Fortunate Son brings complex draft-dodging drama to southern Alberta filming locations
CBC's 8-episode series inspired by producer’s politically active mother fighting against the Vietnam War
Kari Matchett says playing Ruby Howard in the forthcoming CBC production Fortunate Son, an eight-episode spy drama, was a dream role.
"I was absolutely obsessed with playing Ruby from the moment I read the part," Matchett told CBC News as the filming got underway in southern Alberta.
"She is a firebrand, a force of nature. She is one of the women who made changes for other women."
Matchett's talking about the family of Tom Cox, one of the producers of the show, which is set to air in the winter of 2020.
"Tom's mother, Mary Cox, was just a force of nature. Very politically active, very socially active. She helped draft dodgers come across the border, and that's what Ruby does," Matchett explained.
"She's complicated," she said of the character.
"She's balancing the life of a political activist and a mother and a wife. She's made mistakes and she's trying to reconcile them while living her life. It's a layered, flawed, deeply human character."
Producer Tom Cox's family is the inspiration for the show. They lived in California, on the front lines of the Vietnam War protest movement, in the mid-1960s.
"In 1965, my brother turned 18 and was going to go to prison instead of Vietnam and my mother said, 'No, we're all going to go to Canada,'" Cox said.
"We were very much involved in the anti-war movement, to the point where it was more and more difficult for my father to keep his job, because my mom was always in the newspaper. That wasn't liked very much. It was kind of an easy decision for them but it was harder for us kids."
And when Cox approached the man who would later bring the story to life, showrunner Andrew Wreggitt, he loved it.
"The development of the project was almost three years. You start with a pilot and incrementally move it along until you are ready to shoot the show," Wreggitt said.
So far, as the filming begins around Calgary, including Drumheller, Tsuut'ina Nation and High River, Wreggitt says he likes what he sees.
"Television is collaborative. When I write a scene, I image the house and the actors and what it's going to look like. Everyone brings their talent to it and it elevates the show, so it's better than I imagined it."
Among those actors is Zoé de Grand'Maison in the role of Destiny.
"She sees herself as a revolutionary," de Grand'Maison says of her character.
"She has escaped a very conservative upbringing and has decided to live very freely and do her own thing, live out of her car, travel around. She ends up meeting Ralph. They form this instant, almost codependent relationship. I think Destiny is constantly pushing Ralph out of his comfort zone, but he is so infatuated with her that he's willing to do anything and sees her as this almost other-worldly being."
The character is exactly what de Grand'Maison was looking for.
"This role is a dream come true because it's really fun to be transported to another era. I love feeling like I am in the 1960s and kind of feel like I am a hippie at heart, so it's fun to get to explore that side of myself."
Ralph, played by actor Alexandre Nachi, is part of the family that crossed the border into Canada.
"Sometimes he goes a bit overboard to show his mother that he is in the fight too, and that he thinks critically about things," Nachi said of his role.
"He's struggling to find himself, like everybody at that age. He really tries to find a purpose for his life and what he can do to help society. He has such a big heart. He wants to do what's right but he's confused at the same time."
Rick Roberts' character, Ted Howard, is Ruby's husband.
"There is great conflict with other characters, but there is also internal conflict that has to do with the history of the family and his own psyche, his own personality," Roberts said.
"It is so great as an actor, because you get to bring your own life into your character. That's pretty rare. You get to, scene-by-scene, exam your own life, as a parent, as a husband, or somebody who wants to make a difference in the world and the challenges that go along with that."
Director Stefan Schwartz says giving filming locations a 1960s feel was no easy task.
"Everyone has satellite dishes, which weren't around at the time. Every time we shoot outside, we have to bring in period cars, which are beautiful but challenging. When you move into a location you have to affect everything in it."
Schwartz says a lot of work goes into creating a short piece of the final product.
"If a scene is a page long, which is about a minute of screen time, it takes about two, two-and-a-half hours, depending on how complicated it is."
The role of Travis Hunter, a U.S. war veteran, is played by actor Darren Mann.
"It is a tough go for him, as he's battling his PTSD and struggles with Vietnam and just really trying to find his feet again," Mann said.
"I can't imagine kids nowadays getting sent off to war at 20 years old. It would have been really confusing and emotionally challenging, for sure."
And being part of the production, while also challenging, has been a good fit for Mann.
"I loved it. It was perfect. I love doing movies and this was an eight-episode long movie. Really, really well written. I knew that I wanted it and I pushed my managers and agents to get whatever auditions and callbacks."
Meanwhile, Cox says, he hopes viewers will walk away connecting some dots.
"It's to engage and entertain an audience. If you are successful in that, then you have hopefully impart a message or inspire someone in some way," Cox said.
"In this case, that is to draw the comparison between 1968 and today. There are unsettling similarities that we hope an audience will recognize."
The show is also looking for extras in the Calgary area. They are auditioning men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 on Aug. 24 at Hotel Blackfoot from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
With files from Radio-Canada's Louise Moquin and Charlotte Dumoulin