The last project I saw Carolyn Taylor in was Baroness Von Sketch Show. The five-season sketch series for CBC featured Taylor and fellow executive producers/performers Jennifer Whalen, Aurora Browne and Meredith MacNeill playing outrageous characters.
Now Taylor is back in I Have Nothing playing just one: herself.
Available for streaming on Crave, I Have Nothing follows Taylor on a quest to choreograph the perfect, full-length pairs figure skating routine to Whitney Houston’s 1992 iconic hit song, “I Have Nothing.” What first started as a bit of a lark quickly turned into something a lot more daunting and real once legendary figure skater and choreographer Sandra Bezic signed on to not only help Taylor craft the routine but elicited David Pelletier, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Kurt Browning, Paul Martini and Barbara Underhill to help out.
We spoke to Taylor about how I Have Nothing Came about and its journey to TV.
This did kind of start as a lark and then it got serious, right? Once Sandra said, ‘OK, I’m going to connect you with people, figure skaters, and my reputation is on the line.’ So is the realization that we saw on screen legitimately the realization where it dawns on you, ‘Am I really going to do this?’
Carolyn Taylor: Yeah, when she says, this is no longer a joke. Now knowing, of course, it’s still a comedy docuseries, we’re still leaning into funny stuff and having those moments. When I’m working with those skaters, I’m legit doing my best. I’m doing my best, but I’m not, and I am leaning into my own foibles at the same time. It’s real, but it’s not a mockumentary.
Obviously, whenever there’s an Olympics in Canada, I have that certain amount of pride. It was so cool for you to actually tell your personal story about your feelings for Katerina Witt. Unlike on Baroness Von Sketch, for instance, where you were playing characters, this is really you talking about your feelings at the time.
CT: There is such a vulnerability to that because as a comedian and actor, there’s a critical distance and you’re summarizing what you see and you’re observing and you’re assuming characters. But then to sort of strip that away and lean into it and take the piss out of yourself, but at the same time just be yourself, but then sometimes lean into the more absurd parts of your own personality. It was the biggest challenge. It was a huge challenge. It was hard, and it was fun. [Executive producer and director] Zach Russell and I, we would just talk, we were constantly having existential talks about the nature of reality and what are dreams and what is fantasy and what is time and what is it to have something and what is it to have nothing. I think as you get deeper into the series, it keeps tilting and tilting reality, but yet it’s actually happening. It’s happening, but we’re leaning into some quirks and weird shit too.
This is a unique idea to pitch to production companies. How did you pitch it to Julie Bristow at Catalyst?
CT: Well, there was an immediate connection. A friend of mine had worked with Julie and said, ‘Oh, you’ve got to pitch Julie. She just started a new production company.’ And so I met with her, and I wasn’t even sure I was even going to pitch this. It was just like, ‘Hey, let’s chat.’ She’s like, ‘Anything you’re thinking of?’ I’m like, ‘Well, I do have this obsession, this skating routine. I’d like to turn it into a series.’ And she was like, ‘I was obsessed with Katerina too. I was a skater.’ And she got it. And she understands the queer sensibility behind it. She also has connections in the skating world, and she is someone who puts trust in the people she collaborates with. So she and Vibika Bianchi at Catalyst are amazing. They said, ‘We want you to see your vision through, we want to help.’ And they really did have the connections and resources and the niche interest in this very niche project.
And then the same thing kind of happened with Bell and Crave. We talked to a few networks, but it was Bell who understood it. They understood that they didn’t understand parts, and we had to talk it through, and they were, but I am so grateful that they got behind it and said, yeah, this is our kind of weird, and we want to try it and we trust and let’s go for it. So they were great.
And was it Sandra Bezic who opened that door to Kristi Yamaguchi and other high-profile figure skaters? It’s one thing to pitch networks and production companies, but what about getting those names on board?
CT: That was definitely Sandra. Those are all people she’s choreographed, people she’s worked with over the years on Stars On Ice, the Olympics, other competitions, et cetera, and they all know each other. They all like each other. So anything celebrating their sport and their cohort of skaters and Sandra and that world… I mean, they were skeptical. I think some of them were like, ‘What is this?’ Everyone was like that. But we also encouraged them. We said, ‘You’ve got doubts. Lay ’em out.’ So they really played in the world, but the things they’re saying are true. But it was pretty amazing that everyone got on board.
Let’s get a little bit into the writing. My initial question was about the writing and whether you were the sole writer, but it sounds as though there was a lot of improv.
CT: It was unscripted. It was Zack and I working on the beat sheets. We wrote beats and we had a couple of people consult his story editors who came in. Alison Johnson was a story editor on the project throughout. So she was on set and would have ideas, and we collaborated at the end of the day and tried to figure out what the next day and what was going to happen. It really was chaos and control coming together because you couldn’t know.
What do you want viewers to experience when they watch I Have Nothing?
CT: I want them to feel something. I want them to go on the ride and know that I am opening myself up and saying, ‘If anyone wants to come with me, come and let’s go on this ride together.’ I would hope that they do feel also some joy from it. I was talking to Xtra Magazine about that idea of queer joy and, ‘It’s okay, and we can have queer joy and we can have celebratory moments, and it’s okay if things work out and if there are triumphs.’
I’d be happy if it just generates conversation and questioning why we pursue what we pursue and why we don’t. And the 15-year-old who lives in us and who are we now versus who we were then who did we valorize and what would it mean to meet them?
Season 1 of I Have Nothing is available now on Crave.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.