Learning to cope with big sister Natalie’s (Torri Higginson) terminal cancer diagnosis on This Life is just one of several issues Maggie Lawson (Lauren Lee Smith) is dealing with on the first season of the CBC drama. Not only is she struggling with a role reversal and trying to be there for her older sister, but Maggie is confused and unfulfilled in her professional life, and has a bit of an unconventional personal life.
“For me, it’s something I haven’t seen in Canada in a really long time, and was very excited about the prospects,” actress Smith tells The TV Junkies of playing Maggie. A veteran of a wide variety roles including series The L World, CSI and The Listener, Smith was also excited to portray a bisexual character in such a positive light. Through three episodes, Maggie has been getting closer with couple Simon and Sarah (Dark Matter’s Melissa O’Neil), but may soon find herself drawn more towards one half of the couple.
Smith previewed what’s ahead for Maggie, why her story is an important one to tell, as well as why she’s been enjoying the challenge this role offers.
The TV Junkies: The Lawsons instantly come across on screen as a very real family to viewers. Was that something you guys felt as actors right away as well?
Lauren Lee Smith: Yes, it all worked out so incredibly well. You never know going into a series how the dynamic is going to work but it was just instantaneous with all of us–one big giant love-fest.
My favorite times during the whole season were when we got to do the scenes with all of us together because it really felt like we were a family. Each person has such unique personalities so it’s very authentic and very real. I think I can speak for all of us, but we genuinely enjoyed spending time with each other, so I’m glad that’s coming across on camera.
TTVJ: Maggie has a very close relationship with Natalie and she leans on her for a lot of the stability in her life. That’s obviously going to change given Natalie’s diagnosis, so how will their relationship evolve through the season? LLS: It was really interesting and I was always so curious every script like ‘how will Maggie evolve and deal with this?’ Truthfully, as the season goes on, Maggie just falls deeper and deeper into her own troubles and worries. I think in a sense that’s her way of coping, by turning everything around on herself. I’m hoping if there’s a Season 2 that she grows up a little bit.
We definitely see Maggie spiral down further in the next few episodes. I think by the season finale we see a little bit of a shift in her, but she definitely has a lot more hijinks going on.
TTVJ: So she’s not getting her act together any time soon. LLS: I think in her own way she’s trying and thinks that’s what she’s doing, but ultimately she’s still got a lot of growing up to do.
TTVJ: But a lot of the issues she’s going through, especially professionally and trying to find out what she wants to do, are very relatable when you’re in your 20s or early 30s. LLS: Definitely! I think all of it with Maggie–I’ve tried to find ways to make it real and make it seem feasible. She’s lost though and trying to find her way. She was one of the younger siblings, and I think she was maybe a little bit spoiled, and now she’s having to deal with harsh realities and it’s difficult for her.
TTVJ: Maggie’s professional life is a bit of a mess, but she very much owns her sexuality. What was your reaction when you found out that Maggie would be at the center of this unique three-way relationship? LLS: I think it’s awesome and a really fun storyline. We’re going to see a lot more of Simon (Gianpaolo Venuta) and Sarah. It’s something that they decided to thread through a lot of this first season, which I find super interesting and how she deals with it and how she presents the whole situation to her family. She’s just very unapologetic about the whole thing which is super ballsy.
I really found that playing this character that just doesn’t care, and she really just puts it all out there, is liberating and freeing in a way to get to be this person.
TTVJ: We don’t see many portrayals of bisexual characters on TV, especially Canadian TV, and here Maggie is involved with both a man and woman. Was that aspect of the character and telling that story something that drew you to the role? LLS: I found the whole way that she deals with life in general was something that drew me to the character because it’s pretty far removed from who I am. I am shy and a reserved person and I keep my personal stuff fairly personal, but with Maggie I just felt like with this character, to be someone who’s so open and honest with every aspect of her life–including her sexuality–it’s great to see.
Like you said, I certainly can’t remember seeing a character like this on Canadian television and I was excited the aspect of her love life being portrayed. We’re going to see a lot more of that to come in the next episodes.
TTVJ: It’s been a lot of fun to see Melissa O’Neil as Sarah, a role which is so different from Dark Matter. Can you preview where Maggie and Sarah’s relationship is headed? LLS: We’re definitely going to see a lot more of Maggie and Sarah together. Simon sort of gets the short end of the straw for a little while.
TTVJ: Well it is Melissa O’Neil so that’s understandable. LLS: That’s right! I mean come on! Who could resist her? [laughs]
Their relationship is very interesting because there’s a shift that happens mid season between the three of them. It’s been really fun to see how the Maggie and Sarah relationship has evolved over the course of the season.
TTVJ: Maggie’s parents clearly have some issues with Oliver’s (Kristopher Turner) homosexuality. Will we see any conflict arise over Maggie’s sexual preferences? LLS: We will a little bit. I think it’s funny because with Oliver the struggles come more from Peter’s [MacNeill] character (Gerald Lawson) than from Janet’s [Laine Green] character (Janine Lawson). Janet’s character seems to be more accepting of the whole thing. With Maggie I think what we see is a little bit of the opposite which is strange.
TTVJ: You’ve had a lot of roles on a wide variety of series and I’m just wondering what your favorite was and what’s been unique about playing Maggie that you didn’t have in any of those other parts? LLS: In a way I can take something from almost every role I’ve played. The most important thing for me as an actor is to continue to challenge myself and continuing to think outside the box and not play the same character over and over again. I had just come off The Listener which is a procedural, cop show and then I went on and did Ascension which is also a tough, straight edge character, so I was looking for something completely on the other end of the spectrum. When the script found me and I read it I thought, ‘This is so great and so different from anything I had done,’ especially in the last seven to eight years.
It was a chance to get away from the procedural, which is great in its own right, but to really dig into the emotional aspect of the character. Family dramas are always interesting and what I’m drawn to watching. It’s very relatable and what really drew me to this show.
What do you think of Maggie? Are you enjoying her story thus far? Sound off in the comments below!
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.