Take 5 with ‘Pure’ Star Ryan Robbins

Tonight is the series premiere of Pure, CBC’s new drama about “a newly-elected Mennonite pastor forced to work for a cocaine-smuggling ring operating within his closed community.” Heather previews the pilot for us here.

Ryan Robbins (Arrow, Continuum, Falling Skies) stars as Noah, and I sat down with him in Toronto last week to chat about his role and what’s in store on Pure.

Noah is not like any other character that I’ve seen you play in the past. What was it about this script that made you want to tackle this role?

The writing was so good and the characters were so well crafted that I thought I’ve got to be a part of this. Something about the Noah character really spoke to me. First, I had to do my research. Does this actually really happen? Then the outside concern is not trying to stereotype an entire group of people — which I think we’re very clear not to do on this show. We clearly express that it is a small faction of people within a large group of people that are doing this. We are fictional characters in a fictional colony in a fictional town.

Having historically played many extroverted characters, very active characters, it was a really fun challenge for me to play someone so still and so stoic and pious. Everything is internalized. He’s not a sharer. When I first read the role and got the job, I thought it would be a fun challenge to play someone who is nothing like me, and then more I got into it, the more I realized how similar Noah and I are. I am a quiet person, a shy person, a bit of an introvert, and that why I think I enjoy playing all those active characters, those larger than life characters, specifically the “bad guys.” It was a real treat for me to sink into Noah. I have children, and when you have children, life gets really real, and the stakes suddenly seem higher than ever before. There’s love and fear, and you want so much for them. You want them to have all these things, and to be safe and OK. The lengths you’re willing to go to make sure your children are OK, that wasn’t hard for me to grasp.

You don’t really think about corruption and greed and politics when it comes to a pious community like the Mennonites, known for its more pure way of life. Noah is pious and a leader in this community, and the question immediately arises if he is corruptible.

That’s exactly the question you should be asking yourself. That’s the question that the audience will be asking when they watch this show. That’s what [Noah] needs to figure out. Of course he doesn’t want to be or doesn’t intend to be, but is he? How high do the stakes have to be before one man is corruptible? He gets thrown into this situation to protect his family, but even so he still has the resolve to try and make this situation disappear, to face the situation and get back to the old ways. It just becomes an uncaged animal that he can’t control. It keeps getting away from him, and he keeps trying to rein it back in. He’s convinced that through God, through his faith, through his family, everything can get back to the way it was, everything will be OK. You can only say that to yourself so many times before everything’s not OK. That’s the conundrum.

I have very limited knowledge of the Mennonite faith, so I was a bit surprised by how strong Anna’s role is as Noah’s wife. I had this preconceived notion that a Mennonite wife would be subservient and meek, but she was more outspoken than I was expecting. Anna comes across as a great balance to Noah, and when he’s not willing to speak up, she is. Is that something that continues beyond the first episode?

I don’t want to give anything away, but for sure. Anna is a strong, independent woman who had experience in the outside world. Where Noah is driven by his faith, Anna is driven by her love. She loves fiercely, and she’s a very well-crafted, amazingly acted character. She’s a mom, and you don’t mess with moms. When you see the first episode, the one and only person that you ever see Noah let his guard down with is Anna. She’s his safety net, she’s his sounding board. They are a true partnership. I love that their love is so real. It’s very tangible. You feel it when you see them together. It’s not the passionate love that you’re used to seeing on shows where a couple’s been married for 20 years and they still make out every day. It’s a very wonderful, true relationship in all aspects. It’s a very full relationship. It’s their priority. They don’t have all of these external elements. There’s something wonderful about this story and this way of living. We’re sort of trapped in this society where we’ve become incredibly narcissistic and materialistic. Our lives are work work work for material gain. There’s something to be said for the simple life.

When it comes to his family and his children’s safety, would Noah be willing to cast them out into the outside world to keep them safe from the corruption within their community? And what is Noah’s biggest fear: his kids leaving the Mennonite community and being a part of the outside world, or getting caught up in this corruption that’s invaded their community?

I think it’s safe to say that he blames the outside world for the corruption in his community, and would like to keep the community safe for his children so they have a safe place to grow up. Noah still believes that they’re doing it right in their community, and everything that’s happening to them cements that. He has a dislike and a distrust for the outside world, maybe even more than he did before. It’s almost proved his fears and beliefs to be true.

In the first episode, it appears that his daughter may have some interest in the outside world.

The great thing about the children in this show is you don’t need to see flashbacks to what Noah and Anna were like as kids because they are reflected in their own children. Their journeys are similar in a lot of ways. You get to see a piece of what Anna might have been like when she was a teenager.

Catch Ryan Robbins in the premiere of Pure, tonight at 9pm ET/PT on CBC.

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