Billy Campbell stars in the TV series Cardinal.
Billy Campbell stars in the TV series Cardinal. Brooke Palmer

Canadian drama Cardinal a chillingly good mystery

YOU'LL get chills watching Cardinal, thanks to its snow-powdered mix of murder, mischief and mystery.

The Canadian crime drama, part of SBS On Demand's new Crime Time line-up, follows Detective John Cardinal as he reopens a cold case in Algonquin Bay, Ontario.

The series is based on Giles Blunt's award-winning mystery novel Forty Words for Sorrow.

"It follows very much in the spirit of the novels," star Billy Campbell tells The Guide.

"There had to be some departures because it's just a different format."

Billy, best known for Dynasty and Once and Again, originally turned down the role to spend more time with his family - he became a dad for the first time at 55 - before his wife encouraged him to take it up.

"I have a tendency when I read something to picture myself as the casting director or producer," he says.

"I think, 'Do I see myself in the part? Would I cast myself in the role?' and if the answer is no, which, you know, fairly often it is, then I can't even think of doing the thing, it's very difficult for me to even audition for it. But this I saw myself immediately in the part and it excited me terribly.

Billy Campbell in a scene from the TV series Cardinal.
Billy Campbell in a scene from the TV series Cardinal. Contributed

"I turned it down initially because I promised my wife I would be there for her during her last year of architectural studies ... but she read it and said, 'I think you should do this.' She had the good taste to realise it was a fantastic role."

While Billy was born in the US state of Virginia, he has permanent residency in Canada and has been holidaying there with his family since he was a child.

But not even working on a film in the Antarctic could have prepared him for the challenging conditions he faced for Cardinal.

"Our first day of shooting was -40°C below zero and that was extremely challenging," he says.

"There was equipment that was malfunctioning because of the cold. It was difficult to be outside for more than a few minutes at a time. We had to keep running inside and then racing outside to shoot different set-ups. It's very difficult to speak in a normal fashion when your face is that cold."

Detective Cardinal is a tortured, brooding man who was removed from the homicide squad after going overboard in his investigation of a missing First Nations girl.

Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse in a scene from the TV series Cardinal.
Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse in a scene from the TV series Cardinal. Brooke Palmer

But when the girl's body finally turns up, he is reassigned to the case with new partner Lise Delorme (Karine Vanasse). What he does not know is that Delorme is assigned to investigate him as part of a federal police corruption probe.

"He does realise that something's up, something's fishy, but at the same time he's driven enough that he doesn't want that to overwhelm or get in the way of what they're about at the moment - in that sense he's a good cop," Billy says.

And there's plenty more Cardinal to come. Within a month of going to air in Canada, the smartly written series was renewed for another two seasons.

"It was hugely gratifying the show was so well received in so many places," he says.

"We're in more than 100 countries now and we've had a huge success in France, the UK and Scandinavia, which I'm particularly excited over as I live in Norway now with my wife and child.

"A lot of TV breaks the cardinal rule of fiction writing, which is you don't have to tell the audience something they already know. TV executives are infamously worried the audience won't understand but the audience is intelligent and they'll put things together."

Cardinal is available to stream now on SBS On Demand.

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