Everyone has secrets and when a major event happens in our lives, it sometimes forces them to be brought to the surface. That’s the case for the Sullivan family in CTV’s new event series The Disappearance, premiering Sunday, October 1 at 9 p.m. ET. Over the course of six episodes, The Disappearance will follow the Sullivan family in the wake of a terrifying family drama that will see them trying to solve the mystery of who took young Anthony Sullivan (Michael Riendeau) while he was out on a scavenger hunt for his birthday.
The Disappearance boasts a strong ensemble cast that includes Emmy®-winner Peter Coyote (E.T.) and Critics’ Choice Television Award-nominee Aden Young (Rectify), Joanne Kelly (Warehouse 13), Camille Sullivan (The Man in the High Castle), Micheline Lanctôt (Unité 9), and Kevin Parent (Café de Flore). Young and Sullivan play Anthony’s parents Helen and Luke, who are sent into a panic when their son mysteriously vanishes. Coyote is the boy’s grandfather Henry Sullivan, a retired judge and prosecutor whose past may be causing trouble for him and his family in the present day.
The Disappearance was written by the Montréal-based writing team of Normand Daneau and Geneviève Simard. All six episodes were directed by Peter Stebbings. Stebbings, who has also directed episodes of Orphan Black, Killjoys and Wynonna Earp, recently spoke exclusively with The TV Junkies. He shared why he was drawn to the series, what viewers can expect to see explored during the season and why it was such a joy working with this strong ensemble cast.
The TV Junkies: The Sullivan family is a pretty complicated bunch that has this huge event, where a child goes missing, happen to them. What can you tell us about the dynamics at work in this series and how it affects each member of the family?
Peter Stebbings: We have a family drama here and what makes the show so good, in my opinion, is the interpersonal dynamics between these people. Regardless of subject matter, what I love is the relationships. For instance, the relationship between Helen and Luke is a relationship that’s not often depicted, one of divorced parents trying to make it work for the sake of the kid. The grandfather is also a really important character and he’s just got this enormous backstory. When making The Disappearance we spent a lot of time talking about the backstory, specifically the grandfather and his wife, Margaret, who died of cancer before the story began. You also have a character like Catherine, who has the dynamic of being the last child and only girl, but also the referee between father and son.
It’s all those things that make the show so good, and it’s these fully drawn characters. It’s those characters that get you hooked as the drama keeps escalating. I don’t know if I have a favorite episode, but I know it’s a little like smoking crack, where you just can’t stop watching it as the mystery unfolds. It’s really about those four characters: Luke, Henry, Helen and Catherine, and what makes it so interesting is what happened before the mystery started.
TTVJ: In watching the episodes I definitely found myself getting pulled into the mystery, and wanting to know what happened next right away. I’m assuming we get a resolution to it by the end of the season?
PS: Why do you assume that? Are you hoping that? [laughs] You want one is what I think you’re saying. I don’t want to give anything away, I really don’t. I think Episodes 5 and 6, will they satisfy you? I can’t answer that, but I will say it’s like a roller coaster.
When I was pitching my vision for the show I also was sent five scripts, and I couldn’t put them down. I kept reading them forward and then going backwards to check if it was even possible. Ideas kept flooding into me as I was reading, and then they left me on the hook with Episode 5. So I know exactly how you feel, and all I’ll say is you will have some sort of satisfaction.
TTVJ: You directed all six of the episodes, which all totaled is really more than a feature film. How do you approach a project like that, and was that part of the appeal for you?
PS: The advantage of having one director do all episodes is that you have a bird’s eye view of how it all looks. You can see the whole thing in your mind’s eye, all six hours of it. So I think the show benefits from a single vision and it’s not uncommon. We’ve seen it before on shows like Cardinal Season 1, and it’s very popular in Montreal where our producers are from. For me it was one of the great pleasures of my life to bring this show to the small screen. Part of that is that you’re curating this beautiful piece of writing from cradle to grave in that you’re establishing the look, you’re curating the story and responsible for all the post production too. The advantage of directing all six episodes is also that you lose a lot of weight because you’re not sleeping.
TTVJ: One luxury for you as a director here is that your cast was so strong, led by Peter Coyote and Aden Young. What is it like for you to get to work with a strong ensemble like that?
PS: This cast was a great pleasure. They are all so different, all so intelligent and all approach the work so differently, but I rarely work with a group of people so committed to a project. Aden had incredible passion and Peter Coyote came to us with such enthusiasm. He’s 75 years old but was bouncing like a little boy when he first arrived to Montreal. He was an exemplar of professionalism. Camille [Sullivan] and Joanne [Kelly] were so lovely, and I’d work with any of these people again at the drop of a hat. There’s also a lot of bit parts, supporting parts, guest stars and even one scene actor roles that were done by the local talent in Montreal that were fantastic.
TTVJ: You’ve also directed shows like Wynonna Earp, Killjoys, Orphan Black, and you’ll be doing an episode of the upcoming Frankie Drake. What do you enjoy most about working in Canadian TV and on some of its best shows?
PS: I love all the casts of those shows you named. If you think of those shows, where else do you see uncompromised, kickass heroines written by women? As a man who grew up with three sisters it feels like a very natural place to hang out. I really do love those characters and I have great joy playing in that sandbox with them. The Disappearance is obviously slightly different and about a patriarchy, but there’s still some very strong females in it. With all the shows you mentioned though, they just have such a great kickass leads, and I love them.
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The Disappearance is a six-part event series that premieres Sunday, October 1 at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.