Cardinal: Why Billy Campbell Couldn’t Pass on this Role

Bell Media
Bell Media

Simply put, Cardinal was an opportunity that actor Billy Campbell couldn’t pass up. Despite the fact that he’d have to film right in the thick of a harsh Canadian winter in Sudbury, Ontario, Campbell, a veteran of shows like The Killing and Once and Again, just knew he had to play Detective John Cardinal in CTV’s adaptation of the Giles Blunt award-winning John Cardinal Mysteries series. Premiering Wednesday, January 25 at 10 p.m. ET, the six episode new series will follow Detective Cardinal as he hunts for a brutal killer in a small Northern Ontario town.

Cardinal is a troubled detective who is brought back to the Homicide Unit after the body of missing 13 year old Katie Pine is discovered. He has a long history with the case, and begins an all-consuming search for Katie’s killer. Cardinal must do all this while dealing with a new partner, Detective Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse, Revenge), who he believes may have a secret agenda. To get a better idea of what to expect from the show, why he was so drawn to the material and what it truly was like filming in the freezing temperatures, The TV Junkies recently spoke with Campbell.


The TV Junkies: You’ve gotten to play a wide variety of roles throughout your career, but what was it about Det. John Cardinal that really made you want to be a part of this project?

Billy Campbell: First and foremost it was the writing. The script was so compelling that I really, really wanted to be a part of it. I have a tendency when I read something to imagine myself as a producer and I always read something with a question in the back of my mind of ‘would I cast myself in the part?’ I instantly saw myself in this part and saw the answer to that question being ‘yes.’ I don’t know why exactly, but I could just see myself in the role so I was really excited about it.

TTVJ: I noticed that the show has a real cable feel to it and it gets pretty dark and graphic at times. Can you just discuss the tone of the show a bit?
BC: What you just said is very true. I think CTV read the writing on the wall and thought to themselves ‘we need to be able to compete in this world where people are doing really interesting, gritty stuff on television.’ They got into it and got the right source material. The books by Giles Blunt are fantastic and I ripped through those after I got the part. Then they went in search of a director and got the one person who is just quintessentially qualified for the job in Daniel Grou. They turned him loose and let us do what needed to be done. I saw it recently for the first time and I was just immensely happy.

Bell Media
Bell Media

TTVJ: With this being only six episodes and given that you block shot the show, did it feel in some ways like you guys were filming a movie instead of a TV series?
BC: It absolutely felt that way, especially with Daniel directing all the episodes. It really felt like we were making a long feature film. It really was, in almost every way, the most fulfilling job I’ve had in 35 years or so.

TTVJ: Weather is a whole other character in the show. While it’s really great as a viewer to watch from under our blankets and see the snow, what was it like for you guys filming?
BC: Well it was pretty damn cold! It was 40 below on the first day of shooting. A few years ago i did a small movie in the Antarctic and I was colder on my first day of shooting in Sudbury than I was in the entire time i was shooting in the Antarctic. But the weather, Canadian shield and Northern Ontario are in a way the main character.

TTVJ: Cardinal has a personal connection to this case. What can you tell us about his history with the Katie Pine case?
BC: It was a case that had been his and he was unable to make any progress. The department took him off it because he went a little sideways and then they ceased to look for the killer. They called the case closed and he has some bad feelings about that. Then of course when they find the young girl in the beginning of the show everyone realizes that he had been onto something. It’s been hanging over him for some time.

TTVJ: Cardinal isn’t too happy about this new partner he’s been assigned. What is the relationship like between Cardinal and Delorme? What was it like working with Karine?
BC: Initially between Cardinal and Delorme things are testy. He doesn’t want to work with her, but then at the same time he gains a begrudging respect to her. However, he also comes to the suspicion that there may be something more going on. She may have ulterior motives for being there working with him.

Working with Karine was one of the best experiences I’ve had working with someone in my entire career. I stood toe to toe with her doing this thing for almost three months and I could see that she was good, but I didn’t realize how good she was until I watched the show. She’s magnificent. I don’t know how she does what she does. I sometimes feel like I just make faces [laughs] with a decent moment every now and then. She just lives and I don’t know how she does it, I really don’t. I’m immensely impressed with her as a human being and as a professional. She’s amazing.


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Cardinal airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on CTV.