Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness launch their new set-in-Toronto series Shoot the Messenger tonight.
Set in the gritty world of gangs and police, Daisy Channing played by Elyse Levesque is a promising rookie newspaper reporter assigned to her first murder case.
Thing is, she has a personal connection to the shooting of an alleged Somali gang member and to the police detective investigating the case. All signs point to her being in danger, and there seems to be a link to city politicians.
Police detective Kevin Lutz, played by Lyriq Bent, is concerned for her welfare and against his better professional judgement, is starting to fall in love with her.
We spoke to veteran actor Bent (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Rookie Blue) about the groundbreaking fact-based series.
M&C: What impressed you about the script?
Lyriq Bent: I was impressed by it for many reasons. We are telling an incredible crime drama thriller.
It isn’t a stereotypical show where you talk about minorities and gang and drug-related situations.
The creators have gone an extra mile in educating us about the Somali community with respect and understanding and proper research and getting elder Imams in the community and having them come in, bless the set and tell us exactly what to do when something happens in the community.
They come together for guidance from the Imam. When someone dies, he tells us how to deal with the body, how to wash it to present to the afterlife.
These are important and delicate situations that are taken into consideration so viewers are not left with stereotypes. When it comes to minorities, we are careful in our execution and storytelling.
M&C: How authentic would you say the show is in terms of policing, gangs, politics?
LB: I found it very authentic. We didn’t take things for granted and how everyone else does it.
Shoot the Messenger does it with the professionalism of the characters and emotions they were experiencing. It’s not the industry norm.
My character Kevin Lutz is on the scene and knows exactly what to do. He has that internal knowledge of who to go to and how to handle things.
But he is flawed and conflicted.
He’s an intricate character and if he were just doing everything to keep his job and career there would be no emotion. You wouldn’t have a well-rounded character. We were more interested in emotion.
The conflict in which Lutz is having towards the case and this girl he’s fallen for and their relationship changing from friend with benefits to catching feelings is real.
These are real problems and a real world happening to an individual who happens to be a cop.
M&C: A woman leads the story, Daisy, the star reporter, a smart, strong, powerful woman in a pro-feminist context. Please comment.
LB: Have you met the producer Jennifer Holness? She’s smart, powerful and beautiful and has these character qualities.
It’s refreshing to have a character like that on TV. Here we have a woman creator and director who has enough sensibility and emotion to bring that character to life and not make the woman’s emotions like a man, and not so feminine like she’s trying to make a point.
It’s a real story, and that real story is incredible to see on TV. We need more like that to balance ourselves.
Working with Elyse was an incredible honour. She lends her talents 100 per cent and does an amazing job.
You feel for her and are amazed by her and you hurt for her and feel good for her when she triumphs. It’s a real roller-coaster and she is honest and true.
That’s what you want when you work with someone and it’s only possible because they are honest with themselves.
They struggle to be honest, but find enough courage to surrender to the idea of things larger than your own ideas. When you start to have faith in the universe and follow your truth, incredible things can happen.
M&C: How will Kevin change and develop as time goes on?
LB: Kevin’s evolution is that he is always a blank slate in the sense that he opens himself to receive and accept what’s given because that’s the best he can be. In the job, he tries not to judge too much.
He’s guilty of that and knows it, and his journey through the first season is realising that judging limits his ability as a father, lover and cop.
When we get to the second season we’ll see evolution situations that are even more intense because he understands how to handle himself and that’s interesting to me an actor.
I struggle with that element, a cop who walks in and knows everything, and I’m mindful not to have that come off.
M&C: Even the way the show was shot is unusual. Tell me about the night scenes.
LB: Night scenes are a different element because your body and mind are in a different place, not at rest and peace but up at night trying to be creative and bring intensity.
It’s against your soul but the beauty of what we did was block shooting. That’s shooting every episode in every location at once to shoot every single scene that way.
It’s new to a lot of people in Canada but elsewhere it’s the norm. I know personally it’s made me a stronger actor because it forces you to understand your story a lot stronger, the story in general and the characters and what motivates them.
You pay attention to that and keep consistency. If you don’t, then it’s disjointed, episode to episode.
When the actor is operating and firing from that level, there is little room for development.
I’ve block shot on other projects since Shoot the Messenger, and I prefer it because it creates a much stronger sense for me.
M&C: Your work has taken you outside of Canada a lot. Do you want to be able to work here primarily?
LB: Canada is one of my homes. I’m a Jamaica-born Jamaican and always will be. I love Canada and am a Canadian citizen. Every chance I get I come to Canada to shoot and see family and friends.
It’s an incredible country that has taken something so natural to human beings and is a centrepiece for the world to look at — the way we accept rather than tolerate people. It’s just what it is.
When you accept people you want to learn about cultures and embrace people and be a better individual and Canada has done that so well. This is what it is.
I came as an immigrant and saw the evolution of this country and I’m excited to see where we’re going. It has a dear place in my heart for sure.
M&C: It’s great now because there is a lot more work here than there used to be.
LB: Yes there is more work than there was. I know people who have left because there was no career for them. But the landscape has changed a lot and I am keen on bringing awareness to help.
It’s not a one-man thing, it’s a coming together like Jenn and Sudz creating Shoot the Messenger. The CBC created The Book of Negroes. The president at CTV has vision like none other.
All the elements have come together to create an industry. We raise it together and care and nurture and create an environment so talent can stay here.
We are all talented enough to work, we have great crews here. Why not utilise them and make content?
We have the ability to fight through the muck and mess of what Canada was and we’re off that boat and telling stories that resonate with people.
We can make content. Shoot the Messenger is a perfect example. Made by Canadians.
It isn’t colour, it isn’t sports, locale or surface ideas that have been pushed by this industry too long that are bland and boring to the rest of the world.
We have the talent and we can become our own service provider.
Shoot the Messenger, premieres tonight, October 10 on CBC and features Alex Kingston, Lucas Araya Mengesha, Xannan Suleman, Hannah Anderson, Ari Cohen, Nicholas Campbell and with special appearances by The Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson, The Toronto Raptors’ Jamaal Maggiore, and ex-NBA player-turned-television-star Rick Fox.