Sarah Booth Talks ‘Three Pines’, Representation, and Imposter Syndrome (Exclusive)

Amazon Prime’s Three Pines, which recently completed its first season, has already climbed to the number-one spot on the streaming service’s platform. Based on Louise Penny’s wildly successful Inspector Gamache mystery series, the TV adaptation has received rave reviews globally. We sat down with actress Sarah Booth to discuss her role as Yvette Nichol and the show’s rising success.

Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books have been a huge success and her latest release—World of Curiosities—is already a bestseller. What was it like to jump into this universe and take on a character with such a rich history? Did you go in with knowledge of the books or a fresh slate?

When I got the audition breakdown, I wasn’t aware of Louise Penny. I went and researched her right away and thought, oh my gosh, how do I not know who Louise Penny is? (laughs) I started researching and reading some of the books and I realized that my character is quite different than what they were asking for in the audition breakdown, so I went with [it] because I was like, well they’re casting the series, not the books. The audition breakdown asked for… She’s a little bit awkward, accident-prone, very eager, very brilliant in her own way. So I took that and made my own interpretation of what I thought that character would be …. I really didn’t expect to get the role because of the caliber of people behind this project, so I kind of just did it for myself to have fun.

They got back to my agent and said, “We love Sarah, but we feel like she pushed the comedy too much, so let’s just ground this character.” So we had a work session together with the director and producer and we found a middle ground that we were both happy with. It was kind of a creation with the whole team, which was fun. She’s different from the books for sure.

Sarah Booth as Yvette Nichol

How nice both that you got notes and an opportunity to hone the character! What were some of those adjustments you were asked to make? You mentioned the comedy.

The bulk of my career I’ve done a lot of dramatic roles, very physical roles, so [my career] has definitely been more on the dramatic side. Although in theater school what was funny, I got cast always as the comedic relief in a lot of shows. So I feel like maybe its truer to myself—this character—than I thought? (laughs) That playful nature. They were describing all of her characteristics and saying “she just really wants to be part of the team; she really just wants to fit in.” And I was like, “Like I feel right now?” (laughs)

I was able to parallel a lot of the situations she was in with what I was feeling, like the imposter syndrome, all that stuff I was going through during the first season and my first big role as a series regular… I felt like I used a lot of what I was going through to find her and hone her. But the comedy did scare me, so I was lucky that the director and producers were so open and vocal. I never felt embarrassed to try anything. It was such a safe space.

I was like the props girl. I love things, I love to eat, I love touching things.

There are some great, funny moments where Nichol is sort of mindlessly munching something. (laughs) It highlights how she stands out from the team.

Absolutely. It’s like a nervousness, too. She can’t just sit there, so she’s like, “I’ll go over here and eat.” I feel like that accident-proneness of her just comes out of that self-consciousness of wanting to fit in.

Nichol is mentored onscreen by Inspector Gamache, played by Alfred Molina, who has become quite an iconic actor in his own right at this point. You’ve also got Indigenous actors like Tantoo Cardinal, who has already had an expansive career, and you’re working with the producers of The Crown. You’ve got quite the environment that you’re settling into. Did any of that mentoring happen in real life?  

Absolutely. I was able to have some amazing conversations with Alfred and talk about his career and his journey. He taught me so many things but a few things that really stick out are to never take yourself too seriously; always have fun. We’re so privileged to do this job that we’re all so desperate to do. He was trained in theater, so he has this very ensemble feel to him where there’s no hierarchy, no ego. He wants play during a scene, he wants to try things. He just felt like an equal which was really awesome to be around and helped set the tone of the set.

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers as Isabelle Lacoste, Sarah Booth as Yvette Nichol, and Alfred Molina as Chief Inspector Gamache

I was able to speak to Tantoo, who is incredible. She’s an icon. And her again, too, I feel like they all taught me to really enjoy it and have fun. Tantoo was like, “The fact that I’m still doing this is awesome. I’m loving it.” So I just really took away that even though they’re quite advanced in their careers, they don’t take anything for granted and they make it really fun.

Nichol is definitely very smart and contributes to the team’s effectiveness, but there’s an interesting dichotomy in her because she’s an incredibly useful detective, but clearly a rookie and kind of bumbling along. What is it like to prepare a character who isn’t universally liked and has grudges with the other characters?

(Laughs) It’s actually kind of fun to be the person that no one likes. It was fun to be unpredictable. I just made sure I really knew my lines because if I was super prepared, then my behavior could be very intuitive. Also to have French versions of my lines was really important because sometimes I would pitch, “Oh I feel like she would say this word or this phrase in French,” and the producers were like “Yes, yes, yes. The more French, the better.” I describe her as having puppy energy. She’s like a little beagle. She’s like “I will hunt for you, but oh, what’s this…” (laughs)

Three Pines plays as a big role in the series. It really becomes this cozy, comforting sort of place that seems almost as important to the story as any of the characters. What was it like being so close to home and preparing a role like this essentially in your hometown?

Yeah, pretty much! I spend a lot of time in my hometown on my weekends and some of the locations were as close as 20 minutes from where I grew up. When I started reading the books I was like, “oh my gosh, this is Ormstown!,” where I’m from—with less murders, I think. (laughs)

It very much felt similar to the town I grew up in. We still don’t have a stoplight to this day. Everyone knows each other’s business. It was very bilingual—English, French, Frenglish. It felt very much like my character feels in the series. She’s from the town over. She knows the town; she knows the vibe.

So, hopping into this town through this character felt like I was going back home. It was also full circle to come home and play the biggest character I’ve ever played. I loved that I could bring my childhood to this role and add to the authenticity of her.

So the accent that Yvette Nichol has, is that from home?

That’s my mom. That’s 100% my mom. Some people were asking, “Oh my gosh, your accent is so great! Did you get dialect coaching?” And I was like, “Yeah, my whole life.” (laughs)

One of the things that blew me away as a longtime fan of the books is that there is a completely new overarching story about Indigenous women framing the show. I absolutely loved this very powerful inclusion of that fact that Canada has a very complicated past with its Indigenous peoples. As a native Canadian, what did you think of that inclusion?

I was so proud. When I read the scripts, at first I was like “Oh, wow, okay. We’re going there.” This is great. Because no one ever goes there, really. I know Alaska Daily is definitely highlighting missing Indigenous women stories as well. But what I thought was so interesting too is—I thought, “Okay, this is super powerful and I’m so on board, but who is consulting…?” And right away [the producers] said Tracy Deer is directing [some episodes], we have multiple Indigenous organizations who are consulting on the scripts, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers is consulting on the scripts… Tantoo is involved, Crystle Lightning, Georgina Lightning, all these amazing actors were involved. And I was also told by the Indigenous actors and creators on set that every single note that they gave to production was taken. I think that’s so important. The scripts were changed with these notes. I feel like the stories were really told from their point of view.

Arisawe (Georgina Lynn Lightning) and Kara Two-Rivers (Isabel Deroy-Olson) with other protestors at the MMIWG protest.

We’ve seen so many Indigenous stories on screen that are told from a white gaze and it’s just not accurate to what these communities have gone through. I also think putting an emotional aspect to these “headlines” is so important because like school shootings and so many other things, we read a headline and think “Oh, that’s so sad. How can someone do that?” But if you watch someone go through that, that opens up your heart and that changes it all. I’m really impressed they made it the main storyline. I think it’s so important.

There’s this sort of brilliant moment where Nichol asks Detective Lacoste about some writing they find on a wall that they’re investigating, assuming she can read it or understand the writing because she’s indigenous, and Lacoste sort of bristles and says “I don’t know.” It was such an amazing portrayal of ignorance, or maybe naivete. I’m curious what it was like to share that moment.

What was really interesting about that moment is that initially in the script it was written I ask the question, “What does it say?” She says, “I can’t read it.” And then right away, I’m like, “Oh.” But when we were rehearsing it, my instincts wanted to be like, “but aren’t you Native? Shouldn’t you know what that says?”

I was like, “Oh I want to say this, but eww.” You know? That’s not really [politically correct]. But Tracy [Deer] was directing, so I was like “Can I say this? Is this offensive?” And she responded, “It is offensive, but it happens all the time, so please say it.”

It just changed my perspective. I didn’t want to do it to be funny, but I just wanted to do it because that’s the truth, right? We put people in boxes. I think it was great we had that conversation before because then I could fully commit to that line and not feel weird about it. It was well-represented from their stories because they have to deal with this crap all the time.

In terms of your own experience of Canada’s history with Indigenous People, was a lot of this new to you? Do you think Canada’s history is well-known there or are you hearing it’s new to a lot of people?

I feel like it’s new to a lot of people. I think people know of the general history that [colonizers] came and took land and that there’s stories of spreading disease and get rid of people. I think overall there’s knowledge of that happening. But the residential schools, the fact that they were open until 1996, the fact that they tore children away from their parents, that [Indigenous children] were sexually abused and physically abused and mentally abused, I think that’s new for a lot of people.

I think right when we started to shoot the series or the Spring before is when they discovered all the unmarked graves [of children from residential schools] in BC, so I feel like that was something that highlighted or brought into the public knowledge the [fact of] residential schools.

The show has been very well received. Have you heard any hints about a season two for Three Pines?

Well, we are hearing a lot of great things which is very exciting. We’re #1 on Prime in Canada, the US, and the UK. It’s the biggest Canadian show on Prime ever which is fantastic feedback. People are loving it. So, in my heart, I think we’re going to have a season two. But we don’t know yet. There has been no official greenlight yet, but I do know that people are anticipating a season two. I’m feeling really good about it.

The Three Pines is streaming now on Amazon Prime. Since wrapping season one, Booth has appeared in episodes of Murdoch Mysteries and Transplant. You can also see her in Last Call, the tale of a bitterly alone man, Scott, played by Daved Wilkins who calls the Suicide prevention hotline, but accidentally calls Beth, a janitor played by Booth.

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