Interview: Anthony LemkeJune 25, 2017
With a third season on the way of a hit TV show, bringing important awareness to a big problem as Canadian ambassador to Handicap International and working hard to find a permanent home for the performing arts community in his home town of Prince Edward County, Anthony Lemke is very busy and enjoying every single second. Recently we had the chance to talk to him about his busy schedule, focusing on his hit sci- fi TV show Dark Matter and what has made it so successful.
So, still happy you chose acting over a career in law?
Anthony: I have always been happy with that, not that I don’t respect what lawyers do, it’s not that at all, not why I left. I was able to make a living doing this wonderful thing called acting, I was doing it prior to entering law school and I’m incredibly thankful and aware that this could be the one hit show that I’m on. It doesn’t always happen and who knows if this will go another season, or two or three, so enjoy it and do what you can to try and make sure that you support the show as much as possible so that it can stand a chance of going four or five years. The show is fun, the characters are fun, the scripts are great and the audience has been wonderful so yeah, it’s sort of what you hope will happen, that you’re an integral part of the show’s success. Sometimes you come in to a show, do a five, six, seven episode arc and it’s great, it’s important, it may be a heck of a lot of fun but it’s someone else’s show, right? It’s like my character on Lost Girl, it was somebody else’s show, I had a great time doing that five episode arc but this is different, this is our show. My character is one that people follow, along with the other characters, and you really can’t ask for much more than that, it’s great.
How have things changed for you since day one on the Dark Matter set, to where you are now?
Anthony: You know, what’s funny is I would say precious little has changed on set. I’ve been around the industry a while, I knew many of the people on the crew from various different show that I’d worked on in Toronto, I knew some of the actors having worked with them before. If there is anything that has changed in shooting the show it’s that I think we all realize that we’re holding something precious. We didn’t in the beginning, you don’t know, you just take a swing and hope the ball goes over the fence and you work, try and figure things out and I think where we are right now is that, it’s not that there’s ever any conflict on set, but I think everybody realizes that we’re holding something precious and the conflict seems to flow primarily from everybody thinking of their own way to ensure this precious thing doesn’t disappear, I think there is that awareness and also a knowledge that everyone else is being good faith as well, because you don’t know when you’re starting out. You don’t know who your co-workers are really but I think everyone gets that now, everyone is pulling their weight on the show, everyone is making sure we keep telling really good stories, telling the best version of our character that we can and it’s neat too, you get to see people start to move up through the ranks as well. You’ll see some scripts from someone who last year was a script supervisor or whatever, this year they’re writing a script so that’s interesting. What’s really cool about that is of course, it’s not going to be as good as Joe’s script, that just life, it’s her first script she’s ever written. It was great script, she did a good job and Joe helped her out and everyone gets that hey listen, they’re promoting from within which is also kind of fun so to start see that happen, see people move up through the creative process, is one of the benefits of being on a show for a few years.
One of the most interesting parts of the show is how the characters all started out dark and violent yet they still try to do some good. That must be fun to play a character like that but is it a fine line to walk between one and the other?
Anthony: Yes, it’s a fine line, not so much in the playing of it because the playing comes from what is on the page. Sometimes there is liberty there, to how someone will react to a moment, most of the time that comes from Joe and Paul. Where it is challenging, and Joe and Paul and myself have discussions about this, is that you want the character to stay on that line, you don’t want him to all of a sudden be the good guy. My character clearly falls down on one side and is becoming a better person but he still is unpredictable, you don’t always know how he’s going to react and that is the essence of this character and I really hope that line is walked for the entire longevity of this series because then it ends up being fun to play, fun to watch and probably fun to write, too.
Do you think with the success of Dark Matter, and other Canadian sci-fi shows, that we as Canadians can now finally nod our head in approval and accept that this is more the norm now, this high quality television, instead of thinking it’s a fluke or aberration?
Anthony: Yeah, what’s interesting is that people outside of Canada don’t really tend to know, they’re just watching it like oh, it’s on my TV set, they don’t necessarily know the DNA of it, that it’s an entirely Canadian show, with Canadian writers, producers however, one of the prime networks is an American network, Sci-Fy, and in a way it doesn’t really make a difference, and shouldn’t. We should be able to stand on our own two feet and I think we can, and I think you see that with this show, it does well around the world and it’s a Canadian export and it’s just telling stories that are interesting to people. Now, as Canadians should we look at this industry and be proud of an industry that’s working well? Yes, I do think we can say we do this well and many of the sci fi shows that people see around the world are actually made here in Canada, even if they’re not one hundred percent Canadian like this one is, even if they’re American driven but then they’re shot in Canada.
Dark Matter had quite a wonderful and rabid fan base. What so you think it is that makes them so loyal to the show?
Anthony: We’re really, really fortunate. The fans have to participate, they have to hold up their end of the deal which is basically to watch the show, watch it the night it’s airing live so we can get some numbers and still get to make more episodes. It’s also a two way street, having a show-runner who is very active on social media which is great for the core fans and for the actors, I just think the show was well cast. I think Joe and Paul and whoever made all of those decisions, I think they managed to find people that you care about and it’s not always the case in television. You can write an amazing show, you can have a ton of money behind it and you hire experienced actors but for some reason you watch the show and just don’t fall in love with the characters. I watch the show live with the fans, most of the time I live Tweet, but it’s me experiencing it for the first time and I like the characters, it’s that simple. The characters are so different in many ways but you can’t imagine not having any of them around, and I think part of it was by design and part of it was luck, we got damn lucky putting this group together.
As Canadian ambassador for Handicapped International, you went to visit Laos in October of 2016 and what is going on there is disturbing to say the least. Can you tell me a little bit about the purpose of your visit there and what you saw?
Anthony: This is to do with a war that was over forty years ago so it’s not horrible and disturbing in that Syrian conflict or Yemen conflict or south Sudan kind of way. It’s horrible in a sense that it’s a war from the history books and for us who are a little older it isn’t but for kids in their twenties it’s like the Second World War was for us. Yet people are still dying from bombs that are exploding and getting maimed and are casualties of war that is a history book war, and that’s the horrible part. What’s so bad about that is listen, within that country it’s terrible but it’s still going on, we’re still dropping bombs on people and the point is when we move on, they don’t get to, and that’s the part that I think needs to change. To give you an idea of the mountain they have to climb, there are about eighty million unexploded ordinance in Laos and you ask yourself, how does a country move beyond that and the answer is it doesn’t. It just lives with it, it doesn’t move beyond it. It’s such a large problem and we’re just creating it again in Syria and I think it’s time for us to think about the rules of war evolving. Handicap International is fighting hard right now to try and eliminate the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We can do better than this, we should be doing better than this.
So what’s next for you, both personally and professionally?
Anthony: Well, hopefully season four of Dark Matter! But personally, aside from the acting world, I’m very involved in developing an arts community, developing a permanent home for the performing arts community out in Prince Edward County. Prince Edward County is a growing wine region, it’s a region that folks from Toronto are just discovering is an amazing place to visit. It’s been a popular destination for folks from Montreal and Ottawa but folks from Toronto are all of a sudden realizing there are all these white sand beaches, wineries and around eight hundred kilometers of shoreline and it’s only about two hours away from Toronto, with good traffic. Torontonians have been slow to discover it I think because their idea of a cottage experience is a little different. It’s always been like the Muskoka experience, where I have my own lake, canoe, whatever and that’s not what this is. It’s more of a beach community where there are beautiful beaches and shoreline and listen, anyone who wants a waterfront property can get one because there’s so much darn waterfront, except it’s not your own little lake. It’s been exciting to be involved in this, there is a growing partnership who have recognized the fact that there is a need now to provide a permanent home for performance art, whether that’s opera or theater or classical music and to start a festival that can be a beacon for the best Canada had to offer but also be firmly planted in a community that is a year round community.
I want to thank Anthony for taking the time to speak with us