It's a storyline that represents every family's worst nightmare.

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This article was published 1/10/2015 (2043 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

It's a storyline that represents every family's worst nightmare.

But for an actor, it's the kind of challenge that turn out to be dream job.

The subject is cancer. The story involves a woman who has battled it once and thought she'd won, only to learn that the disease has returned and this time it's terminal.

And how that woman -- a newspaper columnist named Natalie Lawson (portrayed by Torri Higginson) -- and her extended family deal with this death-sentence diagnosis is the narrative engine that drives This Life, a powerful, unflinching new drama series that premières Monday, Oct. 5, at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Winnipeg-born actor Kristopher Turner is part of the cast, playing Natalie's brother, Oliver, who is forced shake himself out of a self-focused, dead-end existence in Los Angeles and return home to Montreal to be with his sister in her time of need.

"This role is definitely one of the biggest challenges I've had as an actor," says Turner, 35, during a telephone interview from his Toronto home. "It's a television series, so we were filming this for four months -- it wasn't just a case of going in and being sad for a couple of days and then moving past it; the emotions were omnipresent through 90 per cent of the episodes. But it's part of the job, and it's part of the challenge.

"In truth, the crew and the cast had a lot of fun with this -- there's no question that we went to deep emotional places, but that's the point of it."

The series, which is based on the French-language drama Nouvelle adresse, follows single mom Natalie as she grapples with the information her doctor has provided, and then tries to figure out how best to prepare her three children for life without her -- which, according to her diagnosis, will likely begin within a few months, or maybe a year at the most.

Kristopher Turner

Kristopher Turner

It is, at times, a difficult story to watch (full disclosure: as someone who has faced cancer directly and is aware of the real possibility of recurrence, parts of This Life struck me not as a powerful drama but as the most frightening horror movie imaginable), but the darkness is occasionally lifted by humour, provided mostly by Natalie's very average dysfunctional family.

Oliver, the most rebellious of the bunch, is openly gay and pursuing -- with little success -- a career as an artist in L.A. Younger sister Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith) works as an administrative assistant to a cranky, demanding lawyer and fills her off hours with recreational drug use and sexual adventuring.

Natalie, as the series opens, is a woman who has essentially abandoned her own identity and is living vicariously through her children. And just as Maggie finally convinces her to do something for herself, the sledgehammer news of her illness arrives.

"I think the point of the show is to talk about death," says Turner, whose recent TV credits include the Canadian-produced series Saving Hope and The L.A. Complex. "That might make people uncomfortable, and as an artist, I kind of hope that people do get uncomfortable. You can't always 'nice' things up and still expect people to learn how to deal with it.

"You don't have to watch it, but I hope you do -- I really believe that by allowing yourself to go through that discomfort, you'll see that the stories are written with such love that there's a lot to learn from them."

Turner adds that in terms of his acting career, This Life came along at just the right time. The L.A. Complex ended in 2012, after two short-run seasons, and his character was written out of Saving Hope during that CTV drama's third (2014-15) season.

"It was a big wakeup call getting written off that show," says Turner, a graduate of Glenlawn Collegiate and the University of Winnipeg. "Things were going really well on Saving Hope, and I was on The L.A. Complex, and I was down in L.A. studying with some (acting) teachers there, and then my agent called and said, 'Bad news, bud -- the show's coming back, but you're not.'

"What it made me realize is that I wasn't living up to the talent I have as an actor. I guess I'd kind of become complacent, and maybe I felt like I was playing a character that I'd outgrown. So when I got written off the show, I used it as an opportunity to get back to classes... and to rediscover who I am as a man and redefine who I am as an artist.

"It hurt getting written off, but it was a catalyst for a lot of positive things."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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