08/15/2013 05:28 EDT | Updated 08/21/2013 03:41 EDT

What It's Like to Play Dr. Julie Cardinal on 'Hard Rock Medical'


TVO's first commissioned drama series, Hard Rock Medical, provides a fresh and entertaining look at the unique challenges of delivering healthcare in Northern Ontario. Hard Rock Medical follows the lives of eight medical students, their struggles to succeed, and the obstacles they face in adapting to practising rural medicine and living in the North. Patrick McKenna heads a Canadian ensemble cast in this series airing Sundays at 8 pm, from June 9 to August 25 and at

The views expressed in TVO's Hard Rock Medical blog series are solely the opinion of the cast and filmmakers.

It's not often in the world of television that you come across a role and a script that lights up your eyes and makes your heart beat just a little bit faster, but such was the case when I read the script and ensuing description of Dr. Julie Cardinal in the new TVO series Hard Rock Medical. A full-time faculty member and Aboriginal elder, Julie wasn't an easy lady to pin down, and that's exactly what made her so appealing and such a great challenge to play.

Contemplating acting as a character who is a respected member of the Aboriginal community immediately provided me with a rich resource to draw on. However, just as in real life, that is not the extent of who this woman is. She's a mentor/ teacher, a skilled doctor, and also a little bit "out there" with her wacky cache of eclectic, little-known facts that she amuses herself and her students with.

As a member of the faculty, some restrictions in behavior would automatically apply to Julie, in that there has to be a distinction in demeanour between student and teacher. When playing Julie, this is nice for me as an actor, as I get to slowly reveal more of who Julie is beneath the professorial role.

My belief is that Dr. Julie Cardinal is a woman who has lived through adversity, loss, and the need to prove herself again and again, not only as a female doctor, but also as an Aboriginal. At this stage in her life Julie seems to have come through it all with humour and grace. It's the specifics of a life that make us who we are. These are the things you may not know or see as an audience member. But they are part of the internal back story that we actors carry with us as we go off to work each day. We call on our own life story in creating the imagined back story that fills out and enriches our characters, in the hope that we bring to you, our viewers, an engaging snapshot of a real person you will connect with and be moved by on some level.

My back story for Julie is that she has spent many years working in an inner-city clinic. She found the life there fast, often brutal and all-in-all, a real disconnect from her own culture. So coming home to the North is comforting and familiar, but yet another form of culture shock. What I relate to most readily in playing Julie is her ability to improvise, to adapt and deal with what is right in front of her, the "in the present," rather than wishing it were otherwise. It was this aspect of my character, her ability to improvise, which became an essential technique in helping me get inside Julie's skin.

I also think my own belief system coincides well with Julie's. As in real life, so too in the imaginary world of Hard Rock this fact is true: Whether you're a doctor, actor or student, active listening is the key. Bringing an engaged and open ear, heart and mind to her method of teaching a new generation of young doctors is as thrilling a prospect and opportunity for Dr. Julie Cardinal as it is for me in playing the role.

Beyond my internal acting journey, the elements of Hard Rock that make it most fascinating for both the audience and the actors are those elements that are most challenging in terms of the practicalities of a film shoot. Our talented and trusted leaders Derek Diorio and Smith Corindia (the co-creators of the series) have written storylines that showcase the cultural and environmental landscape as it deserves to be shown in all its splendour and diversity.

Even though it can make for some tough shooting days, especially for the crew, the challenges are worth it. Hefting lights and cameras and big heavy expensive equipment through woods and down mine shafts is no easy task. It is an enormous undertaking.

However, I believe the proof is before us. I am certain you will agree that all the results show they are well worth the effort. From an audience point of view, creating and presenting characters that face and deal with real life situations ultimately makes for far more interesting TV.

Finally, for me, the beauty of the North and its richly diverse and welcoming citizenry is not to be disputed. All the more reason to show it off!

Kyra Harper in TVO's Hard Rock Medical