(Courtesy of WGN America)
In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, Adrienne Mitchell discusses setting the director’s tone and vision as co-creator and co-showrunner for WGN America’s mystery drama, Bellevue. The compelling Canadian drama meets with US audiences in part three of the riveting eight-part crime/procedural series.
In our recent recap, Bellevue takes place in a small town with big secrets. 20 years ago, the murder of a young woman traumatized the community. Now when a high school hockey star goes missing, all signs point to foul play. After claiming a new victim, has the killer returned to terrorize detective Annie Ryder (Paquin) once again?
Before an all-new episode airs Tuesday February 6th, 2018, Mitchell discusses setting the groundwork for the pilot, what we both love about Anna Paquin, and what viewers should expect from the mysterious riddles.
Villain Media: What I love about the show is how the arc blends crime, mystery, high school drama, while diving into a social commentary about toxic male masculinity. Tell me how you and Jane Maggs came up with the project?
Adrienne Mitchell: It all started with a script she had written about these characters. Her voice was so exciting! I have to work with her on this! We then spent a year developing the material and reworking the pilot; building the world of the show. At the time, we did get the sense that people we knew were experiencing and exploring gender identity. We thought that would be an interesting idea to look into a series with. There is a lot more people aware of intolerance, people’s homophobia and transphobia. What we wanted to do in the series is to look at how we are intolerant of people we deem are different than we are, in a way that frightens us. Those cycles can repeat over years and years because people in communities turn a blind eye to these things. We really wanted to look at that in a series and Bellevue was born.
VM: Tell me about Anna Paquin, who not only plays detective Annie Ryder, she is also the executive producer.
AM: I love Anna Paquin! What’s not to love! Talented! Vibrant! Passionate! Extremely smart! As a director, I love working with actors who are really passionate and invested! She never left the set when she was not shooting there! She was asking questions! An amazing collaborator! She was a support system for the rest of the cast; and they to her. It was a wonderful dynamic that we had!
Working with Anna on the scripts, and working with her on developing her character, giving her feedback, it just made everything stronger and the whole process enriching. What can I say, I just love her! What’s not love! She’s amazing! [Laughs]
She loves the series and really believes in it! She’s out there promoting it all the time! It’s really amazing to have that kind of partner!
— Bellevue (@BellevueWGNA) February 5, 2018
VM: Annie Ryder racks her brains trying to solve these mysterious riddles. Were these brain-teasing riddles the most challenging to come up with?
AM: They were really challenging! Oh my gosh! [Laughs] We were going to stab our eyes out at some point! Because not only did they have to be riddles, they’re written by someone who has a unique and complicated story to tell. So to make that all work, it was really challenging! Certainly I think I formed some more brains as a result of doing this! It was challenging but quite exciting to do as well!
VM: Tell me about Madison Ferguson, who plays Daisy Ryder. Daisy’s a troubled kid but there’s strength inside her to face her own issues.
AM: Yes! This is is a very talented young lady! She is a very smart actor! It’s literally interesting because she’s 11 years old. We were trying to capture in that character someone who is still a kid, but someone who is alone a lot. On some levels, she doesn’t have conventional parents. She does have to grow up. That was an interesting struggle for her.
She is quite grown up for an 11-year old! She’s wears makeup! She looks five years older. Sometimes, she would tell me, “I would never dress up like Daisy! I have the really cool fashion kind of thing going on!”
We would talk about the fact that her character is not a city kid. Daisy is not 11-years-old going on 20. Daisy is in that transitional phase! One of her main challenges, which I think she performed beautifully, was portray an 11-year-old that was a true 11-year-old; even though she herself was an 11-year-old going on 16.
VM: I’ve been seeing a trend in directors helming every episode, including True Detective and the recent Twin Peaks revival. Was it a challenge sharing duties with directors April Mullen (who helms the third episode on February 6th) and Kim Nguyen?
AM: No not at all! First of all, I’ve been living with this series for two years before production. We all worked together. We all have a strong vibe and creative idea of what we want to do. I set the tone. They come in and they know the tone we’re setting. They know they can explore their own stuff. Jane is there on set.Our amazing DP, Eric Cayla, is creating continuity and the actors!
What I set forth as a director was really for everyone, including the new directors, to carry forward. I think it’s important that we give other directors opportunities. I want to encourage female directors.
Kim was part of the feature world and he wanted to jump into the TV world. This was a cinematic series for him. And I think it fits! There is totally a model to do that. It’s important to do that because more directors get opportunities. If you do it in a way where you bring everyone in the beginning, and you already set the vision with the first two episodes, and I directed the last two, they have a sense of what the visual vocabulary is. We’re all a team. It worked really well!
— Bellevue (@BellevueWGNA) February 4, 2018
VM: Looking back, how did Bellevue change you as a storyteller?
AM: Okay…let me just think about this! [Laughs] It’s important for me to tell stories that are authentic. I think what this did, I don’t think it changed me as a storyteller, I think it cemented my creative approaches and values. With Jane, we’re setting the vision, but we’re working it in a way with actors. They can come in and say, “I’m not sure this is me. I don’t where you’re going with this.” And we work with them.
It was really interesting because there was this freedom on this show, that I want it to continue on other shows that I work on. There is one scene that Shawn Doyle and Anna Paquin were working on together. We wrote and I directed. What they did was so surprising and unique was not what I intended, not what she intended. We all got together and we were like, “What’s going on here? What is this really cool dynamic going on here between you two! I don’t think we played with this. Let’s create something cool and keep vibing on this!”
[Writer’s Note: Shawn Doyle describes this moment from the actor’s perspective in our previous interview]
They really responded to it! As a storyteller, you go into set and you have an idea. It cements and encourages you to be free. You respond to what you’re seeing in the moment. And changes have to be made. Embrace them and it’ll enrich the show even more!
VM: The show began airing for the first-time with US audiences on WGN America. What has the reception been like?
Bellevue airs Tuesdays at 10pm on WGN America!
– By Jorge Solis