INTERVIEW: Making history with Rebecca Liddiard of ‘Frankie Drake Mysteries’

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(CBC Television/Shaftesbury Films)

CBC’s newest historical drama, Frankie Drake Mysteries (Shaftesbury Productions), features an ensemble cast of talented women who constantly outshine each other in a number of dynamic ways. Today we get a chance to focus the spotlight on just one of these exciting actresses, Rebecca Liddiard, who plays Morality Officer, Mary Shaw. PopMythology was fortunate to steal some of Rebecca’s time and make a little history of our own with this talented performer!

Q: You have a real penchant for historical roles (Murdoch Mysteries, Houdini & Doyle, and now Frankie Drake Mysteries). What’s the appeal for roles like this – are you a bit of a history nerd?

A: “[Laughs] A little bit! I would say I am more of a historical fiction nerd! I absolutely love to read and watch historical fiction pieces – I always have. That’s probably where it comes from. I can’t speak for the people who cast me but I always get excited when an audition comes up for these roles!”

Q: So, what’s your process like – how do you prepare for one of these roles?

A: “I like to do research for every role I go for, but for historical pieces, there’s a little bit more to get into. For example, for a show like this, the first question I had to ask myself was what the heck was a Morality Officer? It was a really unique job, especially in the 1920’s Toronto. Just learning about that role and, given what they were asked to do, thinking about the kind of women who would take on that kind of job gave me a lot of insight into this character. So that’s an example of the kind of thinking that goes into preparing for a character like this and how research can come in very handy.”

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(CBC Television/Shaftesbury Films)

Q: Just what did a Morality Officer do in the 1920’s in the Toronto Police Force?

A: “Well, their job was to enforce the morality of women. So, what they would do was measure skirts and hems, hand out tickets to women who were walking unaccompanied at night or who were found in ‘places of ill-repute’. These would be dance-halls, and God forbid – because we had prohibition back then – bars! In fact, they had all these crazy terms like ‘assisted prostitution’; you know, if you danced with a man in exchange for a drink, then you would be guilty of this and were given a fine and a ticket. It was quite extreme! Toronto used to be a very morally conservative town.”

Q: Mary Shaw is so diametrically opposite to Frankie and the other females in this show. She’s also very different from the other historical roles you’ve played in the past. You’ve played dynamic, trailblazing women who break the mold of female characters.

A: “Yeah, and I kinda like that. There’s a part of me who’s quite liberal in my views, but there’s also a part of me that clings to tradition. Thinking about what life was like living that way, it really makes me think hard about my own life and what it would be like if I had to subscribe to those set of rules. It’s a lot of fun to try on a different hat but it’s also quite complex because though Mary is forward-thinking in her beliefs, she is also rooted in this moral conventional way of life. Still, she pushes against the boundaries of her belief system. At first it was difficult to wrap my head around it, but I looked at it as it was still possible to have a belief system and want more for yourself that could exist outside that belief system. It was very complex but required a great deal of open-minded thought to make the character more interesting.”

Q: Is Mary more of a challenge for you to play?

A: “There’s a part of her that is very excited all the time. For all of her strict beliefs she is still very excited to ‘get in on some of the action’. Ultimately, she wants to be a police officer but she is very captivated by the kind of life that Frankie and Trudy lead and that she could never have for herself. But I think that it’s fun for me and not as hard as I would have expected to have a childish, naïve place where you really want to do the right thing but are totally fascinated by all these new experiences and things happening around you.”

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(CBC Television/Shaftesbury Films)

Q: What was the audition process like for this character?

A: “I was handed the break-downs for Mary and there was a tremendous amount of information about her. There was a lot of back and forth. I was totally shaking in my boots when I arrived on set for the first day, because I had an idea about the character but I was afraid that there might have been a possibility that I was totally off! But the director for the show at the time, Leslie Hope, she was so fantastic and helpful in guiding and reassuring me that I was on the right track for the character. In fact, she was so helpful in guiding me in playing a character that is much more comedic than I have ever played before. She has a kind of physicality that I’ve ever played with in other roles in television. So, she was very encouraging in that kind of exploration of the process for me.”

Q: Clearly they knew they had the right person for the part. But continuing with that, did your previous historical roles inform your performance as Mary or add to your confidence that you could do this role?

A: “I think so. When I read this script and saw right away that Mary functions as a kind of comedic relief, that intimidated me a little bit, because that’s a bit of responsibility to take on, you know? You have a real function in the story apart form the narrative. You also have to service this lighter piece and I was intimidated by that. So, there was a bit of anxiety and questions like: ‘will I be funny enough?’ were in my head. But I needed to remember that I had played previous roles like this and maybe that would have alleviated those anxieties!”

Q: Watching the show with my daughter, who absolutely adored the show, do you see this as a show that can inspire young women, given that your character and the others are women set in a time who step outside the boundaries of their society?

A: “You know, when you were telling me about your daughter, I was just thinking that there is a child-like quality of Mary that makes her so accessible. She has all these ideas about what is right and wrong; what is acceptable or not, and so forth. When we’re growing up, we all hit that point when we challenge those notions. So what Mary is encountering is all these women who are totally awesome but are contrary to the rules of the period. Mary is in this place where she’s thinking: ‘okay, they’re still doing good things though they’re breaking the rules, and I want to be a part of that!’ There’s that type of dialectic going on so maybe that quality will translate to those younger women who can identify with that thinking. And kids, I think kids will as well. Maybe I’m just a child at heart! [laughs]!”

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(Getty Images)

Q: There’s a boldness that really stands out in this show. What’s it like working with this cast?

A: “Oh, it’s a lot of fun. Lauren Smith, Chantel Riley and Sharon Matthews – I spend most of the time with them. They are just wonderful women and each of them is someone that you could just look up to. Lauren is a mother of a beautiful baby girl just over one year old, and the hours that she pulls, and the craziness she has in her life, the way she manages to take care of this child is just so inspiring! Chantel is a real family person with strong values who will tell you like it is! Then there’s Sharon who is hilarious and personally, just an incredible woman who does amazing things with kids, talks about body image and being happy and creative with yourself. She has all these amazing things she brings to set! All these women are so cool – and I just want to be like them. It’s a great dynamic that I hope transfers to the screen.”

We know that history is a great teacher. But we also know that it’s a great source of great stories. Rebecca Liddiard is fortunate to have found her niche in both entertaining and enlightening audiences appreciative of her talent as well as the entertainment that The Frankie Drake Mysteries can offer. But there’s also an inspirational aspect to this show as well that can show younger women that they can be funny, challenge the rules, and still accomplish good and great things.

Frankie Drake Mysteries airs on CBC every Monday night, 9pm ET.

About Captain John K. Kirk

Captain John K. Kirk
John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.