Published: Wednesday, 05 August 2020 12:03 | Written by Suzanne Marie Lanoue
The first season premiere of Coroner airs tonight on The CW. The hit Canadian series has already aired two seasons up north and will start filming a third season soon.
Serinda Swan (Inhumans, Ballers), a native Canadian herself, was thrilled to star in this drama. She and executive producer Morwyn Brebner spoke to the press July 31st about the show. Because Swan has done a lot of U.S. TV now, her team (agents, etc.) was shocked that she wanted to return to a Canadian series. However, she thought it was "the perfect project to bring my first leading role to the states, because I get to do it with both.”
“I get to have my leading role in Canada and then bring it to the states. So, I'm making it both. So, there's a part of me that is just so excited and proud and believed in the project to be able to do the crossover not only throughout North America, but also the response throughout the world."
There were quite a few changes made from the original book series, written by M.R. Hall, which was set in England. The TV series is set in Toronto, Canada, so there were adjustments for that. For instance, in the book, Jenny Cooper was a solicitor before becoming coroner. That's something that happens in the UK, but not in Canada. She had to be a doctor for the TV show. Also, she was divorced in the novels; in the TV series, she's a widow. While the author was not directly involved with crafting the TV series, he does praise and support the show. Swan was delighted to meet the author last year, saying, "He's so sweet; it's kind of silly."
Brebner, who also brought the ABC hit Rookie Blue from Canada to American TV, described why she fell in love with the character of Jenny Cooper and wanted to develop the series. She felt like she was a real woman. "She's married, she's vulnerable, she's tough, she's experienced trauma in her life, but she just goes forward. She's so fearless while she has really this anxiety that impinges in her daily life all the time, but it doesn't stop her." That really appealed to her, and she felt that the audience would appreciate her as well. She pointed out that it's rare to have a character like that, without a lot of flaws from the trauma.
Swan agreed, adding, "She's a human that happens to be a coroner, not a coroner who happens to be a human."
It's clear that Swan uses every kind of research she can in her acting. For this role, she watched a real autopsy, performed by the late forensic pathologist John Fernandes, who also appeared in the first episode as an extra. Swan said that we should watch for a “nod" to him in the second season as well. She spoke at length about her admiration for Fernandes and his team when they did the autopsy and how it made her feel. Many people would no doubt have been too preoccupied with the smell or the shocking sight of a dead body being opened up, but she developed that kind of connection to the team and the body. She described the way they acted as almost like a ballet; the way they treated the deceased was beautiful. She also read all of the books, which, along with the autopsy, helped her to develop a knowledge of the coroner's job and how she handles her tools.
Brebner also spoke quite a bit about how the city of Toronto is so important in the show, since the real city is such a "multi-cultural vibrant city right now." She credits the show's cinematographer, Samy Inayeh, and director Adrienne Mitchell, for making the city look "visually stunning."
Swan was asked many questions about her character, which she answered. She also spoke about working again for The CW (Smallville was her first U.S. role, as Zatanna). She thinks it's "really exciting" for Coroner to be getting a "broader and broader audience." She feels that the show is very complex, because it addresses not only mysteries and dead bodies, but the relationship between mother and daughter, and about mental illness, and "there's so many human things that we touch upon that it will be really wonderful to see a new audience being introduced to the show."
July 31, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET QUESTION: I wanted to know if the author of the book was involved at all in the series or got to come on set.
MORWYN BREBNER: M.R. Hall is the most wonderful man. He finally got to come on set last year. And Serinda, I don't know what you think, but I found it really thrilling how much he supported the show and loved the show and really even though we've changed many aspects of the show to reflect our context. The show is set in Toronto. The essence of Jenny from his books is really present in the show. And there were crazy things that it all felt really right to have in there. And so, he's been a gem about the show actually.
SERINDA SWAN: Yes, I was so nervous, because it's one of those things where even though she's not a real character, she already had existed. It’s like when I played Anne Bancroft and was so worried about the family. I want to make sure that I'm representing as many aspects as I can. And Jenny Cooper's lived in seven books and is so well fleshed out for him. And I remember waiting and he'd put out a tweet that was praising the show and how much he loved the character, and I cried because I let go of so much stress.
And since then, he's sent little messages back and forth in support, and he's just been really lovely. And I think that's something that you really want to honor as an actor, to make sure that I can split so I can make sure that I'm honoring the pre-existing character but then bringing all of the amazing quirks and idiosyncrasies that Morwyn's written into her and this new world that she lives in. So, it's been really amazing, and it was so wonderful to meet him last year. He's so sweet; it's kind of silly.
QUESTION: Morwyn, what intrigued you about the books that made you want to develop it into a series?
MORWYN BREBNER: Well I was brought two books by Adrienne Mitchell and Janis Lunman of Back Alley Films. And Adrienne is also the executive producer/director on the show, our series director, and she's amazing. And I just love Jenny. I felt she was like a real woman, vibrating, like, the key of life. You know what I mean? Like she's married, she's vulnerable, she's tough, she's experienced trauma in her life, but she just goes forward. She's so fearless while she has really this anxiety that impinges in her daily life all the time, but it doesn't stop her.
And I just felt like she's so weird in this amazingly wonderful way. And I just sort of loved her. And I could feel her, like, alive. And the way that Serinda plays her [it’s] so inspiring to me and to the other writers who work on the show. They're incredible writers, because we can give Serinda any kind of hard, crazy thing to do, and she does it and makes it feel real.
I feel like, for me Jenny, Serinda was saying it's like she feels like a real person, and that's so rare. Sometimes with women, and especially women characters who've experienced trauma, they get retraumatized all the time, or there's a series of character traits or proforma flaws, and Jenny's not like that. She’s very intrepid but she's very just real. I don't know Serinda what you think, but to me it's just her realness.
SERINDA SWAN: Yes, that's the humanity of her. When I read it the first time, I was like, oh she's a human that happens to be a coroner, not a coroner who happens to be a human. And that's so rare to be when you are working on a show that could be, you know, when you look into it, is this a procedure, what is this? What are looking at here?
And then you get into it, and you're like, oh no this is a real person. And she's cracked, but she's not broken, and she's going through trauma, but she's capable. I just loved the dualities that were in her, because I could see them in myself. So yes, once I saw your writing and I saw how you were able to frame this woman, I was like, oh I want to do that that sounds fun.
MORWYN BREBNER: And now it's in the feedback loop, because we watch what Serinda's doing and we're like, oh my God, go here, we could go there. And so, there's this beautiful life that the character has, you know, since Serinda has taken her on and grown her in new directions too, because you've seen new things. Like Serinda's an artist who brings new things to the character. And so, the character, as we go into season 3, the character has grown in really surprising and interesting ways. And that's a gift; that's a gift to us too.
SCIFI VISION: I watched the first two episodes last night and really enjoyed them. My first question's for Serinda. Did you have to do any special training to make your role as a coroner look more authentic?
SERINDA SWAN: I did. I was actually really grateful, because when I went to Morwyn and Adrienne and asked them to see if they could set up the opportunity for me to go see a real autopsy, they jumped right to it. And they didn't think I was weird, and they didn't question it. And they're like, “Yes and we'll join you for support; we'll go.” And I was like, “All right.”
And so, the three of us went and saw an autopsy together, to understand not only biology, but understanding the humanity of it. We had the most incredible pathologist that we worked with [John Fernandes], who we lost to cancer last year. And he's just such a voice and a presence on the show as well.
SERINDA SWAN: …And it's so funny, on the show we kept having to say - there's a nod you'll see within our second season to him, because he is such an incredible presence.
The way in which he always had a hand on the body, the way that he and his entire team respected the decedent, and it was almost like a choreography. Like it was just a beautiful ballet of people respecting and honoring this person. And it was very personal but also very removed. I think it was one of those things where you had to be able to separate the human and the being, otherwise it became very heavy.
And there was a part of me that just came alive there. He was just incredible. And there's this weird part of, like, me as a child, like we're so removed from death as a society now, that to be able to be so close and see and understand my body better and understand - like, when they removed the brain, my brain freaked out. My brain was like, that's me. Like you don't ever see a brain. Maybe on television, but to have that moment -
And so, it was understanding the mechanics behind every movement but also just this beauty of how they treat the decedent. So, it was everything from going and learning about movements and the procedure of it. But then also reading all of the books and looking at really preparing for adding in detrimental health aspects that went along with it as well. She's a very deep character.
So, I wanted to make sure on the job side that I felt really present and ready to be able to drop into this role that she would know, because she was an E.R. doctor beforehand, so she has the ability to be able to handle the tools and understand anatomy. But now she goes from working with the living to working with the dead.
So, there's a bit of a change for her. So, I wanted to make sure that I was a little more familiar with that. And I do that, whether I'm playing a superhero or whether I'm playing a cop or a mother, whatever it is. I really like to make sure I can honor the person that I'm working for.
SCIFI VISION: Thank you. And this is a question for Morwyn. I read in the original books Jenny was a lawyer who became a coroner. Why did you decide to change that for the series?
MORWYN BREBNER: It actually changed because we're trying to keep the show real for our context. The show is set Toronto for Toronto. And in Toronto, in order to be a coroner, you have to be a doctor. And in the UK, you can be a lawyer. So, we changed it for real reasons. But after we changed it, it really just started to resonate. Like it really felt right to us somehow.
There's something about the idea that for Jenny working with the dead is in a way easier for her. She's drawn to it. It's easier in the sense that you start from a point of view where your starting point is definite, and then her goal is to really discover and honor the person who died, find out how they died and speak for them. And she brings this sense of healing that she had as a doctor into the character of the coroner.
And so, it ended up being a very natural choice. And you see, I think you feel that she's healing the dead, and she's also healing herself in a way. And it goes back to sort of a secret in her past that is a spoiler, but it started as a logical choice and became a really organic choice.
SCIFI VISION: All right, thank you.
QUESTION: Morwyn, you've migrated a series to an American network before, Rookie Blue, very successfully. Is there something you must do in development that helps make a Canadian show more tantalizing to a U.S. broadcaster? Is there a common thread? What goes into it that makes you - this is a pretty rare trick, so maybe you could address that.
MORWYN BREBNER: I don't know. Oh my God, that's a really interesting question. I don't know. I don't think there's any big secret. I mean, I feel like they're very different shows. I would say for Coroner, one of the things that we feel, is the show is very specific.
It's set in Toronto for Toronto which is really new for us. And Toronto's such a multi-cultural vibrant city right now. And it really feels like a microcosm of the world. And so, I feel like that travels really well. It travels all over the world, because I think people can recognize themselves in that. And I think the show is beautiful; it's cinematic. The vision that Adrienne Mitchell and Samy Inayeh, our cinematographer, have for the show really stands out, because the show is visually stunning. And so, I don't know.
I think you just always try to make the things the best you can. And then you really hope that other people will resonate. And I think that the specific is universal, like you go into something specific. You try to honor the truth in the thing that you're doing, and then I think that's actually what travels. I don't think there's a formula. The show doesn't have a formula.
You know, it's an incredible performance. I think people love - people want to feel the character; they want to feel the person. And I think, for me, I think all the elements have really come together. It's alchemized very magically in the show.
I wish I could say that I knew some magic, but I think with this show we have an incredible team of filmmakers and artists on the show, and we've made something that we all really believe in and care about. And I'm glad that people are liking that.
QUESTION: Serinda…You’re familiar to American viewers already from Ballers and Smallville and Feud and other projects. But what is it like as a young actress growing up in Vancouver, to be headlining your first American network TV show?
SERINDA SWAN: It's pretty amazing. It's actually funny that it turned out this way, that I went to Canada first to then bring it to the states. And it's an honor to be able to do that. I think it's funny, when I made the decision that I was going back to Canada, my team was sort of like, I'm sorry what? You just finished Ballers, and you were working with Marvel, and you're going to go to Canada.
And I was like, yes, because I believe in this show. And I think Morwyn is very humble. I think a lot of why it's doing the crossover is because of her. That is also part of the reason why I chose this show, because I saw that it had the potential to able to do this.
And I wanted to be a part of the movement that shows Canadian television can compete with the world television. And I think exactly what she's saying about specificity breeds universality. And you look at shows like Shetland. You look at shows that are so specific, like normal people that are telling this very small, very specific story, and yet it is so worldly.
And I think, for a show like this, it wraps it in this coroner story that I think is really surprising. That when you start to watch it, you're like, oh wow this isn't about a coroner; this is about a woman. And I think, for me, I wanted to come back and invest in Canadian television, because that was part of the problem that left. And it was like, you've only made it if you've made it in the States.
And so, for me this is sort of like the perfect project to bring my first leading role to the states, because I get to do it with both. I get to have my leading role in Canada and then bring it to the states. So, I'm making it both. So, there's a part of me that is just so excited and proud and believed in the project to be able to do the crossover, not only throughout North America, but also the response throughout the world.
And that was because I saw the ability to be an artist in this project and not a commodity. And I think sometimes we can confuse what a person looks like for what they can do. And the capacity to be an artist. And so, I think it's been a really beautiful journey for me, and I think just having nominations this year and things like that, it's a very well-rounded experience.
I'm a little nervous. I feel like I'm going back to high school again. I'm like, where am I going to sit at the U.S. table? Who’s going to be my friend? We’re always nervous just reintroducing the character in the show to a new audience. We're really excited to do so, and I'm proud that it is so specifically Canadian and yet seems to be so well received around the world.
QUESTION: Serinda, I want to ask you, this character has two halves really. There's that broken widow, and then there's that procedural character. When you go on set do those days feel the same to you as an actor, or do you have to sort of put on a different approach to those?
SERINDA SWAN: I think it's the same as, like, who I am as a person. Like I can be having an amazing day and have to do an interview, or I can have a terrible day and do an interview. And, you know, probably what's going to be in the interview will be quite similar. And yet my energy or the effort that I have to put in will differ.
For me, I feel that Jenny is so capable in a way that I always get to show up the same. Obviously, I'll physically prepare myself if I'm going to be doing a panic attack, because they really take a lot out of your body to do. So, there're things, like that that I will have to prepare for. But I love that she is so capable. I love that she can have a panic attack and be lying on the floor, and then her phone rings, and she has to pick it up for work.
And I know I've done that where I'm like in the middle of sobbing, and I have to answer my phone, and it's my team. And I'm like, “Hi guys,” and tears go streaming down my face. But we as humans have the capacity to be able to multi-task and compartmentalize our emotions. And so, for her, the interesting thing is that when she loses her husband, in that moment, she has this almost psychotic break where she sees the dog.
And for her and her evolution over the first season, you start to see her relationship with that dog and what that dog means to her, and it's bringing her to the truth. And so, her search for the truth in the first season is very much for others, but it's also for herself. And so that was something the first season that I really had to be cognizant of, was why did she see the dog? What triggers her to see the dog? Has she taken her Ativan? Is she around something that reminds her of her husband? Is she intertwined with her son? And her and her son are just so almost co-dependent, because she was a teen mom, and there's this sort of, like, well who's the parent at times.
So, I think there's so much going on, but there's such a beautiful core of Jenny that is kind of thrashing through all of it just trying to get to the other side. And that's a pretty steady beat of the drum for her, this sort of true hunter and forehead forward and just trying to allow the death of her husband in the unwinding of her life that you see in the first episode.
It's actually releasing something in her that she's been so tightly wound her whole life because of this incident when she was young that we kind of look at over the first season. And so, it's this beautiful unwinding rather than this breaking. And I think that's the beauty of this character. You're not watching a broken woman; you're watching a woman that's actually putting her pieces back together.
QUESTION: This is not the first time you've taken on a character that there's a lot of material you could read about it. Did you feel compelled to read the books before you did this character, or are you afraid sometimes that you may get too much or information that's not going to be used in the character when it comes a script?
SERINDA SWAN: I read the books. I usually do as much research as I can. Like, when I played Medusa, I read as many comic books as I possibly could to the point where I was, like, am I a comic book nerd now? I am deep into you.
But no, I read the books. And when I talked to Morwyn, she was like, yes skim, read, make sure that you have the feeling of it, but then we really want to make sure that she's yours. And so, there's an interesting dynamic there, because it's not just one book, and because it's seven. There are so many people in the UK that just love this book series.
And so, I wanted to make sure that if there was a little Easter egg hidden or some bizarre kick or habit or when she talks about if she was becoming nervous or anxious, that I could pick up as much of that as I could, so that I had a good foundation, and then I could play from there. So, when M.R. Hall was like, “I see her in you,” I was like, “I've done my job. Okay, amazing.” And then all the extra bits got put on top.
Yes, so I'm a bit of an (inaudible) and so I do dive deep into things, but then I do leave room for my own interpretations, and Morwyn and Adrienne are phenomenal. She’s like, “Okay, now one for you. Now play.” And then I just let the inner child and so something super weird, like flip over and hang my head down or make weird noises. Yes, they let me play around which is lovely.
QUESTION: I was watching the first episode with my daughter, and when we got to the scene where they ended up in the back of the truck, her comment was, “Oh, now this seems like a CW show.” Could you talk a little bit about maybe your reaction when you got the news that it would air in this country on that network?
SERINDA SWAN: Yes. I mean for me CW was sort of a place that launched my career in a way. I started off doing - my first guest star, my first big guest star, was on Smallville, and then I came back to CW. And then I think there were like four different shows on CW that I ended up doing.
And (Curren) and (Hikey) that are captain directors out here in Vancouver were just such support systems for me. And so, it was really interesting hearing that we were going back to CW, because it's that network where it's really like a beautiful kind of wide span of people that can watch the shows, whether it's like Jane the Virgin or Riverdale, and now we there's Dead Pixels.
And I think it's just getting a broader and broader audience, because it's really exciting. And to see them bring on the show like us, I was really surprised and really happy to be able to be like, okay let's do this; it's a great platform. And I think it's going to be interesting to see how parents and children react to the show, because we do have great scenes in the back of trucks with very handsome men from Montreal.
And then we have dead bodies, and then we have really complex, beautiful relationships with a mother and [son]. And then we have mental illness. And I think there's so many human things that we touch upon that it will be really wonderful to see a new audience being introduced to the show. I knew I was super excited because Morwyn and I talked about it when it first happened. We're, like, “Guys we're going to the U.S.”