"You don't have to be stronger, you just have to be smarter. And that is something that women have always known - but now we get to see in action on a channel like Universal TV and I think it's really special."
The Detail is a new Canadian drama series starting tonight on NBCUniversal International Networks' Universal TV with Wendy Crewson, Shenae Grimes-Beech and Angela Griffin as three homicide investigators who work to solve crimes while navigating their complicated personal lives.
In a one-on-one sit-down interview with Wendy Crewson, she told TVwithThinus why its important for women to see women in leadership roles on television, about her character's flaws and strengths, shares her advice for women in Africa who want to enter the world of acting, as well as about the #MeToo movement, and how The Detail is different than anything she's done before.
The actress who played the wife of Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tim Allen and Robin Williams' boss in hit movies talks about how women as writers, directors and producers on The Detail are making a new and different kind of show, how Canada grew its TV and film industry, and why she fell in love with South Africa.
What do you like about this role as the homicide unit's staff inspector Fiona Currie?
Wendy: Well, where do I start? There's so many things. First and foremost the idea that we see a woman in charge in a paramilitary organisation is the most important thing.
I mean, I always say we can't be what we can't see. Until women see themselves in those leadership roles, that will never happen. So I love being at the vanguard of putting women in the role of "the boss" basically.
You're the boss boss woman, but then The Detail on Universal TV is also an ensemble series with other women - which we don't really see a lot of on television. Why do you think that is?
Wendy: We never see that on television!
When men run studios, they give men what they want, which is male driven content. So the idea that we have an ensemble of diverse, inter-generational women leading a drama, sort of becomes earth-shaking, because it's the beginning of a movement. And we were developing this show before the #MeToo movement. So as we are coming up with the show, so starts the #MeToo movement which was really remarkable.
I'm so thrilled to be in the vanguard of that.
About your character of Fiona what would you say is her strong points and also her flaws?
Wendy: Well, her strong point is that she is a perfectionist - that is also her weakness.
So I love that she works as a mentor for these women, teaching them that in order to do their job properly which is that to put the bad guy away, you need to do your job immaculately - you can never be caught out by a technicality or the criminal gets away.
So I love that this is her strong point: she has worked so hard in this organisation, you know, and that old saying about Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire - Ginger had to do everything that Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels. That's what she had to do in this male dominated culture.
So I love that she has the strength, that she has the will to push through - but also what happens is of course that it becomes a real wall that you put up in your personal and professional life and it's impermeable. She's had to protect herself. So one of her flaws is definitely that she doesn't allow personal feelings in.
So, when we meet Fiona, we see that it slowly being revealed how Fiona starts to question her sexuality, at this point in her life - the idea that she's never really allowed herself that personal introspection because she has been so devoted to her career. That's certainly one of her complications shall we say.
Who is your character going to push against? The system, or a person? I gather she's sort of the mother hen who guides and protects the other characters. Who are you buffering them against, or is it more like the intangible system?
Wendy: Even though she's the "mother" and the mentor to these women, she definitely has conflicts with Jack (Shenae Grimes-Beech) whom she sees a lot of herself in.
Jack is impetuous and hot-headed and they do clash - you will see Fiona really pushing back on keeping the boundaries.
But also Fiona was married to her boss - and he comes back in. So he is her superior in the police force, and we see all of that, sort of, male culture, coming to loggerheads with her ex, which is always such an interesting dynamic.
And even one of the women that she's mentored comes back. We see them butting heads and this women pushing up and over Fiona. So we find conflict on three different levels.
You have such a distinguished career, what advice do you maybe have for women, especially young women in South Africa and across Africa who want to become an actor or who wants to pursue a career in the TV and film industry?
Wendy: I think it's really important for young women to tell their own authentic story.
As a young performer in this country - in any country as a young woman - develop your talents not only as an actor but as a director, as a writer, and as a producer. Create content. Content is king. Everybody's looking for content - and your story is original and authentic and will resonate with people if you tell it.
Don't think about what people might want, or try to second guess what they're looking for, be yourself. Create your own content and you're going to find success.
Then getting back to the #MeToo, I'm wondering what advice do you have for anybody, but especially for women in South Africa in film, TV and entertainment? Here were only starting to see the beginning of a realisation that very big things have been going wrong for a very long time when it comes to how women are treated in the local TV and film industry.
Wendy: First of all practical advice: Don't find yourself alone in a room with a male producer or director or even a co-star.
Keep yourself protected. That said, it's not always the victims responsibility to keep themselves out of trouble. But if things are happening, speak up. Speak up. Tell somebody. You're not alone. This has happened before. The more you are able to speak up and tell somebody to say something, the less likely it is that that person is going to be able to keep up that offending behaviour.
What so far has surprised you about The Detail in how the on-set atmosphere was, the writing and the cast and crew?
Wendy: So surprising was the fact that we were all best friends right away.
So the moment we met, we had to do a reading with poor Shenae Grimes-Beech - they brought her up just days before the show started; they hadn't cast her yet.
And Angela Griffin had been cast and they said we need to do a "chemistry read just to make sure that the three of you get along" and we saw little Shenae - whose, you know, just 28, she's my daughter's age for heaven's sake - and there she was "oh my gosh, I'm coming in to read" and we both just gathered around her and just thought, "this is going to work". And all three of us just clicked as people and as performers and it became a real tight-knit little group.
And they're funny as hell, and we laughed a lot on set.
How would you say The Detail is different from anything else you've done? I know everyone's different but how would you say this is unique?
Wendy: This is most unique out of anyone because this is a typically patriarchal format and the fact that it's done by women, right now, in this time - never have I've been is so topical a show.
Never in something that is a global movement, and it's so euphoric to be in something that speaks socially to an important issue right now.
It feels as if Canada is coming into its own and is producing and exporting a lot of TV shows that the United States had the monopoly over. What do you make of that and how Canada's TV and film industry has grown and evolve and how a show like The Detail is now seen globally on a something like NBCUniversal's Universal TV?
Wendy: Well, it's been a remarkable journey.
I started my career in Canada, I moved down to the United States because there was no work in Canada when I started, and then came back. I am vice president of the Performers' Union in Toronto, I'm very political. We have worked really, really hard to create a domestic industry.
We had to lobby the government, we had to lobby our regulators - because Canada, typically broadcasters want to buy American product and we become a branch plant to American culture. We have fought so hard against this.
Because like the advice to young actors - it is your own authentic voice that sells globally. People want to hear that story. They don't want to see you redoing an American story, they don't want to see you imitating that. They want to know what your authentic experience is, and that resonates, and that is brand. And that means something now. And I'm so proud to be part of this because it's something we have really fought hard to get. It's blossoming now.
And you see all that tremendous talent that used to leave; was always gone; staying home and creating authentically Canadian content.
Because there's so many shows and films that are now being done in Toronto and Vancouver. It's literally like it's becoming the new LA!
Wendy: So many! It's great.
Somebody should put together a study manual on how Canada and Toronto and Vancouver really worked so hard to establish itself as a TV and film hub, through step-by-step figuring out how do you make people want to make things here instead if in Los Angeles. It could be a blueprint for other countries.
Wendy: Exactly! That is a great question! Because that is exactly the stuff that we have been looking for.
A lot of women are working behind-the-scenes on The Detail - from writers and producers to executive producers to directors. How does it make it different?
Wendy: I have to say it's completely different from anything I've ever done.
Generally a set is a very male dominated place - you have men directors, men writers, men directors of photography, men assistant directors - and they're all around the camera and usually it's about "how can we make her sexier?" and after a while you just thinking "oh my goodness, really?"
And when it's women it's "how do you make it edgier? How do you make it more real? How do you make this scene more interesting?" "Let's make the women as complex as they really are in real life, not just as a complement to a male co-star."
And not just "the wife".
Wendy: Well I have to say I've made a career out of playing wives and girlfriends. I have been married to - I was Harrison Ford's wife, Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife, Tim Allen's ex wife, Robin Williams' boss. I mean, I've really sort of done the gamut of that.
And those were great experiences. And those were lovely men. Really amazing, generous, kind men. But they were men. Who were in charge. And it's hard to change the social order when you're on top and take these things for granted, like that everything revolves around you.
So to turn that typical, patriarchal formula on its ear, has been so much fun.
This isn't your first time in South Africa.
Wendy: No. My second time.
And when they said would you come and do a press junket in South Africa, I thought oh my word, this is a dream come true! I love it so much.
I was here shooting the Winnie Mandela story with Jennifer Hudson, which was amazing. I loved my time here so much I brought my son who just graduated high school at the time and we did a safari and we went to Cape Town and drove up the coast and we to the great white sharks at Gansbaai, we did the whole thing. I fell madly in love with this country.
I've been dying to come back and this time I brought my 87-year old mother because I thought if there was ever a time when I could bring her, it would be now. And she is just vibrating - she is so excited to be here. So we're going on a safari on Wednesday. She went to the Nelson Mandela museum. She came back and she said "I had no idea it would be so emotional". Isn't that true? It's so emotional.
This country of South Africa is so courageous. That's what really astounds me about it. Crazy, and courageous.
How do you understand the title and the layers and puns of The Detail? What does "the detail" mean?
Wendy: So there is a police detail, the number of people in a group who go out to investigate a crime.
So you have the staff like me, the beat cops who are putting up the tape - that is the detail that goes out. The details is also of course the minutiae of a crime that speaks to a detective that tells them what happened. So the girls have to hone their instinct in finding out what the minutiae, what's the detail of what we do. So it's got a lot of layers in its meaning. Women always pay attention to the detail.
When The Detail starts I don't think most viewers will notice but when the names scroll by, its so many women - from the writers and producers and directors and cast. How does that make the show feel different?
Wendy: I think when you have all those women up there, you have a voice.
So if you have an idea, you feel free to step forward and give that idea. It allows for a free flow of creativity - which often with men in charge is a women has an idea, and she says her idea, and nobody responds.
And then three minutes later a man says "hey what about if" and repeats exactly what the woman said and then it's "Wow, yes", and the woman is left thinking, but I just said that.
So it amplifies women's voices on set. So there's a building on creativity that happens
My last question is why should people watch The Detail on Universal TV?
Wendy: They should watch because the format of this show is something that has been done a million times with men, and now is being done with women - and it puts a completely different spin on a police procedural drama.
It becomes psychologically different. How do women work together, and how do they work to solve crimes. You don't have to be stronger, you just have to be smarter. And that is something that women have always known - but now we get to see in action on a channel like Universal TV and I think it's really special.
The Detail is on Universal TV (DStv 117) on Tuesdays at 20:00, starting 5 June.