Quebec crime writer Louise Penny’s debut novel Still Life is being made into a TV movie, with shooting now under way outside Montreal.
The CBC, PDM Entertainment and Attraction Images are filming a two-hour TV movie — the first of a proposed series — centred around Penny’s insightful detective: Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.
Penny had turned down previous offers to option Still Life, the story of a murder in the sleepy Eastern Township village of Three Pines. The book earned her an Arthur Ellis Award for best crime writing in Canada, a Dagger Award in the U.K. and the Anthony, Barry and Dilys Awards in the U.S.
Previously, Penny said, producers had wanted to buy the rights to the characters for a television series.
"As soon as they said that's what they wanted, it was an automatic no," Penny told CBC News from the set of Still Life.
"I just couldn't do that. I couldn't let them do whatever they wanted with these characters: Gamache, Clara, Ruth. These characters really seem alive to me."
However, she agreed to the current project, believing the fictional town of Three Pines and her characters Gamache and Clara (the painter who is a friend of the murder victim) would be effectively created by the production team. Penny, a producer on the upcoming TV movie, insisted on filming in Quebec.
"It's terrifying and it's frightening and I'm trying hard not to hold onto it," she said.
"The first day they were on set — when I saw Nathaniel Parker as Gamache and Kate Hewlett as Clara Morrow, who is actually me — I cried. I couldn't believe they were alive."
'Gamache is a much more laid back guy...He's gentle and he listens. And he doesn't just see, he looks'—Nathaniel Parker on Inspector Armand Gamache
Parker, who plays Inspector Thomas Lynley in the long-running British crime series The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, was cast as Gamache after a marathon search, according to executive producer Phyllis Platt. Though Parker's got the wrong accent, he's warming up to the pace of the series, the Brit said.
"Gamache is a much more laid back guy. He doesn't have the arrogance of Lynley," Parker said.
"He's gentle and he listens. And he doesn't just see, he looks."
Parker added that, at first, he feared he would be playing a character too much like Lynley.
"I went through the verbs and adverbs in the book and in the script....and I found myself coming with a very different catalogue of words to describe him from Lynley," he said.
"After about a week, the worries evaporate about playing the same character."
For Penny, a scene on the actor's audition tape convinced her he could play Gamache.
"There is a scene in it where he has to shoot a dog. And he's got a grey, bristled beard and he is world-weary, handsome in a world-weary way. And he is looking at the dog and he raises his rifle and I know, if Gamache had to shoot his dog, he would look like that."
Penny has now written nine crime novels. Her most recent, The Beautiful Mystery, was named best book of the summer by Publishers Weekly. She's already granted CBC and its fellow producers the rights to film her second novel, Dead Cold, but is holding out to see Still Life onscreen before deciding whether to move forward with the adaptation of her third Gamache instalment, The Cruelest Month.