A lot of people have asked me, ‘When are you going to have a feature on Yannick Bisson (Detective William Murdoch)? The fact is, he is a very busy man with a schedule that is over the top. He and his wife Shantelle graciously invited me to their marina (Shantilly’s Place) to have a chat and give our readers a look into the man himself. Actor, Director, Renovator, Husband and father he truly is an amazing individual - From Hockey Night, High Tide, Casino Jack to Murdoch Mysteries and of course the Intact Insurance commercials to name a few.
JAY COOPER (ATOTK): Thank you for taking the time on your lunch break. Just wolfing some food down like the movie you were in, Wolf Cop (laughs).
YANNICK BISSON (YB): (laughs) Well there you go. No worries, I was dragging on so I thought I’d better catch a bite.
ATOTK: You’re always so busy. What’s it like to be so in demand?
YB: Well I’m extremely grateful that we’ve traveled this far down the road and people still want to watch the show and gobble it up around the world.
ATOTK: You were born in Montreal but moved a lot through out your youth?
YB: Yes, I was traveling because of my father’s work or between households as my parents had broken up. When I ended up as a teen in Toronto and starting to work as an actor, I knew they were still going to be moving around. I told my father that I really just wanted to stay put. I had these opportunities and he encouraged me to purse them. So he set me up with family and friends and I just try and cover the rent for the next forty years (laughs).
ATOTK: You sold your dirt bike to help further your acting classes?
YB: I was 13 when my father relocated to Toronto.Prior to that I’d been in Texas and Florida and I had this great dirt bike. There was nowhere to ride in Toronto, and certainly not legally or safely, so I sold it to help pay for the classes I was already taking. I guess it’s cliché but it paid off (laughs).
ATOTK: You decided to leave High School in Grade 11?
YB: I didn’t have a plan but I couldn’t keep up with attendance-based education and pursue the opportunities that I had. Those endeavors could just go away and knew I could always go back to school. That day has never come and I’m extremely self-conscience about it. On the other hand, it’s not for everybody. I’m happy it all worked out, but I wouldn’t and don’t recommend it.
ATOTK: You also met your future wife, Shantelle, at an early age?
YB: We were introduced through a mutual friend at the age of 15 and then a few years later I was able to approach her at an audition. Funny enough, I didn’t know that we were with the same agent. I asked her out and she said yes.
ATOTK: After that it blossomed into a family quite quickly?
YB: Oh yes, absolutely very fast. It just seemed to be, this is it and I like her and she likes me and we’ll make it work. You have to re-evaluate what you think you believe at that age as you don’t envision your self as a husband and parent, so you set out to do it better than the people that brought you up and try to make as few mistakes as possible and pursue your dreams at the same time.
ATOTK: You’re still together after all these years and you have this fantastic business with Shantelle’s name incorporated into it. (Shantilly’s Place)
YB: Shantilly is the nickname I have for her. But I’m not sure if I or my best friend, Rick Springfield, came up with that (laughs). I think it works well for the vibe of the place and it’s quite cool.
ATOTK: Murdoch Mysteries seems like the go to show for actors that ATOTK has featured. Peter McNeill, Jonny Harris, Patrick McKenna and Derek McGrath.
YB: It’s like 6 degrees of Toronto (laughs). It’s always been about having the cream of the crop on your show and at this point we’ve had 1900 guests come through. That speaks volumes of just how much talent is here in Canada. We have a fabulous infrastructure and industry that sees the value, as we are a large part of the economy. We are always grateful when these seasoned actors want to be part of it. We can’t always afford some of their rates, but they do it because Murdoch has a good reputation and I try to get them home at a reasonable hour (laughs).
ATOTK: When you auditioned for the role of William Murdoch, there was a decision between an older actor and a younger one?
YB: That’s right (laughs), it was kind of a weird moment where I should have seen that coming. It was a bit of a humbling thing but definitely funny when I thought I was the young guy. You have to adjust your attitude and be grateful that somebody wants to work with you.
ATOTK: I never realized the magnitude of site locations that you use. Do you revisit certain ones?
YB: We do use a lot of our favorites over again but I’ll tell you, Jay, the big thing is access. We come into town with a fleet of trucks and hundreds of people and where are we going to park all of that? Sure, you may find one building but where are you going to put everyone and paint out all the electrical cables that weren’t around at that time period and the advertising and satellite dishes etc. A lot of times it’s, how does the location look, how can we make it look, how much of our resources do we have to make it work. When we go to Hamilton, Dundas, Port Credit or Cobourg there is a reason for it - we have places for people to eat, to get gas and, ultimately, they want us there.
ATOTK: There is also a sound stage that you use the same as The Good Witch has?
YB: We were at a converted glass factory on Kipling that shoots that show and then down the road from there. People are pretty smart converting these good size buildings into studio space - it’s in high demand. We come in and fix it up for them. We do have our principal studio in Scarborough at Warden and Eglinton, which has a back lot that helps supplement our exterior shots and bridge the content.
ATOTK: I think most viewers think the show is filmed just as they are watching it, like scene to scene.
YB: No, everything is totally out of sequence and edited later and that’s driven by the availability of actors, site locations and weather. We do limit it to doing two episodes at one time, where you could be doing outdoor shots for show one and two and then indoor shots for two and one.
ATOTK: You were on the show High Tide with your best friend Rick Springfield and the movie Casino Jack (among others). Was the focus on TV or film in the beginning?
YB: Well, you can do a critically acclaimed film, which is wonderful and love to do more of them, but you have to piece those together to get the same recognition and money that you get from a series. I’ve learned my craft over the years from doing TV shows and now I’m also a Director and have other projects in the works and that’s great.
ATOTK: Did you think a time period show like Murdoch was going to be such a hit?
YB: At the time Murdoch seemed like a long shot for me. There was no period stuff on the air, so I wasn’t sure how it would work out. I thought probably a couple of years and I could use the work. I liked the concept and story but I didn’t realize that the tone would be different than the 3 movies they had already made. I thought two seasons and now we are in season 16, through my 30’s, 40’s and now 50’s. I’ve run out of B plans, Jay (laughs).
ATOTK: The show is loved around the world, where do you think it’s most popular?
YB: I know they love it in France and Iran has a huge fan base. It’s interesting that Murdoch is seen in 120 countries, it’s a clean cut show, so that most likely contributes to it’s popularity. We are extremely grateful for the chance to be in peoples homes. Sixteen seasons and still counting.
ATOTK: You have a passion for doing renos. Was it out of necessity or the love of DIYing?
YB: A bit of both. I’m a very house proud person, and Shantelle is as well, with the want to change and improve our surroundings. My father was never shy about putting tools in my hands as a kid and letting me go crazy or showing me useful tips. Sometimes I had to do what I could to make a living. I did a lot of contracting work as a framing carpenter, tile setter and painter. Some for clients, for myself or flips but I don’t have the time now. I feel bad for the people that work for me as I’m on top of them with attention to detail. I will be right back (the dock needed attention) and we can carry on with Shantelle about the marina and cottage life.
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