Women Behind Canadian TV: Kristin Lehman

Rob Daly
Rob Daly

When it comes to playing the intelligent, workaholic Detective Angie Flynn on Motive, actress Kristin Lehman has the utmost confidence in her abilities. But the star of the CTV crime drama, who also serves as one of its producers, recently stepped behind the camera, into some shoes she’s not quite as familiar with, and for the first time directed an episode during the show’s upcoming fourth season. It was a welcome challenge for the actress, who was also recently nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for her Motive performance, and a role that in a lot of ways she was able to easily slide into.

Lehman recently spoke with The TV Junkies about her first time directing as part of our Women Behind Canadian TV series. She also discussed some of the challenges she ran into her first time out and offered up some thoughts on the lack of women in general in director’s chairs on television shows. Finally, having also starred in shows such as The Killing, Prison Break, Judging Amy and Felicity in the U.S., Lehman offered up why she feels so much pride working in the Canadian television industry.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The TV Junkies: You’ve been a producer on Motive for three seasons but what made you want to try your hand at directing this season?

Kristin Lehman: Well first and foremost I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity by a fine group of producers and generous network and showrunner [Dennis Heaton]. But actually it was because the really great crew that I work with kept asking me when I was going to. I said ‘why do you keep asking me that?’ They said ‘well because you do it everyday,’ and I think on some level when you’ve been acting for a really long time, you just absorb narratives in a way, that if you’re eager and keen and really embodying storytelling, it’s a lovely way to stretch the muscles and see what you know.

I was nervous at first, but then I came to understand that I am an actor that absolutely loves the process of television making. It’s partially why I love spending time with the crew, and why I’m married to a director, I like all elements of storytelling. To have the chance to see and test myself at how that would all play out, I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

But I have to tell you at first I was like ‘Really? Dare I do this?’ But I loved it and it was the most collaborative and joyful experience I’ve had in a really long time. I thought was just so outrageously fulfilling.

TTVJ: Did you get to pick which episode you got or were you just assigned one?

KL: For practical purposes, because I’m in every episode, in order for me to get a chance to prep thoroughly, it had to be our very first script. Otherwise, if I’m shooting I can’t be prepping. This being my first time out I really appreciated being able to have as much time with the material as possible.

TTVJ: Is it the season premiere episode then or just the first one that was shot?

KL: It was just the order that we shot and that was great because it was like a reunion. We have an 85% crew return rate on our show which is really high and are such a happy group of people that they want to stay together. It was nice to be heralding the show that everyone came back for but it’ll air as the second episode. It’s a really quiet, character-driven story. I think it stands strongly on its own merits, but it’s not a splashy, grand episode which is what the network wanted as the premiere.

TTVJ: They didn’t throw you in with a bunch of action sequences and say ‘Go!’?

KL: They didn’t, but it’s so funny because Andy Mikita is a director who I love and does a bulk of our episodes and does action very well, watching him tell a quiet story, I came to understand all it’s just in the way you approach it. If it’s approached as a really elemental part of storytelling then it doesn’t have to be so scary. I think I had been imagining that action was a separate part of storytelling, but in fact it has to come from the same truth you’d be imparting to your characters. He’s the one that taught me that. So I feel like I might even dip my toe in there and I wouldn’t shy away from it, largely because he encouraged me to be confident about it.

Bell Media
Bell Media

TTVJ: What were the biggest challenges your first time out directing?

KL: The biggest challenge was allowing myself to feel prepared. I prepared and I prepared and I prepared. I didn’t feel any major panic or major hurdles on set. I just felt like I needed to give myself kindness when I was preparing because I don’t know about you, but I know lots of women who are tremendous overachievers and hard on themselves. It was just a question of preparing with kindness and not with worry. I wanted to prepare because it was also a thorough and wonderful part of the experience, as opposed to ‘Oh my God I’m not good enough. I better prepare.’

There was a little bit of that if I’m honest, but being so prepared allowed me on the day, to face what could’ve been the biggest challenge with grace. You can prepare and have a shot list in mind and block something in your mind and think you know the way it’s going to go, and it never does on the day. So if something wasn’t exactly the way I imagined, it was really great to be able to throw out what I imagined and feel prepared enough that I could meet the collaboration of what our director of photography and camera crew was doing. Same with the actors, I felt like I had to be so thoroughly prepared so I could throw out my preparation and meet the talent of the people in front of me so that it could become its collaborative thing.

TTVJ: Directing is a position where we still lack a lot of women, and obviously you being the star of the show helps get you this opportunity. But why do you think we still have such a hard time getting more women directing television?

KL: When I found out that I had the luxury to be able to do this, I immediately called Helen Shaver who is a long standing friend and an accomplished female director. She mentored me in a way that I was really grateful for as an actress, a friend and a director. I mention that because moving forward I didn’t contemplate the question you’re asking me. I just moved forward as an artist.

It’s kind of a compartmentalized question. I think that culturally and socially we’re not a society that is an equal opportunity environment. I haven’t looked at statistics to know how many women are turned away or turned down or even applying for positions, but I certainly know as a woman moving through the world, that the same opportunities are not afforded to me as they are most white men. That’s everywhere. That’s across the board.

I haven’t looked at the DGC (Director’s Guild of Canada) to see how many women attempt to register. I haven’t actually sat in that many women director’s environments to talk about the challenges that are faced. I certainly think that that arena that we’re talking about isn’t any different than arenas that most women face in the workplace. It’s always a bit of an uphill battle because systemically women are marginalized and can be not afforded the same opportunities as most men. I hope that changes and I’d like that to change.

Many of the people I worked with–mostly men–came to tell me how much that they enjoy–both on a regular basis and enjoyed–working with a female director. I worked hard to see what was different about when I direct and I couldn’t necessarily see. The people I work with all responded to me in the same way that they respond to many of our seasoned male directors. I think the concept of someone being kind, respectful, mature, talented–on our set anyways–is greeted the same way if you’re a man or a woman. But I’ve only had the luxury of being on one set. I had people that wanted to support me and I was working with people that I wanted to support. Maybe I’m better suited to answer that question after I’ve experienced more sets that aren’t perhaps as eager to see me succeed.

Bell Media
Bell Media

TTVJ: Half of the writers in the Motive room this season are women. Was that a conscious decision and how exciting is that for you as a female lead on the show?

KL: That’s more a question for our showrunner Dennis Heaton, but I would say in this case that he hired people who are talented regardless of gender and that’s a very important thing. What it did show is an openness to actually have that be his agenda–to look at the talent.

I have to tell you–and I stand by this–I think Angie Flynn is an incredibly, diverse, well-rounded character and she was created by a man. Daniel Cerone created this character and Dennis Heaton has carried her through, so honestly I don’t feel a difference in the writing when it’s a woman writing Angie’s voice or not because Angie already exists. I think that many of the writers in the room who are women are talented writers and that’s what I see when I read the words. I don’t necessarily hear a female voice versus a male voice. I just see good writers.

TTVJ: Having worked on shows in both Canada and the U.S. What do you enjoy about working in Canadian television and what are some of the biggest differences you’ve noticed between working in the industries in the two countries?

KL: The differences I would say lie purely with me. I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, working in the States and for a long time had a life there. Now my life is a little more back and forth. I’m a seriously patriotic Canadian so I’m so lucky that I’ve been able to build a life south of the border and be that patriotic Canadian actor up here. The real difference for me is when I’m acting on Canadian soil is that this place feeds me in such a way that I feel a real tremendous creative freedom. I have to work a little bit harder to feel that down in the States because I feel like I’m asked to tell stories and archetypes that, at their bedrock, may not be who I am. In this case I get to play a cop who works in Vancouver. Well, I’m an actress working in Vancouver so it couldn’t be closer to me. I might feel different and have to process differently if I’m asked to go down and play a Chicago cop. I’m an actress, I can totally do that, but it’s so lovely to be able to work in the country that I love, in the province I was raised in. That kind of comfort and gratitude on a daily basis–that feeds my soul.

Also, from an industry perspective, Canada is a much smaller industry. We have a tenth of the population of the States so we struggle far harder to have our stories be told and be viewed–maybe that fuels my deep patriotism as well. There’s all kinds of practical differences between the industries here and there. If I look at just from how I feel when I’m working up here, I’m home. When I’m down in the States I feel really lucky and grateful and approach it as a business when I’m down there. It’s just a little different that’s all.

Thoughts? Comments? Sound off below! Read more from our Women Behind Canadian TV series here.

Motive returns for its fourth and final season Tuesday, March 22 on CTV.