Since February 28, Claude Legault fans have been able to see him in Appelle-moi si tu meurs, the new original series Club illico. We met up with Pierre-Yves Bernard, co-writer of the series with Claude Legault, to talk about this story that plays with the codes of thrillers and dramatic comedies.

Where did you get the idea for this series, which is part drama, part police thriller and part comedy?
Claude Legault and I had experimented with these extremes—comedy and drama—in two previous series: Dans une galaxie près de chez vous for comedy and Minuit, le soir for drama. Since we didn’t want to give either genre up, we decided to combine them! The blend matched the “Call me if you die” mafia concept, since the subject can be tragic, but it also has a farcical side with characters that are so extreme, so colourful and, even in real life, a bit of a caricature.

How did you want to portray the police and mafia worlds on screen?
We certainly did not set out to say “this is what these worlds are really like.” It’s not a documentary. While we called on specialists for insights, we didn’t get caught up in details. Our focus was on the characters, their inner workings, their psyche.

Appelle-moi si tu meurs 

To discover the original Club illico series, click here.

How would you describe Appelle-moi si tu meurs? Is it a story about a friendship tainted by a police investigation, or is it a game of cat and mouse between a police officer and a mafiosi?
Fundamentally, it’s a story about two friends. The law enforcement aspect jeopardizes the friendship. It’s like two tectonic plates that hit each other and create the tension in the series.

How has your writing changed since the beginning of your career and partnership with Claude Legault? Has this latest series given you new ambitions?
As you mentioned in your first question, the series is largely characterized by the combination of genres. Crime fiction is traditionally very serious. We tried to portray the true complexity of life through our characters. For example, even though the mafia member and police officer can both be violent, they can also be silly, loving and funny, as well as show-offs and dedicated fathers.

In the video clip shown above, it’s clear that your relationship with Claude is key to your writing. Is there a clear division of labour between the two of you? Or do you go through each stage of the scriptwriting process together?
We brainstorm each of the scenes together. Then I go off with all these ideas and create dialogues for each of the versions. Claude and Michèle Tougas, our script editor, re-read my work and give me feedback. They’re both skilled at picking a text apart, so I’m usually in tears by the end of each call. (Laughs)

What films and television shows inspired you when writing Appelle-moi si tu meurs?
I hate that question. I want to say “None!” but then I’m afraid I would come across as pretentious. Clearly, I don’t claim that all my writing ideas are purely my own. I’m sure that many works have influenced me, but I am simply not aware of them. For example, I don’t say “Let’s mimic this film or series.”  I just try to craft the best possible story and there’s no doubt that my sub-conscious mind is full of ideas gleaned from other writers.

What does this series contribute to Quebec’s television scene?
It comes back to what I said before: this series breaks down the barriers between genres so that, from one scene to the next, viewers get the chance to laugh, cry or tremble with fear.

Are there any sensitive topics you purposefully avoided?
Almost nothing is taboo in 2019. Television has become a bold medium where anything is possible. That said, our themes are fairly traditional. The only aspect that’s different is the way they are approached.

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When developing the plot, did you draw ideas from any true crime stories?
Not really, but we did try to include real-life police procedures, such as how investigations are conducted, how to approach a crime scene, how to detect hidden mics, etc.

The series is being aired on Club illico first, allowing viewers to watch episodes back-to-back. Does that affect your approach to writing?
I’ve had to adjust my mindset, for sure. With traditional television, you only get to see one episode per week. This gives time for viewer anticipation to grow as they wonder whether the protagonist will manage to pull through. I love how the story stays with audiences all week. When a story is well written, its impact extends far beyond its air time. That said, back-to-back viewing has its advantages too. Since viewers can immerse themselves in a fictional world, the experience is more vivid. You tend to remember the details and get to know each of the characters’ idiosyncrasies. All that is very cool. But to get back to your question, no, it doesn’t change the way I write. Maybe because I know that the series will eventually be shown on TVA, which is traditional TV.

Beyond the story’s main plot line, what themes did you want the series to address?
Friendship, of course. But also the fragility of life and how chance meetings or events can sometimes lead us down the wrong path. A number of factors prompted Mario to join the mafia, but things could have been different for him. In fact, he could just have easily become a cop and JF could have become a gang member. A certain amount of luck came into play for both characters. Your question has just made me realize that Claude and I both experienced a similar stroke of fate. We met in our early twenties and that set us on a certain path. If I hadn’t met Claude, I honestly don’t know where my career might have taken me. Would I have joined the mafia like Mario? I was really lucky to have crossed paths with Claude. He might say the same thing. Like our characters, we were influenced by that dynamic between fortune and misfortune — though in our case, both of us were fortunate. It’s interesting because I didn’t really think about it when writing the series. Call it the power of the sub-conscious. Picasso once said an artist’s job is to find and then to seek. By seeking the answer to your question, I just discovered that the series is rooted in my personal life and Claude’s!

Have you thought about presenting this story as a movie? Are there any constraints inherent to writing for a series?
There’s a same/not same dynamic between these two mediums. In both cases, the writing involves developing the characters, determining the climax in the plot, and choosing the narrative styles. But that’s where the similarities end. In film, we typically tell just one story. That means it has to be as captivating as possible. In television, we still have to contend with being concise, but with a half-dozen hours to fill, we need to continually create intrigue and add plot twists. Comparing movies and television series is a little like comparing the 100-metre dash to a marathon. But one thing is for sure: both are exhausting!

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Quentin Delahaye

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