An anti-war TV series “Fortunate Son” premieres on CBC this week, in a Jan. 6, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

‘Thank you Ken Burns’: Actors watch Vietnam doc to prep for ’60s anti-war series

SPRINGBANK, Alta. — The ’60s are very much alive in the new anti-war TV series “Fortunate Son,” which premieres on CBC this week.

The series, set in Ladner, B.C., follows the Howard family as they help smuggle Vietnam War deserters and draft dodgers across the Canadian border as part of the underground railroad in the late 1960s.

Kari Matchett, who starred in ”Covert Affairs,” plays Ruby Howard, an American who fled to Canada as a fugitive for her part in the anti-war protest movement. One of those she helps is Travis Hunter, played by Darren Mann, a deserter and drug addict whose life becomes intertwined with the Howard family.

“Just a second. I was just wiping off my heroin make up,” Mann said with a laugh as he sat down for an interview with The Canadian Press, in a cabin that’s reminiscent of the decade, complete with a pot-bellied stove, near Springbank, west of Calgary.

Mann, best known for the “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and the film “Giant Little Ones,” said his character has many layers.

“When I read ‘Fortunate Son’ and saw Travis’s character with Vietnam behind him and PTSD, the heroin addiction, he doesn’t know anyone here…I was all over it and really wanted to get it.”

Mann, who is 30, said the Vietnam War is his mother’s era, but he did research on drug addiction, PTSD and the war itself.

“There’s a really, really good Ken Burns documentary actually. I didn’t know a whole lot about the Vietnam War to be honest and then I watched that and was just blown away at what I learned.”

Matchett, 49, grew up in Spalding, Sask., and was “obsessed” after reading the script. She said the series, which includes eight one-hour episodes, is timely considering what has been happening in the United States.

“I had the good fortune of having a wonderful drama teacher in high school for one year who was from the United States and she was a child of the sixties…and we did a re-enactment of Kent State in Ohio in the sixties where four students were shot,” she said.

“What was happening in the sixties is alive again. In the Vietnam War, with so many injustices and so much corruption, is happening now and so as a society we’re embracing a lot of notions that happened in the sixties again.”

Executive producer and showrunner Andrew Wreggitt said the inspiration for the show came from colleague Tom Cox from Seven24 Films in Calgary.

“When he was growing up in 1968 his mom and family were helping draft dodgers and deserters come across the border and they were Americans themselves so we heard lots of anecdotes and stories from Tom about that,” Wreggitt said.

“There’s a lot about 1968 that resonates today and the further you go into it the more issues you end up running into from 1968 that are still with us, unfortunately.”

Wreggitt was 12 and living in North Vancouver during the height of the anti-war movement.

“My parents would drive us into town and I would see the hippies playing their guitars on the sidewalk and I thought, when I grow up I want to be a hippie.”

Rick Roberts, who plays Matchett’s husband Ted Howard, is the oldest main cast member at age 54.

“I was three years old so for me it’s like reflecting on my parents’ lives at that time because they were in their 20s. It’s good as an actor to be reminded of who those people were and what the Vietnam War was for them and what a real call for action it was,” he said.

“I’ve been really curious about the current political climate right now and how much 1968, where the show is set, mirrors what’s going on and the kind of call to action.”

Kacey Rohl, who is known for her parts in “The Killing” and “Hannibal” was just back from the Toronto International Film Festival and the premiere of her film “White Lie” at the time of the interview.

She had shaved her head for “White Lie” and was sporting Twiggy-like hairstyle for the series where she plays Matchett’s daughter Ellen, and a potential love interest for Mann’s Travis Hunter character.

“I always tend to do a lot of research but I watched a huge 10-part Vietnam War documentary so thank you Ken Burns,” she said.

“I really hope that when people see ‘Fortunate Son’ that the parallels strike them. I think the current political situation, worldwide, but particularly in the States is mirrored in 1968 and the story that we’re telling.”

“Fortunate Son” premieres Wednesday.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 06, 2020.

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