‘Stumptown’ star Cobie Smulders on her love/hate relationship with action roles

TORONTO — Cobie Smulders is admittedly a glutton for punishment.

Between portraying S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill in six Marvel Cinematic Universe films, a U.S. military major in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” and an army veteran/private investigator in the new series “Stumptown,” the Vancouver star has endured many action scenes — and bumps and bruises — throughout her career.

“There’s something in me that likes it but… it’s pretty exhausting,” Smulders said in a recent interview, adding such scenes require training in her off-time.

“Maria Hill gets a little action. ‘Jack Reacher’ was like the max, the most training and workout. It was just insane — also a great experience — but I remember being in there like, ‘I can’t do this again. I can’t.’ It takes over your whole life.”

With “Stumptown,” debuting Wednesday on CTV and ABC, Smulders feels she’s found a happy balance between those extremes.

Her character, Dex Parios, is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by her five tours in Afghanistan when she starts investigating local crime in Portland, Ore. She also has a complicated love life and a gambling addiction that is draining her bank account and getting her into trouble.

“She’s a scrapper, she’s not a spy, so she’s not going to be busting out all these crazy moves,” said Smulders, ”but she will grab a pipe and start swinging around with it.

“It’s why I accepted (the role), knowing that it would be like that every other episode, and when it happens it will be the most realistic version of that fight sequence. But I enjoy watching it unfold and I definitely gravitate towards it as an audience member.”

Fellow Canadian actress Tantoo Cardinal plays the enigmatic head of the casino Dex frequents and is also the mother of her ex-boyfriend. In the first episode, Cardinal’s character asks Dex to track down her missing granddaughter, and the ensuing drama touches on police relations with the Indigenous community.

“A Canadian treasure. She’s really incredible. She has such an amazing energy and spirit,” Smulders said of Cardinal, a prolific actress who was born in Fort McMurray, Alta., and is Cree, Dene, Nakota, and Metis.

“I don’t know if it’s… her resume of experience or what it is, but when she starts talking, everyone just kind of leans in. Just her cadence and the sound of her voice is so mesmerizing.”

Based on the “Stumptown” graphic novel series, the show also stars Michael Ealy as a detective. He says the series shows the antihero in pop culture has come a long way.

“I think as you see this evolution of stronger female leads, stronger female characters, what we’re being exposed to is a more realistic look at what women are in our society,” said Ealy.

“We’re now seeing the full spectrum. I remember watching ‘Sex and the City’ to try to learn about women. I’m not even joking.”

“They just sit around and do puns all day,” Smulders interjected with a laugh.

“But that was all we had at that time, because it was the only show with a whole female cast since, you know, ‘The Facts of Life,’” added Ealy.

“So for me it’s nice to see all of this.”

For Smulders, it’s also a chance to finally highlight the struggles of veterans on network TV.

“I do believe that veterans do not get the praise or the care that is needed after that experience, wherever they’re going to fight a war,” she said.

“Also PTSD is such a sneaky thing. It’s manipulative, and from the research I’ve done, I think everybody has a little bit of PTSD. Everybody is dealing with their own PTSD, whatever that is for you. This is obviously a very severe case, life-and-death situation where people did die, and it’s about acknowledging it.”

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