This Life: Writer Céleste Parr On Her Emotional First Episode

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This week is one of hard truths for members of the Lawson family on This Life. Matthew (Rick Roberts) realizes that it’s now or never for his marriage with Nicole (Marianne Farley) and he makes one last ditch effort to save things. Elsewhere, Caleb (James Wortherspoon) is faced with letting down Natalie (Torri Higginson) after he starts to second guess his decision to testify against his father. Romy (Julia Scarlett Dan) must also become more independent as she realizes that she’s growing up and Oliver (Kristopher Turner) may not be there for her in the way she’d hoped.

Sunday night’s “Communion” marks the first episode of This Life for writer Céleste Parr, who co-wrote the episode with showrunner Joseph Kay. Parr was new to This Life’s writing staff in Season 2, added after sending a pilot script to Kay with whom she says she “connected with over our our sensibilities on storytelling and the world of the show.” In fact Parr, who previously worked on feature films, calls working on the CBC drama “actually THE best.” She recently spoke with The TV Junkies about her experience writing this week’s episode, getting into the correct mindset for all those emotional scenes and what viewers can expect as the season progresses.


TTVJ: You co-wrote this with Joseph. What was that experience like?

CP: He really gave me room to take a stab at everything and then he’d show me a version of what I wrote, but for the show. When you’re new on a show you have to learn the show and that was a very steep learning curve for me, even in terms of writing for television versus feature films. So he did hold my hand throughout the whole thing.

TTVJ: Was there a character in particular you struggled with? Who did you find easiest to get inside their head?

CP: I instinctively connected with David (Louis Ferreira) almost immediately. I tend to do that with characters who may appear as antagonistic or villainous forces. Every time I see a character that threatens to be perceived as a bad guy, a bad person or someone who does bad things, I always go there and think ‘how can I connect with this person? How can I relate with their choices as a human being?’ I try to show compassion and understanding for them and use that to shape my writing around them. The inverse of that would be characters that I’m very similar to, so in that sense I struggled at first to write for Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith). I was a little judgemental about her and then I realized ‘this is what they call self-loathing.’ So it was being able to get around that mental block of recognizing myself in her.


TTVJ: Some of the voices I love on the show the most are the three kids. On so many other shows the teenage characters come across as nothing but annoying, but these three are always so well-written.

CP: We treat them as people and don’t reduce them to the world of children. We try to understand that even though they are young, they have a very rich emotional landscape and we don’t try to contain that.

TTVJ: This is a pretty emotional episode with a lot of heavy moments. What are those like to write and some of the challenges involved?

CP: When you’re writing them you’re not writing them from a place of ‘this is heavy.’ You’re writing from a place of ‘how can we be as truthful and authentic as possible?’ When everyone else does their work it becomes very emotional for the viewer, but for the writer it’s only heavy in that you’re going to a difficult place in your head and heart for each character. But there’s an electricity and energy that comes from that so it doesn’t feel heavy at all. It feels alive and vivid and energizing actually.

TTVJ: This is a big episode for the fate of Matthew’s marriage. Can you preview what he’s facing this week?

CP: Matthew has been flailing to keep his sandcast from crumbling. In “Communion” he has to face what everyone else already knows, which is that his life as he knew it is over. He and Nicole have to find a way to mourn their previous life and relationship, which let’s face it, was deeply flawed and compromised a long time ago. Now they have to look the future squarely in the eyes and it doesn’t look like anything they’ve known before.


TTVJ: Caleb is supposed to testify against David this week for Natalie. Why is he feeling so conflicted about that decision?

CP: Caleb is coming into his own and he has to face that what he believes to be right doesn’t correspond to what Natalie believes. For him to assert himself may mean that he has to do something he’s never allowed himself to do before, and that’s letting his mother down.

TTVJ: Oliver and Romy are one of my favorite relationships on the show, but he decided he wasn’t going to take her in should something happen to Natalie. How will that affect their relationship going forward?

CP: Romy doesn’t have the full picture for what’s going on with Oliver. We see her recognizing that she has no options now and the only option is herself–to learn to stand on her own two feet and pave her own way. She’s doing that from a place of heartbreak since Oliver let her down, but in going down that road she’s going to become more independent. As she starts to understand why Oliver did what he did, why he made the choice he made, then she’s going to have understanding for him in a way a child expects people to have understanding for them. Part of growing from a child to young adult is learning to have compassion and understanding for the people that have let you down.


Share your thoughts on Season 2 of This Life in the comments below!

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

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