As we get ready for the second episode of Mary Kills People, it’s the perfect time to share our interview with Richard Short from our set visit last summer. Richard takes us into the mind of his character, Des, and shares what he thinks makes this show special.
Episode 2 of Mary Kills People, “The River Styx,” airs tonight at 9pm ET/PT on Global TV.
How would you sum up your character, Des, and why do you think this show is special?
Des is the best friend of Mary, and together we commit the deed for those who are willing. They’re both very flawed — in fact, everyone in the show is very flawed, intentionally — and the most wonderful people I know are a bundle of contradictions. We’re all just trying to move on and evolve every single day. Every single character has that, and that’s what’s interesting. It’s a show where people discuss the subject matter of assisted death; is it controversial?
Without sounding too grandiose, they say art holds a mirror up to nature. We hope that one person out there sees something of themselves in either Des or Mary, in a line, in a choice, in a location or in a situation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be “my husband/wife wanted to die,” it just has to be “if I was in that situation, would I do that?” In that comes an understanding, and then we can get to the avenue of these prickly subjects without preaching. We don’t mean to preach either way. It’s for the audience to make up their own mind. That’s what we’re aiming for.
Why did Des decide to become an end of life counsellor with Mary?
Des is an ex-plastic surgeon when we meet him, for reasons we’ll get into in the first couple of episodes. He needs the cash somewhat, but when you see the home where he lives, he’s not what I would call struggling. [He’s chosen this path] because of the relationship between him and Mary. They went to medical school together, they know each other in and out like best friends do. They’ve always had this shared compassion and they’re pretty adamant that they want to be available. They’re not saying “I want to kill people” or “I need to kill people,” they’re just skilled medical professionals that have been around corpses. If people want that option, it should at least be an option. Mary and Des are simpatico on this, and they’re two genuinely kind and compassionate people. The key thing before we started the first day of shooting was the relationship between Mary and Des because so much hinges on it further down the line.
It’s fascinating that this show is written and created and run by women. It’s a powerful team of women and because of that, there’s this central relationship that is platonic. Because it’s a sexless relationship — it doesn’t even suggest going there — it’s enabled myself and Caroline [Dhavernas] to become instant friends, which helps create the history for Des and Mary. They have great chemistry and share great banter, but it’s nice that it doesn’t go there. Metaphorically, they’re like a painting, a Jackson Pollock. You look at it and it’s chaos, and yet once you get further invested and you see why Mary is who she is and why Des is who he is, it’s a beautiful masterpiece. That informs so much of who we encounter throughout the show, the patients, the guest stars, and the different angles on it.
Whenever this issue is debated, religion comes up, especially the “playing God” aspect of it. How often does this come up for Des, and would you say he’s more a person of faith or a person of science?
Des is absolutely a grounded realist, and as far as he’s concerned, that would probably mean that he’s an atheist or an agnostic. It’s clinical, it’s based in science. There’s compassion, but once there’s a dead body, it’s a dead body. That’s not being unfeeling toward the client. Religion is an important point to raise because we’re talking about a show in which some of the people asking for this [assistance] will be deeply religious, and you have to respect that. I honestly couldn’t even tell you about Mary’s situation and where she sits with the Big Guy. I know Des is firmly clinical, based in reality and grounded, and that helps him do his job. Of course no one knows [what happens after death]. It’s a great unknowable, and it’s also beautiful. There are moments throughout the series that may contain an element of that, and when they do, it gets me and it’s OK to be open to that.
Would you say that helping people end their lives give Mary and Des a sense of power? Do they get a rush from it at all?
Not for a single second. Not with these particular characters, and that’s hopefully why the audience may stay on our side through all the ups and downs. It’s a very important distinction that they’re not killing people. It’s not euthanasia, it’s assisted suicide. Otherwise they’d be culpable for murder. Our characters can suggest a way out and be there with them and give them anything they need.
Despite the subject matter, the show has some moments of levity and even humour.
We all thought very long and hard on the tone of this show because there’s real light and there’s real dark, and quite often [they both exist] within the same scene, which is really tough to do. I think we all settled collectively on just being truthful and forgetting the bigger picture. It’s kind of freeing and a bit of a risk from Tassie [Cameron] and Amy [Cameron] and Tara [Armstrong] and Holly [Dale], but they’ve said, “Let’s tell this individual moment, whichever of us are in that day doing that scene, and if it’s uneven, it’s because life is uneven.” The only even thing about life is death. [The humour] is the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. It’s a heavy subject so if we can add a little wink wink, it helps. I can guarantee you’ll feel it.
Photos Courtesy of Global TV