VANCOUVER — Kristin Lehman doesn’t hesitate when asked a variation on that classic actor’s question, “What’s my motivation? while on location east of Gastown to shoot an episode of the crime drama, Motive.
Immaculately coiffed and smartly attired in an elegant red dress that contrasted jarringly with her grungy surroundings at Ironworks Studios, she laughed at the pun before rattling off several heartfelt answers.
The Toronto-born actor plays Angie Flynn, the wisecracking detective who with her mild-mannered partner Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira) attempts to discover a murderer’s motive in the captivating cop series that begins its fourth and final season tonight at 10 on CTV. Lehman said the unconventional structure of what creator Daniel Cerone terms a “whydunnit” was one of many things that motivated her.
The series, which also stars Tofino’s Brendan Penny as Det. Brian Lucas and Nanaimo’s Cameron Bright as Angie’s son, Manny, puts an offbeat spin on standard procedurals by identifying both victim and killer at the start before moving backwards in time to chronicle the murder investigation.
“From a directing perspective, it does add the additional element of how to tell a story with flashbacks in a way that’s artful and interesting,” said Lehman, who also produces and will direct the season’s second episode, guest starring Jamie Clayton (Sense8).
“But it’s not that hard. Once you jump in and you’re swimming in it, it’s OK.”
Lehman admits the reverse structure has posed a challenge for guest stars, which in season four include Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), Will Sasso and Missy Peregrym (Rookie Blue).
“We’ve had to remind them, ‘Oh, you don’t have to pretend you didn’t do this.’ They’d be like, ‘How much guilt should I have?’ And we say ‘You can do anything you want. We already know you’re the killer.’”
Getting to reinvent the female cop archetype was another motivating factor, Lehman said.
“It’s been a real point of pride for me that I play a strong female lead on television whose main relationship isn’t a [romantic] relationship, but someone who has a real honest and tremendous intimacy with her male co-worker,” she said. “It’s both there in the writing, but it’s also [gratifying] to work with a male co-star who gets that.”
Lehman appears amused by media speculation about a potential “love triangle” with Vega, whose promotion to staff sergeant and involvement with medical examiner Dr. Betty Rogers (Lauren Holly) will be expanded.
“With Louis and I, we came in knowing what we wanted to do with our characters. We wanted to flip the masculine and feminine archetypes on their heads. Both of our choices mirrored each other’s, and both of us fought really hard to have that kind of authenticity in our acting without labelling it a love relationship. I think it’s great if other people want that because it means they like our dynamic, but it’s not there for me.”
The differences between Lehman’s portrayal of her feisty and resourceful Motive character and Gwen Eaton, Seattle mayoral candidate Darren Richmond’s uptight campaign adviser in The Killing, underscore her chameleonic attributes.
One of the few things these characters have in common, Lehman said, is that she is very different from both.
“I wasn’t even close to Gwen. She was hard and tight and restrained and I worked hard every day to play her,” she said, comparing the characters to wardrobe items.
“They fit well. They’re comfortable and fun to wear even if they aren’t me. Angie is thrilling to get to play, and by that I mean she gives me a personal physical freedom I don’t always get to inhabit.”
Laughing, she added: “Angie inhabits this kind of heroism that I don’t . . . I mean, who gets that in their everyday life? I get groceries and raise my son . . . In my real life, I don’t even wear makeup.”
Lehman, whose credits include roles in Due South, Felicity and Judging Amy, said she considers herself “a journeyman actress” eager to broaden her horizons since she made her debut in 1995.
“When I started I became conscious of a certain archetype I was being asked to carry all the time — the blonde, blue-eyed woman, the ice queen, that kind of thing,” said Lehman, who now resists “being commodified.”
Shooting The Killing and Motive back-to-back in Vancouver brought the former dancer home from Los Angeles, which she says has been great for her family life with her husband, filmmaker Adam Reid, and their young son.
“Thankfully we’ve had a really sane schedule,” said Lehman, who credits her “tremendous husband who works his schedule around mine and our amazing nanny” with accommodating her six-month Motive shoots.
Each episode shoots in seven days, with her trailer transformed into “a home away from home” for visits from her son, who she’s been able to wake up, put to bed or pick up from school depending on her schedule.
She says she feels blessed that Motive’s cast and crew have become her second family while working on one of the most collaborative creative experiences she has ever had.
“I loved it. It was really an utter joy . . . to watch their expertise and be a part of it. It was like swimming down-river with everybody without talking about it,” she said.
“We all have such a beautiful shorthand . . . and it has certainly fortified and reinvigorated my love for storytelling. I’ve felt really lucky.”
The on-set closeness with showrunner Dennis Heaton at the helm really hit home last year after the death of her father, a big fan of the show whose photograph adorns Angie’s apartment.
“I wrote his obituary and they were proofreading it with me. When I needed to find his cremation casket, construction found it with me,” she recalled.
“When people are having babies on this crew we’re all part of it. The warmth and the intrinsic braiding of the personal and profound relationships that grow when you get the luxury of working four years on a show are remarkable.”
It explains why despite Motive having had a respectable lifespan “it hurts my heart that we cannot go on and on like [Law and Order:] SVU which has been for, what, 1,000 years now?” she said, smiling.
Lehman says the best is yet to come in Motive’s most mature and “dynamic” season yet, highlighted by some “searingly good” victim-and-killer stories. It includes an extended story arc featuring Tommy Flanagan (Sons of Anarchy) as Interpol Det. Jack Stoker.
“I would say this season also has the most gore, but it’s shot really well,” she teases. “They have not been afraid of judiciously using blood.”