Culture

Life (and death) with Coroner's Serinda Swan: How the star prepped for a role she says isn't really so dark

She shares what the vibe around a real autopsy is like and why she loves playing 'a hot mess' — no judgments.

She shares what the vibe around a real autopsy is like and why she loves playing 'a hot mess' — no judgments

Serinda Swan as Dr. Jenny Cooper in Coroner. (CBC)

Death is at the forefront of Coroner, CBC's latest drama. Actor Serinda Swan signed up to play a character whose days are spent investigating deaths, is dealing with the recent death of her husband, and takes care of an autopsy or two in between. Despite that, Swan reassures us that the show isn't actually as dark as it may seem, nor is it as taxing as it may seem to take on this role. "It's death and life," she explained; the show is "surrounded by death, but [it's] really about life and humanity."

To prepare for the role, beyond reading the books by M.R. Hall which the series is based on, Swan consumed books about death and coroners, and also read up on anxiety and watched panic attacks unfold on YouTube — the character, Jenny Cooper, suffers from both conditions. She credits the day she spent observing a real autopsy with helping to confirm that her on-screen workplace would need to feel like a real workplace. Contrary to popular belief, it's not a world of "weird people and rats in jars," she says, adding "it's not this sort of morose thing". Instead, observing a real-life pathologist at work helped to solidify that it is, simply, a job; a radio played in the background, and colleagues around, worked.

The thoughtfulness of the process also struck her. "It was done with so much dignity and care. There was nothing … that was within the human anatomy was gross to them. There was nothing that was wrong or right. There were no opinions, there were no judgements. And there was the separation between human and being." She elaborated by saying that it wasn't until she saw the name of the deceased at the end of the procedure, that she experienced emotion: "That's when suddenly the human and the being crashed together," she admitted, "and I was like whoa because it was the trauma, the story, the family, the sadness."

Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan) and Bryan De Silva (Nigel Bennett) work together on murder victim. (Photo: Steve Wilkie)

"She's a human who happens to be a coroner. Not a coroner who happens to be a human," Swan says of Dr. Cooper. It was "the opportunity to really dig deep into a character and show not just her job, but also her humanity, her imperfections, her as a mother, her as an ER doctor, as a coroner, as a doctor as a wife, as a hot mess — at all these things. And not with judgement." Her character is intent on seeking truth and speaking for the dead — even if it's not what people want to hear. "I love playing a shit disturber," Swan laughed.

The finale of Coroner airs this Monday, February 22 at 9 p.m. (9:30 p.m. NT), or you can stream it anytime on Gem. Check out our rapid fire interview with the Canadian TV star below.

Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan) tries to pull it together in the alley. (Photo: Steve Wilkie)

Life with Serinda Swan

We know how Dr. Jenny Cooper feels about pineapple on pizza. What are your personal thoughts? Yay or nay? So much yay... the more the better. I like pizza with my pineapple.

What's the best thing you ate in recent memory? There's a place called Robata JINYA that's beside my place in Los Angeles and they have the best vegan ramen in the world — I love it so much. That, or the cacio e pepe pizza at La Palma here [in Toronto].

What's your desert island beauty product? Sunscreen.

Favourite thing to do with your downtime? Go out into nature with my dog. Just go on a roadtrip or an adventure somewhere. Or read.

You have an entire weekend to binge watch something. What's it gonna be? Previous binge watching: I was obsessed with Peaky Blinders. Right now I'm on a Nurse Jackie binge because it's kind of parallel to what I'm doing. I just binge watched Sex Education. […] And I want to watch Killing Eve.

Do you have any nicknames? In high school people called me Swanny or Swanita. And then for a while, people called me Surrey. But if you're from Vancouver, back in the day, Surrey used to be a place people would make fun of, so I was like "you can't call me Surrey". But now it's fine, I love Surrey.

What makes you nervous? Being judged.

What's the trait you admire most in others? Honesty.

Favourite word right now? Right now my favourite word is saponification because I just love that I know it, thanks to the show. [...] If the body decomposes in moist or wet conditions, the fat can actually transfer through the skin and form a soap-like film on the top, which preserves the tissues underneath. Which, if you're a coroner or pathologist, is actually an amazing thing because it means that the tissues are preserved so that you can figure out the cause of death easier. So the body is saponified, or it's the process of saponification. I love that word.

Favourite phrase right now? Everybody says this, but I always say "at the end of the day"... "I mean, at the end of the day…"

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Brittany is a Toronto-based writer and digital producer. You can follow her (mostly her dogs) on Instagram.

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