Putting Canada back on the television map

Arts & Entertainment/Film and TV by

Tuesday evening saw the debut of CBC’s latest prime time original broadcast, the brainchild of Chris Haddock, nationally revered creator of decade-spanning Canadian success Da Vinci’s Inquest. His new series, Intelligence, examines a new facet of West Coast criminality, this time turning the camera towards the perpetrators rather than the victims and investigators. Ian Tracey-best known for his work in the Canadian-produced film Milgaard and as Detective Mick Leary on Da Vinci’s Inquest-portrays Jimmy Reardon, a third-generation crime boss and one of the major players on West Coast organized crime scene. During the advent of a burgeoning feud between his drug network and an increasingly hostile biker gang looking to take over local trafficking, Reardon’s life is made even more complicated when Vancouver’s Organized Crime Unit falls under new management. Freshly-appointed director Mary Spalding (Klea Scott of Collateral) presents OCU with a risky governing style, adopting Reardon as a star informant, using him to pin other local undesirables while allowing him to continue his operations under the police’s freshly blinded eyes.

From the onset of this narrative, Haddock and his leads present audiences with ethical challenges and conundrums seldom explored on prime time fiction television. At what point is it acceptable for lawmakers and enforcers to table morality (in absolutist terms) in order to pursue more utilitarian-and occasionally opportunistic-ends? Can government structures be as counterintuitive and corrupt as some criminal organizations?

The Tribune spoke with Haddock and Scott last week about the new series.

Tribune: How did the concept for the series come about?

Chris Haddock: I’d talked to the CBC while I was still making Da Vinci and they had talked to me about if eventually Da Vinci might come to an end, I should start thinking about what kind of thing I might be able to replace it with. I wanted to work with Ian, and I said if anything, I wanted to develop a vehicle for Ian Tracey. Some years ago, kind of between seasons, I had written a small movie idea and that was where the genesis began. [It was] about a smuggler, a third-generation, West Coast smuggler, and that script never went anywhere but I got me to thinking about the character for this and the family background he might have.

T: What made Ian Tracey ideal for this role, either in terms of physicality or the method behind his performance?

CH: Ian is a very graceful, athletic guy. He really is one of those people who you can see very comfortably on a fish boat or chopping down a tree. And that’s part of the character that I wanted: that West Coast, outlaw kind of feel. But as an actor, he’s got a remarkable ability to attract empathy, he can come across as a very sympathetic character. And this character was going to be a bad guy, in terms of being a drug smuggler, and I knew he would make it an attractive and interesting character, and put people on a little bit of a tilt, because here we have a good guy playing a bad guy.

T: In recent years, there’s been a rash of shows with a lot of stylistic and thematic parallels to this one. What do you think having a uniquely Canadian perspective and working with a Canadian crew add to the picture?

Klea Scott: Mostly that it’s literally never been done. Everything that you’re familiar with in terms of crime procedural or government espionage programs, 24 or CSI or NYPD Blue, they are American. Simply by casting solely Canadian actors you’re going to have a different sensibility, just in terms of dialect. We’re not acting American and we’re not trying to make Vancouver look like New York City. I don’t think it’s ever been explored really, Canadian government and how they deal with some of the global issues. You just get inundated with American media and what the Bush administration is doing. The characters [in Intelligence] are fascinating, they’re complex and flawed and we a look like a reflection of the country’s demographics. When I see American TV, it doesn’t look like people who actually live in the States. On every ensemble show you’ll have 10 people and maybe you’ll have one Black character. I think of Chris as a feminist in his writing and I don’t think we’ve seen a Black Canadian woman leading a bureaucratic law-enforcement agency like this.

T: It goes without saying women are underrepresented as CEOs or in government. Is this demographic imbalance something you took into consideration while building the character?

KS: Well, I think it just plays naturally. I think that if you saw a woman of colour running this kind of agency, right away you’d have to attribute certain strengths: persistence, perseverance, a thick skin or excellent track record. I feel that when women do achieve these top positions, they have to be twice as excellent as a man. I love Mary because she’s really unapologetic about her strength. Chris doesn’t write her with a soft shell or have her pull any punches because she’s a woman and the audiences won’t like her because she’s too strong and comes off bitchy, which is something I’ve heard quite often. Even my sister-in-law, she watched she show and commented, “I really didn’t like you,” and I found that interesting because I think the character scares people. I think that some people will feel really threatened by this character that Chris and I have created.

T: Your show speaks volumes on the duality of human beings. Was this one of your primary springboards while writing the series?

CH: It’s just the way I approach characters. People are many things and they have conflicting desires within themselves. All people do. It’s just really finding that conflict and displaying it; that’s where you get a juicy entry into the character.

Intelligence airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC television.