Shawn Doyle has been a part of enough television series over the years to know what he likes and what he doesn’t. The Newfoundland native wasn’t so sure he was ready to sign on for another drama where he played a cop, but after reading the script for CBC’s new mysteries series Bellevue, premiering Monday, February 20 at 9 p.m., Doyle found himself changing his tune and signing on to to play Police Chief Peter Welland. Chief Welland has a complicated and mysterious history with Anna Paquin’s Detective Annie Ryder, more of which will be unveiled throughout the drama’s eight episode first season.
“The show really builds as it goes, both with momentum and also the level of secrets that start to rise to the surface over time and how complex the relationships are,” Doyle recently told The TV Junkies. The mysterious disappearance of a transgender teen from the small blue-collar town drives the series main mystery, but viewers will also get a glimpse into Annie’s past and find out what connection Chief Welland has to that past. Doyle, who has appeared on shows such as Fargo, House of Cards, Covert Affairs and also costars on both The Expanse and Frontier, previewed why he couldn’t let this part pass him by and the special connection he formed with costar Paquin.
The TV Junkies: When I hear names like Anna Paquin, Allen Leech and Adrienne Mitchell [co-creator] attached to a project I’m automatically interested, but what drew you to Bellevue?
Shawn Doyle: When I was first approached about it I wasn’t super excited because I’ve played a lot of police officers and know what it’s like to be an actor on a show that has a lot of police procedure. Those scenes aren’t the most interesting to play for an actor, but it was written by Jane Maggs, who is the sister of Adriana Maggs who I had done a movie with called Grown Up Movie Star with years ago. I then read the scripts and they were really, really strong and so interesting. I could see the potential of all the relationships and in general, I felt like it would be a really interesting show to be a part of it because the potential for it to be deep and complex was there on the page right from the first script. I ended up reading four scripts and I was in, even though at that point they didn’t tell me what was going to happen to my character. So I didn’t really know what was going to take place for Peter in the show, but based on how well it was written to that point I just said ‘OK Jane, I trust you!’
TTVJ: Are you an actor that likes to know the fate of their character or do you prefer learning along the way with the audience?
SD: I think it’s always good to know the endgame because it allows you to plan your trajectory. Whether or not it makes a difference for an audience is up for grabs, but purely from a creative level for me, it’s always more interesting to see how I can layer in certain nuances that lead to that final point. Also I think it’s important, in a certain point in your career, what you’re going to be doing on a show–what kind of material are you going to mine, what are you going to have to give of yourself and are there going to be challenges–because at a certain point there’s no point in committing unless you feel that you’re going to be doing you haven’t done before. As it turns out, that happened on this show in a big way for me, but I took it purely on trust.
TTVJ: And you are playing a police officer here, but why is he different and maybe not the typical cop we’re used to seeing?
SD: Well I do typical police officer things in the show in the first few episodes, but based on the conversations I had with Jane before we started shooting I understood the relationship between myself and Anna Paquin’s Annie was really going to develop and become more complex over time. It was also interesting to me that I took her under my wing and became somewhat of a father figure and mentor to her when she lost her father 20 years ago. There’s a big emotional connection to that time and what happened back then. I understood intuitively that there would be a lot of secrets from that murder 20 years ago that would eventually come to the surface and affect this disappearance. I was very intrigued by how my relationship with Annie would develop and what complications I experienced 20 years ago, and how those would come to the surface in light of this new investigation.
TTVJ: Annie and Peter definitely have an interesting relationship that I’m intrigued to learn more about going forward. However, I worry he’s going to be getting in some trouble because of her.
SD: Well you know when you have a face like this there’s always going to be an element of trouble along the line. [laughs] What was really joyous about this experience creatively was that once we started working together, and Anna and I had a great chemistry together, then Jane was able to write for us. So some of the more dramatic and emotional developments that occur, particularly in the last half, a lot of that was Jane’s inspiration seeing where it could go once she saw us working together. That was exciting that it became a living, breathing thing and that she could add nuance and important plot points to support the work she was seeing from all the actors.
TTVJ: What was it like working with Anna?
SD: She’s super, super committed and professional with her eye always on the ball. She’s really conscientious about the script, continuity and really wanting to make the best show possible. Sometimes you work with actors–I’ve been fortunate to have this happen a lot in my career–where you show up and it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like you’re just talking with one another and there’s an instinctual connection you have with somebody. We just hit it off from the beginning on an acting level and then developed a trust that just got deeper and deeper.
The first scene I did, our director Adrienne Mitchell, who is allergic to nuts, ate something at lunch and had to be rushed to the hospital. She was fine, she got back and we were shooting behind schedule and didn’t have a lot of time for my first scene. It was very dramatic, I was nervous and I had to handle a lot of props in the scene. I was struggling my way through it and Anna started teasing me about it between takes, laughing at me and once she did that I knew it was going to be great.
TTVJ: Right now is a really exciting time for Canadian TV with a lot of really strong, risky and edgy shows coming out right now, especially on CBC. What’s your feeling about that as a veteran of the industry?
SD: I am seeing all these shows on CBC, as well as on Frontier, where we are learning that we don’t have to copy templates, styles or subject matter that is done elsewhere to be successful. I feel that we’re gaining confidence in finding unique stories in this country. The more specific to a place a show can be and more honestly and firmly planted in a location, the more universal appeal it will have because everyone can relate. I’ve never been to Broadchurch but I can certainly identify with what those characters are going through on an emotional level so the show is really compelling because of that. We’re starting to achieve that here in Canada in a big way.
TTVJ: I think a lot comes down to the characters and if they are well written and the performances are great then yes, it can be a specific story but viewers will still relate.
SD: I also feel that we are starting to really own that all kinds of stories can happen in this country. We have every colour here and I’m really excited that we’re starting to show that.
TTVJ: You are always a busy guy, do you have any other upcoming projects?
SD: I do another series called The Expanse and Season 2 is in a matter of days. That’s about all I can do at this point. I’ve been such a lucky guy that I’ve gotten to do all this work. I also do a bit of writing so I’m developing a film with Mark O’Brien of Republic of Doyle and Arrival fame.
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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.