The Canadian Screen Awards are an annual celebration of Canadian talent in film, TV, and digital media. This year’s awards show is set for broadcast March 13th on the national CBC network, and two acting nominees are from Strange Empire (2014-2015), the one-season Western series on CBC. Created by Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik, Strange Empire was set in the Alberta-Montana region of 1869 and featured three lead female roles and numerous secondary ones.
Aaron Poole, of CBC’s Strange Empire (2014-2015), is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role. As Captain John Slotter in the series, Poole created a complex character that at times controlled the communities adjacent to his coal mine and brothel, and at different points was constricted by forces, particularly personal and family ones, beyond his direction. Slotter’s handling of either polarity, under Poole’s careful crafting, ranged from reactionary to moody to reflective. As the lead male cast member in this female-led Western series, Poole shaped a presence for Slotter that was multi-note without being overbearing. In the following CBC-produced clip, Poole discusses both his character and the material of Strange Empire while it was under production:
Woody Jefferys is nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Supported Role in a Dramatic Program or Series. Jeffreys portrayed the character of Chase Sloat, a gentle though slow-witted minion of Slotter, who is haunted by his actions in the first episode of the series. The internal struggle that Sloat endures, an attempt to do the right thing filtered thru a mind not fully adult, was touchingly depicted by Jeffreys.
To this writer, it is somewhat ironic that a Western series that highlighted the presence of women in the early Canadian West, with three lead female actresses, and abundant secondary ones, did not have any of those actresses nominated in this year’s awards. Poole and Jefferys are most deserving of their male actor nominations but to leave, at the very least, Cara Gee, as Kat Loving, off the list of female nominees is to miss the significance of her work. Gee, playing Loving, skillfully originated a new type of lead for the Western genre in the 21st century; a multi-faceted, strong and at times, vulnerable, Métis woman. Such an Indigenous character has never been showcased to such a degree in the genre before, and that Gee gave nuanced breadth to such a new lead role is indicative of her own personal talent. In this CBC clip, Gee talks about Kat Loving:
Despite its March 2015 cancellation by CBC, for reasons that many fans have considered vague, Strange Empire has continued to reach audiences across Canada and beyond. The series has been shown on such TV networks as LMN and is available on digital platforms like Netflix.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)