It’s hard to shake the legacy of Jake Doyle.
The beloved Canadian detective from TV’s Republic of Doyle was created by Newfoundland’s Allan Hawco and ran for five seasons on the CBC. The multi-talented Hawco was, to say the least, invested in the character of the roguish Doyle, serving a mind-boggling multitude of roles as the series showrunner, writer, executive producer and star.
So what do you do for a followup?
“When I started with Doyle, I didn’t know if I would find that love again after it ended,” Hawco says in an interview. “But then this came along and the minute I read the book I knew I had to do it.”
The book is Lisa Moore’s Giller-nominated Caught (House of Anansi Press) about David Slaney, a drug dealer who escapes from a New Brunswick prison after five years to make one final drug run.
Hawco stars as Slaney in the miniseries Caught, which debuts Monday, Feb. 26 at 9 p.m. on CBC.
“I read the book in three hours and said I have to do this,” says Hawco. “I called Lisa Moore, who lives near me, and we met in my favourite coffee shop around the corner. And I convinced her.”
But perhaps the hardest part about the process was letting go of Doyle. “To be honest, I had to go back to school to reprogram myself from playing Jake for so long,” says Hawco.
It helps, at least superficially, that the show takes place in the 1970s and Hawco sometimes sports a mullet cut — eschewing the Jake Doyle wardrobe of black leather jacket and jeans.
“In Grade 9, I went out with a girl and I wanted to impress her with my mullet. It wasn’t a full-on Billy Ray Cyrus mullet, but trust me, my ambition was to get there and it looks like I have,” laughs Hawco.
Hawco’s work exhibits some consistent themes – including breaking out of prison and drug dealing – also imbued in Slaney. That includes his role as fur-trading entrepreneur Douglas Brown in Discovery’s Frontier.
In Caught, Slaney is pursued by a detective played by Paul Gross, a shambling mess of a man who is the furthest thing from the straight-arrow Mountie imprinted on TV viewers in Gross’s breakout series Due South.
“It’s not my own life lived,” Hawco laughs. “But certainly these are things I’m drawn to. Why do good people do bad things? It’s focusing on the people who take the wrong turn.
“Where I grew up so many people ended up being the cop or the prisoner. They were the same people, but they made different choices. And particularly in that working class world, you had to fight to survive, to make your own way. In this case the choice is about smuggling weed. For something that is now completely accepted in our society and you have a life completely uprooted.”
Producing Caught was not without difficulty. Financing issues meant the release was delayed. It was announced during the 2016 CBC up-fronts but was absent from the 2017 season. And its original six episodes have been cut to five.
“In retrospect, given the problems, it did give us more time to write and I think it’s a better show,” says Hawco.
“It’s not for me to judge, but personally I feel this is my best work I’ve ever done in terms of writing and acting. It’s a different level of game for me. There is a certain gravitas and sensibility to the show, and I wanted to do something different as an artist. While some of the themes might be similar, it’s a major departure from what some people may know me for.”
As on Doyle, Hawco continues to wear many hats. Besides being No. 1 in front of the camera, he serves as the showrunner, responsible for all aspects of production.
And it might not be a stretch to see David Slaney come back for another season or two if viewers catch on. The book ends 25 years into the future, so there is plenty of room for adaptation.
“I hope they see something in this character like they did with Doyle,” says Hawco.
“My favourite encounter during my years as Doyle was in a lineup at a hospital and this policeman stuck his hand out and said, ‘Man, I really enjoy your show.’ And the guy next to him stuck his hand out and said, ‘I really enjoy your show, too.’ And that guy was in handcuffs. He was the prisoner.
“It’s about building a personality that pulls at you in some way, that everyone can understand.”