It’s the age old murder mystery question… did the Butler do it? Canadian actor Brian Woodford finds himself in a world of intrigue in the Shadowlands miniseries playing the Butler to a demanding and egocentric master in episode 1 ‘Narcissus’.
Shadowlands miniseries is available on OUTtv and OUTtvGO in Canada and on Vimeo for our friends around the world.
Synopsis of episode 1 ‘Narcissus’: Alex, a plastic surgeon hell bent on perfection, hosts a house party with an assortment of colorful guests. Amid romantic misfires it becomes apparent that the only person Alex is interested in is himself.
Brian Woodford is originally from Avondale, Newfoundland and Labrador and is based in Toronto, Ontario. He trained in Theatre at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College before completing his training at Humber College’s Acting for Film and Television Diploma Program.
Woodford attained his B.A. from Memorial University in Newfoundland. He is an avid tennis player, and, when not doing script analysis, is busy working on his backhand.
Charlie David: When you’re approaching a script like Shadowlands and in particular with this episode it’s really quite a surreal world. How do you find anchor points to ground yourself as an actor when the story is so far outside your experience?
Brian Woodford: I look toward my past experiences in life to help develop any character I play. This is in addition to research and development work I do, as well. Drew is someone who is devoted and inspired in life and aims to do his absolute best in working for Alex.
I, too, see myself in Drew in terms of being someone who tries to be my best to those that are close to me in life. Generally, I bring different facets of my personality into all the characters I play.
Charlie David: How much were you able to relate your own experiences to create your character? And how much did you have to research or imagine?
Brian Woodford:I actually have played a butler before, in an Agatha Christie play, so, I was drawing a bit from that experience – but, Drew is much more complicated than a stereotypical butler. He is torn with his feelings for Alex.
I developed a feel for the character by drawing on a time when I was discovering my sexuality and also times when I was vulnerable and powerless. Drew really just wants things to work out right for those close to him but is a bit naïve in how he goes about it.
Charlie David: What aspects of the Shadowlands miniseries are you excited for an audience to experience or discover?
Brian Woodford: I’m excited for everyone to see the creativity that the cast and crew brought to this show. There was a lot of collaboration involved, not just with myself and my fellow cast members, but the crew as well.
There is a great special effects element in one of my scenes towards the end of the episode. Each episode very much draws the viewer into the close relationships between the characters. Also, folks can check me out in a dapper tux, jk.
Charlie David: Romance between men and between women was common place and written about in Greek and Roman mythology. Why is it important to continue sharing the type of stories in the Shadowlands miniseries today?
Brian Woodford: Visibility is so important for all minorities. More content focused on issues facing the LGBT fosters an awareness that is vital.
It also provides understanding for people who may come from different backgrounds and gives them a chance to see and discover more about issues they may not know about firsthand.
Charlie David: What was the hardest scene for you to do and why?
Brian Woodford: The hardest scene I had to do was a scene with Sean who plays the role of Alex in episode 1 ‘Narcissus’. It was my first time using a prosthetic, and it had to be placed precisely so. Well, I don’t want to give away too much – you’ll just have to watch the Shadowlands miniseries!
Charlie David: Who is a major influence for you and on your creativity?
Brian Woodford: My parents have really been a big influence on me, generally, as well as being a major source for my creativity. They always said “yes” when I was a kid wanting to act in a play or to take violin, guitar or trumpet class. In hindsight, I took a lot of music classes, haha.
In the Narcissus episode of Shadowlands the story circles around Alex, a plastic surgeon hell bent on perfection, hosting a house party with an assortment of colorful guests. Amid romantic misfires it becomes apparent that the only person Alex is interested in is himself.
Shadowlands miniseries is available on OUTtv and OUTtvGO in Canada and on Vimeo for our friends around the world.
Charlie David: Tell us about the Narcissus story in Shadowlands. What were the main challenges and fears you had in creating the role of Alex?
Sean C. Dwyer: In the first episode of Shadowlands, ‘Narcissus’, my character is self-obsessed, perfection-obsessed and pursuit-obsessed; a constant search for the ideal in himself, his creation and his work.
My main challenges were creating a realistic character who is already nearly at the peak of his insanity; we see him for one evening, the last evening of his life, and everything that he has been and has become must be present in his current being. I wouldn’t say I had any particular fears- I was far too excited, stimulated and jonesing!
Charlie David:How much of yourself goes into a character when it’s as unhinged as your role of Alex in ‘Narcissus’?
Sean C. Dwyer: Certainly a lot; as an actor – you yourself are the clay, the canvas and even the array of tools used to create the character. Even any kind of influences or inspirations used to develop the character are filtered through your own perspective.
At the same time, the interactions with other characters, the thoughts of the director… and then a lot of the technical aspects in production do a lot to create the character, the editing, the sound… all determine how the audience receives the character and that, ultimately, is what the character will be!
Charlie David:How much were you able to relate your own experiences to create the character of Alex in Narcissus? And how much did you have to research or imagine?
Sean C. Dwyer: This character is particularly insane, particularly driven and particularly fatal; he is ready to draw blood, ready to draw his own blood in his pursuit… I actually do have a lot of all of those things in me on some level; I have drawn my own blood in strange pursuits; like a wart I had for a good long while that just got too irritating and I literally cut it out of me… losing blood made me feel like “why are we putting things in ourselves to get high when we could take things out of ourselves…”
I didn’t really follow that thought up with consistent practice, ha. I also feel pretty crazy sometimes, and I’m not the only one, and I drive forward with my goals and pursuits rather relentlessly… at the same time, there was most definitely a need to imagine what cutting oneself would literally be like, where someone’s mental state would fully have to go to get there… would he be happy, sad, angry doing it…. the most important connection ultimately, was that there is a lot going on in our minds and it comes out sometimes smooth in precise speech and action, and sometimes very rough.
Charlie David:The stories in the Shadowlands TV show were inspired by the Shadowlands book which was inspired by Greek mythology. What was your experience in creating a remix of an ancient classical tale like Narcissus?
Sean C. Dwyer: I am familiar with the old stories, and I looked at Narcissus specifically for this project, and strangely enough I had a few projects with this character and concept going on in the last little while, so research overlapped and even performances fed each other.
And then the Berlin 1920s context gave a lot of space for exploration of course. Acting is all about building up a big pile of knowledge and experience and then throwing it carelessly up into the air, hoping that some of it sticks, but ultimately striding through the aftermath like you own the place.
Charlie David:What aspects of the Shadowlands TV show are you excited for an audience to experience or discover?
Sean C. Dwyer: There are many aspects! Twisty endings, unexpected turns, artistic pleasure, emotion, passion, taboo-testing and pushing the envelope. I hope that the audience will come with us on our downward (and all around) spiral and be inspired to get dirty!
Charlie David:Each story or episode is unique and has its own world of characters, time and place. And yet there are connections between them. Were you aware of these connections while filming or was it a surprise to learn later?
Sean C. Dwyer: I became fleetingly at first and then more and more aware of them… I think it works as it happened… like you think you are the center of the universe and then you learn progressively that there are worlds beyond you and then that you are interconnected with those worlds in a larger world or plan.
Meeting actors from the other shows who in our show were simply background, using elements from the other episodes in very explicit ways, like humming a song from one of them and turning it on it’s head- but not knowing quite how it passed in the other episode because it had not been shot or certainly edited yet! Very fun and stimulating to be a part of and to integrate into my performance!
Charlie David:Romance between men and between women was common place and written about in Greek and Roman mythology. Why is it important to continue sharing these types of stories today?
Sean C. Dwyer: It continues to be an important part of society today, certainly; it is absolutely critical to share everyone’s stories together, no less these kinds of stories that can potentially involve absolutely everyone in society in one way or another.
I speak as a heterosexual cis gendered Irish-heritage man, who is very grateful for all of the experiences of open-mindedness and taboo-bursting and even just simply knowing all sorts of people with all sorts of life-experiences… it is the completely necessary response to a lot of the issues going on today; knowing each other, sharing stories with each other, even the dark ones!
Charlie David:What was the hardest scene for you to do in Narcissus and why?
Sean C. Dwyer: I loved it all, I was excited to jump into it all (even into the pool at 5am yes!) and everyone was just so darn supportive and awesome and we were so in this together… I mean the last sequence I was really in the zone and wanted to remain there while made up and between scenes, so I had to ask the Director to convey to the others to refrain from jokes and snickering and chit-chat between takes and everyone was totally cool with that, and we were all back to good, fun times once we were done and I had my face back!
Charlie David:Who is a major influence for you and on your creativity?
Sean C. Dwyer: There are many… perhaps if I have to say one, it would be Batman? I strive to live in that example however fictional it may be; obsession, striving, constant work, costume, seriousness, darkness, running the edge of madness, constant self-improvement and self-less-ness… there are many aspects within him that I have striven to see live in me. Charles Dickens, Data from Star Trek TNG, Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner and Mel Gibson… the list goes on!
Charlie David:Is there a type of role you dream of playing but haven’t had the opportunity yet?
Sean C. Dwyer: My type seems to be becoming more and more American Psycho, and I am alright with that! It might even lead to playing Batman! (It did for Christian Bale!) I love superheros, and I have played a variety of superheros, but I would like to play an ultra-realistic superhero, dark and brooding. An android… a space explorer… Virgil in an adaptation of Dante’s Inferno… the list goes on!
Charlie David:In addition to acting, tell me about the other areas of entertainment you’re pursuing.
Sean C. Dwyer: Specifically entertainment? Well, that would be writing scripts and directing… I love editing and don’t get enough opportunity to do that. I’m a lawyer, but NOT an entertainment lawyer, as a lawyer it is social justice for me… criminal, youth, family… research for acting perhaps!
I love painting and drawing as well, but those are areas just for me privately; no outside judgement, what I do will be good enough for me and that’s good enough! Entirely my creation, haha.
Charlie David:With so much going on in the world today, what’s your motivation to be a performer? Do you act to explain? To get away? To move past? To widen our knowledge? To incite a conversation?
Sean C. Dwyer: All of these reasons are excellent reasons and most definitely inspire me in various roles, from role to role it can be all of them, a few, just one or none at all. I do want to engage in current debates; like telling marginal stories and including all different types of peoples in the dominant narrative.
To instill hope, but inspire action, to engage in possible worlds as much as in hard reality. To teach and learn, to work through difficult moments in the past… like any experience from a relationship to a hike to a single breath, each is its own! But hopefully everything we do gets people talking, yes!
Charlie David:What’s next for you as a creator/actor/performer?
Sean C. Dwyer: I have a few projects on the go right now, from my own writing-directing for a sci-fi short film to playing Alexander Mackenzie in an Ontario history piece, a few rapists and chauvinists in some pieces and a few good men in others!
I’d like to send out grateful vibes and positive karma to everyone involved in the Narcissus episode of Shadowlands; awesome to see it growing, OutTV and all of the opportunity that it brings to the Canadian industry and the LGBT community; onwards and upwards!
Format The Shadowlands TV series is a miniseries of three episodes by director Charlie David exploring love –a narcissist grasping to comprehend it (Ep. 1 Narcissus), a couple renegotiating a relationship (Ep. 2 Mating Season) and star-crossed lovers mourning its loss (Ep. 3 Pygmalion Revisited).
The stories transition from one to the next in an anthology fashion and may be watched together and thought of as one film. (Such as in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Four Rooms or Damian Szifron’s Wild Tales.)
Each episode in the Shadowlands TV series has a companion digital media component such as music videos or an exploration of the artists and technicians involved.
SHADOWLANDS TV SERIES EPISODE 1: NARCISSUS
Synopsis – Alex, a plastic surgeon hell bent on perfection, hosts a house party with an assortment of colorful guests. Amid romantic misfires it becomes apparent that the only person Alex is interested in is himself.
Theme – The pursuit of perfection may become deadly when left unchecked. This theme is explored in a less extreme fashion in Director Charlie David‘s documentary STUDlebrity.
Setting – Mansion. Era is modern but with the influence of 1920’s Berlin. People exploring their sexual freedom and new cosmetic surgeries in the pursuit of perfection.
Companion webisode – In the companion webisode, we explore the costume design in Narcissus.
SHADOWLANDS TV SERIES EPISODE 2: MATING SEASON
Synopsis – A couple explore the idea of opening their relationship while on a remote camping trip when they encounter a mysterious stranger.
Theme – In every culture since time began there have been stories of apparitions. The causes of such phenomena are continually under speculation. It seems that no matter how much data, first-hand accounts and theories are collected, the question ‘Do Ghosts Exist’ is one that may never be answered…
Setting – 1951 post WWII forest
Companion webisode: In the companion webisode, we’ll explore the history of the WWII hit song, My Buddy. A male duet of the song was recorded for the soundtrack as well as a music video featuring clips from Mating Season.
SHADOWLANDS TV SERIES EPISODE 3: PYGMALION REVISITED
Synopsis – Rudy is a painter who in mourning the loss of his lover and becomes obsessed with creating a realistic painting of him. The resulting piece is so beautiful, so life like that he is drawn under its spell.
Theme – Star-crossed lovers whose romance is cut short by the shears of fate.
Setting – Present day artist’s loft.
Companion webisode: The companion webisode is a behind the scenes look at the creation of the life-size paintings and how the VFX team brought it to life.
A music video, Ça va, featuring actor and singer Marc Devigne was also created utilizing clips from the Pygmalion Revisited episode.
THE WORLD of the SHADOWLANDS TV SERIES
Shadowlands is a fantasy world much like our own but where there are paranormal occurrences.
Each episode is in the Shadowlands TV series its own microcosm. The characters and stories do not overlap directly BUT there are ‘Easter Eggs’ for our audience in the form of allusions to the other stories/worlds in each episode.
This may be in the appearance of a minor character in two stories. Or within set décor, music or a prop. For example:
SHADOWLANDS TV SERIES EASTER EGGS
Shadowlands Easter Egg 1: The character of Percy Katt (Brian Michael Jensen) belongs in the world of NARCISSUS but in the film festival version of Shadowlands – switches a record on the gramophone with the episode titles to segue between each story.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 2: Gramophones can also be spotted in one of two black and white photographs depicted as Alex (Sean C. Dwyer) by Durban artist Andreas Chasomeris from his photographic collection titled ‘The Gray Scale 1946”. These hang on either side of the mirror in his dungeon in NARCISSUS.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 3: A gramophone can also be spotted in a painting titled DARE NOT (2014) by South African artist Andreas Chasomeris in PYGMALION REVISITED which hangs by Rudy and Xavier’s bed.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 4: The man flying fishing in the opening montage of ‘Mating Season’ is seen at the eccentric house party in ‘Narcissus’.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 5: In MATING SEASON, the characters Matteo (Oscar Moreno) and Will (Nicolas James Wilson) are negotiating their relationship and end up having a threesome with Daniel (Vasilios Filippakis). This episode endorses the idea of non-monogamy and polyamory.
The character of Alex (Sean C. Dwyer) in NARCISSUS makes disparaging remarks about the Bunny Boys (Basil Hendy & Kato Alexander) and their sexual proclivities in the dungeon. Alex ultimately punishes the Bunny Boys for ‘behaving like a couple of swine.’ In this episode non-monogamy is challenged.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 6: The theme of war is explored in MATING SEASON with Daniel (Vasilios Filippakis) receiving a dishonorable discharge in the form of a blue ticket. Will (Nicolas James Wilson) has a monologue about what scares him about his job as a sailor.
War is also a theme in NARCISSUS. Thalia (Natasha Balakrishnan) urges Alex (Sean C. Dwyer) that life before the war (allusion to WWI) wasn’t perfect and neither were any of us. Alex’s relentless pursuit of perfection to fix people (beginning with amputee soldiers and mustard gas victims) takes on a life of its own in the roaring 1920’s of Berlin.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 7: The cinematography in MATING SEASON of an overhead view of Matteo (Oscar Moreno) and Will (Nicolas James Wilson) laying perpendicular on a blanket while they agree to open their relationship is mirrored in PYGMALION REVISITED with Rudy (Charlie David) and Xavier (Marc Devigne) in a memory sequence. Rudy is likening their relationship to Greek myth with the line, ‘Eros and Psyche intertwined under the heavy branches of an olive tree, blissfully unaware of the passage of centuries.’
Shadowlands Easter Egg 8: MATING SEASON is at its core a classic ghost story.
The theme of apparitions is echoed in PYGMALION REVISITED in Rudy’s dream as well as in his flashbacks of the film he and Xavier were watching on their movie night.
The film is The Terror (1963) in which Lt. Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson) is haunted by the Ghost of Ilsa (Sandra Knight) who ultimately drives Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (Boris Karloff) to suicide from his guilt.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 9: The castle spires seen in The Terror (1963) movie are echoed by the spires of the church that Rudy (Charlie David) walks into in PYGMALION REVISITED.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 10: Thalia (Natasha Balakrishnan) is given a copper box with white Calla Lilies hiding a revolver in NARCISSUS.
In the dungeon scenes in NARCISSUS there are red Calla Lilies laying on the table in which Alex (Sean C. Dwyer) keeps his torture tools.
In PYGMALION REVISITED, Xavier (Marc Devigne) requests Rudy (Charlie David) to have Calla Lilies at his funeral because ‘they’re my favorite, but you already knew that.’ Calla Lilies figure prominently around Rudy and Xavier’s loft in PYGMALION REVISITED and ultimately Rudy paints Xavier holding one in his final painting.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 11: A painting that sits sideways in Rudy and Xavier’s loft in PYGMALION REVISITED is a reference to Alex in NARCISSUS. It is titled ‘The Devil is…1931’ (2015) by Andreas Chasomeris and is another allusion to the roaring 20s in Berlin. On the wall behind the man in the painting is a poster of the Marlene Dietrich film The Devil is a Woman (1935).
Shadowlands Easter Egg 12: The Bunny Boys (Basil Hendy & Kato Alexander) are tied up in Alex’s dungeon in NARCISSUS.
In PYGMALION REVISITED there is a painting of two men tied up beside Xavier & Rudy’s bed. It’s open to interpretation whether one man is tying up or untying the other. On one of the man’s shirtsleeves is sewn a pink triangle – a sign meant to identify and demoralize homosexuals, similar to the Star of David for the Jewish people, that the Nazis enforced in the lead up to WWII.
Finally in this painting there is a gramophone in the corner of the room. The gramophone and changing of the record by Percy Katt (Brian Michael Jensen) is the first image we see in NARCISSUS as well as a recurring motif in the film festival version of SHADOWLANDS. The painting is titled DARE NOT (2014) and is by South African artist Andreas Chasomeris as part of his 1939 show.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 13: Xavier (Marc Devigne) has left the painting in the final frames of PYGMALION REVISITED. He’s crossed over from death to life and tragically Rudy (Charlie David) has crossed from life to death.
There is hope for their ultimate reunion by way of a painting of two naked men in an embrace which the camera slowly pulls out from in the opening party montage in NARCISSUS. The painting was originally created in 2007 by Scottsdale, Arizona artist James Angel for Charlie David’s film MULLIGANS in which his character Chase also plays a painter.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 14: The song ‘Ça va’ written by Montreal musician Michael Daniel Murphy and performed in PYGMALION REVISITED by Xavier (Marc Devigne) is also hummed by Alex (Sean C. Dwyer) in NARCISSUS after he kills the Bunny Boys.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 15: Thalia (Natasha Balakrishnan) threatens suicide by lethal injection in NARCISSUS.
Rudy (Charlie David) assists Xavier’s (Marc Devigne) death and ultimately commits suicide in PYGMALION REVISITED.
The ‘play within the play’ or The Terror archival film clips in PYGMALION REVISITED include a scene where The Ghost of Ilsa (Sandra Knight) encourages the Baron (Boris Karloff) to take his own life. She consoles him by saying, ‘my own hand will guide you. And we can be together forever. Forever.’
Shadowlands Easter Egg 16: There are black and white framed photos done in the style of Paraty, Brasil artist Aecio Sarti (two faces conjoined) of Rudy & Xavier in PYGMALION REVISITED and of Thalia and Alex in NARCISSUS.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 17: In PYGMALION REVISITED Father Malik (Michael R. Buchanan) commissions Rudy (Charlie David) for a painting of Saint Bacchus. Saint Bacchus is most commonly paired with Saint Sergius and they are known as erastai or lovers.
For centuries Sergius and Bacchus were upheld as ‘gay Saints’, often depicted in icons and statuary together. Saints Sergius and Bacchus were martyred and the tale of how Bacchus came to Sergius in a dream before he died and promised they would be reunited in heaven is relayed to Rudy by Father Malik in the first scene of PYGMALION REVISITED.
In 1969 the Catholic church de-canonized Sergius and Bacchus and their churches, alters and art were renamed or destroyed. Coincidentally 1969 was also the year of the Stonewall Riots and what we now mark as the beginning of gay liberation – Pride.
GREEK MYTHOLOGY REFERENCES IN SHADOWLANDS TV SERIES
Shadowlands Easter Egg 18: Xavier (Marc Devigne) wears a gold medallion of Zeus throughout PYGMALION REVISITED which is later claimed and worn by Rudy.
In the original Greek mythology of Pygmalion and Galatea, Athena empathizes with Pygmalion and brings his statue Galatea to life.
Zeus is known as a jealous and vengeful god and the ultimate tragedy in PYGMALION REVISITED may be interpreted as his revenge at Athena showing undue empathy to mortals.
Rudy references several gods in PYGMALION REVISITED while contemplating how to complete his commission of a painting of Saint Sergius from Father Malik (Michael R. Buchanan). Among these are Pallas Athena, Heracles, Eros, Psyche, and Zeus.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 19: In MATING SEASON, Daniel (Vasilios Filippakis) can be imagined as the incarnate god Pan known for trickery of travelers in the woods as well as his sexual appetite.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 20: In NARCISSUS, the character of Alex (Sean C. Dwyer) represents the title role while the character of Thalia (Natasha Balakrishnan) is his cast off lover, the nymph Echo. Echo is also alluded to in the final exchange between Alex and Drew (Brian Woodford) when Drew echoes each of Alex’s lines.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 21: The dimensions of Rudy’s (Charlie David’s) art studio in Pygmalion Revisited are the divine ratio used in Greco-Roman architecture as well as classical art. The divine ratio or golden mean is found throughout nature, art and architecture such as the Great Pyramid in Giza, the Parthenon in Athens, and the Great Mosque of Kairouan. In art it is found in Leonardo da Vinci’s illustrations of polyhedra in ‘De divina proportione’,
Salvador Dalí explicitly used the golden ratio in his masterpiece, The Sacrament of the Last Supper. Mondrian has been said to have used the golden section extensively in his geometrical paintings.
The actor Charlie David has tattoos of the Fibonacci sequence on his inner left wrist identifying his personal numerology of 3-5-8 and the symbol Phi on his inner right wrist which correlates to the Fibonacci sequence. If a Fibonacci number is divided by its immediate predecessor in the sequence, the quotient approximates the Divine Ratio or Phi.
Shadowlands Easter Egg 22: in episode 1 Narcissus, Thalia (Natasha Balakrishnan) stands on a silver statue of an owl. A statue of the goddess Athena is seen in the background.
The owl is the totem animal of Athena and she is known as the goddess of wisdom. In this scene Thalia is trying to save Alex (Sean C. Dwyer) from his ultimate demise by offering wisdom that could ultimately save him from himself.
Additional wardrobe, props and set decor from the three episodes in the Shadowlands TV series may be hidden in plain sight allowing for an immersive re-watch for the curious viewer.
Shadowlands miniseries is available on OUTtv and OUTtvGO in Canada and on Vimeo for our friends around the world.
If you enjoyed this, explore interviews with cast members of the Shadowlands series.