[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
This summer is a Killjoys-palooza as several alumni launch new projects. The Lake, which drops its whole first season this Friday on Prime Video, was created and produced by Killjoys writer/producer Julian Doucet, who brought fellow alumni Andrew De Angelis and Vivian Lin along for the ride. This week, I spoke with Doucet about the series, which is an eight-episode, half-hour dramedy romp through Ontario cottage country and populated by a complete bag of nuts (said with all love).
The basic premise is that the season marks the return of Justin (Jordan Gavaris), whose decision almost two decades earlier to give up his daughter in an open adoption severed his relationship with his own father. Back in Canada after a long-term relationship in Australia fell apart, he brings his now-teenage daughter, Billie (Madison Shamoun), to the lake that was the family vacation spot.
Once there, he is horrified to discover that the family homestead is now the property of his (wicked) stepsister, Maisy-May (Julia Stiles). He sets out on a mission to reclaim it, bond with his daughter, and maybe heal his fractured heart with a local Jack-of-all-trades who leaves him tongue-tied. Hilarity (that’s alternately wildly inappropriate, raunchy, poignant, and bittersweet) ensues. It’s funny and everybody’s welcome and anything goes, and there are no limits and no judgments. And it’s just the most joyous thing you could put on your television in a time when we need that.
Doucet was pulled into the series after Prime Video signed off on the initial concept but wanted to take it in a different direction, and he brought some of his own history into the story.
“They put out a call and they read a bunch of scripts and one of my scripts landed on their desk. So they asked me to put together a few pitches. I had about three different entry points into that world, one of which was sort of loosely based on my own experience of going on holiday with my daughter, and having a daughter I gave up at the beginning of university and theater school and choosing her parents and it being an open adoption,” he explains.
“When she was 16, I took her to Paris. Because I was just a jerk, like, ‘I’m gonna be the first man to show you Paris.’ We had a very specific dynamic, which I hadn’t ever really seen on television before, other than maybe Gilmore Girls, which was sort of adjacent.”
“And I thought, ‘Well, what if I took elements, like the vibe and the dynamic of the two of us going on that first vacation together. What would that be like?’ And then that was sort of my point of departure.”
“I checked with her before I even did it, and she said, ‘Yeah absolutely.’ She’s a big adoption advocate. And so for her it was a way of normalizing different kinds of families. And then of course so much about cottages, I realized, is heartbreaks [and] blood feuds. It’s your happiest memories, but [also mundane decisions on legacy and timesharing, like], ‘Who does it go to? Who’s allowed to change the drapes?’”
“I always thought it was really, really funny. There was always an element on the lake that it’s this place where you go to relax but [it’s also] the most unbearable stress. And so that’s how I came up with this idea of ‘Succession meets Wet, Hot American Summer.’”
Doucet just premiered the first two episodes with a crowd, and his daughter and her birth mom, this week at the Inside Out LGBTQ film festival and loved the real-time feedback. “It was amazing. They loved it and they laughed and [there were] so many people, so it was really wonderful. I had thought, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna base this on a loose springboard of my life, and then you see what you put on the screen and say, ‘Oh my God. I gave everything away,'” he laughs.
“On the one hand, it was thrilling [to see it with a crowd] because I realized I would [usually] never hear the laughs because everyone would be on their couch, and everybody laughed the whole way through both episodes. That was hugely rewarding. And then afterwards in the Q & A, people were just very effusive and I liked how the mood of the room felt like it got lighter. So that [cemented that] I did the thing I wanted to do.”
Hitting the jackpot with the large ensemble cast involved a lot of moving pieces, and Doucet was thrilled with where they landed. “It took a long time to get the right combo and we cast a very wide net, from England to the States to Canada. I knew that I absolutely wanted the lead to be gay. And I wanted to make sure that at least the lead would be Canadian,” he says.
“Then there’s all the weird horse trading. When Jordan auditioned, he did a little improv, he played a little fast and loose with the pilot script, and I was like, ‘What are you doing with my script?’ His jokes were good, and then I was, “Okay, alright, I see what you’re doing and I admire your game, even if I’m mildly irritated. It’s not what I wrote, but it’s pretty good.'”
“My only worry was that he looked a little young, but he was so good. So once we had Jordan, Billie took quite a while to hone in on her. But when I saw Madison, I was like a dog with a bone. [I knew], ‘It’s her, it’s her, it’s her, it’s her, it’s her.’”
“And Julia auditioned for us. She’s the kind of actress who would just go to offer, but she said, ‘No, I really want to read for this.’ She got in the ring and Maisy-May was one of the most intangible characters for me for a while, trying to nail her voice. And then she landed [a pivotal line and I knew] that was her.”
“As soon as we started doing the chemistry reads, it was very, very obvious that they were the right people. It’s always interesting in a chemistry read. It [brought] out different shades in Jordan and how would he play off them. And then what was wonderful about Julia is you could just feel Jordan wanted to impress her.”
“And Jordan and Madison were immediately comfortable. They had that natural dynamic between them, even to the point where I [said] at the beginning, ‘You don’t know each other, you don’t like each other, you gotta work a little harder [at selling the animosity].'”
Travis Nelson plays Riley, the aforementioned possible love interest, in whom Justin is immediately smitten, “When Jordan and Travis read together in chemistry, both of them were sweating. Jordan forgot his lines. The Zoom screen fogged up,” Doucet laughs. “The chemistry was tangible. I’m like, ‘Okay…’”
Terry Chen plays Maisy-May’s former NHL star husband in a wonderful departure role that will likely surprise fans used to seeing him play the muscle. “I’m so in love with Terry and his character. Victor is one of my favorites,” says Doucet. “That slight concussion [view on] life. He’s had a few hits to the head. He loves his wife. He loves his kids. I think what Terry brings is just hilarious.”
While Maisy-May and Victor’s older son, Killian (Jared Scott), hits it off with Billie, their younger son, Opal, is the super-evolved pre-teen, played by Declan Whaley, who’s not-so-secretly running the family. “We had an incredible casting agent, Sara Kay, who worked tirelessly. We were casting pretty much two or three days before the first read through. Opal was pretty hard to cast and I thought, ‘Who wouldn’t want to play this?’ and then ‘Oh right. Because I’ve written the Maggie Smith part for a ten year old. That’s why some parents maybe don’t want their kid to play this,’ where I’m thinking, Opal’s the part,” Doucet shares.
“Declan is a genius. He came out of the game a little bit Nickelodeon, I remember in the first auditions, and then we said, ‘Your touchstones are [Meryl Streep as] Miranda Priestly from Devil Wears Prada and Judi Dench as M in James Bond,’ and then he just came in and nailed it.”
“Even though he identifies his gender as ‘icon,’ there’s just something very pragmatic about who he is. Sarah Millman, who designed the costumes with me, was just another side of my brain. We had the time of our lives dressing Opal because he’s always in a vibe. In one episode, we call him Opal Bader Ginsburg. He’s a little bit of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a little bit of Martin Scorsese, a little Fran Liebowitz, and then another day he’s full Esther Williams, but he’s also in board shorts.”
Doucet says it was also extremely important to build his writers rooms with the right combination of people. “I wanted Lisa Codrington [on staff] because I knew I wanted the show to be reflective of the world. And also, part of being in cottage country is it’s very white, so I wanted to be able to look at that part of the world and [look at how we] can poke fun at these spaces, which have been very traditionally white, and push the dial forward without ignoring any of those kinds of conversations,” he explains.
“It’s still a summer show. It’s still fun, but not ignoring the world that we live in. I wanted to make sure that I had at least two black women writers in the room, and Lisa is a playwright who I admired for a really long time and she was available. And she brings all of the most amazing, weirdest [ideas]. She has one of the most delightfully wild brains and is super funny.”
“Lori-Ann Russell is a young writer just out of school. And she brought a real emotional connection. She just really was the protector of all the different emotional lines. She was able to ground us a lot to make sure that it didn’t fly off. I’m a bit of a Justin and I’m a hummingbird, so [she kept us on track that] these are real people with real feelings [so] let’s remember where they are in every moment.”
“Kaveh Mohebbi, who is just fabulously funny, wrote a script that I just died [reading] and I was like, ‘I don’t know who he is, but I want him in my room,” and I was right. Winter Tekenos-Levy is another young writer who’s just so funny. Jenn Engels came in to help after Vivian went to SkyMed, and she is marvelous and now a Peabody winner with Sort Of.”
The Lake premieres Season 1 this Friday everywhere on Prime Video. Here’s a sneak peek. And ICYMI, check out my conversations with writer-producer and Killjoys alumni Vivian Lin and series co-star Terry Chen.
Photos and video courtesy of Prime Video.
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