Anna Paquin busts TV stereotypes as Bellevue's flawed female lead

A female lead unlike what we typically see onscreen is what drew Anna Paquin to star in CBC's eerie new crime drama Bellevue.

'Everything that you don't normally get to see in female characters in mainstream TV or films'

'It's both creepy and fascinating:' Anna Paquin's new crime thriller Bellevue

7 years ago
Duration 3:28
Paquin, co-star Shawn Doyle and Bellevue's creators on the eerie new CBC-TV crime drama about a cop who confronts small town secrets and lies after a transgender teen goes missing.

A female lead unlike what we typically see onscreen is what drew Anna Paquin to star in CBC's new crime drama Bellevue

"Annie is kind of everything that you don't normally get to see in female characters in mainstream TV or films," said Paquin, who leads the eerie new series as police detective  Annie Ryder — a single mom who's a bit of a misfit in her community because of a strange and troubled past.

"She makes choices that are a little bit risky and sometimes a bit dangerous, but it all comes from a really deeply, passionately connected place of wanting to do her job and wanting to have justice be served and wanting to take care of her town," the Oscar-winning actress, known for HBO's True Blood and the X-Men films, told CBC News.

"She makes mistakes along the way and that's not something that women on TV get to do without being kind of a bad guy a lot of the time."

Bellevue sees Anna Paquin portray Annie: a dedicated cop and single mother with a troubled personal life, which includes a dysfunctional romance with her sometime-boyfriend and father of her daughter (Allen Leech). (Philippe Bosse)

Show co-creator and writer Jane Maggs describes Annie — who risks her own safety to discover the whereabouts of a missing transgender teen — as "a brazen bull in a china shop, with loving but dysfunctional family relationships."

Instead of "a typical TV stereotype," Maggs said she wanted to create "a strong, unique female lead; someone I might know in life."

So, Annie is a cop with a complicated personal life: she's struggling to come to terms with a dysfunctional romance, her father's suicide 20 years ago, as well as a person who's been stalking her since she was a child. 

The impressive cast includes Allen Leech (Downton Abbey) as Annie's sometime-boyfriend and father of her young daughter, as well as Canadian actor Shawn Doyle (House of Cards) as her boss, the chief of police.

Striving for authenticity

The eight-part series, which features Paquin in almost every scene, is set in a small Ontario town hit with hard times after its mine has closed. Being from a small town herself, it was also important to Maggs that both Bellevue's characters and its portrayal of small town life felt real. 

Anna Paquin appears in nearly every scene of CBC-TV's new drama Bellevue. (Philippe Bosse)

That Sadie O'Neil — the actress who plays Bellevue's missing teen Jesse Sweetland, the town's star hockey player and an NHL hopeful — is transgender herself helps to create a more nuanced portrayal of an already complex character, according to Paquin.

"I don't think there's probably anyone better to embody that than somebody for whom that experience reflects their own," said Paquin, who will also be seen in CBC-TV's upcoming series Alias Grace.

Jesse "isn't the stereotype in any way, shape or form...Just because she is transitioning into being a girl does not mean that she isn't also a really great athlete, that the two are not mutually exclusive, and I like that this kind of show shows the range of human experience."

Bellevue is shot in Quebec, mainly in the town of Thetford, with its slag heap mountains from a defunct asbestos mine. For co-creator and director Adrienne Mitchell, "the hauntingly beautiful asbestos mountains evoke this idea of a looming shadow over the community's life."

The idea was to explore "what it would be like in this kind of a small town if the hockey hero happens to be a person who is grappling with their gender identity," she explained. 

"That kind of [spun] it in an interesting direction and was a lovely echo to explore how a small town deals with differences."

Bellevue debuts on CBC-TV on Monday at 9 p.m. ET.

Bellevue is set in a fictional Canadian town with a defunct mine, but filmed in various locations in Quebec. (Philippe Bosse)