The Backbench Live Part 1: Mattea Roach

Mattea Roach might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of Canadian Film and Television. Still, it could be familiar. Perhaps you heard it before when you realized that they are the most successful Canadian contestant to ever appear on the game show Jeopardy. Mattea Roach also hosts the very popular podcast The BackBench Live from Canadaland. The focus is usually related to federal politics. On October 3rd, 2023, there was a very special episode recorded at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver during the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF).

Just before that event, Hollywood North Magazine had a chance to speak with Mateo Roach


HNMAG: Are you in Vancouver yet?

Mattea Roach: I’m actually in Toronto now and I’m coming to Vancouver next Monday. So it’s the day before the event. 


HNMAG: You grew up in Halifax?

Mattea Roach: Yes, that’s right.


HNMAG: Have you always been interested in trivia and different types of contests and gameshows?

Mattea Roach: Not in any serious way. I would say that I was interested in accumulating knowledge my whole life. In that sense, I have been building the skill set and knowledge base needed to be a good trivia player since I was very young but my high school didn’t have a Reach for the Top team and I didn’t complete in any trivia as a teenager. I never went to a lot of bar trivia. I have been to bar trivia more since appearing on Jeopardy than all the times I could’ve gone before. I never go of my own volition. Games show are always on and they are very accessible. It was something that was on the back of my mind. I auditioned on a lark. I was not as seriously dedicated as the other contestants. There was a school that I went to in Calgary that now has a Reach for the Top team.


HNMAG: Did you go to school in Calgary as well?

Mattea Roach: Yeah, so I lived in a little bit all over the place. I was born in Halifax and went to high school there. I went to elementary school for three years in Calgary and I also lived in New Brunswick for three years of middle school. 


HNMAG: Were you in Toronto when they had the auditions for Jeopardy?

Mattea Roach: All of the Jeopardy auditions are now online. They made that change due to Covid. My whole process was over Zoom. I was on a Zoom call with eight other people in the US. 


HNMAG: You have a podcast about politics, how did that happen?

Mattea Roach: Essentially the way that I got into this job is that I was invited on a different show on the CanadaLand network as a guest during my original Jeopardy run. I came on an episode when the Dobbs v. Jackson women’s health decision had just been leaked. It was also about the recommended changes announced by the Canadian Blood Services in regard to regulations of men having sex with men. The reception was very positive. A previous host at The Backbench, was leaving the job, so they had an opening. Jesse, the founder of the network reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in hosting. Due to my profile, doors were opening and I felt I could learn a lot from doing this podcast. I wondered why not, it’s a year later and I’m still doing it and I enjoy it. It’s a great work environment with terrific producers who make me look smart. 


HNMAG: The Backbench will be live at the Rio during VIFF. One of the topics is bill C11.

Mattea Roach: That’s one of our subjects. We will also talk about the WGA and SAG strikes and what the impact will be on the Canadian TV industry. A lot of people think this US strike is not affecting us but it very much has. 


HNMAG: Especially here in Vancouver. 

Mattea Roach: There is a huge amount of American productions filmed in Canada. We will talk about the Canadian unions. For the opening part of the show, we’ll speak with the owner of the Rio about the role of independent theatres in the Canadian media landscape. What her experiences have been? 


HNMAG: The WGA has reached an agreement, how long do you think it will be before SAG will settle?

Mattea Roach: If I had to guess, it could go either way. On the one hand, it seems like the WGA is pleased with the agreement. If the Studios conceded quite a lot, that would tell me that they want the strikes to be over as soon as possible. That would indicate that perhaps they would be willing to make significant concessions to SAG. On the other hand, if it’s not as favorable as the WGA is saying and the WGA strike was settled because the members had financial hardships, then the SAG strike could continue for much longer. It’s hard to say without knowing what is in the agreement. 


HNMAG: What can we do in Canada to prevent future outside issues from work slowdowns here and perhaps create our own independent industry that is less service-dependent? 

Mattea Roach: That is what we will talk about in the panel. When we talk about Bill C-11 and see if that will create more Canadian content. The other solution to this depends on independent creators. People who are able to create limited-budget productions and web series that rely on good stories to find an audience. That’s the only other way I see this working. If Canadians have great stories to tell, they should be able to compete in the marketplace of ideas. The solution might be as simple as we should be making better stuff. 


HNMAG: Yes, but that’s hard to legislate.

Mattea Roach: Yes, it is hard to legislate. You can’t tell Bell Media, “hey you need to make better shows.”


HNMAG: Part of the issue is the exposure to Hollywood as well as the inferiority complex.

Mattea Roach: We are exposed to a market that is ten times the size and of a similar culture where we don’t give it a second thought about consuming first. Sometimes Canadian producers will also suggest to set something in the US instead of Canada even when it’s shot here. When it comes to US networks and studios, it’s like the Don Draper Mad Men meme. “I don’t care what you think. I don’t think of you at all.” A good story is a good story. Scott Pilgrim is massively popular but set in Toronto. 


Mattea Roach is amazing to speak with. Our conversation was much longer but not necessarily staying on topic as Mattea is very knowledgeable about every subject. 

There was also a lot more information about independent theatres, how Canadian content may be helped or hindered by new regulations and US labor issues and how that is felt North of the 49th Parallel. This was part of one of The Backbench Live. If you want to know more, you will have to come back for the next two Fridays.

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