Don’t mess with Amanda Kilcoyne. Young, beautiful and driven, she’s the daughter of the owner of the biggest construction company in Halifax, as well as its chief operating officer. She does what she likes. For example, she has a flagrant affair with a man weeks away from saying his vows to another woman (who happens to be the daughter of the owner of a rival construction company) and hires disreputable muscle to get tough with a local union leader.
If it sounds like a soap opera, it is, in the strictest sense. Produced by the Halifax Film Company for the CBC, North/South runs six half-hour episodes through July in a mid-afternoon time slot, and stars Kristin Bell as Amanda, as well as Aidan Devine, Lyriq Bent and Janet Bailey, among a cast weighted with local talent. It just doesn’t look like a soap, with its startling scenes of sex and violence, occasional swearing and complex relationships among a large cast of four families separated by culture and class but tied together by business, romance and an unabashedly Haligonian locale. The look of the show, with many local exteriors and interiors, including the harbourfront, various construction sites, recreation centres and the Marquee, gives it a distinct flavour beyond the typical sudsy melodrama.
“I had to think about who they would be, where they would come from,” says series creator Floyd Kane. Raised in an East Preston family that worked in construction, Kane is a lawyer and writer, as well as vice-president of creative and business affairs at Halifax Film. “As much as we’d all like to think that we’re writing something amazing that’s artful, when you’re talking television, a lot of the time you’re talking types. What I had to do is figure out my characters. Because I truly believe there’s good and evil in all of us, we all have a dark side, then it’s about choices. The only difference between you and a Hell’s Angel is because you decided to make a choice to live your life a certain way.”
Though Kane is trying to avoid types, the press materials identify Amanda as “The Heavy,” the sign of marketing wanting to make it easier for a new audience to identify key players in a sprawling and complex story. Halifax actor Kristin Bell certainly enjoyed playing a love-to-hate-her character, but understands her motivations as something more sympathetic.
“She’s just looking for acceptance from her father, and approval,” says Bell. “She honestly believes herself to be in competition with everyone, even her own mother. Her whole life, she’s always been trying to please—at some point, her father stopped acknowledging the little and the big things she was doing for him.”
There are plenty of connections between the families, through three generations. The Kilcoyne/Sheridan clan of white, south-end company owners and executives intertwine with their direct competitors, the Toulanys, a family of Middle Eastern heritage who in the first episode are planning their daughter’s wedding. Then there are the Colleys, an African-Nova Scotian family of contractors with ties to Sheridan Construction, including an implied old romance between patriarch Lex Colley and Sheridan heiress Melissa Kilcoyne, Amanda’s mother. The youngest of the Kilcoynes, Ian, is friends with his high school classmate, Brea Colley.
“She’s very strong,” says 16-year-old Dartmouth actor Kristin Slawter of Brea. “She’s a really courageous person and outgoing.” Slawter, already a veteran of TV movies such as Homeless to Harvard, had a blast her first time working on episodic television. “It was really, really fun. There’s a faster pace to it, and there was a lot of people from across Canada who know a lot about what they do. It was a really great learning experience.”
With any luck, the show will catch on with CBC afternoon audiences who might be looking for something a bit more challenging, and North/South will have a future as a series. Just don’t expect it to be toned down. As Kane says on the electronic press kit, “We’re going to push the envelope as far as we can. We’re going to push and we’re going to push, until someone tells us, ‘No.’”
North/South airs July 4-6 and 11-13 at 3:30 on CBC.