TORONTO – How would you react if Skyler White pulled you over in a police car?
That became a reality for some L.A. residents when the actress who played a drug kingpin’s wife on Breaking Bad put on a cop uniform and joined an officer for a ride-along.
Anna Gunn was preparing for her new role in Gracepoint, premiering Thursday on Global, in which she plays a small-town detective investigating a child murder. The two-time Emmy winner recalled shadowing the officer as he stopped and questioned several people.
“I was like, ‘What if they’re Breaking Bad fans?” she said with a laugh. “The officer said, ‘Oh, no, that won’t be a problem. You’ll just say, ‘Oh, I get that all the time.'”
Gunn, 46, used that excuse twice — and to her surprise it worked. Skyler may have fallen on the wrong side of the law at times while protecting her criminal husband, but that day Gunn successfully posed as a police officer.
Gracepoint is the new adaptation of acclaimed British series Broadchurch. The show starred David Tennant and Olivia Colman as detectives in a picturesque community that is devastated after an 11-year-old boy is found murdered on a beach.
Tennant reprises his role as a crotchety outsider with a hidden past in Gracepoint, replacing his Scottish brogue with an American accent. Meanwhile Gunn takes on Colman’s role as the warmer Det. Ellie Miller, who has a family and strong roots in the town (Oak Bay, B.C., posing as northern California).
Gunn said she was “swept away” after binge-watching Broadchurch, and was immediately drawn to Miller.
“I really loved the duality in her character, the fact that she was really strong but confident,” she said in a telephone interview. “She’s got a soft heart. She believes deeply in the goodness of people. I just loved that she had so many things going on at the same time … She was trying to be a good mom and a good detective and a good wife.”
Tennant recently admitted that he was “nervous” to meet Gunn and see if he could recreate the strong working relationship he forged with Colman. Gunn agreed she felt anxious before meeting her co-star.
“I did feel a little bit of nerves, but they evaporated as soon as I met him,” she said. “He’s very funny and open. He’s truly a lovely human being … I think we just both approach working in a similar way.”
On such a dark and dramatic series, it was important to both of them to find the humour between the two characters, she said. The duo also found ways to lighten the mood on set, often singing the theme to Cagney & Lacey.
“It probably drove everybody else mad, but we seemed to find it amusing. Every single time he just cracked me up,” she said with a chuckle. “Those days were so long. The story is so intense and heart-wrenching, you can’t stay entrenched in that for 15 hours. It just depends on the scene, but in general it’s very helpful to laugh and keep yourself loose.”
She said she felt “so lucky” to work with Tennant after having such a close relationship with her Breaking Bad co-star Bryan Cranston. Gunn won her second Emmy in August for her role on the wildly popular series.
“It was the culmination of this tremendous journey and this amazing ride,” she said of the recent Emmys, in which the show won five awards including outstanding drama series. “We just felt very, very lucky. It was a cohesive, tight, close-knit family.”
The early episodes of Gracepoint are similar to Broadchurch, but it boasts a bigger-name cast including Oscar nominees Nick Nolte and Jacki Weaver, 10 episodes instead of eight and a different ending.
Canadian actor Kevin Zegers, who plays small-town reporter Owen Burke, said the show is “diametrically opposite to 95 per cent” of what’s on television.
“It’s like a really, really good movie that happens to last 10 hours,” he said in a summer interview. “Whether I were in it or not, this would be a show I would be watching.”
Unlike Gunn, Zegers chose not to watch Broadchurch ahead of time.
“They hired very different actors from the original show,” he said. “I didn’t really want to get muddled with copying what someone else had done. So I kind of just wanted to walk into it with my idea of who this guy was.”
Burke is more accustomed to reporting on the local elementary school’s field day than grisly murders. But when Danny’s death attracts a scoop-hungry journalist (Jessica Lucas) from a major newspaper, he is forced to decide whether to use his intimate knowledge of Gracepoint’s residents to his advantage.
Zegers, a 30-year-old actor who hails from Woodstock, Ont., said his character is more “lazy” than his Broadchurch counterpart.
“He’s kind of nonchalant about everything. He’s not that uber-focused guy that was in the original show,” he said. “So, you know, playing lazy is kind of easy. You just kind of have to show up. But once the fire is lit under him, I think much more of his aspiration is to do the right thing.”