Fans might know Natalie Brown as the mother of vampire kids, but for her latest role she’s watching over fully human children.
The Canadian actress, known for her role as mom-turned-vampire Kelly Goodweather in FX’s “The Strain,” plays a military academy dean in “For Love and Honor.” The TV movie airs at 6 p.m. Aug. 6 on Hallmark. (It premiered July 30 on the network.)
Brown’s character, Caroline Foster, is the free-thinking new dean of academics at a struggling military academy who squares off with the school’s commandant (James Denton), a military veteran who doesn’t like her methods.
After shooting “For Love and Honor” in Northern Ontario, Brown traveled to Manitoba to film Syfy’s upcoming “Channel Zero: Candle Cove.” Before either, she filmed the upcoming third season of “The Strain.”
I talked with Brown on the day she returned to her Toronto home. Here’s an edited Q&A. I’ll have more from her later this summer when “The Strain” returns.
You are back in Toronto now?
I’m looking at my house, thinking, “I’ve missed you.” I haven’t been here because “For Love and Honor” started in April, and then the day that that wrapped, I went straight to “Candle Cove” the same day. But I’ll take it. I’ll take a busy summer anytime.
Concerning “For Love and Honor,” is it odd not to have the thirst for blood playing a character?
[Laughs.] It was a welcome reprieve to work on something that’s a little lighter, shall we say? I actually auditioned for “For Love and Honor” on my last day shooting Season 3 of “The Strain.” It was a little bit tricky to shift gears, going from Kelly Goodweather and then straight into a romantic comedy, but it’s just been really nice to walk in lighter, higher heels.
Tell me a little bit about the character, Caroline.
Caroline Foster is the dean of academics at a failing military academy. She has been hired to turn the school around. She comes from … the school of thought where alternative teaching methods and a hands-on and personal approach are, in her mind, the best way to relate to students, increase enrollment and help put the school back on its feet.
At the same time, an ex-military captain played by James Denton is brought in. He’s an alumni who also is brought on to help turn his former academy around. He comes from a more regimented military background. The two of us butt heads in the beginning, but as you can imagine, we work together to find common ground.
One would wish our politicians would do the same thing, right?
I know. Just put our differences aside to find a common goal. There’s a lot to be learned and gleaned from “For Love and Honor.”
Is it fun to do a rom-com, a battle of the sexes story?
I loved it. Yeah, it was a tit-for-tat sensibility. His military approach juxtaposed against what he considered to be my touchy-feely approach.
I have to say, though, I’ve done a series in Canada called “Sophie.” It was one of the best experiences of my life, playing a comedic role. She was a strong female character tackling life issues head-on, but in comedic circumstances. I actually loved it. After doing some darker roles, I remember auditioning for two things. One was a comedy and one was “The Strain.” … Fortunately for me, I booked “The Strain,” because it was the next best experience of my life.
It’s nice to be able to go back to comedic roots and just be more playful, not just between takes but also on screen. And I realized that I hadn’t had lipstick on and hadn’t smiled in a very long time on camera.
Yeah, but you did have lots of gray makeup on?
[Laughs.] I had a lot of makeup on, none of which included lipstick. It was a welcome makeover for me.
Do you find your approach is different for a comedy over a drama?
Depending on the role. For example, I know, especially Season 2 of “The Strain” once Kelly had turned, it was a much more physical performance, so my preparation was vastly different. It was a lot of physical training and working out the body in different ways and taking the physical theater workshop. I took Muay Thai, just learning how to be more in my body in a more animalistic approach and less reliant on dialogue. Once Kelly did regain sentience, there was a lot more for her to do and say. But the approach was much different.
Working with James Denton was just such a joy. We had a lot of fun playing with the script because we worked with a lovely director and writer who gave us the freedom to ad lib in anything that brought life to our characters and to our chemistry. We had great chemistry on and off screen. He’s just one of the most collaborative actors that I’ve ever worked with, who really welcomed ideas.
The kids who play the cadets at the academy were really wonderful, too. Caroline is a yoga instructor and wants to teach the students how yoga can benefit both concentration and relaxation, and wishes the colonel would give it a try. I definitely had to keep my yoga habits up to snuff but also just really work on ways to connect with the kids on set and whatever brought the story to life. It was a great story and just a lot of fun to bring to life.
These kids are probably a lot different from the Feelers, right?
These kids weren’t quite as obedient as the Feelers. They definitely gave me a run for my money. They didn’t do my bidding as quickly. I couldn’t just click and have them do my bidding. The Feelers were just a whole different kind of cute.
How different is the experience of doing a TV movie as opposed to a TV series?
It was just a whirlwind. Everything is condensed and you have a shorter time, obviously, to tell the story. But you also can see the whole picture really clearly. Often, in a series, you only get two episodes at a time, and the actors are as surprised as anyone else is to find out where the story is headed. Some of the developments come as a complete shock. Whereas with a movie you know the whole journey, and you can really see the big picture. That allows you a different way into the character knowing where you begin and where you end up.
How was it working with James and his son?
It was fantastic. Sheppard Denton is a lovely young man and smart and sweet and polite and so well-raised. He’s done a lot of theater, and he’s also musically inclined. He’s performed in front of large crowds on-stage, but this was his first foray into on-screen performing. He took to it like bees to honey. He really embodied the character of Mason. I kept calling him Mason between takes. Somewhat like his character, he’s raised by proper parents, who have taught him to call ladies ma’am and be very respectful. …
He’s just such a keen learner and so great on screen. The best thing was watching him and his father work together. They have this really sweet relationship where the colonel plays mentor to Mason’s character. It was just really great to see them bond between takes as well as on screen. Sheppard’s character has to learn a very rigorous routine called an honor ceremony that involves complicated footwork and the spinning of ceremonial rifles. He practiced, I think, for months beforehand. James had to show that he also could to it, so then he had to practice. I think Sheppard might have shown him up.
Did you enjoy the location?
We shot “For Love and Honor” in Northern Ontario, which is where I’m from. It was a lot of fun being able to shoot back in Northern Ontario and work with the crew and work with a lot of local kids up there. It’s always nice when work takes you back home.
Did you get to go home?
Now my family lives in the Niagara region, but I have a lot of family and cousins that still live anywhere from five to eight hours north of Toronto, and this was shooting five hours north. My cousins got to come to set, and they were shocked to find out that TV doesn’t shoot in order, as was I when I first found that out. Sometimes, I wish it did. Yeah, it was just nice. It feels like things come full circle. What I loved about the business is how it got me out of Northern Ontario and now a lot of the productions keep bringing me back.
You will be all over our TVs this summer and fall.
Here’s the thing. “For Love and Honor” is July 30 and “The Strain” is Aug. 28. “Channel Zero: Candle Cove” will be Sept. 27, leading right up to Halloween.
I haven’t seen any of “Candle Cove,” but maybe I’ll have to talk to you again.
You will. Honestly, it’s one of the most innovative and exciting and scariest things I have ever read or worked on. There was a scene that I read, and I said, “You realize that I snap the necks of small, blind vampire children in ‘The Strain,’ and that has nothing on this.”
It’s scary in a very unique and different way—a psychological horror. I think Syfy is getting away from werewolves and vampires and going more into horror. This is a psychological horror, the best kind, in very capable hands of young and innovative writer and director.
The director, Craig Macneill, directed the movie “The Boy,” which was a festival darling. His next feature is going to be the Lizzie Borden story. He’s about to shoot that with Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart. He just has such an amazing visual eye. Nick Antosca was our showrunner for “Candle Cove.” He just came from “Hannibal.” These writer-director teams are just very talented and exciting to work with.