Photo courtesy of Alisen Down.

Photo courtesy of Alisen Down.

Though she is no stranger to TV-mysteries, Alisen Down was a long-shot when she auditioned for the part of Kathy Eaton in the FOX mini-series Gracepoint. Based on the character profile the show’s producers had in mind — which called for an older, more weathered actress — Down, at least physically, was not right for the part. But after reading the script, she was certain she was the right fit. And when they saw her audition, the show’s producers agreed.

Before making her way onto the crime drama, the soft-spoken Canadian actress had quietly put together an impressive filmography. She received a Gemini and a Leo award, both presented for excellence in Canadian television for her performance in the police-procedural Cold Squad, and was nominated for a second Gemini award based on her role in the CTV TV-movie The Life, a true story about two Vancouver police officers who used video cameras to document and humanize the drug problem in the city’s impoverished neighborhoods. Down has also appeared in several high-profile television series, including Battlestar Galactica and Mysterious Ways.

Her latest project, Gracepoint, adapted from last-year’s standout ITV series Broadchurch, aired its final episode last Thursday to some 4 million viewers. The show follows the investigation into the murder of a young boy, Danny Solano, in a small California town. The murder sets off a media circus, and the residents of Gracepoint suddenly find themselves under intense scrutiny. Down plays Kathy Eaton, the longtime editor of the Gracepoint Journal, who finds herself conflicted as she approaches Danny’s murder as both a member of the community and an investigative journalist uncovering that her neighbors and her hometown are harboring dark secrets.

Behind the scenes, Gracepoint was adapted by the creative team originally behind Broadchurch. Writer and show-runner Chris Chibnall reworked his eight-episode first season of the Canadian version into a 10-episode mini-series for FOX. Adding passion and fuel to the brewing magic and innovation, he brought along James Strong, who directed five of the eight Broadchurch episodes, to helm the remake as well as David Tennant, who reprised his lead role, albeit with a different name and new accent. Gracepoint had filled out the remaining cast, however, with several high-profile American actors, including Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn as the series co-star and Nick Nolte.

Though, unfortunately, fans won’t see a season two due to waning viewership numbers, Down still took the time to speak with GALO about how her audition redefined her character, her approach to adapting a respected series, and her character’s role in the unfolding secrets at the heart of Gracepoint.

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted a few weeks before the final episode aired.

GALO: You star in Gracepoint as Kathy Eaton, editor of the Gracepoint Journal, which is based off of the very well-regarded but not very widely viewed British series Broadchurch. How familiar were you with that series when you auditioned for the role?

Alisen Down: When I got the audition, I’m ashamed to say I was not familiar at all with Broadchurch. I looked it up and read a little bit about it, but I didn’t watch it before the audition, just because I had a strong impression of who Kathy Eaton was to me, so I went with that. Once I got the role, then I did watch Broadchurch. It’s a fantastic piece of television in general. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it gave me a good idea of the tone of the show.

GALO: I read that the producers initially had a very different character profile in mind for Kathy, and changed the role based on your audition. Could you tell the story of how you landed the role and what the change exactly entailed?

AD: Originally they wanted someone much older than me, but my agent kind of took a risk and threw me into the mix. I taped the audition in my dining room with my husband and they called me back and said, “We loved your audition, you’re the best fit for this character, but you’re too young and you’re too pretty!” — [laughs] which, really, is never a bad thing to hear. But they asked me if they could cut my hair and put some gray in it, and, of course, I agreed. I think originally Kathy was supposed to be a decade older than I am in real life, but we decided we could believably put her in her early-40s.

GALO: The show has put together a pretty remarkable cast, with Nick Nolte and Anna Gunn fresh off Breaking Bad as standouts. What has it been like working with so many renowned actors?

AD: Before I met anybody, I was a bit nervous. There is always that feeling of ‘Do I belong here?’ But when I met everybody, they were all such fantastic people that any nerves I had settled themselves. Everybody was really nice, welcoming and warm, so it was an easy show to work on in that there were no prima donnas — everyone was really nice and they just wanted to put together a good show.

GALO: It seems like major police investigation shows are premiering every season. Gracepoint sounds, on the surface, very similar to shows like The Killing — which you were also involved with — so what do you think distinguishes it from these other shows?

AD: I think Gracepoint starts out on a much more personal note. We immediately see how [Danny’s] death affects the town, and other than Detective Carver, there is no one who is really objective in this story, because Gracepoint is a small community dealing with a tragedy that affects each member personally. As the show goes on, we see those personal stories develop, which is something that is oftentimes missing from procedurals. With Gracepoint, you really get involved with the characters, and I think it’s a much rarer experience.

GALO: The two young journalists who appear in the pilot are nakedly ambitious and not very ethical, but your character is presented as a kind of counterbalance to that. How would you describe her role in the show?

AD: The way I look at Kathy as a journalist is she is someone who has a lot of integrity. I think, in a way, she is sort of the voice of Gracepoint, because she is the editor of the town newspaper and she takes that role very, very seriously. But while she isn’t unethical, I think she is ambitious in the pursuit of the truth, and we will see that moving forward. But I admire Kathy, I admire everything she stands for and everything she does in the show.

GALO: The motto of the Gracepoint Journal is “Celebrating the Everyday,” but there is a definite sense from the pilot that the “everyday” is concealing a number of secrets. Kathy seems to be ingrained in the community; do you think she is willing to challenge the assumptions she has about the town that the investigation surrounding Danny’s death will call into question?

AD: We do start to see that the town is not exactly as it seems. For Kathy, she has to try and be objective, even if it’s hard for her, otherwise she can’t do her job. And above all, I think that doing her job is how Kathy processes things and how she contributes to the town and what it is going through.

GALO: Kathy allies herself with Detective Carver in the pilot, and he seems to have a very cold, impersonal view regarding Gracepoint and its residents. Given her nature, is that an alliance Kathy will be able to maintain?

AD: I think the important thing for Kathy is making it clear that Owen should not have released Danny’s name. For Kathy, if the police don’t see her as an ally, then they won’t give her any information as it comes. Obviously, that’s not good for the editor of the town newspaper. So I think she wanted to make clear that the town reporters were not these crazies who will go around releasing information they are not supposed to. She wants the police to know that they can trust her to do her job.

GALO: Maybe “ally” is the wrong word then. She was letting Carver know the Journal wouldn’t impede the investigation, but she doesn’t necessarily share his view of the town’s residents.

AD: Right, because Owen could have blown the relationship that Kathy has cultivated with the town police with that one tweet he sent out, and she can’t afford to let that happen. But I think Kathy has a lot of love for Gracepoint, which sets her apart from Carver. She trained in the big city and she came back to Gracepoint to be a journalist. She truly does love the community and is truly saddened by Danny’s death. As a reporter, she has to try and maintain objectivity, but in her heart, the Gracepoint community is like family to her.

GALO: The Gracepoint pilot is an almost shot-for-shot remake of the first episode of Broadchurch, but producers and actors had indicated that the show would depart significantly from its source. Could you tease some of the changes coming from that first episode that will keep new fans tuned in?

AD: Well, we did 10 episodes and Broadchurch only had eight. All I can really say is, there will be divergences and we will see the introduction of some new characters. The biggest change I can tease is that there will be a different ending from Broadchurch, so Broadchurch fans will have a lot to appreciate in Gracepoint for sure.

You can now watch the entire season on || Featured image courtesy of Alisen Down.