It all starts with a compassionate act. Or is it murder? That depends on your perspective. Is Mary a hero or a killer? It’s this fluidity of morality in Lifetime’s brilliant new series, Mary Kills People (Cameron Pictures/created by Tara Armstrong), that makes the show so intriguing. The stakes are high, literally life and death, and the tension never slackens. There’s barely a chance to catch your breath over the course of the entire six episodes. This is television at its finest.
At its core, Mary Kills People is about flawed individuals who are desperately battling to overcome their very nature to help others who are suffering. Des Bennett is the most damaged of the bunch. He is played with remarkable flair and absorbing depth by veteran stage and screen actor Richard Short. The multidimensional Dr. Mary Harris, an overworked single mother with a lethal pastime, is exquisitely played by Caroline Dhavernas of Hannibal, Off the Map, M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil, and more.
If you thought the first four episodes were fraught with pulse-pounding tension, wait until you see the unbelievable turn of events that threaten to tear apart everything Des and Mary have… including their trust in each other. The fatal two-hour season finale airs on Lifetime tonight at 10/9C.
“He’s nothing if not troubled,” Richard spoke with a charm that rivaled Connery’s Bond. “Someone asked me the other day if I could describe Des in one word. I chose ‘human’ because he’s very flawed, as we all are. It’s just that his flaws really come to the fore throughout the show.”
Richard landed the role in a fairly standard way: he was sent the script and told to make a tape if it was a project that interested him. It gripped him immediately, so he sent over an audition he did in his bedroom via his iPhone.
“The next thing you know, I’m cutting short a holiday in France and going straight to Toronto to get fitted for rubber gloves,” he laughed. “I didn’t meet or even know anyone on the project until we got up there.”
The series boldly examines the charged question, “Which is more humane, to prolong life at all costs or to allow terminal patients to end their suffering.” Because of a childhood tragedy, Mary firmly believes that her way is the more compassionate answer. This is her calling. Des, on the other hand, is a surgeon who lost his license and is seeking a way to validate his life by continuing to help others. Or at least, that’s what he tells himself. He comes across as a carefree charmer, but just below that enviable surface, Des is fighting a personal battle the makes even his terminal patients feel sorry for him. It is this peculiar relationship between Mary and Des that makes this series so compelling.
“Their relationship does seem to be one of the key strengths of the show,” Richard agreed. “It’s unique because it’s completely platonic. They are two friends. We have to be careful not to give anything away about tonight’s finale, but because of this relationship, they can go deeper and they can hurt each other more. It cuts like a knife when it’s a friend, and these two are almost like a brother and a sister. We love each other, and being a man and a woman on modern television who are not in bed together… I think that’s why people see this as such a really strong relationship.”
A good bit of the chemistry that Mary and Des have stems from the fact that Richard and Caroline get along “famously” off-screen.
As testament to that fact, last month, in an Us Weekly “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me” article, Richard divulged, “While shooting Mary Kills People in Toronto, Caroline Dhavernas and I hopped a fence one night and crashed a house party. A wonderful live band was playing in the garden. It was spectacular.”
“Oh, you saw that, then? Let me tell you a little more about that incident. The person’s party that we crashed turned out to be the DP [Director of Photography] on Hannibal, which of course, Caroline knows very well. So it was all good,” he laughed. “We didn’t know that’s who it was at the time, it was just a nice circle of events. It was worth it for the music. At that point, we only had a week or so left to shoot, and you want to make the most of your moments when you get them.”
There are so many elements in this series that flip the norm on end, effectively getting the viewer to realize that nothing is truly black and white. A drug dealer, at times, is the moral compass of the series. The dedicated detectives who are investigating the case seem more the ruthless antagonists than the heroes.
“That’s a very salient point, it’s good that you caught that,” Richard concurred. “That, as well as actually rooting for myself and Mary at various points because for so many other people, we’re pretty much the bad guys. It’s all an opinion and it all depends on which angle you’re coming from. I’m not saying which is good and which is bad, or which is right and which is wrong, but it’s interesting because sometimes you are rooting against your better judgment.”
Richard is quick to acknowledge that the success of the series is due to the women behind the scenes, the writers, directors, and producers at Lifetime.
“I am constantly bowing down to Holly Dale, the director (Dexter, The Americans, Law & Order, Grimm, Heroes), and the producers. We were block shooting the whole series, so I think the first thing we did was a scene in episode three. Then, we did a scene in episode five. As actors, we are completely in the hands of the people who are looking at the bigger picture because our job is to just come in and concentrate on the moment. Of course, you need to know where you were directly proceeding that moment — were you in the car on the way to the room or were you in the room before jumping into the car — so you know where you are emotionally in the story, but you don’t need to know where you’re going to be next. Actually, it probably helps if you don’t know. You have to listen to the people who see the big mosaic of it all and trust that they will make it all slot into place in the end.”
In closing, Richard pointed out, “I’ve had more male friends tell me they are hooked on the show then female friends. It’s great! Lifetime is empowering women, but the content they create is for everyone. Did you see the movie they just announced that will be starring Catherine Zeta-Jones? What they are doing is just superb.” [Lifetime’s Cocaine Godmother (2018) is based on the life of drug lord Griselda Blanco, who slipped into the country with a fake passport and built a drug distribution network that spanned across the entire United States. Additionally, Griselda was suspected of ordering over 200 murders.]
Tonight is the season finale for televisions hottest new die-namic duo, Mary and Des. Be sure to be watching Lifetime at 10/9C — you don’t want to stumble across any spoilers before viewing! Television so compelling, it needs to be watched live!