Cape Town - Inspired by the bestselling series of books of M.R. Hall, Coroner on Universal Channel (DStv 119) is a female-driven series following Jenny Cooper – played by Serinda Swan (Inhumans, Ballers) – a newly appointed coroner investigating suspicious deaths in Toronto.
Jenny is a brave and determined yet vulnerable coroner driven by an intense desire for the truth. A former ER doctor and a recently widowed mother of a teenage son, her husband's death has unlocked a primal connection to death, tied to a secret in her past that is only now coming to the surface.
In this Q&A, Serinda tells us more about her character, destigmatising mental illness, and what she hopes viewers will take away from the show.
Being a coroner isn't just about dead bodies, how did you research for the role?
You're absolutely right; the show is about so much more than just being a coroner. In fact, that's why I took on this project. It is a really beautiful complex look at this woman's journey through life (the good the bad and the hallucinations of black dog). The show is loosely based on M.R Hall's best-selling book series, so when I started my research for this character, I made sure that I read the books and got a feel for the world she previously lived in.
Our wonderful creator, Morwyn Brebner, set her in the present day, about 25 years younger and living in Toronto, Canada. We find Jenny Cooper, recently widowed, suffering from anxiety and panic attacks and currently having hallucinations of a black dog that she intrinsically knows has something to do with a death in her past. With such an incredible character to dive into I researched everything from the stigma against mental health, how to live with anxiety, what panic attacks look like from beginning to end, to how we suppress grief and trauma. I even went as far as to watch a real autopsy. It's always important for me to fully understand a world that my characters live in so that can take quite a bit of research pre-production.
What is the most interesting thing that you've learnt since playing the role of Jenny Cooper?
That our organs can be removed in one block from our tongue to our intestines, they are all connected.
The symbolism of hair was important in your role of Medusa in Inhumans, and again here, Jenny's hair is extremely different in the flashbacks, what does the changing of hair symbolise for the character?
I wanted Jenny to have a utilitarian haircut as she is coming back the basics of who she truly is. It wasn't the quintessential "woman cutting her hair because she's traumatised" vibe. It's her shedding anything that she changed about herself for another. She purposefully found a husband and life that was very controlled, very type A, but when David - her husband - dies she stars to unravel the tightly wound bounds that held her together, and she starts to explore who she is (secrets and all).
How do you think Jenny challenges the notions of what a conventional heroine is?
She is flawed, and that's the number one reason why people are drawn to her. She's human, and I think people resonate with that. I know I did.
You've mentioned before that you hoped your portrayal of Jenny would destigmatise anxiety and depression. Can you elaborate on this?
I don't believe that one show can destigmatise mental health, but I do believe that it can start conversations that may help the movement. When I took the role of Jenny, my goal was to be able to show an accurate portrayal of a person with mental illness but at the same time still, show how competent she was. Just because she is suffering from mental illness doesn't mean that she can't do her job, be a good mother, or be in a relationship.
We imagine the set got gruesome at times. Did you get squeamish at all?
I thought I might, but actually not at all. I quite enjoyed it!
What do you hope that viewers take from watching the show?
That's a tough question. I don't have a motive or expectation for people watching the show. I hope they laugh with her, cry with her and grow with her. I hope it brings people closer together by letting them better understand one another and seeing themselves represented on camera. I love how diverse our cast is and the way it not only represents Canada but also the world. It's a very specific show, about a specific woman, in a specific situation, but in that specificity, I believe it makes us universal. We are all connected through human experience, and I hope Jenny's humanity is something they resonate with.
We know that you love travelling – you recently visited Morocco. Think you may come back and visit Africa, more specifically South Africa, anytime soon?
I would love that! I've been to Africa twice now (once with the United Nations to a refugee camp on the border of South Sudan, and most recently the shoot in Morocco that you mentioned) but I would absolutely love to come back. I have never been to South Africa, and it is on the top of my list.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
Coroner airs Mondays at 20:00 on Universal TV (DStv 117). Episodes are also available on DStv Now.
(Photos supplied: Universal TV)