Fortunate Son is the breakout hit of the Winter tv lineup. Inspired by a true story, it’s about a mother, an American activist played by Kari Matchett, that is brought into Canada in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War. Stephen Moyer (The Gifted, True Blood) has a grand time playing a CIA agent, and Darren Mann (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Giant Little Ones) is a deserter with a troubled past who also factors into this thrilling and historical ride.
Brief Take sat down with the talented trio at the CBC Winter Media Day in November and the following is a condensed and edited version of an energetic and candid interview with Stephen Moyer, Kari Matchett and Darren Mann of Fortunate Son.
Brief Take: I love Fortunate Son! Had any of you worked together before?
Stephen Moyer [Gestures to Kari Matchett] We knew each other.
Kari Matchett: Yeah.
SM: Just from hanging out and being unemployed in L.A. That’s a joke.
KM: [Laughs] Sort of.
SM: But no, we have a couple of connections, so we’d met, but never worked together.
KM: And actually Patrick [Gallagher], who plays one of the cops, he and I went to National Theatre School together, and Rick Roberts was actually at Theatre School together with us at the same time in Year 3, when we were in Year 1 and I’d done a couple of other projects with Rick, so yeah!
SM: And Patrick was in True Blood as well. There’s a nice little…
Darren Mann: [Genuinely surprised] Really?
DM: No way! You know what’s funny? Patrick’s the only guy I knew.
KM: Oh, is he?
DM: We did Project Blue Book, we did an episode together. That’s funny.
KM: He’s the Kevin Bacon of our world.
BT: What was it like to step back into 1968, the year the show is set in?
SM: So much fun. We were all really excited about that aspect of it and we were talking just now between us about looking in one direction and seeing cell towers for blocks and looking in the other direction and seeing beautiful red brick, and you throw a couple of old cars in there and some people in costume and you’re literally [snaps] sort of transported back to…you know, it comes down to a cellular sort of moving…the way you move as well is different 50 years ago as it is now, it’s really interesting what the costume and the period does I think.
KM: I agree.
DM: Yeah, costume and wardrobe [snaps] instantly kind of drops you into it. Doing that period piece is just so different from your typical, every day life. You feel like you are really in there.
KM: It was such a turbulent time in history that’s always fascinated me. People took to the streets in opposition to this war. People took to the streets about not being okay with racism any more. And people took to the streets for women not having equal rights. It was a very, very ripe alive time that created a lot of change. Some of it hasn’t been complete, [pauses] some of the things politically are still going on, but it was an amazing time in history.
SM: I think that it’s interesting as well that those people who were fighting change and trying to do what would be called “radicalized”, to put it in context then, that would have thought 50 years on that there would be a lot of change, that even though there is incredible change in our lives, there’s some things which are exactly the same. It’s quite depressing that some things are the way that it is.
KM: Yeah. We’re not done yet.
BT: How much do you feel like when doing a historical series that it highlights that many of these issues are recurring?
KM: For me, it resonated incredibly on a very deep level, with the administration that’s in power in the States and what are their interests versus the true interests of the people, and I think that was true at that time in 1968, in the sixties and into the seventies, too. They weren’t thinking about their people, they were thinking about their political interests, about world domination and that hasn’t ended yet, the military-industrial complex is alive and well.
SM: And civil rights atrocities are still at the forefront of activism and the desire to create change and those things still not being recognized by the power elite.
BT: How much did this seem like a Canadian series, seeing as how you have all worked on both sides of the border?
DM: That’s a good question. For me, I would say that it did not feel like a Canadian show. It felt like an American show to me. What did you guys think?
SM: I feel like I’m the giant interloper here. [laughs] In that everybody’s Canadian apart from me. I am being slightly fickle, surprise, surprise. [laughs] It feels like a Canadian show to me, but it deals with an American thematic and a Canadian thematic at the same time. I think that it has a very universal thing and one that can be seen…the lens happens to be across the border in Canada, but I think that the wider scope of it is a global story. I think that will be interesting for people because to what I was drawn is that this story hasn’t been told before and I’m not just talking about draft dodgers, I’m talking about I haven’t seen anything about Vietnam for a long time so that was fascinating. Coming at it from a place of activism was a really interesting focus for the framework of it.
KM: This show, because I think of its extraordinary writing and subject matter, attracted a lot of really interesting actors. On that level, I felt like Canadian or American, the right people were playing these parts and there was an incredible synergy within the cast and the creators and the crew because of that. I feel like this show couldn’t be made in the States, not right now. On that level, it feels like it could only be made here and it is about a particular time in Canadian history when we were allowing draft dodgers to come here. Trudeau said that he opened the borders to them, the customs guards were instructed not to ask about males in this age, so it really is a story that needs to be told, but I just don’t think America, being under the veil of being good patriots and good nationalists…
SM: We wouldn’t be able to make this show, no.
BT: I’m hooked on the show!
KM: That’s nice to hear.
BT: Was it fun to film it?
SM: Yeah, it was.
KM: It was.
DM: I loved the show.
KM: Me too.
DM: And I’ll be honest, while I was watching those first two episodes, I would be so excited for the scenes that I wasn’t in because I had no idea how they went. I would be like: “Oh look, it’s Rick and Kari!”
DM: But what is cool is that I don’t see Kari, I don’t see Steve, I don’t see Rick. Everybody did such a good job in creating real in-depth characters.
SM: I think that it’s a strong piece of work and I think that it’s nice to do a job that’s about something. As actors, you don’t get the opportunity to do that often.
KM: Amen, brother.
KM: I feel that deeply.
DM: And it all starts with Andrew (Wreggitt) and his writing and the depth that he went to with everybody.
KM: Subject matter and characters. He created a complex world.
BT: What sort of reaction would you like to receive for the series?
SM: I hope that it polarizes people in the right way. And what I mean by that is there’s going to be people who feel hopefully strongly….I’m quite left-leaning myself, so I immediately empathize with the family and their predicament and what they’re going through and the sort of ticking bomb aspect of Travis going into their world. But from my point of view, my character is a patriot and he’s trying to do right by his country and trying to get to the bottom of the funnel of people that are leaking out of his country. And there are many patriots, whether they be Canadian or American, who will watch it going: “Well he’s doing the right thing and these people are radicals”, so I think that it is incredibly apt, but it’s also a great piece of entertainment.
KM: The beautiful thing about theatre, television, film, art is that it gives people the opportunity in a less-charged arena, rather than opening up a newspaper or watching the news to look at politics and potentially take them in on an empathetic level, because they are relating to characters that are playing, and maybe just maybe, that might…
SM: …permeate their world.
KM: Work to provoke thought that wasn’t there before and that is the power of what to do, we have the potential for power that way.
BT: You all have done some deeply felt and realized projects that I have very much enjoyed. Does this series continue on similar themes?
SM: Sometimes you’ve got to earn a living and sometimes the confluence happens that you’re earning a living doing something about which you really care. This one felt like that.
SM: It’s quite rare to be…not that we get to do this any more because it’s all email, but I remember times in my earlier career when that script turned up in the brown envelope that you were so excited about what’s going to happen next that you are ripping that envelope open so you can start reading it. And this felt like that, so when those episodes came in, we were all super excited to see what was next happening.
SM: And how Andrew is going to develop this story. That is a visceral feeling which one doesn’t get to have that often and that’s not to belittle any of the previous work that one’s done, it’s just really nice when it does happen that way.
KM: Agreed. Agreed.
BT: Steve, how has your work as a director informed your experience here?
SM: For me, directing is about composition and being objective. As an actor, it’s very microscopic, because one’s in one’s own world and dealing with one’s own issues in relation to the other characters with whom one’s working. And I really enjoy stepping backwards and looking at the world. I’ve been taking photographs my entire life and I love what that frame means and what you are not saying by looking over there. That tells a story which that doesn’t tell and when the camera comes that way, it starts telling that story. It’s about leading an audience towards a story, and for me, that’s another way of the entertainment being told and I really enjoy doing both of them. I don’t ever see myself not doing one of them. And I don’t really see myself acting in things that I direct. When I do that, I like being objective.
BT: What did you like best about working each other?
DM: You know, you can have a great script and everything like that, but it depends on how we all come together. And this show is so special for me and how well I clicked with everybody. I can distinctly remember shooting first scenes, last scenes, everything with everybody and how fun it was to work with everyone, how easy it felt.
DM: And natural. I remember that we started out with that hard scene was our first scene together in the barracks together with those guys.
SM: And we improvised a bit, didn’t we?
SM: I threw some shit at you that you weren’t expecting.
DM: Yeah, and I was like: “This is going to be great, I can tell”. It’s going to be a great ride.
BT: I imagine even reconnecting right now…
SM: We’ve all been kissing and making out.
KM: You know, Gordon Pinsent, one of Canada’s treasures, I was lucky enough to do a series with him almost 20 years ago now. But he said to me, and he was in his sixties when we were working together, he said: “You know, never stop learning. Once you think you got it…” You’re fucked, basically. I think that I learn something in every situation. But sometimes it’s got an edge [chuckles] and sometimes it feels uncomfortable, but there was something so special and a click that happened in this cast that made me feel like if this goes on, and I hope it does, this is a lovely family of which to be a part and I feel like we are making something important.
SM: I completely agree, and I will say this as well, and it sounds a bit glib to say it, but the work ethic and the family feeling of being on a Canadian gig was very, very strong for me. But everybody was great and kind and happy to be there and there was no ego, which just meant that I got to be the asshole.
Fortunate Son premieres tonight at 9pm on CBC and CBC Gem.