Frankie Drake Mysteries: Lauren Lee Smith interview

The celebrated Canadian actress, best known for crime series The Listener and working alongside Laurence Fishburne on the hugely successful CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, plays the eponymous heroine in Frankie Drake Mysteries.

Lauren Lee Smith interview

Tell us about your character, Frankie Drake...

Frankie is very much ahead of her time. She's this fearless adrenaline-junkie go-getter who makes up her own rules. It's 1921, women across North America had only just been given the right to vote a year earlier. There was a new freedom - women were allowed to smoke cigarettes and dance! So Frankie is taking full advantage of that. She opens up the only female private detective agency in Toronto, along with her pal Trudy Clarke. And they take on the cases that the police don't want to touch, or cases that people don't want to go to the police with. And, being women, they're able to get into some situations that men perhaps wouldn't be able to.

What's her relationship like with Trudy - and the other women in the show?

It's very much a sisterhood, they're one hundred percent partners, and within that there's a trust and a friendship you can see right off the bat. There's a real kinship between all these women, who are so vastly different and come from such different walks of life, but somehow they're all connected, in that they want to do more and be rule breakers.

Was that part of the appeal for you?

Absolutely. To have a TV series where the first five leads are female is pretty rare. Usually on shows the lead is male and the female characters come in and out and are somewhat disposable. We're doing the opposite! We have a few male recurring characters, but all the series regulars are female.

Frankie rides a motorbike - how did you react when you heard about that?

I was so scared! I had to get my licence before we started shooting and I was absolutely terrified, I'd never ever been on a motorbike before. And on the first day of my course I came home and cried to my husband that I didn't want to do it! But that's part of what makes this job so fun - doing those things I would never get to do in my normal life. I also did six weeks of boxing training with this incredible stuntman before I started shooting. I had no idea I would love it as much as I did - it's a great work out!

What do you think of Frankie's style?

I love it. They've incorporated her world travels into her style, and she takes inspiration from all over. They keep her a little bit androgynous - she wears a lot of pants, which is very unusual for that time. Frankie doesn't abide by the rules at all and her style is very eclectic. Pretty much everything she wears I wanted to take home. Women were getting to experiment with their looks and their makeup and hair, there was this new-found freedom.

Which were the most difficult scenes to film?

Anything involving the vintage cars. The car scenes make up most of the blooper reel - there was always a comedy of errors that happened. One car I was in literally set on fire. They said action and my car had flames coming out of the front of it. Everyone was waving and flailing their arms, saying "fire" and we had no idea what was going on! "No, really, fire. Get out of the car!"

Which was the biggest stunt you had to tackle?

We were filming on an airfield and there's a scene where Frankie is riding her motorcycle, she sees a plane taking off and she has to get to it, so she jumps off her motorcycle, punches a guy out, then runs and jumps onto the moving plane to save a baby. So that was a pretty intense action scene. And definitely the first time I'd ever got to hop onto a moving airplane!

Playing an action hero must be fun...?

One of the showrunners said her idea for the show was that Frankie was a female Indiana Jones. And that just sold me immediately, I was like "Yes, that sounds exactly like something I would love to do!"

How would you sell the show to UK audiences?

There's action and adventure and it also has the standard procedural aspect, in the sense that you're going to get a mystery every episode. It looks absolutely beautiful and it's good quality pure fun entertainment. And I think we all need those kind of shows in our lives right now.