“I was totally burned out at the end of Republic of Doyle,” says Allan Hawco. “When we finished six seasons every cool idea I ever had, every cool line I ever had, every cool plot idea, everything, I’d used it. My charm was gone. I was happy to have something to fill up the well again.”
That something was St. John’s writer Lisa Moore’s crime novel Caught. A finalist for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize, the book is a period piece, set in 1978, that follows drug smuggler David Slaney’s prison escape and attempt at creating a new life. Described as loyal, paranoid, driven and resilient, Slaney is a charismatic and complex character with a plan for one more heist and to rekindle a romance with the woman he loves.
“I read the thing in three hours,” says Hawco on the line from his home in Newfoundland. “I was just completely taken by it. By the characters, the innocence of it, the injustice of what the characters were put through. I could see it all in front of me as to how it would go as an adaptation for television.
“I called Lisa shortly afterwards because everyone was having a hard time getting the rights to this book. A lot of people wanted it, which is often the case with a great novel. Lisa and I know one another. We live in the same city not far from one another. So I called her and said, ‘Please, I want to do this. I want to make this into a television series.’ It’s a small town. She knew our track record as a company here. I had faith that she would feel confident I would do right by her story.”
Though “rich in character and situation,” Hawco says bringing the story to the small screen — the first of the five hour-long episodes, co-starring Paul Gross, airs on CBC television February 26 — required some changes.
“It wasn’t going to work for me unless I could find a way in authentically as a writer first,” he says. “In the novel there is a beautiful innocence to their discovery of the world and their openness to what fate may bring. That works really well in the novel because you can internalize it. You can identify with it and go with it. I couldn’t see a way to paint that picture for the screen. For me the stakes had to be different and in order for them to be different Slaney had to be older. This had to be a last opportunity for him. That became the spine of the entire adaptation.”
The lead role was tailored for Hawco, who is 40.
“In the book there is a beautiful innocence to him that is still very much at the core of who I eventually created, but their ages are 10 years apart. My David Slaney in the adaptation is 35, in the book it is his 25th birthday. As much moisturizer as I can put on my face, there’s no playing 25 again. Nor do I want to.”
How do you make a character like Slaney, who dabbles on the wrong side of the law, likeable enough to carry a television series?
“Luckily I never think that way,” he laughs, “or I might not get out of bed!”