It’s only February, but there’s already a wealth of excellent new Canadian TV. That continues tonight with the premiere of Bellevue, starring Anna Paquin, Shawn Doyle, and Allen Leech. It’s an intense and moody drama about a small town rocked by the disappearance of one of its teens, and the cop determined to find the answer to that and other mysteries that have haunted her for decades.
Anna Paquin talked with me about stepping into the role of Annie Ryder on Bellevue, double standards for female characters, and the realistic portrayal of a modern family.
(Read Heather’s preview of Bellevue here, and then watch the series premiere tonight at 9pm on CBC.)
What was it about Annie that made you want to take on this role?
First and foremost, the character Annie Ryder is very complex. She’s smart and flawed and a bit reckless, but ultimately she’s somebody who is doing what she thinks is the right thing, even if it butts heads with absolutely everybody around her. She’s the kind of strong female character that I like watching, that I wish there was more of and I don’t always get the opportunity to play. Jane Maggs’ writing is very beautiful, detailed and intricate, and I was sucked into the role. I wanted to be part of it and know what happened next.
Annie has a fearlessness that makes her good at her job but she never loses control of a situation. Can you tell us a bit about what shaped Annie’s character?
There’s a certain power ultimately in not being scared of anything, and what’s the worst that could possibly happen? Well, her father committed suicide when she was a little kid. She’s already experienced a lot of darkness in her life. The bar is set quite high. I think that the psychology of what the suicide of a parent would do to their child has — in a very big way — shaped how she interacts with the world but she is, in her own way, in control. It’s not completely random when she unleashes herself, but she is willing to take risks that other people don’t. Her methods are effective but somewhat scary.
I have to comment on how refreshing it is to see a family like Annie’s on TV right now.
It might not be what we see on TV very often, but it’s what we see in real life. The unconventionally constructed family is increasingly the norm and for some reason, people shy away from depicting that in our entertainment — especially in mainstream entertainment — and I don’t really understand why. It’s like we’re inherently passing judgment on people that didn’t have a completely cohesive, heteronormative nuclear family, and everything else doesn’t get to be represented. Annie and Eddie (Leech) were two high school fuck ups who had a kid. They love each other deeply, and are actually raising their child very well. They can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other, but ultimately, there’s a lot of love. However dysfunctional that relationship is, a kid that comes out of this incredibly passionate and loving parenting collective is going to be OK.
I was also very pleased that no one was telling Annie not to take risks just because she’s a mother.
There were definitely notes about that along the way. There’s a humongous double standard as far as the way fathers versus mothers are depicted, and what’s expected of them. This idea that women have to account for exactly where they are all the time and what their kids was doing. Female characters are held to a much higher standard, and aside from it being completely unfair, it’s also completely dismissive and disrespectful of the role that fathers play in their children’s lives. It’s like the idea that dads are “babysitting” and moms are just being moms. No. You’re being a parent. Annie does, at times, make choices that might seem reckless, but she’s trying to do the work and make this town safe. How is that not a good thing? Other parents can sit around and talk about it, and Annie’s actually out there doing it, making it safer for other people’s children.
Mainstream network TV is going through an evolution, and a show like Bellevue probably would have only been on a subscriber-based, premium channel in the past. Shows like this are helping to usher in a new era where networks are taking more risks and offering heavy, serialized dramas.
I think that the idea that only the people who can afford pay cable want to watch interesting, well-made programming is kind of offensive, and the mainstream networks are starting to take more risks because the audience is there. [Viewers] want to be challenged by what they’re watching, and want to see a wide variety of real human experience. That does not necessarily have to come with some kind of elitist, exclusive club mentality. It’s really exciting.
Photos Courtesy of CBC