While her Rookie Blue character, Detective Traci Nash may have had a big episode a couple weeks back, actress Enuka Okuma is about to take centre stage in a different way. She co-wrote this week’s episode of the Canadian cop drama with Adriana Maggs. “The timing of that was totally crazy because when we were shooting the Traci episode is when we were starting to write,” Okuma tells The TV Junkies.
“Best Man” sees Sam (Ben Bass) and Andy (Missy Peregrym) work together to clear Oliver’s (Matthew Gordon) name when all evidence points at him as the source of corruption within 15 Division. Okuma spoke with The TV Junkies about the challenge of writing an episode, how the opportunity came about, as well as simultaneously filming the Traci-centric episode while trying to write another one. “I’ve never been so busy in my life. It was crazy but it was so worth it and it was so great,” she says.
The TV Junkies: How did the opportunity to write an episode of Rookie Blue come about? What’s your history with writing?
Enuka Okuma: I had written and directed a short film [Cookie] that I produced as well a couple years ago. That was the beginning and I’ve been writing on my own for a few years but nothing that had been received by the world yet. Rookie Blue is a real family and we all share interests–Greg [Smith] is definitely interested in directing and producing so he was given that opportunity early on.
I just started hanging around with the writers a little bit, just weaseling my way in. As early as Season 3 I was sitting in occasionally in the writers’ room and it increased as my interest increased. They were really open to the idea that I proposed to them. I wrote a spec script of Mad Men which is my favourite show, and once I presented that to them they thankfully liked it and invited me to co-write with Adriana [Maggs]. So that was quite a triumphant moment and I was pleased. It wasn’t just because I was Enuka and hanging around and bugging them, but they read my work and they liked it and brought me on board. It was awesome and a really great feeling.
TTVJ: You mentioned Greg and he always seems to get these crazy episodes with a lot of action and characters when he directs. Now we have you writing a major episode that involves a fan favourite character in Oliver and you have to address the corruption storyline. Were you nervous having to deal with such major stories your first time out?
EO: You know what? I was really excited to deal with major plot lines especially because I had a very different perspective from all the writers in the room. I’ve been with the show from the beginning, which some of the writers actually hadn’t, and I’ve been living and breathing this character and living and breathing with the other characters for so long. I kind of felt like I had a bit of an edge over them. I jumped right in full force. It’s funny because we have these major story arcs that go throughout the season but we don’t always concentrate on them in every episode. But this episode came toward the end of the season and it was a big one. It’s big. I did have help though working with Adriana.
TTVJ: What was that process like for you two? Have you worked with writing partners before?
EO: My first time out it was essential and Adriana is one of the best writers in that country [Canada]. She is so talented and she just took me under her wing and was really open and she taught me a lot. I was fortunate to be able to work with her to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
TTVJ: There’s a child that goes missing in the episode who is on the Autism spectrum. Was there any reason behind that storyline? Do you have any personal connection to Autism?
EO: No, there was nothing particularly personal but everyone spoke of having a connection in some way to someone who has Autism. Unfortunately in this day and age almost everyone in that room seemed to have a connection to someone. One of our producers on the show has a son that is affected as well. It was close in that sense but we also read a lot and did a lot of research and knew that this was behavior that could be typical of someone on the spectrum. It was a little combination of who you know and what you research.
TTVJ: What was it like writing for Traci and then acting out the scenes you had written?
EO: It was odd. It was really odd. When I wrote and directed my short film I gave myself a small part in it as well. I didn’t like that day I had to act and I had to direct and I was a producer and it was something I had written. It’s just too many hats. Not for everyone, some people can do it well but I always feel like all the jobs suffer if I’m trying to do everything at once.
So the days that I was Traci it was just weird because there’s invariably always a question that comes up for the writer. So when you’re the writer for the episode you’re on set the whole time. When I wasn’t acting I was behind the monitors with the directors and everybody. But on the days I was acting, if a question came up for the writer people would come up to me and I’d be trying to work on my own stuff—I was compartmentalizing my brain. It was fun too and neat to have a different challenge at work.
TTVJ: Do you plan on writing more in the future and if Rookie Blue got a Season 7 would you be up for writing another episode?
EO: Oh most definitely. I had a blast and there’s nothing better than writing for a character that you truly know which is the case on Rookie Blue for me. If that opportunity came up again I would jump at that chance. I continue to write on my own. There’s lots of little irons in the fire right now so we’ll see what transpires.
TTVJ: Going back to the episode where Traci got kidnapped. That was a very emotional and physically demanding episode. How did you prepare yourself for it? How much of the fight scenes did you film?
EO: It’s funny because I was working so much on the writing aspect of things so when that episode came up it was kind of a shock to me. Being a detective Traci isn’t out in the field as much as the other cops these days so my workload is kind of light. So when this became a Traci-centric episode it was like, ‘Oh OK here we go,’ and I wasn’t really prepared for it at all. But I just jumped right in and didn’t have much time to prepare. For the whole 7 days of shooting and a few days prior was the stage combat work, a lot of choreography for the fight stuff. I did a fair bit of it. We had a stunt double who is fabulous but I haven’t seen it.
TTVJ: Oh it was good! Trust us it was good.
EO: [Laughs] Well that’s good to hear. I can’t wait to see it. I’m so stoked because it was really fun and different from anything I’ve ever done on Rookie Blue. That was the best part about it. The actual action and getting to play all these angles and trying to get the kidnapper to break—it was cool. It was neat to see a different side of the detective—get to see a vulnerable side, a kickass fighting warrior side.
TTVJ: Some of the scenes were really scary though. What were those like to film and are you always looking in the back seat of your car now?
EO: I’m not going to lie I did for a minute in time there look at the backseat of my car. I did. There was a lot of setup and the ties that they use, they tie them in this way that it looks like it’s bound you but it’s really loose. So none of that hurt and the whole crew is crammed around the corner and you can hear everybody breathing and trying not to laugh. So it wasn’t scary, especially since the actor [Will Bowes] I played with was such a sweetheart.
It’s so funny because like Gail can be such a prickly, nasty person and Charlotte [Sullivan] is like the greatest girl you’ll ever meet. It’s just funny—I guess that’s the world of make believe. He was really wonderful so we had good communication and laughter which made it easy to go those dark, awful places and play off of one another. So I was thankful for him.
TTVJ: You and Charlotte have been kidnapped, Missy was attacked earlier this season, so should Priscilla [Faia] and Erin [Karpluk] worry about their characters if there’s a Season 7?
EO: They should! [Laughs] Missy’s actually been attacked a lot. She got locked in that storage locker with the Army guy, that was scary. I had a friend that was like, ‘I love you Enuka but I can’t watch the show anymore. It’s too scary.’
TTVJ: And you said well check out this Traci episode!
EO: My best friend texted me and she was just like, ‘You didn’t warn me about that! I can’t watch it. I can’t watch it.’ I have never felt that but I remember when I saw Missy and Adam’s [Macdonald] movie Backcountry—Oh my Lord! Seeing Missy in distress like that was horrible! Just horrible! It’s funny, I’m an actor I should know better but it was hard to see my friend go through that. So I get it when people say that about me now.
TTVJ: If there is a Season 7 of Rookie Blue what do you hope to see for Traci? Is there anything you would like to see for her character that you haven’t done with her yet?
EO: You know what we’ve really run the gamut with her and it’d be nice to see her in much more of a control position. She’s been a detective now for a long time and maybe if she could take over some stuff. That’d be cool to see. I wonder what the next step is for her. She’s gone through a lot on that show.
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Rookie Blue airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Global in Canada and Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC in the U.S.