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Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent

Stars Aden Young and Kathleen Munroe tell all about their new Toronto-set Law & Order series

Not only is Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent the first Canadian instalment of Dick Wolf’s iconic franchise, it is also the first international offshoot to feature episodes not based on the original American version. “It feels special,” says Kathleen Munroe, who portrays Det. Sgt. Frankie Bateman, and is an alumna of L&O: SVU and Organized Crime. “Part of the thrill, for me, is leaning into the Law & Order iconography, like holding a pad and a pen in a certain way that feels so entrenched in the canon,” she says. “There’s a way to do a detective thing on Law & Order.” But Munroe and her onscreen partner Aden Young (Rectify), as Det. Sgt. Henry Graff, have already found ways for their characters to stand apart from the pack. “I very much look forward to seeing how far I can push the boundary of the bible of Law & Order,” says Young, whose character is full of idiosyncrasies from the start. With most of Wolf’s series running a decade plus, these two are prepared for ample time to build that special bond. Not that they need it. “We’re delightful,” cracks Young about their onscreen partnership. “We are the odd couple, and I think that we’re going to find that, in 20 years, we’re still going to be loving it as much as we do this year.”

Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent on City. Pictured: Aden Young and Kathleen Munroe
Steve Wilkie/City

What appealed to you about the franchise?

Aden: Well, she’s the mega-fan.

Kathleen: Yeah. It’s such a funny thing, because — I feel this way — and in talking to a lot of people that I know who love Law & Order, something that comes up often is that it feels comforting — which is so strange because it’s quite dark. But because there’s such a dialed formula, and also a really sophisticated approach to storytelling, you get the combination of a satisfying end, or the sense of a resolution, but also you’re being taken on a ride where you don’t see things coming. That combination makes it endlessly appealing. And it’s a show that you can really take in over and over.

It is a formulaic show, but it attracts the best of actors. What is it that you think attracts this level of talent?

Kathleen: It’s big stuff. Every week we’re dealing with life and death, and love and relationships. It’s huge human themes. For us, we get the benefit of some really beautiful writing — Tassie Cameron and the team that she put together — so we get to feel the humanity in these cases. As actors, that’s the stuff that you live for.

Aden: And the stakes are huge because the reality is that if we show up at your door, there’s something dreadful that has happened in your life, either being a victim of a crime, connected to the victim of a crime or being a suspect in a crime. The stakes, they really don’t get any higher.

Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent on City. Pictured: K.C. Collins is deputy Crown attorney Theo Forrester.
Steve Wilkie/City

Characters are built over time, but what was it that you immediately understood about your character?

Kathleen: I really liked how much empathy was written into Bateman. She’s duty-bound and has a real commitment to procedure, and she’s intellectual and she’s into hard facts and compiling all the details to come up with answers. But she’s written with a lot of empathy, a lot of heart. That, for me, was an inroad. You could get lost in the granular details of the case, but bring it back to, “OK, there’s a human being talking to other human beings,” and there’s an effect that these people have on her. Allowing that impact to hit really helped make it feel real.

Aden: What was exciting about the original script was that, beyond just how well it was written as an episode itself, there was a character and a partnership there. These two were in some ways two halves of a whole in the way they approach their investigation.

The episodes are mostly about a crime being solved, so you only get these little nuggets of character development at a time. How do you approach it?

Kathleen: Part of the thrill, for me, is leaning into the Law & Order iconography, like holding a pad and a pen in a certain way that feels so entrenched in the canon. There’s a way to do a detective thing on Law & Order.

Aden: Now you tell me this!

Kathleen: Yeah, sorry. But it’s also finding all the ways of pushing into differentiation. We have a wonderful ensemble, so to what extent can we get away with characterization? Especially with Graff, it’s beautiful to watch Aden tread that line, because on the one hand, it’s very much a Law & Order show, and on the other hand, you get this really nuanced, idiosyncratic character that’s still serving the world of the show.

Aden: There are parameters that you have to work within, but they’re great obstructions to have, in some ways, because instead of lashing out in a certain artistic manner, you think, “How do I work within that language and still be able to expand the balloon of these characters, their relationship and their chemistry?”

Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent on City. Pictured: Schitt’s Creek alum Karen Robinson plays no-nonsense cop Inspector Vivienne Holness.
Peter Stranks/City

What feels particularly Toronto about this?

Kathleen: The locations, for sure. We get deep into the city, and not just the recognizable Toronto landmarks, but we get into the neighbourhoods, the subcultures, we get into even Scarborough, Etobicoke. It is not just a prepackaged notion of Toronto, it’s really Toronto through the eyes of people from Toronto.

Aden: For a long time, Canadian actors have been asked to shed their Canadian-isms and their “outs and abouts” and just make it North American. Here was an opportunity to show a very complex city with a very complex population trying to survive together in a complex time in the world and showing a mature view of a metropolitan city that is still considered around the world as a place that is looked up to.

It is interesting to see this darker version of Toronto.

Aden: Everywhere in the world, unfortunately, people fall afoul of each other. That’s just the tragic reality of it. How we watch these characters investigate the journey into that sadness and that break away from the Canadian impulse of empathy, compassion and welcomeness is really intriguing. Look, if you want to go and watch a show about cops yelling at a suspect, this probably isn’t the show. This is following Canadian procedure and it’s following Canadian law. Having played a homicide detective in Australia, the U.S. and now here in Toronto, they’re very, very different approaches to the same end. And the drama involved in that is riveting.

Kathleen: What I found really interesting about the scripts is that sometimes the people that could be classified as bad guys really aren’t what you might think. There’s a robust idea of what contributes to criminality in Canada. There are these nuanced factors that play into things involving economic circumstances, social circumstances, etc.

There are also a lot of great guest stars. Do you have any names you can drop?

Aden: We’ll be here all day. Me, living away from Canada, I wasn’t too familiar with these names, but I certainly was when I’d leave set. I didn’t understand the level of talent in this country. We were lucky to get some of the finest Canadian actors. They brought such skill and dedication to it, and it just made you want to do a better job yourself. It made you want to be very much in charge of your A-game, because there were times where I’d be watching an actor in a scene and you would literally forget, “Oh, OK, it’s now my line,” because you were so consumed with their performance.

So, to summarize, it’s good to be home?

Aden: It’s great to be home.

Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent airs on Thursday, 14 on City

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