I have always been a huge fan of Montreal-made television shows and motion pictures, but I must admit that when I was invited to visit the set of CBC’s This Life I was not very familiar with this sharp family drama. After binge watching season one’s 10 episodes, I was hooked. Season two debuts on Sunday evening, October 2 at 9 pm.
The series follows the story of a single mom, played by Toronto actress Torri Higginson, who portrays newspaper lifestyle columnist Natalie Lawson battling terminal cancer. This is an adaptation of the very popular Radio-Canada drama, Nouvelle Adresse. It is produced by Montreal's Sphere Media and Jocelyn Deschenes, the man behind the fabulous 19-2 cop series on Bravo TV.
By the time we got to the season finale of This Life, Natalie is about to begin some experimental treatment. Her deadbeat ex-husband David (Louis Ferreira) has returned; 19 year old son Caleb (James Wotherspoon) has a forbidden romp with her close friend and neighbour Danielle (Rachael Crawford); brother Matthew (Rick Roberts) splits with his wife when she finds out he fathered a child in Ottawa; sister Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith) is a wild-child trying to find herself; another brother, Oliver (Kristopher Turner) is trying to keep the messy details of his private life to himself. As for daughters Emma (NDG’s Stephanie Janusauskas) and Romy (Julia Scarlett Dan) how will they cope?
The hub of activity is the Lawson household. They rented a home on Harvard Avenue in NDG for both seasons. “I love it,” Janusauskas told me. “I got to walk from my own house to base camp.”
Added showrunner Joseph Kay: “NDG is very film friendly. So is all of Montreal in fact. I have staff who help pick locations for shooting, but now that this was my second year spending so much time here, I made some selections as well.”
I was already given an opportunity to watch the first two episodes. This season looks like another winner. “In season one the audience learned about the characters,” said Janusauskas, who is in the Honours Liberal Arts Program at Dawson College. “This season we are trying to move on, despite Natalies’cancer. My character gets a summer job and meets on particular girl who puts her in certain situations. I think a lot of girls my age can see some of Emma in them.”
As for the portrayal of Montreal Janusauskas says: “I love my city. Montreal should be shown for itself more often on TV and in film.”
Lauren Lee Smith hails from Vancouver, but she has spent a lot of time in our city the last two years. For this season, which began taping at the end of May, she found a place to stay in the Plateau for her husband and their five month old daughter Tuula. Now she is packing up, but agrees with Janusauskas that Montreal deserves the recognition it gets.
Global audiences first discovered Smith as a series regular on the hit Showtime drama series The L Word. She then seamlessly transitioned into film, co-starring in Terry Zwigoff’s Art School Confidential, and alongside Casey Affleck in The Last Kiss. She received much praise and attention for her performance in the independent award-winning film directed by Clement Virgo, Lie with Me, in which she played the leading role. In 2009, she worked alongside Laurence Fishburne as CSI Riley Adams on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. That year also saw her at Sundance appearing in Sandra Nettlebeck’s Helen, for which she won a Leo Award. Next she travelled to Germany to film the epic period piece Hindenburg. Additional credits include independent feature A Night For Dying Tigers, features Hunting Season, Three Days in Havana,Cinemanovel, If I Stay, mini-series World on Fire, HBO Canada comedy series Good Dog and CTV series The Listener, where she played Detective Michelle McCluskey for three seasons. Most recently she appeared in SYFY’s Ascension which aired on CBC, and recently shot the comedic feature How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town.
In season one, Smith describes her character Maggie as “a little bit immature. She’s not willing to grow up and she’s a little bit of the black sheep in her family. She doesn’t really like taking on a whole lot of responsibility. She likes to live life to the fullest, and to have fun, and to party, and to not have any sort of responsibilities. Playing Maggie has been an utter joy. She really puts it out there.”
Smith hints that by the end of this season Maggie may have grown up a bit. Since I have seen the first two episodes, I can warn you that Maggie does something a little bit unorthodox that has family members shaking their heads. When I visited the set, they were recording some scenes at Club Ping Pong on St. Laurent Blvd and Bernard, where Maggie now works as a bartender. Natalie and Maggie were sitting at the bar together. Natalie had to eat some poutine. Off camera she did not appear to be very excited about the dish.
“There’s definitely a lot of questionable things that Maggie does throughout the series that I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I cannot believe that the rest of her family or her friends or whoever are still talking to her,’” she says. “But in real life we have people who do questionable things all the time and we still stick by them because we love them. So it’s interesting to find the humanity and the spark that still makes Maggie human and likable.”
Veteran Canadian actors Peter MacNeill (Gerald Lawson) and Janet Laine Green (Janine Lawson) play the parents.
“I know it may sound like a cliché, but the family we portray feels like a true family,” Smith says. “I think that shows on camera. That is testament to our writers, who really engage us. Torri and I are very close. She is such a beautiful human being inside and out, a sincere friend and someone I have really bonded with.”
Will Maggie reconcile with Brother Matthew? He stopped talking to her when he learned that she told his wife about the child he fathered in Ottawa, prompting the breakup of his marriage. “All I can say is there will a lot of interaction between them,” she said. “I still think Maggie was right to tell her sister in law the truth. I stand by Maggie’s choice.”
Kay says he makes a very deliberate attempt to give as many Montreal actors jobs as recurring characters or guests. “We are also using a lot of songs from local independent artists,” he says.
You still have time to do some binge watching if you want to catch up before the season premiere.