Swan gets real in new drama
Canadian actress takes on crime and autopsies
Serinda Swan felt there was more to her new TV character coroner Jenny Cooper than the study of bodily fluids, skin tissue and blood spray patterns.
Swan felt Cooper, the lead in the new CBC drama Coroner, had an internal life that was also ripe for dissection.
“I really want to keep her as human as possible. I don’t want her to be a coroner that happens to be a person. I wanted her to be a person who happens to be a coroner,” Swan said she told Coroner showrunner Adrienne Mitchell and creator Morwyn Brebner when they were discussing the role.
“I wanted to be able to lead with her humanity. I wanted to lead with everything she feels.”
In the new eight-part series we meet Cooper just as her husband has dropped dead.
Once an emergency room doctor, Cooper’s mounting anxiety has forced her to make big changes and navigate new, very often emotional, waters. To help start anew she packs up her teenage son, moves to Toronto and takes a job as a coroner.
“First and foremost it’s watching a woman’s experience in this new life,” said Swan, who grew up in Vancouver, but has called Los Angeles home since 2009.
The daughter of a theatre director (Scott Swan) and an actress turned spiritual healer (Alandra Napali Kai), Swan’s first gig was alongside her mother on the Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini 1989 film Cousins when she was just three years old. She remembers there was candy.
In her teens she began to model, but that life was not for Swan. She didn’t like the scene, the process and what it represented, and how it made her feel. She says it was a life she was happy to walk away from.
“We can all be duped into thinking our value is the sexual energy we can get from another person, or the sexual attention we can get,” said Swan adding she never saw herself as a model turned actor.
“That has nothing to do with me. That’s my mother. That’s my father. That’s my genetics,” said Swan of her model-friendly looks. “If I solely rely on my genetics for my life’s creativity then I’m a bit of a jackass.”
Her new TV character is a long way from glossy magazine pictorials. Sure she has great eyebrows, but Jenny isn’t running around crime scenes in four-inch stilettos and perfectly tailored, designer suits.
“I put on eight pounds for the character, and I made sure when I cut my hair my bangs were a little off. I wanted it to look utilitarian. I wanted it to look like she did it in her sink,” said Swan. “I didn’t want this to be a pretty, shiny character.”
A pair of Hunter gumboots used for outdoor crime scene investigations is as fancy as Cooper gets.
Swan says she is looking to substance over sex appeal, plain and simple.
“The people who have longevity in this industry are the people who have made themselves, and they have made themselves into many different characters,” said Swan, who played Anne Bancroft opposite Jessica Lange’s Joan Crawford in TV mogul Ryan Murphy’s miniseries Feud.
“As a woman we are told our value decreases as we get older,” added Swan. “I’m like: my value actually increases. On the outside I may not be valued as much by society, but the conversations I can have and my ability to contribute to society, the wisdom, that increases my value.”
There is no word yet if Swan will get to play Cooper again. That will be determined after the series goes to air. Either way, she says she is really proud of the show and loved that she got to shoot it in Toronto, and Toronto got to remain Toronto.
Swan also had an extra expert on set if she needed to talk about being a coroner. In fact, she had access to an earlier Canadian TV coroner: Nicholas Campbell, a.k.a. Dominic Da Vinci, from Da Vinci’s Inquest. Campbell shows up in this new series as Cooper’s father.
“He’s a legend,” said Swan, when asked about the award-winning Campbell. “On the last day of shooting he said this is one of his favourite projects he has ever worked on. It brought tears to my eyes.”
“Oh yeah, I do,” said Swan, who then explained what happens in a regular autopsy after they take out organs and dissect and test them.
“At the end of it everything, including your brain, goes into a yellow plastic bag and gets sewn into your stomach, your chest cavity,” said Swan. “So any time there is ever an open casket everything is just in there, in the stomach, in a bag.”
Right now Swan is back at home in Los Angeles and working on the education technology company she co-founded two years ago.
Deedly (as in good deeds) is a free education app to which kids from grades 6 to 12 can sign up with their teachers. In the app is a curriculum that is based around world issues like mental health, education, poverty and environmental conservation. Through the app kids have access to charities that work with those issues.
“I had this moment in 2011 when I realized that my voice can’t just be telling my story. It needs to be an educated voice, and it needs to tell the story of many,” said Swan.
Serinda Swan plays corner Jenny Cooper in the new CBC drama Corner.