[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
It’s been a year of exceedingly strange TV bedfellows with the pandemic forcing networks to branch out for original content to fill their schedules. Case in point: Pure, which aired its first season on CBC in January of 2017, is back on the network this Monday for Season 2, which premiered in the summer of 2019 on Super Channel and WGN in the U.S. It’s an opportunity for the series to both come home and expand its homegrown audience, and maybe, just maybe, spark enough interest to bring the series back for a Season 3.
As I wrote here when the Pure first aired, the drama is a tour de force for series star Ryan Robbins, playing radically against type as Noah Funk, a mild-mannered Mennonite preacher whose life goes seriously off the rails when he’s unwittingly sucked into the international drug trade, running cocaine distribution through his community. At the end of the first season, the full weight of that gamble lands on Noah and his family. As Season 2 picks up (preview here), Noah’s decision, intended to keep his family safe, has instead thrown his wife, Anna (Alex Paxton-Beesley) and son, Isaac (Dylan Everett) very much to the wolves. And in a very Godfather-esque fashion, he gets pulled right back in.
I caught up with Robbins by phone earlier this week to chat about the series and the CBC pick up, a fun new popcorn movie now streaming, and his recurring role on Riverdale. “I started my career playing the odd ball or the weirdo or the outsider or the punk rock guy or the heroin addict and then something turns and I started becoming more action oriented, I think because I have a fight [and] martial arts background and maybe look a certain way,” he shares. “Those roles are super, super fun, and I still enjoy doing [them].”
“To get down to sort of the meat and potatoes and really sink my teeth into a proper character role like this was super exciting.”
“I think one of the benefits was that we shot on the East coast and maybe at the time I wasn’t as known one way or the other out of Toronto. I put the audition on tape at a friend’s house. I just have to give all the credit in the world that Ken Girotti and Michael Amo for taking a shot on me. I remember when I went to Toronto to do a chemistry read with Alex, I walked into the room and everybody sort of looked at me like, ‘Oh, you’re not [what we expected].’”
“We did that audition. And it’s funny, when we did the very first scene, I completely got caught watching Alex’s performance and forgot to act. And I actually thought I was going to lose the job because I was just so in awe of her talent that I forgot to do my part, even though technically I already had the job. I thought I just lost the job because I fumbled the ball. And fortunately it all worked out. It’s a world that I’m immensely — maybe the most — proud of. I would play this character for a lifetime if it was offered to me.”
The Season 2 jump paid off for the characters and the cast, who had scattered to other projects. Robbins appeared in Ghost Wars and Paxton-Beesley did the second season of Cardinal. “What’s really interesting about the way Season 2 was written is, if you go straight into it, because of the time jump, Season 1 [is] a prequel in a sense, if you put it in movie terms. You can almost watch Season 2 and then watch Season 1, but ideally watching chronologically would be the best way to go,” explains Robbins.
And it gave the cast they had the opportunity to literally remold their characters, and Robbins, Everett, and Gord Rand, who plays Noah’s brother, all dropped a significant amount of weight. “We all had gone through these physical changes during this imaginary year, and I wanted to, for me personally, I can’t speak for the others, but I wanted to see that in Noah, physically,” he points out.
“I wanted him to look worn out and older and I changed the way Noah walked into what I wanted it to look like.”
“He was literally carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders and just certain just behaviors and just carrying all the weight of the regret and the guilt. I just think that we’re so fortunate that, to a person, we have such a phenomenal cast on this show and everybody was so excited to get back to work. We got most of our same crew from Season 1 and it was just like reuniting a really important family. And the way the scripts were written, I think it was such a smart, smart idea to play the time gap because there was a long gap between shooting Season 1 and Season 2. So rather than try to jump right back in, we played that distance and that was really clever and I think it worked very well. It was a really phenomenal experience.”
While he was extremely disciplined during the shoot, all bets were off that last week. “What people don’t understand is that our craft service makes these sandwiches called Christmas sandwiches, which is basically a flat bread with turkey and cranberry sauce and stuffing … the most delicious sandwich you’ve ever eaten in your life. And I had to avoid and abstain from Christmas sandwiches for the entire shoot. I’ll tell you the last week of shooting, I ate all the Christmas sandwiches,” he laughs. “That’s all I wanted to do.”
Nothing is set, Robbins says he and his castmates would return in a heartbeat. “We would be ready to do a season three and we all want to do a season three, four, five, six. We all want to keep going with the show,” he shares. “I’m always gonna hold out hope for more seasons. I’m so proud of it. It’s a role of a lifetime and I’d like to keep making more.”
“So hopefully lots and lots of people tune in and watch Season 2 and maybe we get to do it again.”
Robbins was thrilled to have longtime pal and Sanctuary Christopher Heyerdahl come play in Season 2. “I was super happy to get [him]. He’s known for playing roles that take a turn. And I love the idea of having an audience watch and just wait for [it]. I love that. And I loved the way he played the character with the heart of gold. He’s one of my best friends in the world. He’s family,” he says.
You can also catch Robbins in Sniper: Assassin’s End, an action film that’s now streaming and on DVD and Blu-ray. “It was awesome. Tom Berenger originated the movies in the franchise and it was an absolute treat to get to meet him and work with him. It was just me sort of getting back to the action. I had an opportunity to get back to being the action guy again and I jumped at it. Corey Andrews was directing and is a buddy of mine and we’ve been talking about working together again for quite some time. And everything just fell into place and they were kind enough to offer me the job and it was a blast. I got to add a little levity and have a little fun with it,” he says.
“It’s really good. And it’s super nice to just sometimes just escape into just, you know, just a popcorn and soda movie. Sometimes you just want to watch a fun movie with a lot of heart and, things being the way they are, it was really nice to just sink myself into something that was just fun and action packed and very physical. I think we’re going to hopefully do some more.”
When he’s not working on camera, Robbins is in his custom motorcycle shop in British Columbia, which was a welcome outlet after his recovery from coronavirus earlier this summer. “We’re building motorcycles and cool cars,” he shares. “That’s been a fun way to stay creative during all this madness.” Next up, he’ll be back at work on Riverdale as Uncle Frank, the onscreen brother to Fred, played by the late Luke Perry. It’s a role that’s very special to him, and allows him to honor his dear friend. “Uncle Frank will be back for a little bit. I have a blast. It’s great. I work predominantly with KJ [Alpa], who plays Archie. He’s just such a great, great guy and we get along really well and I love him,” he says.
“The role came up [after] Luke passed away. Luke had been really, really good to me early in my career when he was producing westerns and Martin Wood would direct and they would always find a spot for me. Luke and I go back to the Jeremiah days and we would joke about how we looked related, but just only from the eyebrows up.”
“When the role came up to play his brother, I desperately wanted it. I really wanted to honor Luke, and then I found out that I didn’t get it and I was devastated and I took a movie and then it came back around. I did get it.”
“And the movie was gracious enough to let me go do Riverdale because they knew it was important. Those guys welcomed me with so much sincerity and open arms and they didn’t have to do that because it’s a really tough position to walk into. Somebody said to me, ‘How are you feeling? Those are some big shoes to fill.’ And I said, ‘Well, thankfully, I brought my own shoes.’ I would never try.”
“The way they wrote Frank was really clever. Ted Sullivan is a guy who should get a lot of credit for that, too, to not try to replace Fred and make Frank a completely different character. That made it really fun and it’s a great character to play. I can’t say enough good things about that show. Roberto just got such an incredible vision with all the shows that he does and he’s got this infectious sort of positivity. I love being on that set. I really do and we have a great time.”
“Luke became such a really wonderful part of the Vancouver community. He was always incredibly kind and gracious. And my story is not unique. There are hundreds of stories like mine, just because of the type of guy that he was. And it’s an honor every day, when you walk around that set, you can’t go anywhere without seeing a picture, as it should be.”
Photos Courtesy of CBC, Sony, an The CW.