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Calgary-shot Wynonna Earp a supernatural western

Calgary-shot Wynonna Earp a supernatural western
 Melanie Scrofano as Wynonna Earp. Courtesy, Michelle Faye | Photograph by: Courtesy, Michelle Faye , Calgary Herald

Swanky party scenes are not going to be the norm in the Calgary-shot modern-day supernatural western, Wynonna Earp.

That message was clear earlier this week during a shoot at Heritage Park. This is not a typical scene.

Nevertheless, there they were. More than 100 extras, having taken over the second floor of the historic Wainwright Hotel, dressed to the nines and sipping champagne.

The segment will run toward the end of the 13-episode first season, so we can’t give too much away. We’ll just say it begins as an elegant party that, before long, becomes not-so-elegant.

But if nothing else, the unusually refined setting gave Melanie Scrofano, the Canadian actress who plays the title character, a rare opportunity to abandon the more casual attire of her kick-ass crime fighter in favour of a formal, bright-red evening dress and fancy dangling earrings.

“This is very far removed from Wynonna,” says Scrofano, sitting down for an interview in Calgary after a long day of shooting. “But I think there’s still elements. The earrings remind me of knives. She is still pretty tame compared to all the coiffery that went on with the other attendees.”

On this particular day, Scrofano is in every scene being shot. She is not really a new face for TV viewers, having had major or recurring roles in series such as The Listener, Damien, Being Erica, Gangland Undercover and Degrassi: The Next Generation, among others. But this is undeniably a dream role. Wynonna Earp is an irreverent, emotionally damaged, hard-drinking and action-ready heroine. She is a descendent of legendary lawman Wyatt, and newest victim of a family curse that has followed the Earps for generations. The Ottawa native beat out hundreds of actresses for the part. Showrunner Emily Andras said Scrofano’s tape immediately jumped out, particularly since it featured a young actress who nonchalantly chewed gum throughout the entire audition.

“Which is like a mega no-no!” says Andras. (To be fair, Scrofano says she doesn’t remember the gum-chewing). “She just had this spirit of Not. Giving. A. Damn. She captured the spirit of that sexy craziness. I didn’t know what she was going to do next in the audition. She captured the charm but also the vulnerability of this girl with this massive burden of having to be a hero.”

The series will launch on Syfy in the U.S. and CHCH in Canada this April. Based on an American comic-book series by Beau Smith, Wynnona Earp follows the supernatural adventures of our heroine and a mysterious cross-border crime-fighting unit known as the Black Badge Division. Alongside dashing Agent Dolls (Shamier Anderson), sister Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) and a gruff, elaborately moustachioed Doc Holliday (Tim Rozon), Earp faces off against demons that have a direct connection to her famous lawman ancestor. For Season 1 at least, most of the troubles appear to be originating from a batch of revenants, former wild-west outlaws who have risen from hell with an updated badass-biker look and taste for mayhem. They are led by the awesomely named Bobo Del Rey, a mohawk-coiffed villain played with scene-stealing relish by Saskatoon native Michael Eklund.

As is now the norm for shows or movies based on comic books, Syfy has been strategically releasing tantalizing tidbits to build anticipation in the past few months, including first-look photos of a sexy, peacemaker-brandishing Scrofano and a slick, fast-paced trailer. Earlier this week, IDW Entertainment — a producer of the series and the publisher behind Smith’s original comic books — released a new series of comics that bases its look on the TV show and its actors.

So if all goes as planned, Scrofano could very well become a darling of comic expos and dream girl for fan boys everywhere. This is something she may or may not be prepared for, given the flash of panic she displays when reminded that her face is now forever captured as part of a comic-book series.

“I almost threw up in my mouth just then,” she says. “If somebody told me that I completely forgot. I don’t know. That’s just weird. It’s surreal. I can’t wrap my head around it.”

Rozon, on the other hand, exhibits no such wariness, cheerfully reporting that the comic-book store he frequents in Montreal will be stocking up on the new titles featuring his likeness. He is a superfan of both comics and westerns, so landing the iconic role of Doc Holliday, on a sci-fi show no less, was a dream come true. Just how Holliday comes to coexist with modern-day Wynonna and the gang is part of the complex mythos of the series. Before settling down for an interview with the Herald, Rozon unsheathes a rather nasty-looking knife and places it on the table in front of him. He is also carrying two pistols, a peacemaker and a Colt Thunder. This heavy armament is at least partially based on the research the actor did upon landing the part. Best known for roles in Being Human and Schitt’s Creek, Rozon says he avoided watching famous portrayals of the gunslinger such as Val Kilmer’s in Tombstone. But he wanted his Doc to be historically accurate, or at least as historically accurate as a cursed, seemingly immortal cowboy who battles demons can be.

That required, among other things, growing a bushy moustache similar to the one Rozon had seen in photos.

“He had a big stache,” Rozon says. “It wasn’t a little pencil stache. I tried to accurately grow it all. It’s coming off when we wrap.”

Dedication seems to be a hallmark of those involved with the series. Calgary’s Seven24 Films, the producers behind Heartland and Young Drunk Punk, developed Wynonna Earp for nearly four years before cameras rolled.

Tom Cox says the production team was keen to lean on Alberta’s natural resources, whether it be the stunning vistas, experienced crews or homegrown actors. Since it began production in September, Wynonna Earp has used various areas of Calgary, Springbank and Cochrane as a backdrop. Didsbury was used to sub in for the strange small town Purgatory, where much of the otherworldly action takes place. A quick glance at the Internet Movie Database listing shows producers also dipped generously into the local talent pool of thespians, employing everyone from expat Shiobhan Williams, to theatre actor and dialect coach David LeReaney, to versatile character actor Greg Lawson.

When it came to adapting the broad comic-book into a more nuanced series, Seven24 enlisted Andras as showrunner to do much of the heavy lifting. The writer and producer grew up in Calgary and her TV background includes overseeing Lost Girl and Killjoys, sci-fi favourites that also have strong female protagonists.

But as excited as Andras was to “revive the supernatural western” in her old hometown, she was also drawn to the more down-to-earth aspects of the character and premise of Wynonna Earp. That was the vision she offered during a meeting with the executives who would eventually green-light the show.

“I really wanted to make it a story about sisters, about family, about the idea of heroism,” she says. “What is it like to be descended from one of the greatest heroes of all time? What is the burden of that kind of legacy? All those themes really appealed to me.

“And they bought it,” she adds. “Crazy people that they are.”

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