Jennifer Spence is a multiple award-winning Canadian actor born in Toronto whose father happens to be British. Spence has worked ceaselessly in Canada the US and the UK on, among other shows, The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, Life Sentence, Beyond, Van Helsing, Frequency, The Killing, Motive, Supernatural, Stargate Universe, and Exes & Ohs. What She Said’ Anne Brodie had the chance to speak with this hard-working actor for a gripping new forensic mystery series Traces from UKTV and BBC Studios premiering on BritBox in North America. Spence plays forensics Professor Kathy Torrence, an American working in Scotland, at Dundee University’s crime labs. Kathy’s intense, straightforward and ultra-focused, at least on the job. Personally, it’s another story. Spence shared her thoughts on her steely character and how her father’s passport ensured her international success.
I must say, I’m a huge fan of British procedural dramas and really enjoy Traces. It was great when your Canadian accent rang out in the Scottish forensics lab.
It was refreshing that they did that, eh? It was a miraculous alchemy of different components, my agent and my dad. My agent is a fantastic woman, and she’s always looking for opportunities tp expand. She reached out to Andy Pryor in London, the casting director and let him know that I could work there legally. My father was born in Leeds he got me a dual passport. He did it when I was a teenager, and I was well, alright. And it has been a huge blessing! So she sent my demo reel and they thankfully had an open mind. The character could be from anywhere. It’s a world-renowned university and people would come there, so they were open minded about bringing in a Canadian.
Kathy is part of a team investigating forensic clues in connection with a deadly fire / homicide. We see her at work, she’s empowered and capable.
The thing with Amelia Bullmore’s writing was that from the minute I read the script I was enamoured and invested in every character because of the way she writes, plus she allows freedom for the actor, which is rare. Amelia had a vision and I find things and really special things to do ion the character. A lot is on the page, her bluntness and Amelia describe her. The writing was great, the scripts were a pleasure to read. Sometimes a script has dialogue and stage directions that are boring or too obvious. But she he wrote it in such a way that it wasn’t on the nose, it was poetic, and gave a real sense of like a story I can read without seeing it.
Kathy’s shaken when a former female lover finds her – she’d purposely ghosted her. What’s the problem?
The way I think of Kathy is that she is brilliant at the job but not so much in intrapersonal relationships. She knows forensics but she doesn’t know relationships. She doesn’t do relationships. She’s kind of like a child in that way. And the person she was involved with shows up at her workplace which is scared and dear to her and she’s totally discombobulated.
When you create any character, do you set up some sort of background for her, like, how Kathy wound up in Dundee?
What brought to her to Dundee was this job, professor of forensic anthropology and the opportunity to work with world class academics. She got interested in forensics because she always led with her brain. She is comfortable and confident. I read a fantastic book by forensic biologist in Dundee who is Black, and it was fantastic. It’s all about death and bones and excavating bodies, all morbid subject matter but it’s a life affirming book. When people aske her if it creeps her out working with bodies, she says no, the living spook me. I don’t know relationships, but I know death and bones.
Have you shot anything during the pandemic?
I did, a couple of things, one series called Family Law that will be on Global next year an excellent homegrown show. My husband Benjamin Ratner created, wrote and directed me in Trigger Me, about the pandemic.
And Jennifer, how did you know the time was right for you to leave Toronto as an actor?
It was just a series of circumstances where I lived in Toronto and then went to theatre school in Montreal so by the time I was out of theatre school my parents had moved to BC. After school, I traveled, and strangely, around Scotland. Then when I came back, stayed with my parents, I had no money, and it felt natural to move to Vancouver. I love it here and it felt like home.
Traces is available on BritBox Jan 4th and Season 2 is a go!