TORONTO — Eden Robinson says the actors in CBC’s upcoming mystical-thriller “Trickster” have winnowed their way into her imagination.
The “Son of a Trickster” author, who’s from the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations, found that once she saw who was cast in the adaptation, she couldn’t unsee the actors as the characters she created.
“It’s weird to see someone alive, saying your dialogue,” Robinson said.
That presented her with a challenge as she wrote the third novel in the series earlier this year.
Instead of picturing her protagonist Jared in the way she always had, she says she started seeing the TV show’s stoic teenage lead actor Joel Oulette in his place.
Actress Crystle Lightning took the part of Jared’s mother Maggie in her mind, and she pictured Anna Lambe as Jared’s friend Sarah.
The experience was “surreal,” she admits, and it’s one she’s still coming to terms with ahead of the anticipated CBC debut of “Trickster” on Oct. 7.
The six-episode first season dives into a supernatural world of mystery that unfolds when Jared, an Indigenous high school student from Kitimat, B.C., begins to experience an escalating series of strange events.
First, he runs into his doppelganger for a brief moment, and not long after he’s confronted by a crow who delivers a cryptic message before vanishing.
The experiences send him in pursuit of answers that point back to secrets harboured by his own family and special powers he might not yet recognize they all share.
“Trickster” arrives with much promise for Indigenous creators who are aspiring to a career on mainstream television.
It’s a highly accessible show that leans heavily into fantasy elements, from its magical teenager who evokes characteristics of Harry Potter, to the shadowy monsters that seem inspired by the works of Guillermo del Toro and David Cronenberg.
Co-creator Michelle Latimer says she made “Trickster” with popular culture references in mind.
“I grew up going to superhero movies, seeing creatures, watching old Cronenberg films and Hitchcock,” Latimer said.
“I’m an Indigenous person of mixed ancestry, who has grown up with both cultures, and I think that’s an experience that’s very common in Canada.”
Latimer won the rights to the book after sending Robinson a heartfelt letter that explained why she was the right person to make the series over bigger production houses who were chasing the project.
Robinson said she was floored by Latimer’s commitment to not just Indigenous representation in front of the camera, but establishing “an incubator of talent” on her production team as well.
Latimer pledged to hire skilled Indigenous crew members and pay interns who would be part of a mentorship program designed to bolster their film experience and help them take control of their own futures in the industry.
“That really excited me,” Robinson said.
“I have a sense of how frustrating it is to have our stories told by other people and not being trusted with the reins.”
Even before its debut, CBC has shown considerable confidence in the series, which could easily be a franchise in the making.
The broadcaster has already renewed the show for a second season, and put significant heft into marketing it across the country, with sneak previews of episodes at several Canadian film festivals, and ample TV spots plugging the launch date.
Latimer considers those hopeful signs for “Trickster,” and she would like to see similar efforts put into future Indigenous television projects that break new genre boundaries in their own way.
There’s an appetite out there for Indigenous TV shows, she said, and proof lies in the enthusiastic reception the “Trickster” trailer on YouTube over the summer, as people excitedly marked their calendars for the debut.
“I felt hope in that moment,” she said.
“People’s ears are open. I don’t know if it’s just the time we’re in right now, where we’re actually questioning society and how we want to move forward, but it feels like we’re breaking down a lot of structures to build this new world.”
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published October 1, 2020.
David Friend, The Canadian Press