Based on the award winning book by author Terry Fallis, and starring award-winning Canadian actor/filmmaker Jonas Chernick, and big time star of stage, theatre, and television, Kenneth Welsh, this show is sure to be a hit with audiences who appreciate quality story and performances.
We delve deep into the characters with the author and stars, and talk about the journey from book, to television, to the stage.
tV: What inspired the book?
TF: It was really the idea of writing a book. I wanted to write a book but didn't know what to write about. I am definitely a member in good standing with the write-what-you-know school of writing. I spent the early part of my career in politics and grew to view it with a bit of a jaundiced eye. I was not happy with the way we practiced politics in this country even though I'm still an active participant in the process. I wrote a satirical novel that I hope illuminates some of the shortcomings we have in our political system. I told it in the guise of a funny story with characters you might come to care about and like so that you would actually take in the information and assimilate it rather than just ignore a book about politics.
JC: I was going to add to that. I've never told you this before, but I think you achieved, both in the book and on the show, not only a satirical political story but one that's never cynical. To achieve satire without cynicism is a great accomplishment. You don't watch this show and bury your face in your hands and stay up at night worrying about the state of the idiocy of politics. There is a purity and a love of politics that underlays it all.
KW: You care about each of the characters as this political satire develops.
JC: Yah, that's true.
KW: They form an interesting pattern as it moves along. We begin to care so much about a lot of them and It's so delightful that that combination happens.
JC: Ultimately both the book and the miniseries comes from a place of appreciation or passion or love for the innocence or purity of politics, and the satire comes from what we have done with that purity and innocence.
TF: It's my love letter to democracy (laughs).
JC: It is. That's it. It's not a scathing indictment of politics, which it could have been because that's an easy target.
tV: So how close did you stay to the book with the series? Pretty close?
TF: The arc of the story is all there. The characters are all there. The high points of the story I think are all there. How you get from point B to point C, and F to G sometimes differs, which is almost required when you take something from print to the small screen.
JC: Absolutely. The show is very faithful to the book, and certainly very respectful, and really kind of expands some of the notions and some of the characters. For example, the show starts with my character finding his girlfriend in a compromising position with the house leader, which sets off the story. She becomes a bigger presence in the show, where she's not that big a presence in the book. That event is a pivotal, trigger moment in the book ...
KW: Yes, which sets off the next part of the story which then begins to develop the context of ironic politics. She's then looking for a place to live and a new kind of life, so she can get back into the political scene, and in the process discovers my character's guest house for rent. We make a deal where I will run for this seat, in exchange for her teaching my engineer class, but will do nothing as a candidate whatsoever. I won't campaign; I won't do any posters: I will stay in my house and work in my workshop. We run the campaign and ... (spoiler, spoiler)
JC: (laughs) No, don't say that. The whole show is about what's going to happen.
tV: Part of the reason for this last question was a curiosity about whether there had been room to incorporate current events, given the absurdity of our recent political headlines.
JC: I think we've been there. You (Fallis) could never have known, obviously, that that was going to happen ...
TF: I'm just extraordinarily prescient (laughs).
JC: (laughs) There are a few things. For one, the whole show is based on this idea that my character is trying to get out of politics. He's a speech writer for the leader of the opposition party. He's a hotshot, an up-and-comer, but he wants out because he's done with the game. What happens is that his party won't let him out. They coerce him into doing one last pass, which is running this big campaign and finding a candidate for this riding, that will never win. Part of the way they coerce me is a through a tax audit, and all my character can think of is various current events that are happening in the political landscape, but also the idea of a scandal. The show's about a political scandal. There's no crack cocaine in our show but ...
TF: But there's leather (laughs).
JC: (laughs) there is leather; there are sexual proclivities that you don't usually see on the CBC, but there is a scandal that I think people will enjoy. I see our show as sort of an an antidote to the cynicism and the kind of negative atmosphere that we have over Canadian politics right now, because of these things that are going on. Come and watch our show and first of all you'll laugh, and you'll also cry a little, but you'll be reminded that politics isn't all bad and that there is some hope for us.
KW: ... (spoiler, spoiler)
JC: (laughs) Don't talk about the ending. That's like saying Rosebud is the sled.
KW: Yah, but how did we get there?
JC: Yah, most people will have read the book so I think we're fine. Let's face it, most people who are watching are going to know that that's where it's going.
KW: I basically told the whole plot (laughs).
JC: (laughs) Well, we're done here.
tV: What drew you to your roles?
JC: For me it's a no-brainer. This is a classic leading man type. He's not a Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt role but that not the kind of role that I play. I was drawn to the arc of the story. This is a story that take a character on a real journey. Everyone's got their journey on this show. For me, I read it and thought, “I'll never have an arc or a journey this beautifully written and full.” My character starts at one place and ends, after six episodes, at a completely different place. It's a moving, powerful, inspiring journey that has romance and comedy and scandal and lies. This is the closest I'll ever come to Shakespeare. This is my Hamlet.
This guy here (Welsh) has played every Shakespeare role so he probably has other motivation, but for me as an actor mid-career, I could not have asked for a more glorious opportunity.
KW: I just wanted to do the Scottish accent and all the funny parts. No. I was drawn to this part because I felt there was a great kind of emotional range to him. He has a lot of tender feeling. His wife has died less than a year ago and she's constantly in his heart. She inspires him to go on and build something that they were talking about together. As tender as he can be, he's also a wild man. He'll get drunk; he'll take all his clothes off and jump into the river for a swim. He'll sit there and have a game of chess and just fart because he does whatever he wants to, but underneath it all there's this very complex, sensitive, and beautiful man and I love it.
JC: If I may add to that, this is a man who's done Broadway; he's worked with Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Martin Scorsese and is really a living legend. As we've seen him play dozens upon hundreds of roles, I think this one's going to end up defining him. It's a career role for him and he nails it; he's brilliant. As actors we seek out characters that are a realistic blend of contradictions. It's one thing to play the arc villain with his eyebrows down, or the saving hero, or the prince charming. Those are the boring characters. This character that Kenneth embodies, that Terry created and then adapted to the show, is an amazing. He is wise and brilliant and a renowned engineer, but he also loses his temper and gets drunk and curses and farts.
KW: What happened to the sensitive side (laughs).
JC: He's very soft and sensitive and will weep when he's taken by his own emotion. He's just this wonderful blend of everything. It's a great character.
KW: I have two favourite characters and they're both called Angus.
JC: What's the other one?
KW: The other one was a character in a movie called Margaret's Museum.
JC: Oh yah, I love that movie.
KW: But there is no doubt that this is my favourite character I've ever played. Windom Earle (Twin Peaks) would be the third.
tV: Tell us something about your characters that has been particularly challenging or new, or perhaps taken you to a place you've never been before.
JC: Oh, that's a great question. For me, my character Daniel Addison is a word-smith; a speech writer. He loves language and is very articulate and able to craft an argument, and obviously from this interview I'm not an inarticulate person (laughs), but I felt I had to rise to the challenge, that I had to connect with this passion and love for the language, democracy, and politics. I'm not a political person so to play a character who is obsessed with politics required a way in.
I had to find Jonas Chernick's version of politics. I'm a cinephile; a movie fanatic. I love film. I love television. That's my thing, so every time I would play a scene where Daniel would get fired up about politics I'd have to trigger a substitution. I can't get excited about the election coverage. It is literally the most boring thing I could imagine, but watching the Academy Awards? It's absurd how excited I get. I'm like a giddy school girl. My wife mocks me every year. I can't wait. I think about it for weeks, but I won't let people watch it with me because I need to hear every word. So that was my way in.
KW: I forgot what the question was (laughs).
JC: Something about your character that was challenging or new or ... how about full frontal nudity?
JC: Right? Have we seen your ass before?
KW: Oh god.
JC: In all your movies, have we seen your butt?
KW: (laughs) I think it's really maintaining the consistency of all the disparate elements of this character and hanging on to the way he speaks and the way he acts, and also the way the relationship develops because the only relationship he has in the story is with Daniel. They go through this political adventure that unfolds throughout the story and their relationship develops very subtly. There are no sudden changes in it; it just grows and they become very close in a very different kind of way.
tV: The Best Laid Plans has been made into a musical for theatre ...
TF: It's in the process, with Touchstone Theatre here in Vancouver.
KW: No way! Really?
TF: Yah. Vern Thiessen ...
JC: I know Vern Thiessen. No way! I wonder if he remembers me. That's amazing.
TF: Vern Thiessen is doing it so it's happening. They're working on it and have been for about a year I guess.
JC: Can I be Daniel Addison?
TF: I think that would be wonderful.
JC: (to Welsh) And we can both sing.
KW: Yes, we can (laughs).
JC: We're in. We accept the job (laughs). Thank you. Talk to my agent.
TF: (laughs) Yah, it's still coming, but it's just part of this surreal journey that this book has taken us all on.
Be sure to tune in the CBC in January to catch this amazing new show.