People

Stars shine on Toronto

Brian D. Johnson September 28 1998
People

Stars shine on Toronto

Brian D. Johnson September 28 1998

A WEEKLY WALK WITH DEATH

Forget picture-pretty Vancouver. Dominic Da Vinci’s world is the drifters’ cafés, the derelict reaches of the waterfront, the needle-littered alleys where every morning finds another junkie dead. And for the role of the mercurial coroner at the centre of the new CBC series Da Vinci’s Inquest, premièring on Oct. 7 at 9 p.m., creator Chris Haddock thought at once of craggy, tough-talking Nicholas Campbell. “I wanted an actor that had some experience out on the streets, and he hasthat,” says Haddock. “Nick lives life large.”

So does Da Vinci, an ex-narcotics cop whose oversized passions and persistence bring him into frequent conflict with the pathologists and police with whom he works—-and just as often with himself. Shot with a brooding edginess in some of Vancouver’s seediest neighborhoods, the show is an end-of-the-century counterpart

to Wojeck, the 1960s Canadian series about a Toronto coroner. In Da Vinci’s Inquest, the motives are murkier, the high ground harder to find. Haddock, who won a Gemini for his writing on the series Night Heat and previously produced Mom P.I. for the CBC, developed the new, one-hour show after attending a forensic science convention in Vancouver. The TV producer was struck by how the coroner’s role combines the dramatic potential of crime, the law and forensic pathology. And Haddock observes that since a coroner must make recommendations so that similar events in the future will not cause deaths, “he’s stuck with a built-in moral responsibility.” To prepare for the role, Toronto-based actor Campbell, 46, who already knew his way around a bar and a horse racing track,

spent hours with his Vancouver namesake and other coroners. “I’ve been on calls,” he says. “I’ve been down into pathology, seen an autopsy. I was surprised by the human side of the whole thing.”

The show, meanwhile, finds many of its stories in inhumanity. The first three episodes revolve around the hunt for a psychotic who entertains young prostitutes to death, then dumps their bodies in Vancouver harbor. Later episodes deal with mercy killing, a runaway tortured to death by other youths, and a death in the sado-masochistic subculture. Says Campbell: “They get into some pretty strange areas.” But as Haddock notes about some of the grittier story lines: “If it’s not risky, it’s not real.” A sentiment that Dominic Da Vinci would no doubt drink to.

CHRIS WOOD