© Photo by Thinkstock.com
Shawn Doyle stars in the new original Canadian series Endgame.
VANCOUVER — It sits elegantly inside a corrugated-steel sound stage: an entire hotel, built room-by-room, complete with gift shop, cafe and ultrachic hipster bar tended by a sexy mixologist who looks vaguely familiar as she shakes up an avant-garde martini.
Welcome to The Huxley, the fictional hotel that is both home, and prison, to Akady Balagan, a Russian chess master who is so devastated by the death of his fiancee, he refuses to leave the high-end hotel and greet the outside world.
To pay the tab, and to humour the uniformed staff who become his new family, Balagan solves mysteries using his uncanny chess logic, sly gamesmanship and highly tuned Russian intuition.
Part Remington Steele, part Howard Hughes and part potato-fuelled pest, Balagan is the central attraction in the new series “Endgame,” the creation of Avrum Jacobson, which makes its broadcast premiere on Showcase March 14, with Shawn Doyle as the sleuthing oracle-irritant.
Joining the Newfoundland native son is an impressive ensemble of Canadian all-stars, including Katharine Isabelle (“Ginger Snaps,” “Frankie & Alice,” “30 Days of Night”), Patrick Gallagher (“Glee,” “True Blood”), Veena Sood (“Fringe,” “V”), Torrance Coombs (“The Tudors,” “Heartland”) and Carmen Aguirre (“Monk,” “Quinceanera”).
“TV is where you can find the really good roles these days,” says Doyle, a 20-year veteran of the trade who recently wrapped a supporting role on “Big Love,” as well as a turn as Canada’s first prime minister, John A. MacDonald.
“Actors need to challenge themselves and take risks, and right now, most of those risks are being created for the small screen,” he says.
“Also, you have more time to develop a character when you’re given the chance to explore and discover over the course of several weeks, so there are some pretty big rewards if you can handle the pace.”
For Doyle in particular, the pace must have been punishing. The entire season was shot in a few short months, and he’s in practically every single scene. Not only that, he’s expected to bring frenetic Russian energy to every encounter.
“We’d have to go through 10 pages of text every single day, and we did that for six months. ... The accent alone was something I had to really pay attention to; it had to be accurate, but it also had to be understandable. So much of that Russian accent happens at the back of your throat,” he says. “It’s hard to be really expressive from way back there.
“The emotional side was just as delicate, because he’s emotionally wounded as a result of this terrible thing that’s happened in his life, but he’s also arrogant as a result of his brilliance. He’s a celebrity in Russia, where chess masters are truly revered.”
Doyle says Arkady’s personality functions like a nesting doll: There’s one part of Balagan inside another, ensuring he remains enigmatic — but not altogether inaccessible.
“I wanted to move away from stereotype,” says Doyle of the over-the-top Slavic sensibility.
“And that wasn’t too hard, actually, because I’m probably the diametrical opposite of Arkady in my own life.”
Born and raised in Newfoundland, Doyle says it’s taken a while to get comfortable on the trampoline called the acting business.
“There are a lot of ups and downs,” he says. “But there’s a lot of fun, in the sense of play. And the longer I do this, the more I find I’m able to get into the cat-and-mouse game of it all.”
The Gemini-winner says acting is bit like playing hide-and-seek with yourself: You have to put your own personality behind you, but the better you get at the hunt, the more you can integrate your own scent into the blood trail.
One key kill along the way was reconciling his Newfoundlander identity with his now worldly lifestyle, and that happened on the set of “Grown Up Movie Star,” the Sundance film from Adriana Maggs that jet-launched Tatiany Maslany’s career.
Doyle played a hockey player and father who was living in the closet, but is forced to come out when his daughter becomes the sexual prey of a former best friend.
“That movie really marks a bit of a transitional point in my life,” says Doyle. “It allowed me to go back to Newfoundland as an actor, and reconnect with my identity as a Newfoundlander — and be accepted as both. That was important.”
The result is Doyle can now take ownership of everything he is, and bring it forward into the next chapter of his career.
“I would say, for the first time in my life, I feel I am able to recognize and embrace the fact that I have something to offer as an actor,” he says.
“Confidence is such a huge part of this, and to be in a place where I feel secure in myself, and who I am, is a pretty exciting thing for me.”
Endgame premieres on Showcase March 14 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.