21 Thun­der star draws in­spi­ra­tion from Cana­dian soc­cer star Chris­tine Sin­clair

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - LAU­REN LA ROSE

TORONTO — As she stepped into the cleats of a sea­soned player turned coach for CBC’s new TV se­ries “21 Thun­der,” ac­tress Stephanie Ben­nett looked to Cana­dian soc­cer star Chris­tine Sin­clair for in­spi­ra­tion.

“I watched a lot of in­ter­views. She’s so hum­ble and she’s so kind, but she’s very strong — ef­fort­lessly,” Ben­nett said of Sin­clair, a two-time Olympic medal­list and cap­tain of the se­nior women’s na­tional team.

“She has this pres­ence. You can tell when she walks into a room that she just re­ally owns how hard she’s worked to get to where she is, and I can def­i­nitely re­late to that.”

De­but­ing Mon­day, “21 Thun­der” stars Ben­nett as Christy Cook, an Olympic soc­cer hero brought in to coach the Mon­treal Thun­der men’s un­der-21 team. De­spite her cre­den­tials, the new­comer must con­tend with the skep­ti­cism of gruff head coach Al­bert Ro­cas (Con­rad Pla) and a squad of up-and-com­ing play­ers whom she’s been tasked to help lead.

“She’s sort of a woman in a man’s world and she has to re­ally prove her­self ... I think it re­ally says a lot that Christy is tak­ing on this ... lead­er­ship role at a place where women don’t nor­mally get that op­por­tu­nity,” Ben­nett said.

“She cares — she cares a lot. And I think it’s a great rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the fact that women can do any­thing.”

The se­ries ex­plores the com­plex lives of Thun­der play­ers and team lead­ers con­tend­ing with off-field chal­lenges. Ris­ing star Nolan Gal­lard (RJ Fether­ston­haugh) is a for­mer gang mem­ber whose dad (Colm Fe­ore) is be­hind bars. Mean­while, brash player-coach Davey Gunn (Ryan Pierce, a for­mer Scot­tish foot­baller who played un­der his birth name Ryan O’Leary) is flee­ing from the pa­parazzi as well as his own past.

New re­cruit Ju­nior Lolo (Em­manuel Kabongo) makes the jour­ney from the Ivory Coast to Canada to suit up for the Thun­der, but packs his own ex­cess bag­gage for the jour­ney.

“He’s on a se­cret mis­sion that his team­mates and coaches don’t know about. The only peo­ple that have this in­for­ma­tion are him­self and his fam­ily,” said Kabongo, who was born in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, raised in South Africa and grew up play­ing the sport.

“He comes with these high de­mands, but re­ally, deep down in­side, he’s a bro­ken soul.”

If the pi­lot episode is any in­di­ca­tion, the racy hour-long drama prom­ises to push the en­ve­lope with provocative lan­guage and love scenes fea­tured in the de­but.

“I think we wanted to try to give a snap­shot of what that world was like, and it’s sexy and it can be pro­fane,” said showrun­ner Mal­colm MacRury. “There’s cer­tainly lots of trou­ble brew­ing in re­la­tion­ships among the play­ers and those they’re at­tached to and fam­i­lies — but also with the un­der­world in Mon­treal.

“There’s all dif­fer­ent sides to it and we want it to make it as re­al­is­tic as pos­si­ble as fun as pos­si­ble.”

Se­ries co-cre­ator Ken­neth Hirsch said hav­ing “21 Thun­der” chron­i­cle the lives of ath­letes who are a step away from the big leagues will res­onate with view­ers be­yond the sports realm.

“I coached soc­cer for 10 years. I played for 10 years when I was a kid. I (ref­er­eed). And there’s no bet­ter re­flec­tion of the di­ver­sity of this coun­try than a soc­cer pitch.”

“21 Thun­der” pre­mières Mon­day at 9 p.m. on CBC. The Cana­dian Press

BER­TRAND CALMEAU, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Stephanie Ben­nett plays an Olympic soc­cer hero who coaches a men’s un­der-21 team.

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