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Being Erica interview

Beccy Kennedy talks to Michael Riley who plays Dr Tom about Being Erica and just being

Published on April 27th 2011.

Being Erica interview

E4’s Canadian, semi-sci-fi dramedy – Being Erica – has returned for its third season. The Toronto-centred tales of a thirty something ‘underachieving’ woman, Erica Strange, who’s seeking transformation in her life through therapy, has an international, cult following.

“I don’t think we need to extinguish our desires. Perhaps just to turn around and ask ourselves, 'who is it that desires'?”

The programme's distinctive charm perhaps comes from the fact that Erica's therapist allows her to time travel into her past so she can physically change her regrets rather than just talk about them. This gives her character the capacity to be less like Bridget Jones and more like Doctor Who.

Here, award winning Canadian actor, Michael Riley - who plays Dr Tom, Erica's learned and somewhat transcendental therapist - chats about thirty-something crises, what it's like being in the show and, well, a bit about the nature of 'being' itself.
BK: If you weren't in Being Erica, would you watch it?

MR: Yes, even though it could be described as a show which is aimed at women, it is much less predictable than that, with a broad demographic. I like the therapy and the time travel aspects of it which make it unusual and interesting.

BK: Do you think there should be more programmes - like Being Erica - which tackle the circumstances of thirty-something lifestyles in the 21st c? Most programmes are aimed at teens or twenty-somethings or middle aged people with families. I ask this as a thirty-something woman who hasn't subscribed to the expectations of ‘must have a marriage/kids/career by this age in order to be happy.' I liked the fact that at the end of season two Erica had lost both her boyfriend and her job but when Dr Tom asks her how she feels she replies that she feels strangely OK, reassured in herself.

MR: I liked that episode too and that's what makes it different as a show. It considers things on a more philosophical level. Yes, I think it's important to write about the challenges which face thirty-somethings but also to address whether fulfilling society's expectations actually makes a person happy.

There are people who appear to have perfect lifestyles: the big house, white picket fence, marriage, kids, but actually they don't feel happy or fulfilled. Part of this is about wanting things but those things never living up to your expectations. You really want a big, fast car; you get it and you're happy for a week and then it wears off and you have to strive for something else. That want, that lack, cannot be filled with material goods and part of the problem is in the wanting itself.

BK: Like Buddhists believe that desire causes suffering which needs to be extinguished?

MR: Yes, Buddhism addresses this - and other philosophies, including non-dualism.

BK: So how do you think we can extinguish our desires?

MR: I don't think we need to extinguish our desires. Perhaps just to turn around and ask ourselves, “who is it that desires”?

BK: How do you prepare for playing Dr Tom? For example, did you find it necessary to research into psychotherapy?

MR: Psychotherapy is absolutely something which really interests me but it's such a complex topic it would be hard to do it justice without a full discussion - the kind I'd have over a bottle of wine!

BK: There's fanfic on the internet around Erica and Dr Tom's relationship. A regular theme - also acknowledged in interview by the writer, Jana Sinyor - is the idea that Erica and Dr Tom are romantically inclined. What are your opinions on this?

MR: Jana Sinyor, Erin Karpluk [who plays Erica] and myself have seen some of these comments on fan sites and we were tickled and intrigued that people view Dr Tom's and Erica's relationship in this way. However, there is definitely nothing romantic there.

It is more a father/daughter kind of relationship, if anything. They do care about each other though. The relationship between them is very deep and very complex. And because of this, the chemistry between them can often become misconstrued. I have always taken it as a compliment of the truth and dimensionality of the relationship.

BK: How do you get out of character after you've finished for the day? Do you get home from acting Dr Tom and someone asks you if you want a cup of tea and you furrow your brow and give a little quotation about Confucius and the art of tea making and then think...hang on a minute, that's Dr Tom, I'm back to being Michael now?!

MR: It's an occupational hazard with any job. You have to take that transition to unwind, but, no, I can definitely have my tea and cookie without doing Dr Tom! However I do have to get into the metabolism of the character.

Some actors can be on set and do a credible job after they've just been talking about hockey. For me, I can't do that. I need to put the blinders on. I use the metaphor of having your car in idle all day but not gunning it until that scene is being acted. Part of the job description is steeping into a territory emotionally. You have to go there, but you have to know your system well enough. Music is good for me. I have a playlist for each character which I might play in the car on the way to work. It's about concentration and getting out of the way to give yourself unto it.

BK: Lastly, do you think Being Erica has a message?

MR: I always think that Being Erica isn't about being Erica. It is about being.

Being Erica is on E4, Sunday at 11pm. The cast are currently filming the concluding season.

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