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Marriska is a Toronto-based entertainment reporter and Tomatometer-approved film and TV critic.
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The first scripted Canadian Amazon Original has found its home in cottage country.
Starring Julia Stiles, Jordan Gavaris, and Madison Shamoun, The Lake follows Justin (Gavaris) as he returns from Australia after a break-up with his long-term partner, in hopes of reconnecting with 16-year-old Billie (Shamoun), the daughter he gave up for adoption when he was in high school. His plans to create new memories with the city-loving Billie at the idyllic lake from his childhood go awry when he finds out his father left the family cottage to his picture-perfect stepsister, Maisy-May (Stiles). The cottage in question happens to be in North Bay, Ontario, where the eight-part series was filmed.
It’s rare for a series to explore the Canadian cottage experience and tap into everything the lake has to offer—the good, the bad, and the ugly. The actors say they relished the opportunity to relax and indulge in very Canadian activities while filming in nature.
Ahead of The Lake’s premiere this Friday, we caught up with Gavaris, Shamoun and Stiles over Zoom to discuss their experience filming, quintessential cottage experience essentials, and how the series explores race and sexuality through the guise of comedy.
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Julia, what made you want to sign up for this comedy?
Julia Stiles: It was basically the writing and the people involved. People don’t really think of me in terms of comedy, but in my everyday life, that’s what I’m more interested in. I just wanted to go to work and laugh with everybody and try and make people laugh. I did a chemistry read with Jordan and we hit it off, and it seemed like even over Zoom—which is really strange because there’s a delay, the timing and the rhythm—what we find funny all fell into place. And just literally what I saw on the page, I just thought it’s really clever and sweet and also kind of outrageous at times.
It was so fun to see the Ontario cottage experience captured on screen with the canoeing, chilling on the dock, etc. That’s literally our summer tradition. Jordan, as a Canuck, how much of your own Canadian cottage experience did you see in this script?
Jordan Gavaris: I did spend a few summers in Muskoka, because my dad is from Greece but he grew up in Owen Sound really close to Sauble Beach, and so we spent a lot of time by Georgian Bay, and that’s what I think like the show captures so well, is that sensorial experience of Canadian cottage country. The aim is that the audience [doesn’t] just sort of feel like they’re watching the show, but that they might actually feel it a little bit or experience a part of it by proxy, because it was so neat. Being up in North Bay for three months, the whole thing did kind of turn into summer camp, because when we weren’t working, we did have to just kind of sit by the dock and enjoy the weather and enjoy the landscape, which was not difficult at all. I’m so happy to be able to represent this really unique part of Canadian culture on screen for the country.
Julia and Madison, having filmed this, what was your Canadian cottage experience like?
Stiles: I grew up in New York City and if we ever went on vacation, it was usually either to a different place, or like the ocean, and we never really got rooted in one sort of subculture. But even the idea of the lake, like I always think of holidays, we go to the ocean and the other side is like another country or another continent. With the lake, it’s like you swim to the other end of the lake, and you’re still on the lake. So there’s very something very like insular about the whole thing in a good way and in a kind of funny way, which we highlighted in the show.
Madison Shamoun: Yeah, I have some family on the East Coast. So I’ve been to a lake before, but it’s just not really my thing. I was quite out of my comfort zone, even just swimming and canoeing. Those were those were all first for me.
Gavaris: But you found the good vegan food in North Bay.
“I’m so happy to be able to represent this really unique part of Canadian culture on screen for the country.” – Jordan Gavaris
What did you learn about the Canadian cottage lifestyle that you were perhaps not aware of before? Was there anything that surprised you?
Shamoun: [Turns to Stiles.] You said something like this earlier, but it’s like super competitive. Like there are a lot of games and tournaments. I had no idea.
Stiles: I think if we highlight it in the show, I haven’t tapped into it this specifically in North Bay yet, but our show makes fun of how these people know everything about each other. They have a ledger-board memory of seasons past where, who slept with whom and who lost this game, and who did this tournament. And they do get really competitive about it. So like charades is ride or die. I keep saying that, like I don’t even really know what ride or die is. But like Olympic-style charades is what they do… like you’re going for gold.
Gavaris: It’s also just about being so comfortable in the uncomfortable, like cottages are often not as nice as your house. Or maybe they are I don’t know, it depends on the cottage, but like you’re kind of just more comfortable living in dusty, mouldy cottages. And there’s something fun about that, too. You just let a bunch of your hang-ups go from your real life. And that’s why people are so relaxed. Day drinking is accepted. That’s probably why people are actually relaxed.
Absolutely! If every character is a little bit of the actor who plays them, how much of yourselves did you see in the roles you play?
Gavaris: I think we’re good like 80 to 90 percent of me in Justin. I think Justin’s much more of a mess than I am. He’s a lot messier. I like to believe I’m a little bit more precise and organized. But our essence of who we are as people, there’s a lot of me in that character.
Shamoun: I’d say it’s 60-40 for me, like I’m a bit of Billie and she’s a bit of me, but honestly, she’s way cooler at 16 than I was and if I could have even a fourth of the confidence that she had, I think I would have taken the world by storm.
Gavaris: 100 percent. for Julia. [Laughs.]
Stiles: My character is kind of the antagonist and the thing that I loved about playing her was being able to fully embrace all the horrible aspects of anyone’s personality. She’s very passive aggressive, she’s very competitive, little sadistic, like she wants to see her stepbrother lose in a really painful way. She’s childish, like all the things that we try and beat out of each other by the time we’re grownups, I got to fully do and that was very fun. So I don’t know what that says about me. Maybe I am like Maisy-May.
“‘I’m not letting you take a sh*t in my lake!’” – Julia Stiles
The Lake does explore the bigotry and racism up north in Ontario. I love that the show explores that side of the experience. Can you speak as to what the conversation was with the filmmakers on that front?
Shamoun: I feel really lucky in that we have a little bit of everybody in the writers room. We had women people of color. Same thing goes for on set. I personally felt a little bit of that in North Bay—I thought I was the only Black person in the town just as they’re so few people. But I feel like we did a really good job including people.
Gavaris: I can only speak to it from a queer perspective. But there were many queer people involved in the development of the show and its execution in the crew. I suppose at first glance might seem a little scary for anyone marginalized to take a trip three hours north of the city. Totally understandable. I felt that way myself. But we hang out, we have a lovely experience with one another and I think we worked really hard to make sure as many people felt included as possible.
In terms of the show, was that always part of the plan to discuss this aspect of the cottage experience as well?
Gavaris: I don’t know that it was necessarily something that was approached with sort of academic intent, or if it was something that just kind of unfurled naturally, because if you’re going to explore mixed-race relationships, or queer characters, or female relationships on screen, like gender fluidity, I think that’s kind of just a byproduct of occupying space in that conversation; inevitably, you’re going to have to say something, but I think one of my favourite things about the show is that it wasn’t pursued with political or an aggressive agenda. The show is ultimately about this love story between a father and a daughter. And of course, you know, there are a dynamics that needs to be explored if you’re occupying space in the progressive conversation, but it doesn’t feel like you’re taking medicine when you watch the show.
What would you say is critical to a very quintessential Canadian cottage experience?
Shamoun: Shower. If you don’t take a a shower after swimming in the lake! I learned that the hard way…
Stiles: Bug spray… Umm… mushrooms? [Laughs.] No, I’m just kidding.
Gavaris: Or are you? [Laughs.]
And lastly, if you could come up with a tag line for your character…
Gavaris: I think the tagline for my character is his last name: “Lovejoy.”
Shamoun: Mine would be, “No Justin, no.”
Stiles: “I’m not letting you take a shit in my lake!” [Laughs.]
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