[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Monday, on a new episode of The Porter, we start to see the fallout from Henry’s death and how it propels each of the characters forward, not always in positive ways. Junior tests the waters with Queenie while Zeke looks to make substantive changes for the porters. Lucy’s professional aspirations are complicated by her new romance, and look for the series debut of Alfre Woodard, whose character, Fay, is intended to be a test for Marlene but instead sparks a personal interest.
Charles Officer directs a script by Annmarie Morais based on her story with Aubrey Nealon, Bruce Ramsay, and Arnold Pinnock.
During the press day for the new CBC and CBC Gem series, I chatted with series stars Aml Ameen and Ronnie Rowe Jr., who play Junior and Zeke, about their arcs this season, and filming the show.
Junior and Zeke are our anchors into the story, and both characters experience cataclysmic shifts after their friend dies on the job, and is treated inhumanely afterward by the railway company. “For Junior, it’s the catalyst of all change. It’s the thing that makes him give up the last bit of hope he had in a potential system helping his life,” says Ameen.
“He takes the death as almost like a warning to his own life that that is coming for him. And if that is coming for him, why not take life into his own hands and create the life he can for his wife and son.”
“I think Henry’s death for everybody is the charge that pushes us into a momentum of different directions. For Zeke, obviously that’s building a union and making his death not being vain.”
The other triggering point for Junior is that his war service doesn’t change how the world sees him. “I always had it from an art point of view, that Junior goes into the war a lot more bright-eyed and hopeful about who he can become. And if he just goes out there and proves his dedication to his country and becomes a man, then he’ll come home somewhat of a hero, somewhat celebrated,” Ameen explains.
“And instead he’s come back to a world where he’s more powerful and he’s changed by the circumstances of his previous life. But the world around him has not changed. They see him very much the same.”
“And what I love about the opening scene is when we’re sitting down in the bar and Junior’s already got this kind of death wish following him. I think whatever happened to him in the war and in France, which he speaks about, has haunted him to the point of, ‘Okay, I’m willing to die on my word, on my morals, on who I want to be in this world.'”
“And Henry was that last bit of hope that goes out within the first 20 minutes of it. And we spoke about who we were in the war and what was changed by the war and by those events and how we’re actually different at war than when we come back. We’re having to readjust to who each other’s become.”
Coming home also amplifies the change in how Junior and Zeke knew each other then and how they know each other now. “I know [Zeke] to be like Captain America or Captain Canada. And he knows me to a joyous kind of wide-eyed guy. And that event that happens to us both spins us in a whirlwind in a completely different trajectory,” adds Ameen.
“Henry’s death actually reignited ghosts that Zeke had from the war and what it did was it put him back in survival mode, in a sense, because in the war, he wanted to protect his fellow soldier. And now in his current life, he wants to protect his fellow porter,” adds Rowe.
“And I think that’s what that did. And that’s why he’s pushing so hard to go after the union, because he wants to protect these people that he loves.”
The series can go dark with its storytelling, and for Rowe, it was important to center himself at the start of each day, while Ameen credits the crew with keeping everyone on track during the block shooting, which meant sometimes shooting arcs out of order.
“Any actor wants to play a role that has different levels to it. And I think that these characters have that. What’s very important, at least for me, is my daily practice of coming back to myself before I go to work … meditating and stuff like that. Because if not, I would go off the rails,” shares Rowe.
“It’s very important to incorporate the practice of checking in with myself and always knowing who I am before I enter into this character, who is a portion of me, but is very far from who I am.”
“It’s not easy to carry that emotion or different emotions through your whole series when sometimes you don’t know where you are because you’re tired,” says Ameen. “We luckily had an incredible crew that kept us on point of where we were in the script, so that we knew where our emotional self was. I have to give a shout out to the creative team that built that space for us.”
Photos Courtesy of CBC