Living the freebooting life of a drug-runner in 1978 is a story that’s about the furthest from the typical image of the Canadian way of life that one could imagine, but also try to imagine if you’ve had this life unwillingly thrust upon you. That’s the premise from CBC’s latest action drama, Caught, and it’s a story that you can’t afford to miss.
Based on the novel by Lisa Moore, we were able to catch up with leading man, screenwriter and producer, Allan Hawco and asked him to explore this idea, given that some of his most memorable roles have been characters who seem to fit this mold.
“Are you asking me if I’ve ever been a criminal?” he asks, laughing.
Caught is the story of convicted drug smuggler, David Slaney, who escapes from a maximum-security penitentiary in the 1970’s for one more big drug run between Newfoundland and Mexico. Slaney reluctantly takes on the role for a variety of reasons; redemption, security, and revenge numbering among the top ones. But Slaney is a character who makes his own rules and Allan talked about his reasons why he seems to play this type of character.
“There’s a couple of reasons. First, the stakes that are in this world. They’re just filled with gifts from God in terms what you can play and what you can play with as a writer. They’re fun to play as an actor because of the conflict and contradiction in the character; it’s just really rich stuff to bite into. And then, my influences as a kid, – sci-fi, Star Trek and cop shows like Miami Vice, Cracker. Ian Rankin was a big influence and especially Elmore Leonard – he was a big influence as well. I saw Get Shorty early in my life and I read all his books.”
The originality behind this unique and atypical Canadian was definitely something I wanted to bring up. I asked about his choice behind the adaptation.
“I really like Lisa’s writing. I think she’s such a gifted writer; really, really talented. It’s slightly off-genre for her a little bit, but it has to be my favourite of her books. These characters, their journeys and it’s such an epic tale that just really kinda shook me up.”
Moore’s novel is actually based on a series of real-life situations, Hawco tells us, and that makes the story even more authentic and exciting, given that the right amount of reality makes for the best fiction. It’s so outside of the norm for a Canadian story and that’s part of the reason why it’s so compelling. I asked Allan to expand on this.
“It’s inspired by a true story. There’s a lot of people who lived this story, well, a version of it. In fact, one of my friends, in particular, was a driver with our company that did transport. I hired him as a consultant because he went down, scored a deal that involved a boat with a crazy doctor and a woman he didn’t know. He got caught, was busted out of jail, made a break for Jamaica and disappeared. His journey was terrifying, long and filled with … interesting things.”
We turned the conversation back to the character of David Slaney. Slaney is a reluctant rogue – his reasons for turning back into drug-running are complex and varied but he adapts to this life so well. I asked Allan why.
“I guess you learn who you are, when you get to a certain point. You know it’s funny, because pot’s legal now. He’s an adventurous young man with an open heart and an open spirit and chose the wrong product to get passionate about. That’s what it comes down to with a lot of these guys, right? At a certain point, when we meet him, he realizes what else if he going to do with his life? Go back to school and train to be a hair dresser? He can’t live that life. The excitement, the adrenaline that comes with it. He can’t go back to become an average citizen. Maybe he can, but that’s going to take a lot of time. But in the meantime, the plan is get to some money fast and then maybe try to live a regular life.”
It’s a stellar cast. Eric Johnson is thoroughly reprehensible as the friend who betrayed Slaney; Paul Gross delivers a gritty and realistic performance as the washed-out cop whose tattered career now rests on shutting down the entire drug operation before he retires and Enuka Okuma stars as the minimalized American DEA agent who has a shot at making a name for herself if it all comes together. Not to forget about Tori Anderson as the gorgeous distraction who crews the boat along with Slaney and whose own agenda remains hidden in deception.
“They’re amazing; the nicest group of people and the hardest workers.” Allan tells me. “There was no moment in time where any actor wasn’t fully into what we were doing. Being kind to everyone at the same time. It was a wonderful experience and we all had a wonderful time, as you could probably tell.”
Shot on location in Newfoundland, Ontario and the Dominican Republic, Hawco acts as producer and showrunner. It’s a testament to his versatility that he can he can perform, write as well as serve as an executive manager of such a widespread project. I asked him to touch briefly about that.
“It’s hard as a producer to get everyone together; you gotta come up with ways to make it happen!” He says, talking about the logistics of moving people around to such an array of set locations. “You have to make sure that nothing gets scuttled, but it’s such an amazing adventure for us as a crew. It was really nice because we were down there for about thirty-six days and the bonding that goes with that. We were all locked down, doing the show, at an all-inclusive resort with no beach; all living together like in cans, and shooting fourteen-hour days. Everyone was doing their best … and it was incredible.”
With this sort of chemistry going on with the cast and crew, I couldn’t let Allan go without him telling me about one adventurous anecdote he could share with me.
“Yeah …”, He chuckled. “There was tons of shit that happened. But we were in the Dominican and we kinda in a place to ourselves. So they put us over in this corner where it was pretty uncomfortable. I mean, we got thirty Newfoundlanders in the Dominican Republic in the middle of July; it’s 40 degrees above. So, the minute we got there, I mean, whenever we weren’t shooting, we were pretty much submerged in water all the time! So we were told though that you couldn’t be in the pool after 9:00. We pretty much told them we were staying put. They sent Security; they sent the police, and they even sent the army and they tried to ban us every night from swimming. But we just beat them down with our charm and eventually they just gave up and they kinda hung out with us in the end! It was wonderful!”
Still, it’s a show about a dangerous life.
“It’s dangerous to take these stories and make an ass-joke out of them.” Hawco warns. “It’s on us to introduce these stories to the rest of the world. Real people’s lives were affected by this, deeply. So, there’s a lot of pressure on me to make sure that I get it right.”
While we may use the word “rogue” casually, we need to remember that rogues live outside the law. They run, they hide, they work and stay in the shadows. A rogue may convey an image of a charming scoundrel, and when you see the gorgeous houses and properties that Slaney’s friend and betrayer, Hearn has accumulated with his ill-gotten wealth, you can understand the glamour and appeal. But true rogues also aren’t afraid to pull a trigger or slide a knife between ribs, if they have to. There’s risk but great reward, and while that’s a life that may be alluring to some, we also have to remember that people were murdered for it. There’s nothing playful about these rogues and that is thoroughly impressed upon this show’s audience this from the very beginning with Slaney’s harrowing escape from prison to his exodus to Mexico.
Caught is a resonating tale of daring. It’s not a noble adventure, to be sure, but the reasons behind the adventure are human and valid. It shows a darker side of Canada than people would expect yet one that viewers can understand as this anti-hero wrestles with the many reasons why an escaped convict would readily throw himself back into the game for that one score that would return him to, as Allan said, a “regular life”.
The final episode of Caught shows on Monday, March 26 at 9pm ET. However, it’s an easy binge with four previous episodes streaming on the CBC website.
It definitely is one of the most engaging and fascinating dramas on Canadian television this season. With a soundtrack that memorably transports you to the tumultuous times of the 1970’s, this is a throwback show that is viscerally recreated down to the finest nuance.
Yet don’t take my word for it; be daring. Strike out on your own and see for yourself what a freebooting, Newfoundlander drug-smuggler’s life is like. Chances are, it’ll surprise you. But if not, then maybe you’re more of a rogue than you know.