ST. JOHN'S, Nfld.--The Republic of Doyle is bloody awesome. Not just the upcoming CBC series--which looks as cool as the 1968 Pontiac GTO driven by the show's private eye protagonist--but the jewel of a town where it all takes place, St. John's, Newfoundland.
The folks were as warm as sunshine, even on a cold and blustery Thursday. Friday was a glorious day, weather wise, and the rain-weary locals couldn't wait to spread the good cheer around.
You'd get in a cab and buddy Rod would just have to take you past the stately home of lieutenant governor John Crosbie. The place has a moat around it, which seems about right. Unit publicist and new best friend Jonathan Schwartz--a Toronto and Manhattan cat more used to steering Garth Drabinsky's grandiose theatrical ventures into print than a rental car around St. John's--shows off the multicoloured clapboard homes and the magnificently desolate Signal Hill with the quiet pride of a native.
It was no different hanging out with the cast and crew of the series. They were all just glad to be over the swine flu (star and creator Allan Hawco, left, went down with it for a week a few months ago) and to be eight or nine episodes into the series.
Lines get blurred a lot in St. John's. The fake bar on the set of the series is designed to look a lot like The Duke of Duckworth, the real bar in town which inspired it. (One of 150 pubs in town, don'tcha know.) A lot happens in both places. The series was conceived there ten years ago, Hawco tells me while we're sitting in the real pub, where the well-worn dark bar itself looks like it was carved out of ship.
Hawco, who plays Jake Doyle--"a law unto himself" says the poster--is an intense, compelling and charismatic character. The busy actor/writer/producer knows and loves to talk TV, so we hit it off like Starsky and Hutch, chatting up favourite shows like Californication, Rescue Me and Rockford Files. He and his mates Rob Blackie and John Vatcher are creating their own little television industry in St. John's, building studios and airlifting in a who's who of Canadian guest stars for the hour-long detective drama.
Hanging with them is like going on a road trip with three mates you just met. Nobody brought a map, and none of us have been down this road before, but these guys seem to know exactly where they want to go.
Not that there haven't been speed bumps along the way. That swine flu outbreak was costly and set production back a week. The early departure of showrunner Denis McGrath and other scribes came at a critical point. Hawco and Co. found a way past it. Nobody said making a TV show was going to be easy.
More on all that later. Also met with Sean McGinley, a soft-spoken Irish gentleman who is a veteran player at the Old Abbey (and is already in New York for a three week run in an off-Broadway play). He plays Jake's dad Malachy, who has his hands full with his out-of-control son and P.I. partner. The man can act and shines in the scenes previewed to the press in a packed edit suite Friday. He's even more impressive in person, just a genuine Irish mensch.
I joined a group of local reporters Friday in the makeshift studio's bar set for round robin interviews with Hawco and other cast members as well as producers. It is not unusual for cast and crew to spend long hours in the studio bar and then meet up an hour or three later in the real bar. I'll drink to that.
Stories weaved in both places will appear here and elsewhere over the coming weeks and months as we get closer to the January start date of The Republic of Doyle. Not all the stories, mind you. Some things that happen in St. John's, stay in St. John's.