See? I told you the Mary Kills People series finale stuck the landing. In the second part of my conversation with Richard Short, we talk about filming scenes at both ends of the emotional spectrum, forging a bond with found family over three years, and saying goodbye.
[Warning: Spoilers if you have not seen the series finale.]
Short and Caroline Dhavernas have played Des and Mary across three fairly tumultuous years for the characters, who have nevertheless remained fiercely loyal to each other. And as Ben reminds viewers who may not remember, Des went to prison to protect Mary.
In the finale, Mary has to tell Des that Frances killed Lucy. We don’t see their conversation, but we do see the moments leading up, when a fully-clothed Mary walks into the pool to talk to him. Short says that was as special to shoot as it was to watch.
“That moment to me says the most…it’s one of the strongest scenes I’ve seen a female actor do. It says so much about Mary, and Mary and Des, that she’s not taking any prisoners. Shoes off, pregnant, straight in the pool,” he recalls.
“It was wonderful. Between takes, we were swimming in the pool trying to keep warm. It was one of our last opportunities to reminisce. We swam in the Mediterranean on this journey. It’s a beautiful scene and moment. The set photographer snapped a candid of us in the water and I think that will be my favorite photo from [the whole show].”
“The entry into the pool had to be done in one take because of the wardrobe [but the scene between them once she’s in the water was shot a couple of times because it was] hard to tread water and stay in frame. It felt nice having a scene with Caroline and Jay [Ryan] being there in my peripheral vision.”
Short says the scene midway through the season that had Mary, Ben, Des, and Nicole in the office at Joy’s was a treat to shoot because it was the first time all four actors had shared a scene, and it afforded them time to visit between takes.
“We got to sit in the green room and chat and catch up. After all this time, it’s the first time the four of us were together,” he shares. “It’s delightful. You all have stories to tell separately but also collectively. It was nice to get to do that. It was also fun to see Grace [Lynn Kung] and Jay [work together] in the finale.”
Des confronting Frances and threatening to kill her required a careful balance of him trying to throttle her and Short trying not to actually hurt Elizabeth Saunders. He says she was game for the physicality involved in capturing that showdown, and he got to visit with David Fox, who played Frances’s Dad.
“On paper, we were all excited about that. Des gets to take out his vengeance. Working with [Elizabeth] is wonderful. She is also from the theatre and an actor’s actor. The best work is done when a set is very inclusive, when you find people who are willing to rehearse or read [lines] over a coffee,” he explains.
“It’s always been the case on this show. That might say a lot about Cameron Pictures and the environment they engender. Elizabeth will rehearse any which way but loose, and I said, ‘I don’t want to hurt you,’ and she said, ‘hurt me!’”
“Something like pouring that pento down her throat, you have to make it real and make it work in a series finale. She knew what she had coming and she was so game. I think the take we used was the first take. It’s dangerous … there’s glass and me being forceful and trying to be gentle within that and she’s trying to catch her breath and genuinely swallowing a lot of that water.”
“It was great, actually. I didn’t realize I was sitting with Canadian royalty in the same room until it was explained to me who David Fox is. We did have lunch. He’s a wonderful man. It was an honor.”
Looking back across the series run, Short was blown away by everyone who came to play. “The acting talent that has come onto this show has been truly stellar. I couldn’t have wished for better. Everyone who’s come on that set brought their A game,” he says.
“Maybe that’s because they were comfortable. I hope that’s the case. That raises our game too. There wasn’t a single guest actor who came in for a day or a season who didn’t knock it out of the park. They were so great right across the board. They really were. I’d stand there and think, ‘Wow. How lucky am I to be a part of this.’”
“I always use music when I’m [learning] my lines. It helps me calm down on set if I’m nervous about a big monologue. I used to send playlists to Caroline and Rachael Ancheril. I did that with [André Dae Kim], the young actor playing Joshua … I sent him some music and he sent me some songs back. Before you know it, on set, he’s my mate, now, and we can get on. Because of that, you’re not as nervous on set, and he was great and it was a very important story line.”
Short loves that the series tackled profound subject matter and still hit its mark as a drama series. “It [sometimes] becomes difficult to stay on track [with the larger themes] because the nature of the open-ended story means there’s more exposition and things to address before we bow out,” he says.
“They managed to check most of the boxes and still make it entertaining and also realistic and something we can be proud of and passionate about. I was always keen to tackle the theological debate and this season started with Caroline in a confessional with a priest.”
“Kudos to the writers that they managed to keep all of that and circle back around and tell [so] much in this crazy, hectic pace [of TV].”
Short says closing the door on a three-year run leaves him with a mix of memories and newfound family and friendships. “We work away from home most of the time. There’s this weird juxtaposition that happens. You make a work family that hopefully become friends. It’s like a parallel life that doesn’t really count at home. And there’s sometimes a mourning period [when it ends]. It’s a strange part of what we do,” he points out.
“With this one, I think I’m taking a handful of beautiful people along with me. I hope so. I’ve made some friends for life. I’m most proud of working with my partner, Caroline Dhavernas. That encompassed some bizarre, freezing, sweating situations in God knows where. I think back on our journey together as humans and friends There’s new people that exist since I’ve known her.”
“The show talks about death, and life. That’s what the show is about. The moment is now, and it’s going really, really fast. Like with Mary Kills People, life goes by in six 48-minute episodes. I think the series finale is about truly living now, whatever that means to you. I think it’s optimistic, not pessimistic.”
“Although it’s a dark subject matter, it shows compassion in regard to what Mary and Des have been doing all this time. The show taught me that, and Lucy taught that to Des. Those things are what I take away from this series. Wonderful memories and wonderful friendships.”
Next up, Short is taking some time at home and prepping for two films later this year. “In September, I’m going to England and Wales to shoot a film about King Arthur in which I play Arthur. There’s a lot of horseback riding lessons [in my future],” he laughs. “At the end of the year, there’s a film I’m coming back to Toronto to shoot with Michael [Marshall], our DP from Season 3 called Pale Blue Eye that’s an adaption from Edgar Allen Poe [and] a thriller. That’ll be fun. Who knows what else. There’s a lot of life to be lived, too.”
Mary Kills People episodes are streaming now on Global TV’s website and Global GO. The finale should be available tomorrow. Thank you for spending the final season with us! All of our coverage can be found here.
Update 8/6/22: All three seasons of Mary Kills People are now streaming on Global TV in Canada and Roku Channel in the US.
Images courtesy of Corus Entertainment