The last time Canadian actress Caroline Dhavernas headlined an American television series, 2004’s wonderfully quirky "Wonderfalls,” the network — we’re looking at you, Fox — yanked the program off the air after only four episodes. Dhavernas’ latest series, the tropical medical drama "Off the Map”, looks to have a longer on-air life.
Created by Jenna Bans, a former "Grey’s Anatomy” writer, and executive produced by "Grey’s” and "Private Practice” creator Shonda Rhimes, the series stars Dhavernas as Lily, one of three doctors who come to a South American clinic to help the locals while battling personal demons. Zach Gilford (”Friday Night Lights”) and Mamie Gummer (”John Adams”) play her redemption-seeking cohorts, while Martin Henderson mentors the trio as the head of the Clinica Cruz del Sur.
We recently caught up with Dhavernas about why she wanted to return to network television, what flying down a zipline feels like, and if she still encounters "Wonderfalls” fans.The Wall Street Journal: Even though "Off the Map” is set in South America, it actually films in Hawaii. How did the show’s location affect your decision to take the job?
Caroline Dhavernas: I had never been here [in Hawaii] in my life, so it was an exciting proposition. But I had to think about it. Because it’s really far away and in the middle of nowhere, basically. But it was at a time in my life when I was ready for it. I had been shying away from TV for many years because shooting far away from home [in Canada] wasn’t an option, but I responded to the script and I thought I might as well try it. It’s hard to jump in, because [the show] could be seven years of your life [after you sign a contract]. You never know. But I love it here, it’s kind of a paradise where a car picks you up and you drive through pineapple fields to go to work.
Plus, given the show’s setting, your character gets to do a number of outdoor-only activities, such as ziplining over a gorge to save a patient.
Yes, and I was up there for real on the zipline. It was built by our people, so it wasn’t as high as it could be, but that’s definitely something I’d never done before. Plus, that was one of our first days of shooting so it was a great welcome to Hawaii — I was up there with a beautiful view of the mountains and it helped me get into ‘doctor-mode’ right away. We also have some water rescues up ahead in the season and cave adventures. As actors, we don’t do massive amounts of stuff because of insurance, which would be an issue, but we do get to be in situations that are fun and different. I’m glad we’re not shooting in a dusty studio; our studio is the clinic, which is built in the middle of a beautiful field.Aside from the location, what attracted you to "Off the Map”?
It was a mixture of things. "Wonderfalls” was a truly amazing experience and I learned a lot and I’m a big fan of it myself. But I was in every single shot and I was so tired after those seven months [of shooting]. It’s not really healthy the way people shoot television series, and when you’re the main lead, you just don’t get any sleep and you barely have time to learn your lines. So when looking for a new show, I knew that I wasn’t prepared to do a lead again; I wanted to be a part of an ensemble, which was a better lifestyle for me.
Also, I was just disapointed in the whole process, because we did 13 episodes of "Wonderfalls,” and then it came out and the marketing was handled kind of poorly, I thought, and we were given a Friday night time slot, which was basically their way of saying ‘we don’t believe in you.’ Everyone had such hopes and expectations, so after the way the show was treated, it was a major disappointment. Why give so much of yourself for something that’s not even going to be considered? So it was a relief and a huge disappointment at the same time [when the show was canceled]. I knew I couldn’t go on like that for years but at the same time, I loved what we were doing. But I was reading pilots; I went in once or twice for things that didn’t end up happening. I was also in a relationship where I wasn’t prepared to just leave my hometown, but now that I’m single, it’s easier to make those choices.Were you a fan of Shonda Rimes’ other shows?
I had never seen an episode of "Grey’s Anatomy” before I signed on to this. Now I’ve seen the first three seasons and I really love it. It’s like candy to me; it’s really addictive for some reason. I never thought I’d be a part of a doctor show because the visuals of doctor shows bore me a little bit, usually, because it’s the same hospital sets and costumes. But obviously, this one was different, because it’s all about the jungle and greens and boots and vistas. We’re actually out there in the forces, in the water — that’s fun to me. Being in a studio all the time would bore me to death. Plus, when I read the pilot, I was in Bali on the beach and I reading about coconuts and the beach and I thought to myself, I could do more of this.
I also liked how the show deals with humanitarianism, which is always tricky because poverty is a delicate subject on TV. People are curious, but at the same time, uncomfortable with the topic, and networks want their shows to be entertaining. In this case, the humanitarianism is surely there, but it’s also an ABC show so there’s romance and action and drama and comedy. We don’t address the politics of it.Do you still hear from "Wonderfalls” fans?
I still have letters coming in and people hitting me with messages on MySpace about how much they used to love it and watch it. Casting directors certainly saw it, so it did change something for me, even though they only aired four episodes on Fox and then Logo and 30 countries around the world bought it. When I went to Australia, I was stopped by two employees at a movie theater and I had no idea that people could recognize me from the other side of the world. It had a short life on Fox, but people have been watching and loving it.SOURCE