‘Whydunit’ aspect of ‘Motive’ turns crime drama formula on upside-down

Posted Monday, May. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information Motive • 9 p.m. Monday • WFAA/Channel 8

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Motive — ABC’s new crime drama, starring Canadian actress Kristin Lehman — is very different from most TV whodunits.

That’s because, in this show, the killer is clearly identified in the very first scene.

Instead, the show, which premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, asks viewers to focus on a different problem.

The show is what Lehman calls a “whydunit.” The mystery isn’t the who, but the why.

It’s a storytelling twist that turns the familiar cop-show formula upside down in a unique and satisfying way.

But truth be told, that’s not what initially attracted Lehman to the series, which already is a huge hit on Canadian television.

The actress, who most recently co-starred for two seasons on AMC’s The Killing, fell in love with the character, homicide detective Angie Flynn, who is a devoted single mom and a mighty fine investigator.

“When I’m Angie,” Lehman says, “I’m creatively braver than I’ve ever felt.”

Lehman gained her insight into what makes a police detective tick the way most actors do: She met and shadowed a real-life male-female detective duo as they performed their daily tasks.

But Lehman focused on the details that other actors might not care about, thus winding up with a very different spin on character.

“I’ll tell you the stuff that was most fascinating to me,” she says. “It was not gun training and it was not whether the detectives wear gloves at every crime scene.

“What I found fascinating was the way they dressed, their interpersonal relationships, what the bullpen in the police station actually looks like, why they became cops, their family life — all the stuff that really humanizes them, as opposed to all the stuff I already knew from watching cop shows.”

Her first of many insights was that homicide detectives aim for sartorial superiority.

“It was interesting to me that it’s actually a point of pride for detectives that they dress well, that it distinguishes them within the police force,” Lehman says. “The beautiful, long-haired detective who I was speaking with and her very handsome male partner were dressed to the nines.

“Her hair was long and flowing and she had beautiful fuchsia suede heels on. There was none of this ‘I’ve got to be taken seriously so I’ve got to dress like a guy’ with her.”

Then Lehman delved into other aspects of the character.

“When I asked her why she became a cop, she said excitement,” Lehman says. “When I asked them how they dealt with gruesome crimes and the bad decisions that humans make, first and foremost, they said they use inappropriate humor.

“And when I wanted to know how the crazy work schedule affects them, I could see quite clearly that it’s a fast-food, eat-on-the-go lifestyle that keeps them going. I used every bit of that. I learned all of that from these two detectives.”

As a result, Angie has a vibe that’s like no other female detective on TV.

She’s cinematically stylized, yet somehow real.

Motive premiered in Canada in February and instantly emerged as one of the top-rated shows in the country. It has already been renewed for a second season up north. Lehman is excited to see what American viewers think of it now.

Another reason she chose to do the show was national pride.

“I was really thankful and lucky and grateful to shoot The Killing for two years in Vancouver,” she says. “That was the first show I did back after I had my little boy. I took three years off to have him. And after that, I really wanted to stay here. This is the city where I was born and raised.

“Most of the work I’ve done in my career has been in the States, but I made a decision to try to do the same kind of quality work in Canada. It has to be possible, I thought, to have a really fulfilling creative life in Canada, making a show in Canada for Canadians. And then this show came along.”

And now comes an opportunity for the show to be even bigger than Lehman imagined.

“I hope America receives us favorably,” she says, “but our future does not depend on how it does on ABC. We’re set for our second season. And that’s part of why I chose to do a show in Canada.

“I was tired of being on the network merry-go-round, of being on shows where there were pilots made but they didn’t air, or being on shows that made it to air and should have lived but didn’t.

“A happy byproduct of Canada having a lower volume of shows it that we have a long chance of staying on the air. And that’s what I wanted. I wanted to do something that I love for as long as I can.”

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