The dramatic series Blackstone returned to television recently and with it two former Prince George actors on the show.
Blackstone is rooted in the drama of a fictitious reserve in the Canadian west. It launched its third season this week, just as B.C. wrapped up Truth And Reconciliation Week and the Vancouver stopover of the federal Truth And Reconciliation Commission.
One of the darker characters on the show is Daryl Fraser, played by Steven Cree Molison.
"Even though the jobs for an actor are few and far between, I know a lot of people would give their eye teeth to be in my position. I don't take that for granted," said the Prince George actor, who has overcome a checkered past and a major motorcycle crash to become a sought-after Canadian actor. He got the acting bug working on the set of Reindeer Games when it filmed in the Prince George region 14 years ago.
"We are shining a light into these rezes [Indian reservations] all across Canada, where there is high unemployment, few opportunities, and a lot of young people - because it is the fastest growing population within Canadian culture - looking to find themselves. We are exposing those living conditions, we are breaking down a lot of mysteries too for non-aboriginal people who find it pretty easy to relate their own lives to the ones on the show," he said. "There are people who don't like the show because it's really raw, really rough, violent... but it happens for real right in your town here in Prince George and almost everywhere."
Molison has seen his character become popular. Daryl was jailed during the previous season, and a groundswell of fan support emerged with people were wearing "Free Daryl" T-shirts and running contests displaying themselves wearing the shirt in places all over the world.
"It's fun. We wouldn't be where we are if people weren't watching the show and responding to the characters. This was something that kept the beat in between seasons," he said.
Molison is not the only Prince George connection to Blackstone. Recurring actor Tommy Mueller is also from the Prince George area and recognized Molison one day on the set. Mueller portrays Rick Amenakew, a partially corrupt band councillor who does some of the intimidation tactics asked of him by greedy higher ranking officials. The role hasn't been a stretch for Mueller.
"I was working the door at a nightclub in downtown Prince George, and was starting to get caught up in the wrong lifestyle," he said. "I saw the drugs and all the underground life on a daily basis...It's very easy to fall into that lifestyle. I saw friends fall in and never recover. I would see friends from high school that didn't have a life anymore. It was sad, and I made the conscious decision to leave before I got too far down that path."
Blackstone's inventor, head writer and director Ron E. Scott told The Citizen that aboriginal Canada is loaded with good material for a no-holds-barred television drama.
"One of the hallmarks of any great one-hour drama is character. You need universal themes that resonate with people," he said. "The Sopranos are Italian-American mobsters. Breaking Bad is about the deep underworld of hard drugs. Not many people are part of those worlds but those ratings are huge. Why? What those shows are really about is family, community, the struggles and pleasures of everyday life. Pick any good show, and spot that ability to resonate with the regular person. Blackstone is set on a reserve, but it is really about politics, power, families, relationships - those are things we are all familiar with it. It is told through mostly aboriginal characters but it represents everybody."
Scott is the embodiment of these complexities. He is of Metis heritage, so a mix of Euro and First Nations backgrounds. He has lived in rural Canada but also in Los Angeles. Professionally he has been involved in an eco-conscious home renovation show (My Green House) and a situation comedy (Mixed Blessings, which also explored the dynamics between Euro and aboriginal relationships).
Then came Blackstone.
"I've always wanted to take stories that are ripped from the headlines but at the same time have those dramatic elements of the great cable shows," he said. "I am a student of the one-hour drama. I'm amazed at how other shows are able to do things, and we try to put that passion and desire into it, a desire to present something fresh on some levels but still familiar to people at the root levels."
Blackstone is based on the personality of modern Canadian Aboriginal communities but it is also intended to be fun and entertaining. After a prolonged production hiatus, the show's third season started airing in Canada this week and there are hopes for all three seasons to be rolled into a single series for a U.S. launch in the near future.