Caroline Dhavernas, star of Lifetime’s Mary Kills People, has always been a fan of the unusual.
The Canadian actress -- who sunk her teeth into characters like Jaye Tyler on the short-lived whimsical dramedy Wonderfalls and Dr. Alana Bloom on the poetic psychological horror-thriller Hannibal -- is eagerly awaiting Showtime’s upcoming Twin Peaks revival. “I can’t wait,” the 38-year-old exclaims giddily over the phone during an early morning chat in April. “I’m beside myself. I don’t understand why I’m not a part of that show.”
Study Dhavernas’ resume and you’ll see why. As the aforementioned roles indicate (both notably with frequent collaborator Bryan Fuller, whose next project is Starz's American Gods adaptation), the Montreal, Quebec native has a knack for leaning into the quirky, the peculiar and the just plain weird -- and she’s absolutely OK with that.
“I like when things are completely absurd. I love that people will step away [from] what has already been done and pre-chewed. I like when people take risks,” Dhavernas says. “I want to be able to challenge myself and challenge the viewer and challenge the back of our mind -- the subconscious mind. I’m a big fan of Twin Peaks and any show that will fall into that type of dream-like weird stuff.”
Her new series, the six-part Mary Kills People, could classify as “weird,” though not in the Twin Peaks sense. In the Lifetime drama, Dhavernas plays Dr. Mary Harris, a single mother and ER doctor who helps people suffering from terminal illness by illegally ending their lives with assisted suicide. It’s a real-life topic that has been polarizing, though Dhavernas admittedly had difficulty comprehending why a show with such a premise could be seen as provocative.
“I didn’t quite see it as controversial when I first read it, [but] when I saw it marketed that way, I realized that it was because it’s a very sensitive issue for many people,” she recalls, noting that it recently became legal in Quebec for patients to seek physician-assisted dying.
“All sorts of characters [on our show] have different opinions on the matter. Mary certainly feels that people should have the right to choose; other characters don’t feel that way,” Dhavernas says. “When I saw the first episode at home with my buddies, we started talking about assisted dying and it was a great way to start a conversation -- if that happens in many households, then good.”
Mary Kills People doesn’t pick a side; instead, it digs its heels into Mary’s double life and her gradual downfall with a heavy helping of drama, a splash of sexiness (there’s a hookup or two in the first two episodes) and a dash humor sprinkled throughout (see: Mary’s unique friendship with her partner-in-crime, Des).
“The writers set a really cool tone for it because it could’ve been a very depressing subject matter, but they found a way to give it a lot of meaning and to add a bit of humor. It’s a fun show even though we have moments that are beautiful and dark and deep,” Dhavernas notes. “As an actor, that’s what you’re looking for: different layers, different nuances and gray zones -- and Mary is certainly filled with her own contradictions and complexities.”
Early on, Mary meets Joel (Beauty and the Beast’s Jay Ryan), who seeks her out for her services. He’s unlike any other patient she’s helped before, in that he’s attractive, mysterious and has a morbid humor about his upcoming death. In ET’s exclusive sneak peek from the first episode, Mary and Joel’s first meeting is fraught with tension -- the good kind, of course.
“There’s this very strong, sexual connection there. When he says ‘I’m going to die, can you make it happen faster?’ It’s that banter that she really gets,” Dhavernas says with a chuckle, though there’s more to Joel than meets the eye. “She doesn’t really have time for her love life and her sexuality, and he’s just there and they get each other.”
For Dhavernas, the “compact” first season -- which aired in Canada earlier this year -- was beneficial. “I liked that we shot for three months [in Toronto] and then after that, I went back to traveling and promoting the show, but having a bit of a life as well,” she explains. It’s something Dhavernas has learned to prioritize in her life, as she’s gotten older.
“I don’t really think ahead because in this business, there is so little control over the parts that I have access to,” she says when asked about roles she’s still reaching for, mentioning “crazy talented” TV mind Fuller as someone she’s happy to be associated with.
“He has that capacity to imagine you and takes pleasure in seeing you do the exact opposite of what he’s seen you do before,” Dhavernas praises. “That is so rare in this business.”
Mary Kills People premieres Sunday, April 23 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.
Watch Dhavernas play a self-destructive makeup saleswoman in a clip from the indie film, Easy Living.