Matchett stars in CBC drama
FORMER LCI DRAMA STUDENT HAS LEAD ROLE IN ‘FORTUNATE SON’
Since her teens, Kari Matchett has felt a resonance with the late 1960s, an emotional connection that was illuminated by a high school drama teacher at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute.
Matchett, the star of such American TV series as “Invasion,” “24,” “ER” and “Covert Affairs” is now starring in the CBC Television drama “Fortunate Son,” airing Wednesdays.
The series premiered on Jan. 7 and seven more episodes are scheduled to air.
Matchett, a native of Spalding, Sask., who lived in Lethbridge from Grade 2 until she graduated from LCI in 1988, was drawn to the starring role of Ruby Howard because of that connection made in Grade 11 and 12 thanks to teacher Shirley R. Steinberg, who taught for one year at the school.
Steinberg, now the Research Chair of Critical Youth Studies at the University of Calgary, had her class do a re-enactment of the Kent State Massacre on May 4, 1970 in which the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed students during a protest of the bombing of
Cambodia by the U.S. during the Vietnam War.
Four students died and nine others were wounded when guard members sprayed about 67 rounds in a mere 13 seconds at the protesters. The shootings have prompted many cultural references including the classic Neil Youngpenned song “Ohio.”
“It hit me in a deep, personal way,” said Matchett in a phone interview on Wednesday.
“It was an incredible time of social and political change,” said Matchett, who still speaks with Steinberg, a graduate of Penn State University and the University of Lethbridge where she earned her Bachelor and Master of Education degrees.
“She was an incredible drama teacher,” said Matchett.
In “Fortunate Son,” which is set in 1968 British Columbia, Matchett plays an American activist named Ruby Howard living in Canada who is being pursued by the FBI. She helps smuggle draft dodgers and deserters across the border from Washington State into the B.C. community of Ladner, which is part of the city of Delta.
One of those deserters, as seen in the opening episode, is a soldier who inadvertently killed fellow Americans in friendly fire but is given a second chance by a CIA agent who is after Howard.
The series is based in part on the story of Mary Cox, the mother of Tom Cox, managing director of Calgary’s SEVEN24 Films, who is one of the series producers.
The era of the Vietnam War was one of immense social, cultural and political change.
“People were fighting racism and sexism” and standing up to injustice, Matchett said.
“And people were willing to take action — that’s the character I’m playing.” That character puts herself and her family at risk while she stands up for her values in a tumultuous world.
That type of character, said Matchett, a woman in her 40s doing what Howard does, “is a rarity in television” and it’s a character she was drawn to.
Matchett and all the other cast members became immersed in the era as they prepared for their roles, including watching the outstanding Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War.
“This is real history,” said Matchett, stating the war caused “the biggest brain drain from America to Canada.”
“It was an incredibly proud moment for Canada,” she said, recalling the order of then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau to customs agents not to ask questions of American men of draft age who were attempting to cross the border into Canada.
About 100,000 Americans left their home country rather than fight in Vietnam, with the majority coming to Canada. But only about half went home after American president Jimmy Carter in 1977 pardoned draft dodgers.
Matchett said the cast of “Fortunate Son,” which was shot in Alberta, were all “quite aligned” about the absurdity of war.
“Fortunate Son” is the latest of a long line of film and television roles for Matchett who was considered one of the top five faces to watch thanks to her role in “Invasion.”
In an interview with The Herald years ago, she recalled leaving Lethbridge basically the day after graduation when her mom and stepdad moved to Calgary. After studying at Red Deer College, she was accepted into the National Theatre School in Montreal, then studied in Moscow.
She still has friends here but “just didn’t manage to get down this summer,” she said.
While living in Lethbridge, she sung with the LCI Jazz Choir, danced at Studio One and took drama classes at the Bowman Arts Centre.
Over the years, she’s worked with such luminaries as Jane Seymour, Jennifer Lopez, Timothy Hutton, Charles Bronson and Brian Dennehy.
She told The Herald in that old interview she got the acting bug at the age of 12 after reading a book called “The Outsiders” and reading in a teen magazine it was going to be made into a film. “I just knew.” In addition to the CBC network, “Fortunate Son” can also be viewed on CBC Gem.