@The Feldman Agency
Jann Arden’s narcissistic alter ego shines in CTV’s Jann
For Jann Arden, it was life colliding with fiction, making it an almost impossible scene to shoot.
In her CTV television series Jann, a show loosely based on her own life, writers had recreated the moment when her mother, who died from Alzheimer’s in December, first got diagnosed with the debilitating disease.
"I cried. I think we all cried. I couldn’t stop crying," the Canadian musician says in an interview.
"It’s a disease that’s such a f--king catastrophe. There is no one face of dementia. But I wanted that scene to be very real to educate people, but we kept doing it over and over. In television it’s the two shot, the side angle. And over again. I was emotionally exhausted."
The wounds are still fresh for Arden, just months after the passing of her mother, Joan Richards. She has long been an outspoken advocate for erasing the stigma of the disease and wrote about Richards in the 2017 memoir Feeding My Mother.
What made the scene even more poignant is that actress Deborah Grover has an uncanny resemblance to Richards.
"It brought up all those feelings where you feel so hopeless," says the 56-year-old Arden. "It’s the realization that you won’t have the parent you’re used to having."
I confide to Arden that I was touched by her book, since my mother also has dementia. "I am losing my mom, an inch, a thought, a memory at a time," she had written. She is suddenly no longer a celebrity pushing product, immediately reaching out, just as she has done to many others.
"Going forward in your life, despite all the pain, all the frustration, you know you did your best," she says in a wandering conversation where her abundant generosity of spirit means she somehow ends up consoling the interviewer instead of the other way around.
It’s not quite the way I expected this to go, discussing the launch of Arden’s new six-part series, premiering March 20 at 8:30 p.m. on CTV. But the outspoken Arden has never been shy about straddling the line between levity and tragedy.
"You know, it’s not like I’m in an Ibsen play. I’m not Hedda Gabler or even Lady Macbeth for God’s sake. I’m just being me. I think that’s what makes the show work."
This is uncharted territory for the chart topping multi-Juno Award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter in her first scripted role in a series.
"I’m not an actor, I’m a songwriter, so I needed to do something I could pull off."
Still, having a show based on your life does not necessarily make things easier. Comedy takes no prisoners — just ask Roseanne or Seinfeld, whose shows were also based on the personas of their stars.
But those performers were standup comics at the top of their game, not moonlighting musicians. Arden though, with her sheer force of personality, breezy blunt speak and take-no-prisoners delivery, manages to showcase remarkable comic chops. It works.
"You could pretty much put a camera at her dining room table and you’d have a series," said Randy Lennox, the president of Bell Media, who green-lit the show.
Lennox’s main advice: "Make it real, but not too real."
That’s pretty much what producers did. Arden had all the writers stay in her house while she was conceptualizing the series, so her dining room table was literally the writers room.
"I cooked for everyone. I was mowing the lawn on my tractor when they were working," laughs Arden.
Arden was never big on pomposity and the show ruthlessly takes the piss out of her onscreen persona. The pile-on is sometimes a bit much. But the fictional Arden is such a lovable, narcissistic loser, we root for her because we see so much of her in our selves.
The show also stars Zoie Palmer (Dark Matter), Patrick Gilmore (Travelers), Elena Juatco (Open Heart) and Sharon Taylor (Bad Blood).
"I’m such an idiot in this show," says Arden. "It’s fun to laugh at someone who really doesn’t get what’s going on around her. She’s worrying about her and what happens to her, and there’s no sense of responsibility.
"But I really don’t care if people confuse TV Jann with the real me because I think it’s hilarious. You don’t know what’s real or not, which I think makes it a little innovative."
Real-life Jann is a lot more successful with a membership in the Order of Canada and multiple Juno Awards, including 19 top 10 singles over her 26-year recording career.
In the opening episode of Jann, we see our fictional star gigging at a farmers’ market and being paid off with a wheel of cheese.
It’s stretching it, but not all that far from the truth. Years ago, she performed at a corporate gig and was paid, she says, very well. But the sponsor also gave her $15,000 worth of gift certificates redeemable for chocolate.
"My parents loved them. I gave some to charity every kid I knew got $50 gift cards of chocolate. They were so happy. But I had those gift cards for like 10 years."
Not everything is based on reality. While her TV mother does have dementia, in the show she has a sister in real life she has two brothers.
"I did need some separation because it helps to create a new world for me," says Arden. "It gave me room and space to play a little bit. TV Jan is a fluid character, she has girlfriends and boyfriends, she makes decisions based on her heart about what she’s feeling that day."
While the show allows its writers to launch into serious subjects such as sexuality and dementia, the bedrock remains the grounded performance of Arden. But she says it was the hardest work she’s ever had to do.
"It was crazy town. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. You’re getting up at 4:30 in the morning, you’re finished by 8 p.m. at night. With touring, you sing for two and a half hours and you’re done. But this was shot in 20 days and everything was really challenging, even just learning my lines. But I did learn a lot. Holy crap."
This has been a standout year for Arden. On Sunday she is up for several Juno Awards, including Album of the Year (These Are The Days) — remarkably, the first nomination in that category in a storied recording career. And now she has a TV series debuting the same month.
"I think it’s mind-boggling to be on there with the Weekend and Shawn Mendes. It felt like I won already," Arden says of the nomination.
"You know, my grandmother always used to say that you have to spread yourself too thin, don’t put all the seeds in one spot, which was the antithesis to all those clichés. But I think she was right. It’s how I’ve approached my work my whole life.
"Don’t be afraid to suck, just put it out there. Because, as my mom also said, at some point the hens will come home to roost."