If there’s one thing we know for sure after watching the first few episodes of Little Dog, it’s that the Ross family is a group unlike many others. Their form of “tough love” doesn’t stop at Tommy (Joel Thomas Hynes) either, as we’ve already seen it extend out to the other characters that inhabit the world of the new CBC comedy series. One local in particular, Dr. Vaani Abdeen (Patricia Isaac), has had quite a few run ins with various members of the Ross clan since she’s returned to St. Johns to work in the local Walk-in Clinic. Despite being a former classmate of Tommy who has now blossomed into a successful and confident doctor, Vaani abhors violence and can’t bring herself to be impressed by Tommy’s return to boxing. However, after more and more run ins with the dysfunctional Ross family, she has found herself feeling for the guy.
Vaani, played by Edmonton native Isaac, will see her and Tommy’s past come to haunt them even more when former flames come to visit in “Round Four,” airing Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET on CBC. The TV Junkies recently caught up with Isaac to discuss more about Vaani and Tommy’s past connection and why she enjoys playing such a complex character. Isaac also discussed how Hynes and showrunner Sherry White put a priority on filling the world of the show, in front and behind the camera, full of complex women and her experience of shooting on location in Newfoundland.
The TV Junkies: What did you think when you first heard about Little Dog?
Patricia Issac: When I first learned about the details of the project, I, like most people do, fell for the story of one person’s quest for redemption. Second, I found the script hilarious and have always been a massive fan of smart comedy. But on top of that, I fell for the humanity. No matter what walk of life we come from, we all can relate to the key elements of Little Dog – striving for a dream, battling obstacles – internal and external, dealing with family dynamics, and the desire to love and be loved.
TTVJ: Vaani seems to have a bit of a history with Tommy. What can you tell us about their relationship and about who she is in general?
PI: Vaani and Tommy were classmates in high school. Thing is, Tommy doesn’t quite recognize her at first, as she was something of a mousey outsider back then, and has now become a confident, successful doctor. Vaani remembers him though as Tommy was always kind to her, even when other classmates ignored her. This does not circumvent the fact that Vaani still abhors violence, and is not impressed with Tommy’s return to boxing.
I personally love the complexities of Vaani. She is a smart, confident, straight shooter, yes, but she also has her own internal struggles. Having just left her toxic marriage, Vaani has developed a not particularly positive, way of coping with her stress. In Episode 3, with the surprising help of Ginny Ross (Katharine Isabelle), Vaani finds her voice. I love that we get to see her with her guard down for a moment, open-hearted, fun and honest, beyond the lab coat, with both Ginny, and with Tommy. Her layers and her journey with Tommy, and the entire Ross family are what made Vaani so fulfilling to play.
TTVJ: Tommy has quite a family that seems to come along with him wherever he goes. Will we see Vaani interact with any of the other Rosses and what does she think of them?
PI: Well, since being “re-introduced” to the whole gang in Episode 1, where they ask her what she’s made of herself, whilst standing in her office, watching her medically examine Tommy, Vaani’s connection with Ginny has taken an unexpected path. There will be plenty more interaction with the Rosses throughout the season, and we see her feelings about each of them evolve. She is gracious but holds her ground when dealing with Sylvia, and the more she gets to know his family, the more empathy she has for Tommy.
TTVJ: I found it very surprising that on the surface Little Dog seems to be a very masculine show, but there’s a lot of women behind the scenes and some really great female characters played by you, Katharine, Julia and Ger. Did you find yourself surprised by that as well when you got the script and started working on it?
PI: What a great surprise! Yes and no. I already knew that Joel Hynes was an advocate of strong and interesting female characters, but on top of that, I knew that Sherry White was behind the creation of Little Dog with Joel. And from what I knew of Sherry at the time…well, I knew she was a boss. Not only is she incredibly accomplished, but she’s also a mom and values female friendship and empowerment. Then in my callback with Sherry, I really got to understand their vision for the show, and for Vaani and appreciated that she was so open to conversation about the character – delving into Vaani’s strengths and vulnerabilities.
Once I got to set, it was a gift, but no surprise, to find that there were that many more amazing women in front of and behind the camera, showrunning, producing, directing, writing, dressing, catering and supporting this collective vision.
TTVJ: Along those lines, what was it like being on a show where you have so many women behind the scenes like that as directors, writers, producers and showrunners? Can you feel that female gaze come through to the script as an actor?
PI: Absolutely. Honestly, in a show like this, as you said earlier, that can seem very masculine, an ex-welterweight boxer’s quest for redemption, it may be easy to assume it might have a one-sided, misogynistic lens on it. However, that couldn’t be further from the case. First, that is not what Joel Hynes is about. Second, with a band of brilliant women alongside him behind the scenes, there’s no way it could be. Quite frankly, I felt every character embodied a fascinating balance of masculine and feminine characteristics – or at least what many of us were raised to believe are “masculine” and “feminine” traits. And what a joy that made it for us to work off of each other as actors.
TTVJ: What was it like shooting Little Dog in Newfoundland? Had you ever been or worked there before? What was that experience like?
PI: Newfoundland is something extraordinarily special. I worked there for a while in 2012 and was so excited to see some of my favourite faces again now working on Little Dog. I fell in love with Newfoundland then, but this time was different. It was even better.
I watched the first sunrise for all of North America, as it came up over Cape Spear, while a young woman happened to be playing the violin up there. I sat up on the edge of Signal Hill in the early morning with not a single other soul around…well, at least not a living one. I went whale watching, berry picking and Newfoundland music watching with my castmates, who are now close friends. And this is all on top of the joy that was being on set each day. So yes, to say I will always feel a connection to Newfoundland, is an understatement.
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.