TALENT ON TAP: Producing and Acting Hats with Tanis Parenteau

“There doesn’t necessarily have to be something ‘Indigenous’ in it to be an Indigenous story” veteran screen actress Tanis Parenteau tells me as we connect across time zones over Zoom. “Just the fact that we’re all Indigenous makes it an Indigenous story.”

The Indigenous story she is referring to is the new romantic drama web series Jason, written and directed by Andrew Genaille (Rehab) and premiering just in time for Valentines Day on the APTN Lumi streaming service. The series centres on a may-december romance between young university student Jason (Peter Robinson) and his older sister’s 40-something best friend Karen (Parenteau). Both see something new and exciting in each other, but a bright flame can only burn so long and even burn those around them.

Serving as both co-lead in front of the camera and producer behind it, Parenteau brings years of industry experience with her from shows such as Billions, House of Cards, and Designated Survivor. While shouldering years of credits as an actress, her producing career is only just beginning. We spoke about the challenges of wearing both hats in this week’s interview:

What was the genesis of Jason?

I had produced a handful of short films that were also written by Andrew a few years ago. That is how I started producing, through short films. I really loved Andrew’s writing, I think he’s a great writer. 

APTN had an RFP (Request for Proposal) they put out a while ago for Lumi. I saw it and Andrew had this story. We pitched it and that’s how it came about.

Did pitching for Lumi influence Jason being a web series as opposed to a feature?

Yeah. We thought it would be good as a web series. But it would be good as a feature too! (laughs)

Parenteau with co-star Peter Robinson on set

Can you tell us what your duties as producer were?

A lot! I helped get the application together for the licence and spearheaded the application for the Bell Fund. We had the APTN licence but we also had to find more funding to try and make it. We also later applied for ISO funding (Indigenous Screen Office).

I wasn’t involved too much in pre-production because I wasn’t in Vancouver at the time. So like on-the-ground, tech scouting, that stuff, Jessica (Wadsworth) did most of that with Andrew.

I helped with casting. I was actually grateful that I didn’t have to wear my producer hat too much during production. I found as an emerging producer that sometimes you’re the only producer on the project trying to get it off the ground. You’re doing everything and it’s a lot. Especially if I’m acting in them as well, sometimes it’s hard to take off the producer hat and just focus on acting.

But with this, because I had Jessica  there who’s doing a lot of the producing on site, because Andrew’s also writing and directing, I just got to focus on acting for the most part. For post production, I was very very involved. Jessica and I split it up. If something came up, we would try to tackle it as a team depending who was available to take it on.

How did you approach the role of Karen?

Karen is a bit of a mess (laughs). When I read her on the page, she could come across as self-centred, not really thinking about other people, but I found that it came from a place of her being hurt in the past and her abandonment issues. That’s something that Andrew had talked about also, so that helped find what was triggering her to make these decisions that hurt other people.

She’s just at a point in her life where she feels stuck. Jason was the person who sparked something inside her to actually make a change in some ways in her life for the better. That’s sort of the approach I took to her.

I’ve never done intimate scenes before on camera. This was the first time I’d ever done that. These (scenes) were pretty tame and they were that way on purpose because we wanted to keep it to a certain rating. It’s nerve-wracking doing those of course and it’s always awkward but I trusted Andrew’s ideas about what the vision of those scenes were and what we had to accomplish.

It makes me a little nervous now that it’s out there (laughs) but it’s something that actors go through all the time and I just did that to myself.

Any interesting stories or challenges from the set?

We only had 10 days of shooting plus ¼ day for some promotional pick-up shots. It was hard to smush it all into 10 days because we had a limited amount of money and were being held to this high production value to deliver to APTN.

We shot with a very small crew, but everybody was amazing. Shooting on location in Vancouver was tricky too with parking and trying to get everybody smushed into small locations that we were in. Probably the biggest problem was the size of some of the locations. But I feel like generally the production aspect was pretty smooth.

Were there any challenges or new story directions that came out of the editorial process?

Not really. Our editor Jasleen is amazing. Andrew gave his notes on what she had put together and a lot didn’t change. He had a pretty strong vision from the beginning. What we see in the edit is what I feel like he wanted.

Yeah, it didn’t really change too much. I’m really proud of it. It looks beautiful, beautifully shot, beautifully edited. We had an amazing composer who came onboard, Wayne Lavallee who’s an amazing Indigenous composer. I think that everything that happened in post really elevated it.


Karen (Parenteau) texts a receptive Jason

What do you hope audiences take away from it?

I hope that audiences can see that we can have a show that has an Indigenous cast, an Indigenous-led project, and a story that’s just about some people in their lives, navigating relationships and love, and they just happen to be Indigenous. Those kinds of stories can be told too. There doesn’t necessarily have to be something “Indigenous” in it to be an Indigenous story. Just the fact that we’re all Indigenous makes it an Indigenous story.

And I hope that people can take away that it’s important to show all kinds of varieties of Indigenous people on screen. Different nations and different types. We all look differently, but we are all Indigenous.

There are three female roles and two of them are for older women. I want audiences to take away that that’s important. I think that it’s important to see in this industry women that are over the age of 40 on screen and in leading roles and romantic interests on screen because I feel like we don’t see enough of that.

Any chance of a second season or doing another web series?

At this point, I have no idea if there will be a second season. I would hope that there would be and with these APTN Lumi shows that have come out, some of them are getting second seasons so there is potential for that, we just don’t know.

With the web series question, I would consider doing it again. It’s hard for me to say. I guess it would depend on the story. I’m developing features and a TV series right now but I don’t have any web series projects in front of me, but I would be open to it again, I think.

Jason premieres on APTN Lumi Feb 14

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