WORKING THE ENGELS
Global -- Wednesdays
On Set With "The Engels"
Andrea Martin Is Playing Things
For Laughs Again
By Eric Kohanik
It doesn't happen as often anymore. Every once in a while, though, people still come up and tell Andrea Martin they're surprised she isn't actually a Canadian.
“It used to happen a lot more,” the 67-year-old Martin concedes. “I have a house in Toronto. And my kids were born here. And my career started here, really. I guess I'm a 'landed immigrant.' I consider myself to be a 'North American.' I feel privileged to have worked all over North America.”
Born in Maine, Martin has been surrounded by Canadians for years. She got her big break in Toronto in a 1972 stage production of Godspell that featured such Canadians as Eugene Levy, Victor Garber, Martin Short and Paul Shaffer. After that, she worked with the likes of Dave Thomas and John Candy in the Toronto chapter of Second City. That, in turn, led to a sketch-comedy series called SCTV: Second City Television, where Martin's roster of characters most notably included the indomitable Edith Prickley.
It's been almost 40 years since SCTV first hit TV screens. And Martin admits she often looks back fondly. As for a possible SCTV reunion, Martin waves off the idea.
“It was a special time,” she reflects. “We are all very protective of what we accomplished then.”
Martin has assembled many credits since those days – on TV, in movies and on stage. She is now back on TV in Working The Engels, a comedy series for Global that was also picked up in the U.S. by NBC.
The chance to do TV again was something Martin had been thinking about for a while. “I had spent a lot of time on Broadway doing Pippin,” she says. Her work as the title character's grandmother, Berthe, in the revival of the play won a Tony Award last year for best performance by a featured actress in a musical.
“Before that, I had done my one-woman show on stage,” Martin continues. “Doing all of that for such a long time was exhausting, so I was looking for something different. But I wasn't sure how long I would be able to be in Toronto. Then, this came along and it all worked out.”
Working The Engels is a broad comedy that casts Martin as Celia “Ceil” Engel, the matriarch of a family left in the lurch when Ceil's husband dies and leaves his law firm without a leader. Fortunately for Ceil, her youngest daughter, Jenna (Kacey Rohl), is qualified to run the practice. Unfortunately for Jenna, Ceil insists on working there, too. So do Jenna's pill-popping sister (Azura Skye) and her bad-boy brother (Benjamin Arthur).
For Rohl, whose credits include mostly dramatic roles in such series as Hannibal and The Killing, the chance to tackle something comedic was a dream. “There aren't a lot of comedy productions in Vancouver,” the 22-year-old B.C. actress says. As for working with Martin, Rohl beams: “I've been like a sponge. I've learned so much.”
Meanwhile, Martin has lots of praise for her co-stars. “The chemistry was there instantly,” she says.
On this particular day, the show is near the half-way point in its 12-episode production schedule. Martin and Skye have been blocking out a hip-hop routine for an episode, improvising something different for every take. In the director's chair, trying to piece it all together, is none other than Jason Priestley.
Working The Engels also has an impressive guest roster in front of the camera for its debut season. Among the pack: Short, Levy, Jayne Eastwood, Colin Mochrie, Jennifer Irwin and Wendy Crewson.
Having familiar friends come back to work with her is something special for Martin.
It also makes her feel like things have come full circle.
“I feel almost like I've gone back to the beginning of my career,” Martin smiles. “We used to shoot SCTV at Global; this is for Global. I used to drive myself to the studio then; I drive myself to the studio now. Not much has changed in 40 years.”
Working The Engels – Global – Wednesdays
(First published in Channel Guide Magazine -- April 2014.)