A dedicated, journeyman actor hailing from Calgary, Alberta, Brennan Elliott has a long list of credits to his name in his 20 years of acting. Making his home in Los Angeles with his family, Elliott, having found guest spots on myriad series including ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ‘Monk,’ and ‘C.S.I.,’ as well work on the big screen, recently secured a regular role on Hallmark’s first original scripted series ‘Cedar Cove.’
Based on the popular books series by Debbie Macomber, the series stars Andie MacDowell as Judge Olivia Lockhart, the principal character in this bucolic coastal Washington town. Elliot plays developer Warren Saget, who finds himself sometimes in trouble and dealing with feelings he doesn’t know how to express.
He spoke on the phone from Los Angeles, and offered some especially interesting insight on what it means to work as a guest actor versus having a regular role, where ‘Cedar Cove’ fits in the television landscape, and what’s next for the actor.
TVRage: Let’s start our conversation with ‘Cedar Cove.’ What is in store for your character, and how do things change since you’ve been promoted to a series regular?
Brennan Elliott: In the first season, we shot 13 episodes and I was in nine of them, and this year I think I’m in ten, so the amount will feel similar. We were still fleshing out the character last year and fleshing out the story and even the show itself. We really didn’t know where a lot of us were going.
At the end [of last season], I’m taken off to jail. I know I didn’t do anything wrong, I was caught in a mess, but I don’t know where they’re going. I tried to stick to the books in the beginning, but we got away from it, which I think is more interesting. The books have a long main thread, and pieces of characters appear throughout.
Fans really loved Warren, though, so they developed it a bit more. I’m kind of running by the seat of my pants here, I can’t wait to see where it’s going. The excitement for me is to see the first script and see where it’s taken.
TVRage: What is it about your character that fans love so much?
Elliott: He’s kind of considered the bad guy on the show, and I think it’s a testament to some of the colors I’ve brought to him. He’s not a bad guy in my mind, not a bad person. He’s a guy dealing with a lot of insecurities with relationships; he has wanted to meet the right person and is obviously in love with someone who doesn’t really love him back. With that dynamic, I think people feel the need for love, need for relationships, and the struggles you go through to impress that person you really want to be with.
He’s also kind of a bit of a cad, he tries to do the right thing, but every time he does, people go and say that was the wrong thing to do (laughs). That’s how he is. He feels like, well, this is going to work, and then it ends up not working. We respond to that humor and lightness. It’s a fun character to play.
TVRage: This is Hallmark’s first scripted series. Can you speak to what the process has been like creating the show? What are maybe some freedoms and struggles, and has there been an evolution that you’ve witnessed through the first season?
Elliott: That’s a good question. Hallmark has an incredibly loyal fan base, and they wanted to get into scripted TV. A lot of their movies could be back door pilots, and I think there was a need. We had a pilot that was shot, and after there was some changes to make. When you’re starting a flagship show, there are going to be some growing pains, not just with writing, but the cast and the idea of show. You also have to be able to take care of your audience and know what they are receptive to.
The first six or so episodes, we had to try a few things, reshoot a few things, and the network was very kind not to give up. I think the last few episodes we’ve really hit our voice and our stride. Everyone was so passionate about the project, and everyone came together and created something where an audience would be responsive.
TVRage: Speaking of which, in an interview, Andie MacDowell said that this was one of the most creative shows, and she spoke of a quality of lightness and wholesomeness. Can you speak to those comments and that idea?
Elliott: Well I can’t speak for her, but I think know her sentiment, and I feel just how she does. If you look at a lot of TV (network and cable) there is a lot of darkness, dark undertones, and audiences are getting saturated with action and sex and violence. I think there needs to be a place to go to and relax and enjoy something and just feels good, positive, and light, and not walk away drained. It’s a nice warm bath, and people really want to watch something that makes them feel good.
There are a lot of moral stories here; there is romance in a healthy, cleaner way. A void is missing from TV that is a lot simpler. It’s about characters; it’s about life, without kind of the coloring that looks for advertisements by showing action and skin. There are not a lot of shows like this.
It’s more pure, honest, and there is an innocence about it that really refreshing. We’ve an hour of TV that people can walk away feeling good.
TVRage: In terms of your career, you’ve done various guest appearances on a lot of shows. What does it mean to have a regular role and develop a character over an amount of episodes and a season?
Elliott: That’s a great question, I’m glad you asked that. I find that having a regular job is much more creatively rewarding. [As a guest], you can audition on Monday, get a script on Tuesday, and you may very well be on set on Wednesday. You don’t get a lot of time to get into this character and discover things. Part of the process of an actor is finding it in yourself, sometimes you don’t have that time, but you have to do your best work as people are counting on you. At the same time, you go in and do your job and you’re on to the next one; there is something rewarding about being versatile and play a lot of different parts.
For series work, you really have a chance to flush out the character, find simpler undertones, spend time with it; every episode is another piece of the puzzle. I do much prefer and enjoy having seasons under my belt with the same character; you really can find some really nice job.
TVRage: We’re speaking quite a bit about the show here, and I hope that the amount of time we’ve spent talking about it is in proportion with its importance in your career at this point. Can you sort of explain to me where you are in your head with your work and where ‘Cedar Cove’ ranks?
Elliott: It’s funny: I’ve been an actor for the last 20 years, so this is what I do. I’m a 24-hour a day actor. I’m an artist, and as one you’re always growing, evolving. I feel like you do your training, you come out of school, and you fine tune and build. That process then does away with itself.
I feel like the last few years I’ve done the best work of my career, and not because of any other reason than I’ve just evolved and grown, and I've come to work and care about it from a different perspective.
It’s not about just getting a job and paying the bills. I have a wife, son, and a family now. I go to a room or set, and it’s about collaboration, doing the work, enjoying the people, and being honest in the character. When you get there, you live in the moment, and it’s easier because I’ve done it for so long.
Now, I have this character, and it’s all about collaboration. It really looses things up. It’s simple, freer, more relaxed.
As far as where I’m at, this show is, and not just because I’m doing it now, just so much fun to do. The producers, the network, the creative forces, the writers, the actors, and everyone on the show, they are just good people. They really want to do a good job to the loyal fans.
I think that’s why it’s done so well [no. 1-rated cable show in its timeslot]. I think it’s a testament to everyone they bring on board. I get to really enjoy the show and the people because I’ve done it enough times, I’m having a blast.
TVRage: What else is next for you?
Elliott: I’m off to do ‘Night of the Museum 3’ with Ben Stiller; I’m playing an interesting role.
TVRage: Well I have to ask then, who is it? Some historical figure that comes alive?
Elliott: I’m not supposed to say anything, but I will say that I’ve done more comedy in the last three years than I’ve done in my whole career. Having a son, it took the pressure off focusing on myself. It loosens you up, and there is a lot of humorous stuff on the show, a lot in the movie, so I’ve been really blessed.
TVRage: Maybe I ask how old your son is, can he enjoy your work yet?
I don’t think he cares what I do at this point, he’s 17 months old. I did a small thing on ‘The Crazy Ones’ on CBS with Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar. I just had the one scene, and it came on, and my son saw my face and he just had this perplexed look. He doesn’t care what I do (laughs).
TVRage: Lastly, when do you return to shoot in Vancouver and when can we expect Season 2 of ‘Cedar Cove'?
Elliott: I will be there March 20, and we start filming March 24, which is my birthday oddly enough. I think the second season will air in July; fans have been clamoring.
Last thing I want to say about it and it’s very important: when you do a lot of shows and you have people you trust, they watch it and tell you thoughts. I’ve never heard a response from anyone who watches this show that doesn’t come away going, 'I really enjoyed that show. It’s not complicated, it’s simple, and I really enjoyed it.'
That’s the most rewarding thing.
‘Cedar Cove’ returns Summer 2014 on Hallmark Channel.