As Showcase's "King" kicks off its second season, lead character Jessica King (Amy Price-Francis) sure has her hands full. The fiery Toronto detective heads the Major Crimes Task Force, where the pressure and cases keep piling up. Her husband, Detective Danny Sless (Gabriel Hogan), has been battling a gambling addiction. After numerous attempts, King is finally pregnant, but it's quite possibly her co-worker Detective Derek Spears' (Alan Van Sprang) baby. And on top of it all, her brassy, tell-it-as-it-is attitude hasn't earned her many friends on the force.
On set, things are much more relaxed, as executive producer Greg Spottiswood, Price-Francis and Van Sprang sat down to discuss the engaging cop drama with The Huffington Post TV Canada, and how much the show has changed since season 1.
At one point, Jessica King could easily have been Joshua King. For too long, the police force has been considered one big boys' club. Those days are changing, and for good reason. Smart, witty and tough, King is hardly a damsel in distress. It's those strong qualities Spottiswood wanted to showcase, as well as the struggles and triumphs of a woman in such a profession.
"I think women are more interesting, particularly in a job like being a police officer," explains Spottiswood. "There's just a lot more they have to manage and deal with on a daily basis. I think that's true in general for women with careers. They are confronted with a lot of choices that men aren't quite in the same way. I'm a huge fan of the original "Prime Suspect." I loved its examination of gender in that context. We're interested in gender in the police force, but not in terms of the sexism angle "Prime Suspect" did so well.
"The other thing interesting to me at the beginning of the second season is that because of all of Jess' experiences, both in terms of her relationships and the fact she's pregnant, is that she starts seeing the cases, victims and perpetrators differently," continues Spottiswood. "When something that profound happens to you, different things are amplified. One theme has always been family and how family is affected by violence. That is much more amplified this year. Jess is very sensitive to cases that somehow revolve around family relationships. We're working on an episode for later about a mother and daughter."
Baby on Board
When the season opens up, Jess is without-a-doubt pregnant. But for the two men in her life, Danny and Derek, there's some ambiguity over who the real father is. Nonetheless, the joyous news will bring about some other adjustments.
"For herself, Jess has made a decision and chosen Danny," reveals Spottiswood. "She's perhaps less concerned about paternity than who is actually the father. The season starts with a real sense of hope and optimism and a big challenge, which is: how are we going to do this?"
Still, Jess has to juggle her professional life with the safety of her baby.
"There's an episode where they go to bust into a crack house," reports Price-Francis. "Spears is right on top of her, saying, 'You should not be doing this. What are you doing?' She's just at her first trimester mark, so she says to him, 'I talked to my doctor. He says it's cool to go to the crack house, as long I'm not doing the crack. Simmer down.' She's obviously not going to put herself in massive danger. She's still doing her job, she can still run, jump and fire a gun, or solve a case.
Three's A Crowd
It can't be easy for Spears. After a public meltdown last season, his crime unit was handed over to Jess King. Since then, his marriage hit the rocks, he slept with King and now that she's pregnant, he's convinced the child is his. Oh yeah, and they still work together!
"I still think it's mine and that continues," reports Van Sprang. "There is that tension, but the difference is Jess is the boss and I've accepted that. It's a more organic relationship and I know she makes me a better police officer. It's a more mature relationship and not so much of that sexual tension or tension within the office."
"Spears is really trying to get King to talk about this," says Price-Francis. "Our girl isn't really one to open up and talk about things. She really struggles with that and holds it all in, which of course never makes it better. It's a frustration for Spears and affects their relationship, but not always in a bad way. They almost have a shorthand this year."
"He's finding it very difficult to remain relevant in King's life," notes Spottiswood. "That interests us too because we talked about how aggressively he would pursue Jess. We found a really interesting avenue for him, which is melodramatic and more truthful. He's not going to disappear, but he knows if he pushes too hard, he could lose her. His struggle is how close does he get to her."
Poor Danny. Last season, his gambling dependency put undue stress on his marriage and jeopardized his job. There have been consequences for those impulses and while he's doing his best to break the destructive habit, those demons persistently scratch just below the surface.
"It is revealed at the end of season one that Danny has a gambling problem," reveals Spottiswood. "We continue to explore that and it continues to be a very interesting challenge for us as writers. There are a lot of clichés about gambling addicts and we've been trying to respect that a lot of people manage their addiction or maintain relationships while being addicted to things that aren't good for them. There's a kind of proficiency at hiding things, so that's what we've been trying to examine with Danny."
Brains and Brawn
Anyone who caught Van Sprang in last year's sword-and-sandals action movie, "Immortals," knows that he has the chops, not to mention the muscles, to do more than just chase the bad guys down. Naturally, the writers are putting that physical prowess to good use in an upcoming episode.
"I had to do some training for that because the whole thing was about me and mixed martial arts," reveals Van Sprang. "I had to do a lot of fighting and did some great choreography. We even had a real martial artist cage. That was a good seven days of blood, sweat and tears."
"I'm not one of those actors who want to completely jump in and do their own stunts," he adds. "There is a limit because I definitely don't want to hurt myself, but I want to make it as great and real as possible. Whether it's sword play or hand-to-hand combat, I am more than happy to go in. I absolutely love it. "King" affords me a treasure trove of action, adventure and relationships."
Actor Rossif Sutherland has done a number of Canadian features and it was that body of work that impressed Spottiswood. The two had never met, but when it came time to expand the task force, the show reached out to Sutherland to play the slightly eccentric Pen Martin.
"Pen's already in the unit in the first new episode," states Spottiswood. "King has just brought him in from surveillance. I was talking to one of our cop counsellors and I said 'OK, if you're building a team, what would you do?' And he said, 'You have to get people who don't think like you, who come from entirely different perspectives.' That's what we've tried to build into his character. Pen sits on the outside. He hasn't been right near the dead bodies or the fresh wounds. He's been sitting in cars, looking through lenses and following people. In episode 5, there's a crime that puts him right inside the tape and really challenges his choice to get closer to the action."
"He's a smart guy and very curious," elaborates Sutherland over the phone a couple of weeks after our set visit. "He wanted to be a psychiatrist growing up, because he was always fascinated with people, motivations and secrets. Ultimately, as he grew up, he figured that the people who interested him the most were very much opposite of him, at least the ones living on the other side of the law. He figured the best way he'd have a chance to sit down and sit with these people, as you would a shrink and a patient, would be if he became a detective."
"I get to do a lot of action with Rossif, who is fantastic," adds Van Sprang. "It's almost on par with a "Lethal Weapon"-type relationship, where he's a young buck who is getting a little attention from Jess, which I don't necessarily appreciate."
Criminals Never Sleep
The personal beats may be the heart of "King," but the characters are still cops, which means procedural elements seep throughout the series. Murder is the felony of choice in the season 2 premiere and Spottiswood admits to using various resources to come up with the crime of the week.
"We scour newspapers," he reveals. "We have a network of police officers we talk to, former police officers that I've met over the years working on other shows or socially. We'll often get an idea from a newspaper and then we'll go to a consultant, or one these people, and go 'This is what happened. How can we bridge the gap?' They would tell us, 'This is what really happened...' We want the show to have a procedural, psychological and emotional veracity. We want there to be some truth in every episode for every one of those elements."
"The crimes continue to get better, more intense and more interesting," offers Van Sprang. "This year is no exception. From episode to episode, it gets grittier. It's not so much the violence, but how it affects our personal lives and how a police officer has to go home at night and look at himself. It is getting a little darker, but we as a team work better through those difficult challenges than we did last year."