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Arctic Air lands in Aldergrove

Written by Langley’s Ian Weir, new CBC drama which premieres on Jan. 10 features actor Adam Beach among other Canadian talent
Adam Beach

Bursting with positive energy, Adam Beach arrives on the Arctic Air set in Aldergrove with smiles and friendly greetings for everyone.

The Canadian-born Saulteaux actor is known for his roles in such works as Flags of Our Fathers — for which he received multiple Best Supporting Actor nominations — Windtalkers, Joe Dirt, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Cowboys and Aliens, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and the HBO series Big Love, among others.

Now, he’s focusing on a new CBC series, Arctic Air, where a set tour was recently featured as part of a CBC event that introduced the new series (as well as another new show, Mr. D) among the return of other popular CBC shows, such as Little Mosque on the Prairie, Republic of Doyle and Marketplace.

Beach, who was born in Manitoba and grew up with his two brothers on the Dog Creek First Nation Reserve, said he was sold on doing the show once he read the script.

“When I read the script, it had it all ... it’s about family, it’s about the north and aboriginal life — it’s about people’s daily struggle to just survive, something I think everyone can identify with,” Beach says, with an infectious grin.

“It was a perfect script; a perfect match. I wanted to do it and I’m still excited about it.”

So is writer-producer Ian Weir, who created the fictional series for Vancouver’s Omni Productions and is an executive producer with three others on the new show.

Weir, a Fort Langley man who grew up in Kamloops, said he was pleased and intrigued when Omni — which also produces the History Channel’s documentary series Ice Pilots NWT – approached him to write a pilot about flying in Canada’s north.

With past works that include the teen drama Edgemont and the miniseries Dragon Boys, Weir jumped on the opportunity to “do something special.”

“I fell in love with the chance to create this kind of show, especially because it’s based in the north,” Weir says.

“The north has always been a part of Canada and I think it lends itself to so many ideas. It’s got action and adventure, but also drama . . .  it’s different.”

Beach plays Bobby Martel in the character-driven, one-hour show about a maverick airline and the extended family of the unconventional people who run it. Beach’s character is the “headstrong business partner” who saves the airline from crashing and each week, the pilots — the actors who play pilots actually flew with the real-life pilots of Buffalo Air to get an idea of what a northern pilot’s life is really like — take on any number of flights each week, whether to secret diamond mining sites, on rescue missions or as polar bear watching guides.

Inside the Arctic Air set, which is actually a massive wooden barn with soaring ceilings, there are lights, lifts, cables and filming-related equipment everywhere, yet all is neat and organized, with everything in its place.

The hundreds, if not thousands, of cords and cables snaking through the building are contained tidily under yellow-lined plates (to avoid anyone tripping over them) and line the barn walls like loose wallpaper.

Several people on set chat, text, tweet or email on their cellphones; one technician works on a laptop with a sound board in front of him. In the middle of one of the largest areas, the fuselage of a huge DC-3 plane (brought up from the States just for the show) takes centre stage. It even boasts a removable cockpit that rolls away, so crews can better film the actors. Several other aircraft are used in the show, but the DC-3 is the largest.

Beach and Arctic Air co-stars Pascale Hutton, Leah Gibson and Stephen Lobo (all of whom are Canadian; Hutton currently lives in Burnaby) lead media on a set tour, starting with the DC-3, which gets crowded and cramped, fast.

“Now, when you see the show, with 20 of us on here — including fighting — you’ll have a new appreciation for how much work goes into it,” Beach notes to the gathered media.

He finds it frustrating to work in the cockpit, because it is such a small space and most of the time, it’s a green screen in front of the actors.

“I’ll be like, ‘Why can’t I move? I need to use body language!’” Beach says, demonstrating with his hands.

And, Hutton chimes in, Beach is still learning the finer points of the plane’s cockpit.

“When Adam’s floundering (in the show), he actually means it!” she quips with a grin.

Beach agrees good-naturedly and gives Hutton credit for her plane knowledge.

While much of the show is filmed in the Aldergrove barn, some exteriors are shot in Yellowknife. But the crew have brought Yellowknife to the Aldergrove set with interiors featuring the airline office, a hotel lobby, and a bar set which is based on Yellowknife’s actual Bullocks Bistro.

“We heard that Bullocks had the best fish and chips in North America, so we had to go,” says co-executive producer Gary Harvey.

“The food was good, but what was really great was the setting, so that was what we based this place on.”

Another inspiration was Yellowknife’s Explorer Hotel, which is the Frontier Hotel in Arctic Air — a hotel lobby created in the barn that features a huge rock fireplace, an antler chandelier, animal heads on the wall, a mounted fish and a bowl of red apples laid out in front of the fire, among other detailed props.

“It’s amazing to come to work every day,” says Hutton.

“The nice thing about this enormous set is that it ties all the characters together and we all interact, almost like we do on the show.”

Hutton is pleased to work on a Canadian production.

“It’s a very collaborative effort, but beyond that, it’s a great story,” she says.

Beach concurs, likening the Arctic Air cast and crew as being “the closest” to what he experienced while working on Clint Eastwood’s feature film, Flags of Our Fathers.

“Everyone is thrilled to be here. It’s great to be back in Canada, and B.C. is beautiful,” Beach says.

“Vancouver is a great city and it’s amazing to work here.”

Work on Arctic Air has been underway for more than four months.

The first episode premiers on Tuesday, Jan. 10 on CBC.

– Tricia Leslie, Times Contributor