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Michelle Latimer’s Trickster on CBC should not be missed

Trickster is unlike anything I’ve seen on the CBC before. Thrilling, shocking, entertaining and informative, Michelle Latimer’s take on Eden Robinson’s novels is thrilling in its storytelling and expansive in its scope. I couldn’t wait to watch the first episode when the CBC media team sent me screeners and now I’m hungry for more.

Debuting Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CBC, Trickster tells the story of Jared (Joel Oulette), an Indigenous teen struggling to keep his dysfunctional family going. Jared has an after-school job at a fast-food restaurant and makes and sells ecstasy on the side to support his separated parents, hard-partying mom Maggie (Crystle Lightning), and dad Phil (Craig Lauzon), who has a painkiller addiction and a new girlfriend. But when Jared starts seeing things—talking ravens, doppelgängers and skin monsters—things really get weird. Is he losing his mind, or are the flashback scenes to his birth an indication of something else?

We spoke to Trickster‘s co-creator, director and executive producer Michele Latimer about how the show came to be.

Give me a little bit of the background into how you became involved in Trickster in the first place. Had you read the book and bought the rights? 
Michelle Latimer: I actually picked up the book, just for my own personal reading pleasure, but I ended up reading it in the course of three days. The characters really stayed with me. I loved them, and I wasn’t looking to option anything, but I couldn’t stop thinking about, particularly Maggie and Jared, and I phoned my agent and asked if he could inquire about the rights, initially for a feature film. I was told that ‘No, this is only going to be entertained for series television.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, great. I could totally make this into a series, even better.’

Sienna Films had just been coming off doing four seasons of Cardinal. They have quite a track record, but also I loved Cardinal. We just put together a proposal. We went 50-50, Sienna and my company, and we put a proposal together for Eden Robinson. A large part of that proposal was how we were going to include the Indigenous community and Indigenous creatives in the process of making this.

What kind of learning curve was there to create six episodes, and create this world?
ML: The challenge is that Eden writes these sprawling, beautiful, nonlinear narratives with multiple characters. And it was honing that in, and giving that a bit of direction and focus, because and also, it’s a really ambitious book and that we do have a VFX budget. Eden always jokes, ‘Well, when I’m writing, I don’t have to think about a VFX budget,’ and when we’re writing we do. The other part of it that was really exciting was arcing these characters over six episodes, and really getting to dive into them. I still think like a feature. I’m thinking about the season similar to a three-act structure, and I’m thinking about the episodes in a three-act structure. I’m thinking about the episodes of themselves, within an episode, a three-act structure. So, it’s actually, in some ways, very similar to writing a feature, but the length, and breadth, and scope is much broader.

One of the lines said by a character is that Jared is ‘one of the good ones.’
ML: That specific line that you just mentioned, that’s actually out of my life. That’s happened to me on more than one occasion, mostly because I present fair, I’m mixed race. My mother’s Indigenous and my father’s not. And sometimes when I would disclose that to friends or people, that would be the answer. ‘Oh, well you’re not like one of those.’ It was so awful, and I grew up with that, more than once. I really wanted to put that in, and the show is filled with those small little nuggets of experience, that are inspired by real moments.

I definitely wanted to explore those stereotypes. I wanted to subvert those stereotypes. Eden already does it in her book, but I wanted to take it a step further and really call to task our audiences, to get them enjoying the ride, but also hit them a little bit with some of the stuff that’s more complex and harder to digest. And I think that’s the beauty of narrative fiction, is you’re in and you’re strapped into the roller coaster, and you’re ready for the ride. And then, ‘Oh wait. Shit. We hit a bump.’ But, you can’t get off.

Can you tell me about Jared’s journey in this first season of the show?
ML: Jared is really fighting a couple of things. He is the provider for both of his parents, and in some way, parenting the adults in his life, while he’s treading water. And then he’s having these visions, which suggests this legacy of something magical and unknowing, that he really doesn’t have any connection to, kind of overtaking him. So, his journey is one of not really acceptance, because I don’t think he gets quite there, but more one of understanding where he is, and who he is and where he comes from, which I feel is a metaphor for Indigenous people, especially if you’ve been disconnected from your culture. There’s sort of a life process of learning, who am I and what does it mean to be Indigenous? And where do I come from?

And then, there’s an interesting sort of metaphor for assimilation, because Jared really doesn’t want to be magical. He just wants to fit in and have a normal life, and yet the more he tries to fit in, and fly under the radar and assimilate, the less he can. It’s just undeniable until he turns and acknowledges what he is. And then it’s like, ‘OK, now I’m going to step into the path of, how do I take that power and use it?’ And I don’t know if he quite gets there in the first season, but it is a journey towards understanding that. And so, it’s a coming of age story that has magical elements, but it’s also a metaphor for a de-colonial story, and really a condemnation of assimilation and colonial practices.

Trickster has a wonderful look to it, tonally, with the colour palette. What were you trying to achieve through that? 
ML: It was very conscientious. I worked with our director of photography, Steve Cosens, whose work I love. I’m really inspired, particularly for colour, by Wong Kar-Wai. I think his use of colour is really excellent as a filmmaker. I grew up watching late-night horror movies. I grew up in Thunder Bay. We didn’t have multiple channels like we do now. I stayed up and watched Hitchcock, and The Twilight Zone and The Shining, and I grew up on all that old horror and old David Cronenberg body horror stuff. And I wanted to homage that. I just, I feel like those movies are what created the spark to want to make films, in me. And so, that’s what I was trying to do with this, except kind of give it an Indigenous spin.

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

Michelle Latimer image courtesy of Hayden Wolf. Series images courtesy of CBC.