MARTIN MICHAUD, FROM LAWYER TO MASTER OF THE QUÉBEC THRILLER

With his well-trimmed beard, Martin Michaud still looks the part of the elegant lawyer he once was. But he has left the law behind to become a writer of detective novels and now a successful scriptwriter. Michaud is the man behind Inspector Victor Lessard and the series of the same name, the latest instalment of which has been available on Club illico since May 15.

You might think Michaud has found inspiration for his mystery novels in sordid crimes encountered during his past legal career, but you’d be wrong. Actually, he practiced corporate law and stayed well away from gore and real-life drama. But now he has turned squarely to the seamy side of life to become an uncontested master of the Quebec detective novel.

“I have always been intrigued by other peoples’ inner worlds. My first novel was about a woman who had been in a coma, a condition I find fascinating.” Season 1 of Victor Lessard was set against the backdrop of MK Ultra, a 1960s CIA-funded operation in Montréal aimed at developing mind control techniques. Season 2, Violence à l’origine, is based on a true crime that horrified the author. Clearly, he is inspired by the darkness of the human soul.

Martin Michaud likes people but feels excited only by complex personalities.
“I’m not interested in writing about happy people with no problems. I prefer inner conflict and sequences of events that plunge people into the abyss. In the space of a few days, they see their lives turned upside down, transformed forever.”

Michaud wants to do more than entertain; he weaves social and political commentary into his novels: “I want there to be a point, a subtext that speaks to readers and pulls them into the story.”

Michaud refuses to avert his eyes. In his novels, he looks violence in the face. “It’s my way of speaking up. I show what humans are capable of. I show things that are despicable. I hold up a mirror – often not as ugly as reality – to society.” He believes novels and television can have a cathartic effect, allowing readers and viewers to experience powerful emotions in a protected space, safe from harm.

Binge watch season 2 of Victor Lessard, Violence à l’origine, on Club illico.

Episode 1 is free! Click here.

The desire to experience things by proxy has long driven Martin Michaud and is what made him take up writing. That was about 20 years ago. Since then, his style has changed considerably. “When I started writing in my spare time while practicing law, I wanted to be a real author, to write works of literature. At the time, that ruled out detective fiction, which was considered a lowly genre. I produced my first two novels over a period of a dozen years and they were rejected by every publishing house in existence.”

Starting to despair, almost ready to concede that it was time for him to stop trying to convince himself he was a writer since he couldn’t convince anyone else, Michaud was on the verge of throwing in the towel. Then, in a dramatic plot twist, he decided to write a detective novel, Il ne faut pas parler dans l’ascenseur. A publisher picked it up and the rest is history: novels, success, and now television scripts.

THE STORYTELLER TURNS FROM NOVELS TO SCRIPTS

Martin Michaud still thinks there’s always an element of luck in a successful writer’s career. At one point, every author was an unpublished writer. But in his case, the critical turning point was his acceptance of his own true nature. “When I started writing this mystery, it made me realize things about myself. I hadn’t been aware of it, but in the two previous books I was trying to draw attention to my writing and my style. This time, I accepted that the book would be plot-driven. I did have to polish my style, but the writing needed to be effective and serve the plot, as in the Anglo-Saxon storytelling tradition.”

That approach is equally relevant for the Victor Lessard television series, even though there’s a world of difference between writing a novel and scripting for TV. “In a novel, the reader sees inside the character’s head. That’s not the case on television. You have to translate the character’s thoughts into action for the audience to understand what’s going on in his mind. It can be a challenge but it also lets you go deeper, especially with the supporting characters.” He learned the subtle differences from scriptwriters Frédéric Ouellet and Myriam Pavlovic, who helped him learn the trade. “The production team had the foresight to team me up with very talented people. Along with director Patrice Sauvé, they are the heart and soul of the television version of Victor Lessard.”

In the TV series, Martin Michaud had free rein to tell the story in a different way. Some scenes from the novel aren’t in the series, and vice versa. Others were expanded as Michaud explored storylines that weren’t fleshed out in the novel. The city of Montréal becomes a recurring character in its own right. “We see the city from a different angle. The characters find themselves in familiar surroundings but we show them in a new light.”

Michaud couldn’t have asked for a finer actor than Patrice Robitaille to play his central character: “When 300,000 readers imagine Victor Lessard in their minds, you get 300,000 Victors. When an actor plays him on TV, there is just one flesh-and-blood Victor. We were incredibly lucky that Patrice was available to step into that character.”

Casting Julie Le Breton as Jacinthe Taillon was a departure from the novel’s physical depiction of the character, but it worked. “In the novel, she’s a much stronger woman. Julie seemed too beautiful and fabulous to play her. But we loved her. The team felt the important thing was the character’s essence and Julie captured it better than anyone.”

Clearly, the team effort paid off. Season 1 of Victor Lessard was a smash hit and has logged more than 3 millions views on Club illico since March 2017. The second season Violence à l’origine scored more than 1 million viewers in less than 3 weeks.

Last year at the Banff World Media Festival, Victor Lessard took the Rockie award for Best Francophone Series and won accolades from the industry people in attendance. “Our work was acclaimed, as was the work of our two stars. Everyone was wowed by their presence and magnetism, despite the language barrier.”

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Yasmine Berthou

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