Sparks Fly As Worlds Collide in Jann Arden's Hilarious and Heartfelt New Series JANN on CTV
— March 19, 2019
By BILL HARRIS
Special to The Lede
It doesn’t take long for Jann Arden to get you laughing.
Sitting in a cozy conference room at Bell Media headquarters in downtown Toronto, Arden is about to begin an interview to promote her new comedy series JANN, which debuts Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET on CTV. But the bright afternoon sun is blazing into the room through a window, so someone starts to close the blinds behind Arden.
“Thank you - the back of my head feels like I have a stripper on my shoulders,” Arden says. When all the people in the room instantly begin laughing, Arden adds, “I don’t even know what I mean by that. I don’t know what that feels like!”
Arden’s sharp-witted comic vibe, which comes so naturally to her in real life, is on full display in JANN, in which she plays a fictionalized version of herself. We spoke with the iconic Canadian musician and well-known entertainment personality about this comedic foray that combines elements of heartfelt reality with some fictitious personality traits, exaggerated to extremes, all for the sake of humour.
Q: How close is the finished product of JANN to what you initially had in mind?Jann Arden: “Surprisingly close, but with the cast, the characters have taken on their own life. I wasn’t Jann Arden in the series at first, I had a different name. That was kind of an 11th-hour decision, from upper management at Bell Media, people that know TV. They didn’t want me to be Leslie Morgenstern, or Donna Abernathy, or Nancy Smith. It was an interesting quandary, but I remember when the producers phoned me, they said, ‘Look, Bell Media wants you to be Jann Arden,’ and I didn’t miss a beat, I just said, ‘Okay.’ That’s not a battle I’m going to fight. And I think from there, our story really tightened up.”
Q: With your own name on it, how did you decide how famous - or not - your character would be?Jann Arden: “It’s the writers, I backed away from a lot of that, in order for them to create this narcissistic character who doesn’t care what anybody else thinks. But they strike a balance in that, you don’t really like my choices, but you want to cheer for me because there is something salvageable there. Like, you want me to succeed and do the right thing, but God, it’s fun when I screw it up. I would not want to be TV Jann. The wreckage that she’s leaving behind her, and the reckless behaviour, is so not me. But that has been fun to play.”
Q: You make mention of quite a few other Canadian musicians and celebrities, and some of them even appear in JANN, such as Leslie Feist in the first episode. But for the ones that you talk about who don’t appear, do they know it’s coming, or is it going to be a surprise to them?Jann Arden: “For Leslie Feist’s appearance, she said to us, ‘I want to be a terrible person - have the writers make me be really mean to you.’ And she really stepped into it! That was Leslie Feist’s choice! As for the mentions of other people, everything has to be cleared through their lawyers. For Sarah McLachlan, that all had to go through her lawyers - I mean, we have her head on a bus at one point, for God’s sake, and we make a lot of fun of her - but she’s so up for it. I ran into her at the Junos, and she was like, ‘Congrats on the show, I can’t wait to see all this stuff, I hope you’re going to have me in it, I’ll do anything you want.’ So I said, we’ll figure it out. Rick Mercer was the same, he was such a good sport. So again, it’s the real world and the fake world coming together. But people are going to think that I actually live in that house, which is gorgeous. I don’t!”
Q: Shooting this type of TV series was new for you, playing the main character in a scripted show. What was the oddest part?Jann Arden: “With my lack of experience, my focus always was on not holding anybody up by not knowing my lines. But some days we shot scenes from three different episodes, and I didn’t know if I was coming or going. They’d get me dressed up, and I didn’t even really know which scene I was going into. I was so surprised when I saw the episodes later, and I’m like, ‘Oh, so THAT’S where I was going! THAT’S why I had that thing! THAT’S why I was wearing those shorts!’ ”
Q: After having spent so much time thinking about, and working on, this show, this must be an exciting week for you.Jann Arden: “I’m so proud, this was such a group effort. And I’m proud for Calgary, which has played host for many shows, but Calgary has never been Calgary. I was so thrilled when Bell Media said, ‘Let’s shoot it there.’ The backdrop very much lent itself to the characters. It really worked, and I think it’s a fresh perspective for people to see those rolling hills and long highways. It takes a lot of people to make this work, and I am so grateful. How special it is to have this opportunity is not lost on me.”