For Heartland fans, the most obvious change for Season 12 is the episode count. We’re so used to 18 episodes of life on the Heartland ranch that it’s been a shock to wait until January for new stories contained in just 11 episodes.
That change affected the actors, writers and producers as well. But, as stars Amber Marshall and Graham Wardle told me, it meant a tightening up of storylines and the strongest possible tales involving Amy (Marshall), Ty (Wardle), Tim (Chris Potter), Jack (Shaun Johnston), Lou (Michelle Morgan) and Georgie (Alisha Newton). We spoke to the pair during CBC’s winter media day back in November.
What were your initial thoughts on finding out this season of Heartland was going to be 11 episodes instead of 18?
Amber Marshall: I know that it really sent our writers scrambling. Our showrunner, Heather [Conkie], is very meticulous and she likes to have everything set out far in advance. She had said, ‘I’ve always arced for 18 episodes. I don’t even know how to arc this show for 11.’ For her, she’s like, ‘How do I even tell all those stories in 11 episodes?’ I think that, in the beginning, it sent everybody, especially our writing department, into a bit of a frenzy trying to think, ‘OK, how do I keep these stories great, and start and end a season with a nice arc, but in a much shorter amount of time?’
In a way, I think it was really great for our creative team because it allowed them to think outside of the box and also pick and choose the best episodes that they would have had in 18 episodes and compress them into 11 because they had already arced for 18. They had already figured out what they wanted to do over an 18-episode season and pick and choose what they wanted to bring into 11 episodes.
Graham Wardle: It’s like there’s more refinement. I hope that it shows up on-screen that there are more improvements and there are richer and deeper stories.
I’ve seen the first episode, and, obviously, the biggest change is Tim’s hair.
AM: It was so funny when the first photos were posted of him this year on social media. A lot of people were saying, ‘Who’s the new character?’ Some people didn’t even recognize him. It’s funny how much of a difference just a small change like that can be.
In the first episode, Amy, Ty and Lyndy go on a road trip. Talk about the journey that these two are on this season. Obviously, with a baby, there are a lot of changes, logistically, just behind the scenes, but story-wise, where do these two go now that there’s a baby, and do they want to upgrade? Do they want to move out, because there was talk about that, too?
GW: That’s right.
And this husband that keeps taking off and going to Mongolia and upsetting every fan on Heartland.
GW: No worries. No Mongolia.
AM: I think we’ve sorted that out.
What can you say about these new parents this season?
AM: I think that this really resonates with people that try to raise a toddler in a small home. A lot of people do it, and just living and experiencing the stories that we have on the show, I don’t know how anyone could ever do that, but I think that it’s something that it brings a little bit of comedy into it, as well as showing the struggle and being able to just overcome all of that as parents and as a family, and we’re so lucky with those twin girls who play Lyndy because they really capture the essence of a toddler, and I love seeing the joy that they have on set and different things. There’ll be scripted things for them to do, and maybe they don’t want to do that that day, so we’ll switch it up. We’ll try something else.
The great thing about these girls is they’re at the age where they love to mimic, so a lot of times, if there’s something going on, I’ll mention just before ‘Action,’ ‘Look at the puppy,’ and then ‘Action,’ and they’re like, ‘Puppy, puppy, puppy.’ They love the horses, and they love puppies and all of those things that I think, for our audience watching, is fun. They want to see these kids having fun on screen.
GW: [Ty and Amy are] starting to work together in Season 12, and they have to take on that responsibility and what that means. They’re both involved together, and they’re raising a family. I think, in many ways, we drew from our experiences of both trying to work with this baby and make these things work, and that, too, plays together in the relationship with the characters.
It says in the press materials that this is a season of change and upheaval and that everybody faces that, even Jack, and I always think of Jack as the rock. When everything else is going wrong in everybody’s world, he’s the guy that you can rely on.
AM: Jack, I think, goes through some emotional experiences that he hasn’t really dealt with in the past, and he’s always been … I don’t want to say the lone soldier. You said, ‘the rock,’ which is great, but he’s always this symbol that stands just off-side and watches everybody and looks over everybody, and I think that shifts a little bit this year, and he still is very much that strong rock of the family, but he goes through his own emotional journey, as well.
Heartland airs Sundays at 7 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.