TORONTO – Canadian writer-actress Susan Coyne loves a good behind-the-scenes story.
She’s been a writer on the acclaimed comedy series “Mozart in the Jungle,” which gives a fictional peek behind the curtain of a New York symphony, and she co-created and co-starred in the hit Canadian show “Slings & Arrows,” about the comical backstage life at a Canadian Shakespearean theatre festival.
Coyne says she’s now working on a prequel to “Slings & Arrows,” which ran from 2003 to 2006, along with original co-creators Bob Martin and Mark McKinney. They’ve written three scripts, arced out the whole series and hope to bring back actors from the original show, which featured Paul Gross, Martha Burns and Rachel McAdams.
“The CBC has expressed interest and we’re actually out to a director at the moment,” Toronto-based Coyne said recently by phone.
“It’s very much in the style of ‘Slings and Arrows’ but it takes you back to the origin of the festival itself.”
Coyne is also giving a glimpse into the private life of a literary writer, Charles Dickens, with the new Canadian co-production “The Man Who Invented Christmas.”
Former “Downton Abbey” cast member Dan Stevens stars as the English novelist and Oscar-winning Canadian actor Christopher Plummer plays a delightfully crusty Ebenezer Scrooge, who appears to Dickens along with other characters as he struggles to pen his 1843 holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol.”
Coyne wrote the screenplay and Bharat Nalluri directed the comedy, which is based on Les Standiford’s 2008 book. The film hits theatres Friday.
“I think in some ways, Dickens was the first modern literary rock star,” said Coyne.
“He had a level of success that was unprecedented and, just like any kind of rock star today, had a bunch of hits and then he had a few flops and he didn’t know what to do with it and thought that he might be done.
“Then the idea for this little book came to him.”
The book, about three spirits who appear to old miser Scrooge to teach him the value of kindness, was a transformational one for Dickens.
Before penning it, Dickens was facing a bad case of writer’s block, and as a moralist he “felt a duty to comment on the world and rouse people to action,” said Coyne.
“In the book, he used a lot of autobiographical details from his own life, including childhood memories of Christmas that had never been anywhere except in his own family in the country,” said the two-time Gemini Award winner, a veteran of the theatre scene.
“He kind of reinvented himself and moved forward as a whole different kind of writer in a way, too.”
Coyne said her research included reading “A Christmas Carol” many times to nail its dry, wry and almost cynical humour.
Like Dickens, she is able to imagine her characters so vividly, she can almost see them.
“I’ve been working on this movie for quite a long time and my children started to tease me about my boyfriend, Charles Dickens, because I was obsessed with him,” Coyne said with a laugh.
“He became part of our family for a while.”
Coyne said Plummer was always on the filmmakers’ “dream list” for stars.
In a funny twist of fate, Plummer now shares a parallel with the story.
In the film, Dickens has just six weeks to write and publish “A Christmas Carol” in time for the holidays. Meanwhile, Plummer recently signed on to replace Kevin Spacey in the upcoming Ridley Scott film “All the Money in the World” — just six weeks before theatrical release.
Coyne said she has no doubt 87-year-old Plummer can pull it off.
“Christopher Plummer is a pro from way back,” she said.
“I won’t say old because he’s very youthful, but he trained in repertory theatre back in the day.
“He was there at the invention of Canadian theatre. So it seems so daunting but I know he’s already learned his lines…. He’s one of the greats in that way.”