Ever since "Flashpoint" ended its successful run, there's been a noticeable void in Canadian police dramas.
CTV is hoping to fill that gap with "Played," a Canadian original procedural with a twist. Developed and executive-produced by Greg Nelson ("Rookie Blue"), Adrienne Mitchell ("Bomb Girls") and Janis Lundman ("Durham County"), the series follows an elite Covert Investigations Unit (the CIU) which routinely conducts sting operations, or "plays." Various members adapt colourful identities to go undercover, collect evidence and entice confessions.
The team members are John Moreland (Vincent Walsh), Daniel Price (Dwain Murphy), Khali Bhatt (Agam Darshi), Jesse Calvert (Adam Butcher), Maria Cortez (Lisa Marcos) and Rebecca Ellis (Chandra West).
"I loved the idea that you have these police, who aren't really police, who are always having to be someone and always having to change," explains Lundman while sitting in a Queen Street W. coffee shop. "I kept thinking, 'Well, at some point, how does that affect who you are?' You're always reading people. You're always thinking, 'OK, what can I get from him? How can I fool them?' You get into this situation of, 'How do you turn that off and go home and just be myself?' For me, my brother was a police officer for 25 years. He had this way of hardly ever talking about his work or hardly saying anything. He didn't want to talk about the accidents he went to, the deaths he saw, or the criminals he had to deal with. He learned to keep his whole life very separate. It becomes difficult because then you don't quite know who the person is."
On a sunny August afternoon, a "Played" assignment is underway. The CIU is looking into potentially corrupt cops in Daniel's former Gangs and Gun division. Rookie Jesse has been weaseling his way into their tight-knit group and today in the scene being shot, things go terribly wrong. Inside of Jesse's apartment, Khali has completed hooking up wires and cameras to capture whatever transpires. There's a palpable awkwardness in the air due to the complicated romance forming between the two of them. To the side, John and Daniel exchange a few heated words before everyone departs.
"What's happening between me and John is the fact that Daniel really wants this job to go smoothly," reports Murphy. "He wants to get it over with. He doesn't want there to be any hiccups or problems. Everyone can see this is affecting Daniel because these are his friends he's investigating. The problem between John and I is that he doesn't believe I'm going to be able to make the tough decision when the time comes. That, if these guys are guilty for something, that they need to be taken down."
Once alone, Jesse momentarily stretches, sighs and heads to the fridge. Mere seconds later, there's a knock at the door and strolling over, Jesse checks himself in the mirror, figuring Khali has returned to discuss their relationship. No such luck. Instead, it's two of the guys he's investigating. The men essentially push their way in, place a hood over Jesse's head and forcefully drag him out of the apartment.
During breaks, the cast sat down separately with HuffPost Canada TV to discuss their characters, multiple aliases and how difficult it is to "play" a cop.
In the pilot of "Played," new boss Rebecca comes in and hand-picks the necessary people for the CIU. It's an eclectic group of individuals who have their own strengths and weaknesses.
"Rebecca is the head of the CIU," says West. "We have our little team and she's an extremely focused, extremely goal-oriented person, It's just all about going into these different plays and getting the bad guy.
"Rebecca, thus far, is so solely focused on the job that she's not really allowing herself to have an outside life," continues West. "What I like is the idea that Rebecca is a little bit of a mystery and nobody really knows much about her. In one of the recent episodes, Moreland was talking about her relationship with a homicide detective for eight years. Maybe he'll reveal himself at some point."
"Jesse grew up in a rougher lifestyle than the other officers," offers Butcher. "He grew up in an area where lots of crime was being committed. He was involved first-hand. He can really relate to the majority of the crimes that have to be solved."
"Khali is an undercover cop who is more in charge of the tech side of things," reveals Darshi. "What drives her is the adrenaline of the job and to be able to do something that's different. She comes from a family that tends to be more traditional and nobody in her family is a cop."
"Daniel is basically John Moreland's right-hand man," states Murphy. "He's the guy who makes sure everything is running smoothly, that everyone is safe. What drives Daniel is his passion for the job of getting things right, getting the job done and getting the bad guy. What hinders him is his personal life with his fiancée, that juggling act of figuring our when is the job more important than his relationship and when is the relationship more important than the job?"
"Played" doesn't feature the usual running around, gunfire, or car chases. And they can't simply flash their badge and demand information. On a weekly basis, the CIU will have to rely on their wits to get the bad guys to buy into the personas they're presenting.
"When a lot of people think of undercover work, they think of 'Serpico,'" says Lundman. "You go undercover for a year or two. It's the street, it's the mafia or it's the drug dealers. That's not the case anymore with real undercover police. They found they were losing too many members. It was too difficult for them. They would either cross over and not come back or when they come back, they couldn't do anything after that. So, now, they're doing smaller stings, which is what we're doing. They're also higher-end, so we go to lawyers, high-end car dealerships and high-end escort services."
The case dictates what disguise the cops take on. For instance, Jesse becomes involved with a fight club.
"That was one of the most physically grueling days on set so far," recalls Butcher. "That was Episode 6. They throw Jesse in there to try to make friends with one of the dudes who is the top guy in the club. Originally, I wasn't supposed to fight, but then they throw Jesse in. He has no choice but to let the guy kick his ass."
"In one episode, I play a DJ," says Murphy. "It's all in the wardrobe. It vastly changes from when we're in the headquarters. For example, when I was a DJ, I was wearing a lot of flashy clothes and chains. The biggest change I had to do was I had to play a business entrepreneur of a website. I was in a full-blown suit. Hair-wise and facial stuff, I haven't really done too much of. It's definitely something I want to experiment with in later episodes."
"And because I tend to be more behind the scenes and looking in, my character finally gets the opportunity to go undercover in the after-hours club world, which she personally knows quite a bit about," offers Darshi. "That was my favourite because I got to go on a real play. Because she's new at this, she's not necessarily great at it and they showed that really well in the writing. She makes mistakes and I like the fact there are flaws in these characters."
Unfortunately, all these intense, high-pressure missions take a tremendous toll on the police officers and their lives. That personal exploration is what further distinguishes "Played" from other procedurals.
"Your job will affect you if you have to go off and put yourself in the line of fire every day," states Walsh. "There's the uncertainty of not knowing what you're walking into. Your wife and kids are in another world and to not bring it [the stress] back home would test any relationship. That begs the question about how many undercover cops are able to hold a relationship, let alone get married."
"In Episode 5, there's a big moment that's revealed with my character," says Murphy. "We see how the job affects me, how I have to bring it home with me, and then have to be affected by what my spouse and I are going through after having a crazy day at work."
Romance in the police force is frowned upon, but that doesn't stop it from happening. In "Played," that special bond blooms between Jesse and Khali. As they two youngest members of the group, they have a lot in common besides being easy on the eyes.
"From the very beginning, Khali was attracted to me," explains Butcher. "I didn't really notice up until one of the episodes where it becomes very clear. It's hard when you are an undercover police officer to have a relationship with another undercover police officer because the danger you put yourself through really messes with the other person's head."
"If you're in a 'play' with someone you care about, what happens if that person is in danger?" notes Lundman. "Are you going to forget about the play? Are you going to protect them? It's not something that's accepted. This is not only in our series, but with the undercover police we actually talked to. As soon as they find out that's happening with their members, they have a talk with one or both of them. If it doesn't stop, one of them leaves."
Ratings will determine whether "Played" gets another season. For now, the cast sounds confident that the show's unique concept, adventures, chemistry and cache of characters will strongly connect with viewers.
"People can expect a fun, jam-packed ride of adrenaline, high stakes and suspense," says Murphy at the end of his interview. "Every episode is literally a mini-movie of goodness. You're getting a whole range of everything. There's the tear-jerking, heart-wrenching moments, and the unity and humour that goes on between the team."
"Unlike some procedurals, you learn about why each character is so different and there is really a lot of heart in each script," concludes West. "Everyone has enough going on. There's just a lot of humanity there that makes you want to care."
"Played" premieres on Thursday, October 3 on CTV at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
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