Pubdate: Fri, 06 Jan 2017
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Bill Brioux
Page: G4


DARTMOUTH, N.S. - What if Walter White was a Mennonite?

"Pure," which premieres Monday at 9 p.m. on CBC-TV, is based on actual
accounts of Mennonites acting as drug mules. Various reports suggest some
members were smuggling cocaine and marijuana into Canada all the way from
Mexico by hiding drugs in hollowed-out car batteries and wheels of cheese.

Series writer and creator Michael Amo ("The Listener") optioned one such
magazine article nearly a decade ago but had a hard time selling networks
on a Christian sect version of "Breaking Bad."

"I couldn't get any traction on it," says Amo, whose Russian-immigrant
grandparents were Mennonites. "I found there was a lot of resistance to
the notion that this was even real."

Well-publicized busts involving drug mules in Calgary and southwestern
Ontario helped open a few eyes, says Amo. Around the same time, so did the
success of "True Detective" and "Fargo," two dark dramas that proved there
was an appetite for short-run series.

Shaw Media developed "Pure" for a while "then decided it wasn't for them,"
says Amo. That's when CBC stepped in, with the series going into
production in Nova Scotia this past fall.

Key to the project was finding the right actor to play Noah Funk, the
God-fearing head of the Mennonite community.

"Walter White's journey was all about a good man becoming bad," says Amo.
"Our story is about a very good man becoming bad in deed but always
remaining good in heart and being tormented by all these transgressions."

Amo found his straight arrow leader in Ryan Robbins, a native of Victoria,
B.C. with credits on everything from "Arrow" to "Continuum" and
"Battlestar Galactica." Clean-shaven and sporting nerdy glasses, a straw
hat and suspenders, Robbins looks the part. On the day of a press visit to
a hillside location, director Ken Girotti - who helms all six episodes -
has Funk take his frustrations out on a cellphone.

Funk's un-Godly dilemma: he must betray a fellow Mennonite in order to rid
his community of drug traffickers.

The plan backfires when drug kingpin Eli Voss (Peter Outerbridge)
threatens Funk's family if he doesn't look the other way on the smuggling

"He's trying to be true to his God and his family," says Robbins. "He
thinks he can do all this and get back to the way things were before. He
very quickly finds himself in (trouble)."

Encouraged by Girotti, Outerbridge ("Orphan Black," "ReGenesis") strives
to portray Voss as pure evil.

"We decided I didn't want to have any facial expression," he says. "He
should come across as that thing that Mennonite moms told their kids
before they go to bed at night: make sure they do well in school or Eli
Voss will come and get you."

Funk finds two unlikely allies in trying to bring Voss to justice: a
former high school tormentor-turned misfit cop (played by Irish-born
Canadian actor A.J. Buckley) and American drug enforcement agency officer
Phoebe O'Reilly (Oscar nominee Rosie Perez).

"He's a degenerate but he's honest about it," says Buckley of his character.

For "Pure," Perez tamed her loud and proud Puerto Rican/Brooklyn accent
and spoke barely above a whisper. "I worked really hard for two straight
weeks," she says, taking her vocal coach's suggestion - even in interviews
- - to "stop talking like Rosie and just talk like O'Reilly. It was the
greatest advice."

Perez and her "Pure" castmates had a bigger challenge, however: making
scenes shot in farm fields in Dartmouth in November look like rural
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