Da Vinci's Inquest producer/director Chris Haddock took two high-profile Gemini awards last night -- proof that he's built a strong case for his "long story."
Alex Strachan, Sun Television Critic Vancouver Sun
Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun / CHRIS HADDOCK: The winner of Geminis Awards for series co-producer and as the co-writer of an episode, he sees Da Vinci's Inquest as a work-in-progress.
Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun / NICHOLAS CAMPBELL: In his second season, the Da Vinci's Inquest star is playing his character as "a fully functioning adult," says Haddock.
In a damp mist, broken by the occasional gust of late-autumn wind, Chris Haddock pulls his rainslicker tight around his throat and joins his crew for a hot catered meal behind a warehouse in New Westminster.
It is the last day of filming for Da Vinci's Inquest's second season, just days before the show will be crowned with a Gemini Award as the best dramatic series in Canadian television. Actor Callum Keith Rennie is playing with his 14-week-old bull terrier pup Alberta, her tail wagging so hard it seems it might come off. Matt Frewer, former Max Headroom talking head and guest star for this final episode of Da Vinci's Inquest, is holding council at one of the picnic tables that has been hastily assembled under a tent, away from the wind.
Producer Tom Braidwood, who laboured for five years as The X-Files' first assistant director and occasional actor on the show, playing computer ubergeek Frohike, wrestles with a pair of tight-fitting work boots in his trailer. Braidwood is directing this episode. On The X-Files, he was a serf. On Da Vinci's Inquest, he is one of the bosses.
"I think now, thanks to the CBC and the way the show is respected as a benchmark for good drama in Canada, that it'll be around at least for a couple more years," Haddock says, passing off some script notes to Braidwood who checks them briefly, grunts, makes some notes of his own and steps out into the rain.
Da Vinci's Inquest may have won the Gemini for its first season, but this season has been stronger by half, Haddock says. "A lot of network executives will say they want a show that anybody can come to for the first time and understand exactly what's going on," Haddock says. "That's like asking somebody to pick up a good novel in the 10th chapter and know exactly what's going on.
"That's not how I look at what I'm doing here. [Da Vinci's Inquest] is really a long story. It's better to go back to the beginning rather than pick it up at chapter five. That's not the way television generally works, but in my mind I'm trying to do something different. There's so much television out there that is genre television, as we are, where the audience is knowledgeable enough to guess what's going to happen next. You have to be canny in the way you tell your stories because so many of these stories have been told so many times. I'm just trying to raise the game all the time."
In its second season of Da Vinci's Inquest, based on the case files of fictional Vancouver coroner Dominic Da Vinci (veteran Toronto character actor Nicholas Campbell) has focused on the shades of grey between individual freedoms and social responsibility. The shortened Canadian season of 13 weeks means that just 26 episodes have been made in all -- the equivalent of a single season for a U.S. series. Haddock sees Da Vinci as a work-inprogress.
"It's ridiculous for people to expect a show to come out fully formed. It's not in the nature of television. You might come up with something adequate right out of the box. Or you might even come up with something that's brilliant right out of the box, but that's rare and it usually applies to a one-off, like Prime Suspect or Cracker."
Haddock was gratified by the Gemini nomination for Donnelly Rhodes -- who has paid his dues with little or no recognition over the years, Haddock says -- but notes that it is the entire ensemble cast that makes Da Vinci the case study in cohesion that it is. Campbell has gone out of his way to support day players, Haddock notes, and is generous enough to defer to another actor if the scene calls for it.
"I threw a challenge at Nick between seasons to show that his character, who was loose and fiery at the beginning, has gone through some growth as a person. He's going through that middle-aged wasteland where a person wonders whether they are going to change and accept some of the compromises that middle age brings, such as realizing that shouting against the storm is not an effective strategy for dealing with life.
"The character is beginning to think about the way he treats people. He has become a fully functioning adult. He has come to understand that he is going to have to effect some change in his life if he is going to be the person he believes he is.
"Nick thought about it for a while and came through in a very subtle way. He had the courage to do that. He is secure enough as a performer to realize that he doesn't have to top out in every scene."
Supporting players Sarah Strange, Jewel Staite and Venus Terzo could step into another series as leads and seize the moment without hesitation, Haddock says. Ian Tracey, a Gemini Award winner Sunday for Milgaard, is one of the more subtle performers of his generation. And then there is Rennie, who came in out of the blue and floored Haddock with his quiet demeanor and soft-spoken, deeply layered delivery. Tracey and Rennie are cut from a similar cloth, Haddock says -- when they appear in scenes together, the words practically fly off the page.
Back in his trailer, away from the wind and rain, Rennie takes time to reflect. He has a quiet, offhand way of sliding in a quip when least expected and is unblinkingly honest about his own life, which has taken some strange turns over the years. He has been living in Los Angeles, taking the occasional film role, but his experience as a recurring player on Da Vinci's Inquest has been unlike anything he has done to date. "It's written so well that you just get out of the way," Rennie says quietly. "It's put together on a shoestring so it has that wonderful feeling where everybody is pulling together to make it work."
Rennie says, half-jokingly, that his ambition is to "rake in great piles of money," but he allows that he is comfortable working in a quality production like Da Vinci where he can grow as a performer and learn from seasoned professionals like Campbell and Rhodes. "There is always this perception that you want to shoot for the top, but I think there's this great place to shoot for the middle and get consistent work and try different things and do the work you want to do with the kind of people you want to do it with," Rennie says.
Making Da Vinci has not exactly been a day at the beach, though most of Haddock's problems have been with financiers, network executives and government bureaucrats rather than with the people involved in the hands-on work of mounting a complex production in frightful weather. "The Canadian audience deserves to be told its own stories and develop its sense of the Canadian landscape and character," Haddock says. "If it needs subsidizing, then so be it. That's what the rest of the world is turning to, in an effort not to be overwhelmed by a purely American way of looking at things.
"I really think there has to be continued support, and even increased support, from Canadian broadcasters. They can't just stay with American programming because it brings them higher numbers. A lot of those broadcasters won licences by making promises, both moral and legal, to provide worthwhile Canadian content. They shouldn't just be able to turn their back on that."
For Campbell, Da Vinci's Inquest has been nothing short of a revelation. On this last day of shooting, he is cleaning out the west Burnaby home he has rented for the five months of filming and is already looking ahead to his return in the spring. His own dog, Rocky, also a bull terrier, slumps sleepily on the kitchen floor while Campbell waxes on about Da Vinci, Haddock, Tracey, Rennie and the inscrutable Vancouver Canucks, among other topics.
"The whole television business is about more money, more money, more money," Campbell says. "That's what's so refreshing about this show. Sometimes, when you don't have any money to spend, you come up with better ideas. Usually, in this business, it's 'Let's get this thing shot and go home.' Nobody wants to go home on this show. It's fantastic."
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ETA: There's actually not a lot about CKR in this article, but I decided to post it anyway, because it's not very well known and I like what he has to say. And because it's about Da Vinci's Inquest. (And, you know, I am the boss here, so I will totally change the rules if I feel like it. Ahem.)