognize the work of Torri Higginson, who has consistently brought subtlety and humour to an emotionally gruelling role. And then hope CBC does the right thing.

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

Image courtesy of CBC.

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This Life’s Janet-Laine Green on her tough scenes in “Well Fought, My Love”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 209, “Well Fought, My Love.”

On Friday, Janet-Laine Green told us about her experience playing Janine Lawson on CBC’s This Life. In the second part of our interview, Green tells us about receiving the news her character was going to pass away in Episode 209, “Well Fought, My Love,” and what it was like to portraying her final scenes of the series.

Several of your cast mates told me they were shocked by the events in Episode 209. When were you told Janine was going to pass away?
Janet-Laine Green: I think a couple of weeks before I went down to shoot, and it just tore me apart. It just broke my heart. Honestly. I think because of the reasons that I said before, that it’s such a special show. It’s rare in a series—and I’ve done a lot of series—that you actually have the sense of family and real joy to be on the set, and we just all connected so well, the young people and my kids on the cast, and shooting in Montreal was just a joy, so beautiful. So when I got the word, I went, ‘Why? Why would you do that?’ And I couldn’t take myself out of the character. And it really is, that series, like any series, it’s all about storylines, story plots, what’s going to shock the family, shock the audience. And because it is a family, when something like that unexpected happens, that’s a great storyline. But I totally took it personally. I really went, ‘Oh, it doesn’t really matter if Janine’s in the show.’ Now I know that’s not true and having some time away from it, I went, ‘I can see why they would do it.’ But it really makes me very sad not to be in the show. Really sad. Because we like each other so much. I think that, more than anything, it was a really special combination of people.

It was definitely a shock.
It is shocking. You’re not set up for it at all. And that’s I guess what I mean by living your life to the fullest is, one doesn’t know when you’re going to die. And when there’s illness, it gives you such a different perspective on life and death. When one has been ill, you’ve been dealing with life and death quite a bit. And you’re looking at, ‘Have I done everything I wanted to do?’ and ‘What do I want to do?’ But when something like that happens that quickly, there is no looking back, there is no preparing, it’s everybody else who has to deal with the fallout.

I haven’t seen the episode, but I was there with Natalie, and I was there with Gerald, but I didn’t see how anybody else reacted. And that doesn’t matter really, it’s just being on the other side. Playing dead was awful. It was awful. Because you want to say goodbye. You want to say goodbye to your kids. You want to say goodbye to your husband. You want them to say goodbye to you. But there is no goodbye. And I think that’s even more shocking than if you have some time if you’ve been ill.

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What was it like to play a body in the episode?
It’s very hard, because, for one, Peter as Gerald is trying to resuscitate me. So they had built this contraption, and they had paramedics there—real paramedics—and he had to pound on my chest to try to get me back. And they had built sort of a metal contraption to sort of protect my body from the real strong pressure that you have to give. And I went, ‘No, I’m just going to do it, and I’m not going to wear the contraption. Just, Peter, do what you need to do.’ But the hardest thing is holding your breath and not showing your breath. That’s really hard. You have to hold your breath for quite a long time. Because the camera sees it.

And then people are really sad around you. You can’t go, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK.’ And after I had finished playing dead, the director said, ‘Oh, I much prefer you being alive. You’re a much better actress when you’re alive!’ [Laughs.] But that was Louis [Choquette] again. Louis shot my last episode, so it was really nice to start with him and finish with him.

Do you have a favourite scene of the season or the series as a whole?
I loved the scene in 209 where Peter and I are just kibitzing in the kitchen and making tea and just being sort of silly, and he had to go to work and I wanted to go for a walk. It was so natural and everyday, and yet a couple who had worked through their marriage and were just having a cup of tea and were happy to have time for each other. That was actually a really beautiful scene. Even if I didn’t die, it had such a nice quality to it, and then she walks out into the sunshine.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your time on This Life?
Thank you. Thank you to CBC for greenlighting this production, and thank you to the wonderful cast. I adored working in Montreal and all the people that made me feel so welcome and comfortable. It has just been a treasure in my career, doing this show.

And what’s next for you? 
We’re going to Mexico for a month in about a week, and then I’m coming back and doing a play called Peace River Country at the Tarragon (Feb. 7 – March 19, 2017), which is a brand new play about fracking in Alberta.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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This Life: Rachel Langer finds catharsis writing heartbreaking “Well Fought, My Love”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 209, “Well Fought, My Love.”

Well, that was a gut punch.

We’ve spent nearly two seasons worried about Natalie’s (Torri Higginson) terminal cancer on CBC’s This Life, but it was Lawson family matriarch Janine (Janet-Laine Green) who received an unexpected curtain call on Sunday night’s episode, “Well Fought, My Love,” written by Rachel Langer.

In the heartbreaking installment—the penultimate episode of Season 2—Janine succumbs to a sudden heart attack on a quiet Montreal morning. And while the family is still reeling from that shock, Natalie suffers a potentially deadly medical complication that requires immediate surgery, forcing everyone to face two traumas at once.

“We talked a lot about whether that was the right move, but I think ultimately that’s life, right?” says Langer. “You get hit twice in a row sometimes, and things happen at really, really inopportune times.”

Langer joins us by phone from Vancouver to break down this difficult episode and tell us why the storyline hit so close to home for her.

First the big question:  When and why did the writers’ room decide that Janine was going to pass away?
Rachel Langer: It’s something we knew was coming for quite a while. It’s a show that talks about life and death in very grey terms. It’s not as black and white as it seems. So we knew very early on that we were going to build to that, but we didn’t know how or when. It just naturally came together as we built the rest of the season that those were the details of it.

And for Natalie—who is a mother who has spent the entire series worried about leaving her kids, worrying about how she spent her life the way that she wanted to, how she left the legacy she wanted to—to then lose her mother, it just really puts a fine point on the things she’s been going through. And it was so sudden for Janine, which is the exact opposite of her journey. So it was a story that we knew we wanted to tell, and I think we were all a little like, ‘Oh, do we do this?’ and ‘How do we do this?’ But you go where the story leads you, and we knew it was leading there for a while, so we just had to get there.

I know this episode was a very personal one for you.
When we were breaking the season we had three different development rooms in Toronto, and then once we got greenlit, we had a writers’ room and prep in Montreal. And I think during our second room, I got a call from my father that my grandfather underwent a massive stroke, and we weren’t sure what the prognosis was for a couple of days and then found out that he couldn’t swallow and it had shut down a couple of systems in his body, so it was just a waiting game for him to pass away. So everybody that was in the room was, ‘Go home if you need to go home. Don’t worry about us.’ They were just wildly supportive, specifically [showrunner] Joe [Kay] and Virginia [Rankin], our executive producer.

I basically was in the room breaking stories about a woman who was terminal and her friend Tia passing away and knowing where we were headed up to, while waiting for the news that my grandfather was going to eventually die. So it was quite a life imitating art imitating life sort of experience.

When I got to Montreal and was assigned this episode, it was after the funeral for my grandfather had happened and I’d had a month of two to kind of process it. I realized it was going to be mine, and I tried to trade Joe, but he said no. [Laughs.] And it was good he did, because it was a very cathartic experience for me to write about that. But it’s also hard to separate yourself and your personal experience and make sure you’re doing justice to the characters, instead of just your own journey.

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The aftermath of Janine’s death was pretty realistic, with the EMS personnel standing around and decisions having to be made about her body. Were there many discussions about how you wanted to present the uncomfortable realities of death in the episode? 
There were a lot, actually. In the breaking of the episode as well as when I was going through and outlining. It’s such a fine balance because our whole show is based around the real. We want to just keep that as our mandate at all times. This is about real life; this is about real people—well, they’re not real people, but they could be. And I think death is dramatized on TV as a lot of crying and weeping and wailing, and we all know that happens, but in the middle of those things, are quiet moments where you just have to figure out what to do next. So we had to make sure that we had enough of those to make it feel real without making it feel completely morose, while still showing the joy of families coming together.

The choice to have Natalie have a medical emergency on top of Janine’s death was bold. Why the double tragedy?
That’s a good question. We talked a lot about whether that was the right move, but I think ultimately that’s life, right? You get hit twice in a row sometimes, and things happen at really, really inopportune times. I think everybody in the room had a story of the moment where the worst thing imaginable happened, and then it was followed up by the next worst thing imaginable.

Here we are coming toward the end of the season, and Natalie’s had some really good news. She’s had to work through a lot, but she’s had a fairly smooth season, except for Episode 203, where we got to show what it’s like when she has a bad day. It’s inevitable that she’s going to have ups and downs, and it wouldn’t feel real if she didn’t, and to put these two tragedies together was a really interesting exploration of life saying, ‘OK, this is all happening, so deal with it.’ And so we were just like, ‘OK, that’s what we’re going to do.’ Also, you have to admit, it’s very high-stakes drama. [Laughs.]

We’ve spent two seasons exploring what will happen to Emma and Romy if Natalie should die, and then Natalie’s surgery forces them to make a sudden decision. 
It was interesting to us because we had dealt with this for so long, of what was going to happen to the kids. And then to throw it into relief and say, ‘Oh, actually, we have five minutes to decide, so I sure hope they’re ready.’ And in that moment have Natalie relinquish control to the girls and say, ‘You have earned the right to choose for yourself,’ was such a huge catharsis for us as a room and I’m sure for the characters as well, because they’ve been wrestling with this and then it comes down to crunch time and there’s that relief after the decision is made. And I think it’s pronounced through Romy because that’s probably not who Natalie would have chosen for her, but she has finally said, ‘You have earned the right to choose, and I’m going to respect that.’ That just felt like huge growth in a very quick moment for us.

Matthew and Nicole finally reconnected in this episode. What’s next or them?
I think they’ve entered a new zone now. I think we all know sex changes things, and I think the nature of how and why that happened for them is really interesting. Because Nicole showed up at a time of crisis and wanted to be there for Matthew, and that just sort of gets rid of every piece of baggage you had because you’re only focused on getting through the moment and the love that comes with that. And so now the question for them becomes, ‘As we heal from this crisis, what does what we just experienced mean for us?’ and ‘We can’t go back, so how do we go forward?’ I’m sure that they will both have fairly different viewpoints.

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Oliver also got the EMS guy’s number, proving life goes on even in the middle of a crisis. 
Yeah. That’s exactly it. You basically said exactly what Joseph said when we were discussing Oliver, to say that there are moments of joy and hope and happiness in the midst of tragedy, and you can choose to shut them out or you can choose to go with them. Oliver’s had a really hard time, so to give him something that he can go for in the moment, it felt really good to see him make that happen. And also I think because we’d dealt with the mood stabilizers that he’s now on, so if anybody’s in a position to see outside of the cloud of grief, it’s Oliver in this moment. So he’s well positioned to have a win there.

What were the most difficult scenes for you to write? 
The scene on the terrace where Gerald is talking about the funeral lunch. Even though it feels somewhat lighter compared the other stuff, it was a scene where I was using experiences that we had just gone through to try to inform the scene. So working through that and working through every single scene where someone had to be told or found out, those were the really difficult ones.

And, funnily enough, the scene with Emma and Romy in bed where Romy is giving the small facts on the whale. It was not a hard scene to write, because those are just things my husband and I do, but it was surprisingly emotional, because it was just a moment of, ‘How do we come together and not talk about the thing but still connect?’ And those sisters, I mean they’re so different, so that one really got me, too.

I thought the Stephanie Janusauskas and Julia Scarlett Dan were excellent in that scene.
That part about the polar bears at the end? That was all them. I wrote—and the team wrote—up until the part about the ants and, ‘Got any more,’ and then that was all the girls improvising about the polar bear, and it was perfect. Those two are so talented, and they have excellent onscreen chemistry.

What was your favourite scene of the episode?
I know it was a difficult scene, but the scene with Gerald and Maggie in the living room. They are both so good, and it was just so real, what they brought to it. Just seeing it come together like that, like the direction from Louis [Choquette] and the editing. You know, you take it so far as a group of writers and you all help each other out, and then you give it over, and these people just make it something completely different. That was just a magical one to watch. Peter [MacNeill] and Lauren [Lee Smith] are just next level in that scene.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience writing, “Well Fought, My Love”?
I get so sappy about this episode because it was so tough. But I realized how much of a team environment making television can be, and not every show has that. I felt incredibly supported going through this one, and I couldn’t claim ownership over what happened at all, over the end result, but it was just a big honour to be able to write something so personal, and then have people come in and say, ‘OK, now we’ll help you take it to where it needs to go.’ It was just a really big honour for me to do that.

There’s only one episode left! What can you say about the season finale?
People come back and things are different. I really like the way the kids’ storylines coalesce in 210. I really like where Emma’s journey of identity has gone this season, and I think it’s a really interesting kind of place for her. She’s got a lot going on in her head, and I think that’s realistic for a girl her age. And the same with Romy in making her choices. So I think it’s a really good kind of place that they get to.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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This Life 209: Crisis shakes the Lawsons in “Well Fought, My Love”

In the penultimate episode of This Life‘s second season, the Lawsons are shaken to their core by a sudden crisis. To make matters worse, Natalie experiences an unexpected medical complication.

Here’s a preview of what’s to come.

This is not a drill
As I’ve interviewed the show’s cast and writers over the past eight weeks, I’ve been repeatedly warned that Episode 209 packs a punch. It’s true. In fact, it packs more than one. An ample stock of wine and chocolate is recommended for viewers.

Romy and Emma face a massive decision
But they also share one of the cutest bonding scenes in the series. Episode writer Rachel Langer says part of the scene was improvised by Julia Scarlett Dan and Stephanie Janusauskas. Listen for the mention of polar bears.

Maggie and Raza try to put the toothpaste back in the tube
Maggie’s confession that she has feelings for Raza makes things awkward at home.

Life goes on
Even as the Lawsons face multiple traumas, they find moments of beauty, connection … and reconnection.

Long, slow clap for the entire cast
This episode features lovely performances from everyone, but I’ll single out veteran actor Peter MacNeill because he makes every series he’s in better.

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

Image courtesy of CBC.

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This Life’s Janet-Laine Green on mothering the Lawsons

Janet-Laine Green feels completely at home on CBC’s This Life.

“It’s rare in a series—and I’ve done a lot of series—that you actually have the sense of family and real joy to be on the set,” she says. “We just all connected so well.”

Her character, Janine, is the loving but slightly overbearing matriarch of the Lawson family. Throughout the series, viewers have seen her attempt to be there for her four very different children while struggling not to impose her conservative views on them.

“I think what Janine has been learning over these two years is actually to accept [her children], to really look at the way they all are living their lives, and to not be as judgmental, and to not try to push her structure and religion onto them,” Green says. “I think that’s been Janine’s journey.”

When she landed the part, Green—who is well-known to TV viewers for her roles in She’s The Mayor, This Is Wonderland, Anne Of Green Gables The Continuing Story and The Beachcombers—says she was not only drawn to her character but to This Life‘s universal storyline.  

“We all have disease or accidents or kids who go off the mark,” she says. “We all have that in our lives, and I think that’s why audiences relate to it so well, because it’s not foreign at all, and it’s not a fairytale story. It’s actually quite real.”

Joining us by phone from her home in Tottenham, Ont., Green tells us what it’s like to mother the Lawsons.

What was your audition process like for This Life?
Janet-Laine Green: I went and I met Louis Choquette, who was doing all the auditions, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in an audition. Because the director usually doesn’t get up and work with you, and he just was on his feet, and he gave you different suggestions. So you’d do a scene and he’d say, ‘Try with this angle,’ and then he would totally change the whole the way you were playing it and give you an opposite way of thinking of the scene. So it was so fabulous I didn’t even care if I got the part or not. I was just thrilled to have this experience with this director, and I knew I really wanted to work with him. It’s really exciting when you have a good director who is passionate about the actor but also the character’s storyline.

Then I actually found out I got it, and I didn’t even know about the Montreal series, the French series [Nouvelle adresse], and I think the first night that I got there, Peter MacNeill—who plays my husband and is an old friend of mine—invited me out for supper with some Montrealers, and then they told us how popular the series had been in French . . . So I was excited about it, but I didn’t really know how much I would come to care about the series. I think because they cast it so well, and we as a group got along so well, that it became very easy to play the parents and the grandparents. It was not a problem. It was like no work whatsoever.

In what ways has Janine challenged you?
I think what intrigued me most about her was her faith. She’s Catholic, and she has really strong beliefs. I was raised Anglican, and it really was a more gentle sort of way I was brought up in the church. She sort of put everything into faith, and believes if you just have that faith, everything will be fine. And she’s really tested. I feel that the progression of Janine is that she pulled away from the church because of either the teachings or how the particular father in the church didn’t actually guide her the way she needed to be guided . . . So it was her struggle with faith that really intrigued me, because I didn’t have that in my upbringing, I didn’t have a really strong influence. So I had to really think about that and really examine it.

And Janine’s children really didn’t share a lot. There were a lot of comments through both seasons, like ‘Don’t tell mom,’ or, ‘Imagine what mom will do,’ so that was really hard because, as a mother, you want your children to confide in you, and you eventually become friends with your children. I think [Janine] was the disciplinarian in the family. So I sort of have to look at, ‘How am I different? How do I mother? How does Janine mother?’ I think she’s much stricter than I am, much more careful. I’m more carefree and believe in nature and how God is in nature, rather than in a church. So there were lots of things to challenge me, to make sure that I wasn’t playing myself but actually playing a character.

Of her four children, Janine seems to struggle most with Maggie, and she had a very hard time with Maggie’s marriage to Raza. Why do you think that is?
I think Janine sees huge potential in Maggie, and Maggie doesn’t see it in herself. She doesn’t stick with anything. So to support a child like that is difficult for any parent. All you want, I think, for your kids is for them to be happy and to feel fulfilled, and I think Maggie has always struggled with, she doesn’t follow the status quo, there’s no straight line for her to do anything, and I think, as a mother, you’re always wanting the best for your child, but also you want them to just get a job, be able to pay your bills, and be happily married. So I think with this marriage of convenience, it’s not who she married, it’s that she did it without understanding the joy of marriage, and the depth of feelings in marriage, and the responsibility of marriage. And she didn’t even tell [her parents], she just sort of invited [them] to a party.

So I think it’s really hard for Janine to actually see Maggie as she is and totally accept her. At the same time, I actually think Janine wishes she could be more like Maggie, in her freedom and her love that she has for people, her joy of living. I think that Janine’s life has been so structured that she looks at Maggie and is a bit envious of that. But I don’t know if Janine would ever say that.

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We just found out that Oliver is bipolar. How will that change her relationship with him? 
I think Oliver is her baby. I think she just adores Oliver and doesn’t really comprehend his dark side, and I think there has been a bit of, ‘He’ll be fine, he’ll be fine. We just have to nurture him more or love him more or look after him more.’ So I think there’s been a real blind eye to the real problem. And he’s had this since he was a child, and you tend to ride over the bad stuff and say, ‘Oh, they’re just wonderful.’ But to actually to get in and take them to doctors and try to find answers and then to actually put kids on medication, that’s a hard thing to do. A lot of parents have to face that, and I think Janine would say that God can help you, faith can help you, just go for long walks. I think the title ‘bipolar’ would really freak her out. I don’t know if she’d really accept it. I think that she would maybe blame herself for not loving him enough, as most of us do, as parents do. You actually don’t think there may be a chemical imbalance, it’s ‘I didn’t love them enough,’ or ‘I’m too hard on them.’ But I think, in her heart, she’s been protective of Oliver, and protected him from Gerald, as well.

Janine and Gerald seem happy now, but a few episodes ago, we learned they had at least one rough patch in their marriage. 
I think in any marriage, you fall in and out of love over the long period of time that you have, and I think there are times when one or the other gets to be too much—that’s not the person you fell in love with when you were young, when you were early 20s, that person doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Or, especially when you have kids, and when you have four kids, your belief system can go against what that other person’s belief system is. But I think they’ve had a very good marriage overall

How I see it, especially in this year, is that they really treasure each other, and they lean on each other. They support each other and try to be the best for that person. So, especially in Episode 209, just in sort of the beginning of it, you see that they’re very happy together.

I’ve been married for 35 years, and I look at sort of the ups and downs of our marriage, and as I get older, I fall more and more in love with my husband because I see really who he is without the kids being around. So I’ve used that sort of idea to what I bring to Janine with Gerald. And Peter and I just laugh all the time, he makes me laugh so much that it’s really fun to be on set with him. We’re very comfortable, and I’m thankful for that.

What can you preview about this week’s episode?
I would say living life to the fullest is the message of this episode.

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

Images courtesy of CBC.

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