When viewers tune in to CBC-TV’s newest crime drama, Shoot The Messenger, premiering on Monday night, Oct. 10 at 9 p.m., one face on the screen will be familiar to local audiences.
Winnipeg-born actor Ari Cohen is one of the stars in this new thriller that includes a smart cast in a sharply written and well directed intense TV drama.
The story centres on ambitious journalist Daisy Channing, played by Elyse Levesque, and the complex relationships between crime reporters and the police. When the reporter witnesses a murder she thinks is gang related, it leads her to discover a cover-up so scandalous it could bring down the government.
Gritty, sexy, edge-of-your-seat TV, this is a beautifully shot series, based in Toronto, and uniquely Canadian in many ways.
“It’s very diverse,” says Cohen, who plays Attorney General Sam Charles. “It’s a complex story that is multi-dimensional – racially, socio-economically – and also it’s a great story. I really admire the way they’re challenging an audience,” he says.
The creators of this serialized crime thriller are executive producers Jennifer Holness and Sudz Sutherland, of Hungry Eyes Film and Television Inc., the production company responsible for the series. The married couple also wrote and directed most of the eight one-hour shows.
“One of the things I think makes this show unique in Canada is they [Holness and Sutherland] really were given carte blanche to make the show that they want to make without a lot of network interference,” says Cohen.
This so called creative freedom gives the show a refreshing feel that is likely to attract a healthy following of viewers who will tune into all eight shows of this first season.
“The hope is that it has future life and that people respond to it and we get to go back and do it again,” says Cohen, who has achieved considerable success in his career.
“I’ve done a number of things since then and before then. It was certainly really challenging and really rewarding,” he says.
In Shoot the Messenger, Cohen was tasked with playing the role of a powerful man who has vulnerabilities.
“[Attorney General] Sam Charles is a very complicated man, very powerful, he’s accustomed to winning; he’s certainly won his whole life. Very smart. Very driven. Rhodes Scholar. Very ambitious. And deeply flawed,” says Cohen. “That’s always really rewarding because…that’s a really exciting dichotomy to play.”
In preparation for the role, Cohen says he studied how some powerful people act.
“Justin Trudeau, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama. Of course we see only their public faces,” Cohen says. “I watched a lot of those guys and how they conduct themselves, in speeches and in interviews, so it’s very interesting to develop both what that veneer is, and also on the other side, kind of invent an internal life which often is in contradiction to that veneer.”
This latest work adds to a long list of stage and screen credits Cohen has accumulated over the years. Some recent starring roles include one on Gangland Undercover – Season II, which just started airing in Canada on History Canada, and is soon to air in the U.S. on A+E; a role on the series After Camelot, a sequel to the mini series The Kennedys, where Cohen plays Chief of Staff to Senator Ted Kennedy; and a role as a rabbi in the remake of the Stephen King movie, It.
“It’s very exciting to be able to do different things all the time,” he says. Yet, he admits it’s not been easy.
“It’s been incredibly gratifying and incredibly difficult,” says Cohen reflecting on his career as an actor. “I consider myself to be extremely lucky in that I’ve been able to support myself and my family for the last many years. But, it’s challenging.”
For Cohen, it seems the key to being a successful Canadian actor is to have the right approach to the work.
“You don’t really think as a Canadian actor in terms of career trajectory. There’s an old joke that there is a ladder in Canadian show business but the ladder is on the ground,” he laughs.
“The only way to have any longevity is to focus on the work and do the best work you can and try not to be results based in terms of what it might do,” Cohen says.
“I’ve learned over the years that some opportunities that look like they’re going to be amazing, turn out to not be so, and others that you kind of underestimate turn out to be hugely rewarding and gratifying. So, I think of it less in terms of what it might do for me, and more just in terms of the quality of the work and the challenges that the work presents.”