Cynthia Dale returns to revered ‘Street Legal’ role 25 years after original

TORONTO — Canadian stage and screen star Cynthia Dale is returning to what she calls “the best job in Canada.”

On Monday, nearly 25 years after it ended, CBC’s popular Canadian courtroom drama “Street Legal” makes a comeback, with Dale once again starring as steely lawyer Olivia Novak.

It’s a role that was outside Dale’s comfort zone when she first landed it in the late 1980s, she says, noting she was doing theatre in New York City at the time and “couldn’t even say ‘civil litigation,’ let alone know what the hell it meant.”

But the character — who blazed a trail on Canadian TV with an unusual mix of smarts, sexiness and unabashed confidence — quickly became a cherished one.

“I always said, for those seven years, I had the best job in Canada — way better than a prime minister, way better than anything. It was so fantastic to learn, to live and build that woman and live in who she was,” Dale said in an interview.

“And the fact that that gets to happen again at this point with these people — are you kidding? I’m the luckiest girl in Canada again. Really.”

Debuting on CBC-TV and the CBC Gem streaming service, the new “Street Legal” also finds Olivia outside her comfort zone, after the big Toronto law firm she works for disbands and she joins a team of young social-activist lawyers at a small upstart.

The cast also includes Cara Ricketts, Steve Lund, and Yvonne Chapman. Returning cast members include Eric Peterson and Anthony Sherwood.

“That’s one of the fun elements of doing a new show — that the world has changed in the 25 years,” said executive producer Bernie Zukerman, who also worked on the original.

“Toronto has changed. It’s a very different place. Politics have changed, Canada’s place in the world has changed, women’s place in the world has changed. So there are all kinds of new, interesting things to be able to address and deal with in a legal show.”

Producers say the new version has the same soapy quality as the original but is considered a standalone story.

“If you know the old ‘Street Legal,’ there will be hidden pleasures that you’ll get more than other people. But it’s not required at all,” said returning executive producer Bruce Smith, who is also the showrunner.

The original Gemini Award-winning series ran from 1987 to 1994 and “was one of the first Canadian shows that really made an impact across Canada,” said Dale.

It made such a splash because it dealt with contemporary issues and was set in Toronto, which hadn’t really been done before in a Canadian TV drama, said the producers, adding that the strong cast and guest appearances added to the show’s cachet.

“I think part of the response that we’ve gotten just to the idea of ‘Street Legal’ coming back is … we don’t have many cultural icons and we value them and we want something that we can say, ‘That’s Canadian. That’s us,’” said Zukerman.

“Twenty-five years ago, you watched them every Friday night, it was part of your life and it was like event television. A million people (a week) watched and that was huge,” said Dale.

“Yes, it was delicious and it was a fun and it was sexy and all that, but what’s really sexy is intelligence and (Olivia) was really intelligent — and that’s what’s going to stay with her.”

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