May 11, 2021

The Province: Arctic Air reaches cruising altitude

By Glen Schaefer Source: The Province

Cast of CBC action-romance are stretching out now that the mostly Lower Mainland filmed TV show has been picked up for second season

A couple of the guys are taking it easy in the shade of a late-summer afternoon outside a Quonset hut hangar at Langley Airport, as cheers and commotion echo inside.

They’re filming a rowdy episode of the CBC action-romance series Arctic Air, centred on a tough-guy amateur fight competition.

As the crew shoots fight action inside, series star Adam Beach jokes with co-stars Stephen Lobo and Ben Cotton. Beach is looking more relaxed now than he did during work on the CBC show’s first season around the same time last year.

“I think security is the one thing that’s changed,” Beach says. “When we did the first 10 episodes, we didn’t know we were coming back, I think there was this apprehensive approach; do your best job, then go find another project.”

The logistically-complicated series, about a fictional seat-of-the pants Yellowknife airline, shoots mostly in the Lower Mainland, with some exteriors filmed on location up north. (The airline bears a similarity to the real Buffalo Air, the subject of a long-running reality series from the same production company).

Arctic Air showrunners Gary Harvey and Ian Weir had to find a way to meld B.C.-filmed interiors and greenscreen shots of their actors in a vintage DC-3 cockpit with their Northwest Territories footage and com-puter-generated effects, as they also established a fictional world.

Creator Weir’s characters included the womanizing Bobby Martin (Beach), the airline’s co-owner, returned to Yellowknife after his father death; his grouchy business partner Mel Ivarson (Kevin McNulty); and Mel’s daughter Krista (Pascale Hutton), the airline’s chief pilot and Bobby’s ex-girlfriend.

With CBC now signed on for a 13-episode second season to start airing in January, cast, crew and writers are stretching out.

“We all know that we could really create something for a number of years,” says Beach (Cowboys and Aliens, Flags Of Our Fathers). “There’s more ease, more comfort.”

They started their second season shoot in August with a 10-day stint in Yellowknife, for a season-opening plot involving a massive forest fire.

“It was amazing, it was super hot, and the environment there is ridiculously beautiful,” Beach says. “A lot of helicopter action, plane action, the first episode brings in all the elements.”

Beach smiles. “And, you know, then we can coast for the next 12 episodes.”

The three actors laugh, and then Cotton is summoned back inside. Vancouver’s Cotton joins the series for the second season as a recurring character, a slime-bag wheeler-dealer who is promoting the tough-guy competition that figures in this episode’s plot.

Inside the hangar the summer heat, the curved aluminum roof and the hot lights combine for a sweaty experience as Harvey, directing this episode, calls action.

A rough-hewn bar runs along one wall, the raised boxing ring dominates the space, and they’ve assembled a crowd of fight-fan extras heavy on tattoos for the boys and low necklines for the girls. Who knew there was this much cleavage in Yellowknife?

The fictional Bobby Martin is coaching his miner pal Jim McAlister (actor Aleks Paunovic, back in a recurring role from the first season) in a fight aimed at raising enough money to save Jim’s diamond mine.

Actor Paunovic boxed for Canada in the 1999 Pan-Am Games, and he and fellow actor Mike Dopud both have a stunt background, giving the producers an edge in this day’s filming.

“Shooting a boxing episode is a difficult thing to do, they’ve totally amped the stakes,” Paunovic says.

He, Dopud and stunt co-ordinator Gavin Buhr have tweaked the choreography, and Dopud and Paunovic will be able to improvise a bit when the camera gets in the ring with them.

“I’m a southpaw, so I had to alter the script a little bit,” Paunovic says. “We want to keep the characters within the fight scene – what would these characters actually do in a fight?”

At ringside, producer-director Harvey says the show is branching out from the aircraft-in-peril stories that held sway during the first season.

“We still have some of that stuff going on,” he says, watching as the extras wave their plastic glasses of prop beer. “This is something we thought strongly that we could have some fun with. This whole sequence is complicated, very ambitious. If we don’t start that way, if we start editing back before we even get to the floor here, we’ll never end up with anything.”

Back outside, Beach praises the work of co-star Lobo, who plays a naive, fishout-of-water South Asian pilot with the airline.

“He’s the only guy who’s the playing the opposite of who he is,” says Beach of his co-star. “He brings a lot of humour and charisma as this outsider, showing us how valuable our lives really are.”

Lobo says there’s a comfort level to his return to the Arctic Air ensemble. “The show is up and running, on its feet. We know what it is. I don’t have to fret about, does my accent work.”

Between seasons of Arctic Air, Lobo filmed a regular role as a suave fixer from the future in the Showcase sci-fi series Continuum.

“I’m allowing myself to be less neurotic,” Lobo says. “There’s a real joy in just focusing on the work, and not where your next job is going to be.”

Manitoba native Beach has based himself in B.C. as well, filming a role between seasons here in the wilderness thriller Red Machine with Billy Bob Thornton and James Marsden.

But it’s not all joy in Arctic Air’s fictional Yellowknife. Beach’s tongue-in-cheek complaint is that because CBC got a ratings boost when Republic of Doyle star Allan Hawco appeared shirtless on his show, the network wants Beach to do the same.

“But Allan Hawco is ripped,” Beach says. “They said, Adam, you’ve got to show the abs. I said what abs? So they hired me a trainer.”

Well that’s great isn’t it? Free workouts?

“No it isn’t great, I hate working out.” Back on the plus side, Beach met and started dating recurring regular Leah Gibson, who played one of Bobby’s girlfriends on the first season, and they’re still “hot as ever.”

He sighs. “So I guess the training will benefit somewhat.”

Twitter: @glenschaefer