Tara Spencer-Nairn plays against type on Saving Hope

Ted Belton
Ted Belton

The Canadian television community is a fairly small, close-knit community, so it’s not surprising to see a familiar face or two show up in new episodes of Saving Hope. This week that familiar face belongs to Tara Spencer-Nairn.

If you don’t recognize Spencer-Nairn from her six year stint as Constable Karen Pelly on Corner Gas, then you need to hand in your Canadian citizenship card right now. I mean seriously, have you been living under an iceberg or something? But all jokes aside, Corner Gas is, and likely always will be, an important part of Canadian TV history and it is hard to find a person within our borders who hasn’t seen at least a few episodes. Corner Gas ended in 2009 and since then Spencer-Nairn has gone on to star in several TV films, play a recurring role on CTV’s The Listener and has guested on several other Canadian shows including Flashpoint and Murdoch Mysteries.

This week she comes to Hope Zion as Janice Fenn, a heroine addicted junkie forced to face her estranged family when they reach out for her help. Spencer-Nairn talked exclusively with The TV Junkies about this challenging role and what it’s like to work in the Canadian TV industry today. Read on to see what she had to say.

The TV Junkies: Most of the viewers are going to recognize you from Corner Gas or The Listener, but this role is quite different from either of those. Is that what drew you to it?

Tara Spencer-Nairn: Oh absolutely. You know I’ll always say the Canadian TV industry is a blessing and a curse, and Corner Gas was such a blessing. I loved that show. I love everything that it ever did for me and I’m forever grateful, and I sometime wish that that show could go on forever, but it is kind of hard to come out from the shadow of that character. So I’m constantly looking for roles that are the opposite and completely different from the characters that people are used to seeing me in. So when this came along I really, really wanted to play this character.

TTVJ: Corner Gas ended almost eight years ago so people should be able to see you in a different role by now don’t you think?

TS-N: Absolutely, but it’s just one of those things. The Canadian TV industry, in the grand scheme of things, is not very big. So it’s not necessarily the audience, it’s just the industry has sort of pigeon holed you and sees you as a certain type of actor and they don’t necessarily remember that you can do other things.

And that’s why I loved this (role). They specifically told me to come in with bed head and zero make-up. It was actually great because at the time my son wasn’t sleeping that well so I had extra big bags. It was actually really fun. A lot of people have a hard time looking ugly on camera but I loved it.

Bell Media
Bell Media

TTVJ: How do you think fans will react to seeing you play such a different character?

TS-N: I hope people will really enjoy it and love it. I really hope that people will appreciate the character and the storyline more than anything, and I hope that I did the character justice.

TTVJ: Did you do anything special to prepare yourself for the role?

TS-N: I continued to not sleep. [laughs] But also David Wellington directed this episode, he’s an amazing director and I just had a hundred percent trust in him. He was awesome–he was so great at getting so much out of his actors. I really am grateful for everything he did for me in this role.

TTVJ: Given the Canadian TV community’s size, had you worked with anyone from Saving Hope before?

TS-N: I haven’t worked with Ben Ayers (Zach) but I’m actually really good friends with him. Our kids are around the same age and we hang out all the time. I’ve worked with Waneta Storms who wrote this episode. I’ve never worked with Michelle Nolden (Dawn) but I absolutely adore her.

It is such a small community and really everyone sort of knows each other. When I first went in to the read through–I mean that is an awesome cast, it is a ridiculously talented cast–and I’m always intimidated when I go in for read throughs, and I got into this read through and I was like ‘I know you,’ and ‘I know you,’ and ‘I know you.’ So I knew that this was going to be fun.

TTVJ: Can you preview your role in the episode?

TS-N: Janice is a junkie, she’s a heroine addict, and many years ago she had a daughter while she was using and obviously could not raise that child, so she gave her up and her sister adopted her. Her daughter doesn’t actually know that I even exist. So we end up in this situation where the daughter has leukemia. My sister is not a match to be her donor because she is not her mother, so my sister is now forced to bring me back in to their world and possibly ruin everything that she has with her daughter. She doesn’t know if I will reveal to the daughter that I am her mother, and then I end up being a match so there’s also the issue of can I get clean for this now or not.

So she is sort of thrust into this position of disappointing her family all over again. I think a lot of people will look at this character and think that she’s a horrible person and she’s done a lot of horrible things in her life, but I saw her more as being really sick and she needs help. I feel sorry for her and sad for her. If she could stop being a junkie than she would but she can’t. She needs help.

TTVJ: Most of your scenes were with Alex. What’s Erica (Durance) like to work with?

TS-N: She is amazing. It just felt so great to go on someone else’s set–because really it is her set–and to have someone that is so generous and so giving and so supportive no matter what, whether she’s on camera or off camera. It was such a pleasure to work with her. And now I understand why that show has been going on for so long. It’s such an amazing, positive, great set to be on. And here she’s a mom too, she’s got her baby on set. She’s got her hands full.

TTVJ: Are you working on anything else right now?

TS-N: Not at this moment. I did a movie for Lifetime back in the spring and that should be out in late November called The Preachers Sin and that’s with J.R. Bourne and an amazingly talented girl from the states called Allie Gonino. The title kind of speaks for itself. A lot of drama happens. A lot of Lifetime twists and turns.

Do you miss Corner Gas? Are you looking forward to seeing Spencer-Nairn in this different role? What else are you looking forward to in this week’s episode of Saving Hope? Let us know in the comments section below!

Tara’s episode of Saving Hope airs Thursday, October 22 at 9pm on CTV.