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Bravo puts anglophone spin on gritty Quebec cop series '19-2'

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TORONTO - Helming a TV show based on an established hit brings with it certain pressures, admits veteran actor Adrian Holmes.

But the star of Bravo's new cop drama "19-2" says he's eager to introduce anglophone audiences to the gritty world of Montreal beat cops grappling with issues on-and-off the job.

His new hour-long venture is an English-language remake of the Quebec series of the same name, and Holmes says pains were taken to maintain the unique sensibilities that made the French-language version a smash.

That means refraining from typical police procedural formulas that revolve around a crime-of-the week, and focusing instead on a slow-burning, character-driven saga where conflicts explode from the unexpected.

"It's not just about the calls that they get sent out on, they're battling with their issues that they go through on their day-to-day as well as the calls," Holmes says in a recent interview from Vancouver, where he was working on his other regular shows, the sci-fi series "Continuum" and the vigilante drama "Arrow."

"Every episode is (about): How much further have they developed? And have they grown and evolved through all their stuff?"

Holmes praises writers for applying a subtle touch to clashes ranging from deadly showdowns to bitter office politics, an approach that he says makes room for silences and simple banter, and "a real-life kind of energy."

Holmes stars as battle-scarred patrol officer Nick Barron, who has just returned from a three-month leave after witnessing the brutal shooting of his partner. Whether he's actually ready to return to the job is up for debate.

"He wants to do the right thing, he really means well, he's got such a great heart but because of his upbringing he didn't have all the tools that he needed to ... handle the obstacles that were thrown at him," Holmes says of the volatile Nick.

"To be able to play a character like that is just a real treat and a great workout for an actor."

The day Nick returns, he's partnered with Ben Chartier, a by-the-books smalltown cop who has just moved to the big city. It doesn't take long for the decorated newcomer, played by Jared Keeso, to inadvertently find himself in hot water with superiors, co-workers and suspects.

Keeso says he knew the series was special the moment he read the script and discovered how dark it was willing to go.

"I thought that it was something that you don't really see a lot of on Canadian TV," Keeso says of the myriad minefields each cop must negotiate while patrolling the downtown's 19th district, in cruiser No. 2.

"It's one of those shows (where) you get into the pocket and then you stay there. In trying to capture the truth of the job we don't offer a wink and nudge to the audience, we get into that dark place and we stay there."

The 29-year-old Keeso says there's a lot to live up to in tackling a beloved TV property. He says he expects Quebec viewers will be tuning in to check out how the English version measures up.

"They want the show to be good — obviously they don't want us to screw it up — but they also don't want it to be better. Of course, that's what we're aiming for, you know."

Benz Antoine reprises his role from the francophone series as troubled beat cop Tyler Joseph, while "Continuum"'s Bruce Robert Ramsay is manipulative District Commander Marcel Gendron and "Heartland"'s Maxim Roy plays Det. Isabelle Latendresse, Nick's estranged wife.

The calls these cops go on appear mundane on the surface, says Holmes, but just as in real-life, they occasionally explode into mayhem. That randomness lends a constant undercurrent of unease, mirroring the relentless pressures average cops endure on the job.

"The Montreal police are huge fans of the French show because it's a very accurate depiction of cop life," he says. "It's not over-dramatized, it's a realistic tone."

The French-language version debuted on Radio-Canada in February 2011, going on to average more than a million viewers in Quebec per episode, notes Bell Media. Season 2 launched in January 2013 and producers say a third season is in pre-production.

The English version was originally developed for the CBC, but was picked up by Bravo's parent Bell Media when the public broadcaster decided not to order a full run.

Keeso says having the show air on Bravo means they can push the envelope more than possible on conventional channels.

"We can get away with a little bit more. I think that some of our content might not be appropriate for a CTV audience, some shocking moments and some F-words are thrown in there as well," says Keeso, who has a nude scene early in the series, and notes that a startling shooting ignites the first episode.

"We try to be really hard-hitting."

Still, pretending to be at loggerheads with Holmes was at times challenging, Keeso adds, because the two actors are pals who've crossed paths multiple times over the years.

"This is the fifth show that we've worked on together, actually," says Keeso, noting that includes the miniseries "Seven Deadly Sins," the sci-fi film "Elysium" and the supernatural flick "White Noise 2: The Light."

"We almost got on another one this past summer but Holmes was working on a couple of different things at the time and couldn't make it work. But it's tough not to run into him because Holmes is one of those guys, I'd put him in Top 3 in the city of Vancouver that work the most — he's always got a couple of things on the go and there's a reason for it."

"19-2" debuts Wednesday on Bravo, and will be repeated Thursday on CTV.

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