William Baldwin on How Netflix’s ‘Northern Rescue’ Showcases the Struggles of Modern Parenting
Life just took a turn for the worst in Netflix’s new series, Northern Rescue. The family drama stars actor and producer William Baldwin as John West, a father of three dealing with the recent loss of his wife.
When John lands a job as a search-and-rescue commander, he has to uproot his already-struggling family and move them from the city life they’ve always known to take on small-town living.
Baldwin spoke with TV Insider on what it was like starring in the Netflix show, and the challenges he faced while producing the series.
How did Northern Rescue come about?
William Baldwin: A friend of mine who was one of my co-executive producers and director of a show named Bradley Walsh approached me and said, ‘We’re trying to put together this family show for the [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] and Netflix, and we’d love for you to be involved. They said a component of it would be a search-and-rescue commander and I just connected the dots. I assumed because I’m the right type and the right age that they thought that I would be a good fit.
I go to Toronto for work a lot and I do corporate hosting gigs sometimes and fundraisers. I had to go back up to do an event for Toronto SickKids Hospital and I met with these guys and we started kicking it around and we developed the concept together. The writer sort of told the story and what the season would look like, and then my friend Bradley would talk about the visuals and the whole look and feel of it.
I just started talking about why this type of programming is important to me and the show really is about what it means to be a family today. I told them we need to have the latitude to get into some hard-hitting stuff because we’re attempting to define what it means to be a family today and you need to get into all the stuff that kids get into. You need to get into possibly violence, definitely sex, definitely drugs, kids getting arrested. It’s going to be a modern day, contemporary look at what parents and children are struggling with.
We pitched it to CBC and we pitched it to Netflix, and they really liked it. I get to tell a lot of rowdy, rambunctious stories about growing up with the Baldwin brothers, and I told stories about my wife Chynna’s [Phillips of Wilson Phillips] life growing up in show business. And then I told stories about Chynna and I raising our own kids and how we’ve succeeded, how we failed, and how we learned from those mistakes. A lot of those stories were very real, and I think, as a result the executives were like, ‘These guys are onto something.’
What can you tell us about your role as John West?
He’s a search-and-rescue commander, kind of an Alpha type. My wife and I have it where I’m the husband/father with a certain job description, and my wife is the mother/wife with a certain job description and we divide and conquer. In the show, I lose my wife and it’s like losing your arm. All of a sudden, you’re responsible for all of these duties and you’re wearing all the hats now. The career, the breadwinner, and paying the bills, and buying the groceries, and cleaning the house and cooking the food, and wearing the hat of the principal breadwinner. But I’m also wearing the hat of the father and the mother all at once. It lends itself to some real powerful drama, but a lot of humor and hijinks, as well.
Being a dad yourself, did you find yourself relating to John? What is the dynamic between John and his kids?
Totally. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the show. My family in the show is girl, boy, girl, and [in real life] I have girl, boy, girl. It’s a very similar spread. I have an 19, 17, and 14-year-old, and my kids on the show are 17, 15, and 13. It’s very similar.
As a producer and actor on the show, what challenges did you face?
They call it ‘show business’ and as a producer, I don’t really delve into the business side of it, I’m the show side. I’m all script and writers and creativity, casting and directors. I try to work with how things look on the screen creatively. I wish I knew how to do a solid and legitimate budget, but it just doesn’t interest me. I [like] having a little more control over casting, writing, location, and directors.
The challenges for me were more on the business side. I was doing a show [Too Old To Die Young] for Amazon this year where we were probably spending $6 or 7 million per episode, and shooting and episode in 10 days. This show is shooting an episode in six or seven days for a lot less money. It was challenging in that way to try to deliver the best product you can while you’re challenged with things like budget and scheduling.
John loses his wife in the beginning of the series, leaving him to raise their three children. What is the show’s approach to dealing with death?
People have to take time to mourn. They have to take time to grieve and feel their feelings. I think it’s so unhealthy if you squash that and don’t do that. You really need to be in touch with your grief. The show is about how you respond. We get into that on the show, my daughter gets lippy with me and she starts acting out and getting in trouble, and she references as an excuse her mother’s passing. I get right into her face and say, ‘Don’t you dare let that be an excuse for you to throw your life away.’
Not that she’d throw her life away, but what I mean is you’re at a critical crossroad in your life and you could afford to feel your feelings and you could afford to screw up, but there’s certain lines you can’t cross because you may cross a line where you can’t come back. You can make a mistake that prevents you from ever serving in the military, or getting into certain colleges, or getting a job. You wind up with a felony charge on your record because you made some stupid choice one night and it can forever change the course of your life. Kids that are 15 to 20 years old, they don’t think that way.
What is your relationship like with Kathleen Robertson, who plays the children’s Aunt Charlie?
Love. Love. Love. She’s amazing. She’s so sweet, so talented, funny as hell, incredibly personable. A great storyteller, a gorgeous woman, and a fantastic writer. Her writing career is just as happening as her acting career. She’s writing screenplays for some big stars in Hollywood right now. I really admire and respect her. She’s got it going on.
Do you think John will ever find love again? And if so, how do you think his children would react?
That’s going to be a source of conflict moving forward. I think it will be a source of drama and conflict, and possibly pain, but also hilarity. I think the kids could have a lot of fun with that, and so could I — with whoever it is I fall in love with. And all the hijinks that go along with me trying to introduce them to my children, or keep it from my children, and them finding out that I went on a date. Was it too soon for him to go on a date?
My father died when I was 19 years old in real life, and my mom was around 50, and I always hoped and wished that my mother would find companionship again. I would want to see her walking on the beach holding hands with somebody who cared for her. It never happened, my mother is much older now and now it’s not going to happen… If I could do it all over again I literally would’ve played cupid. That could be a storyline for my kids. If we feel we’ve all gone through an appropriate amount of grieving, maybe one of my kids would try to set me up.
You’re also in Too Old to Die Young, which is coming out this year, and reprising your role as Brian McCaffrey in Backdraft 2. What can you tell us about that?
[Too Old to Die Young] is a really interesting project [with] John Hawkes, Jena Malone, Miles Teller, and Nicolas Winding Refn. Nick Refn is really cool and special, he’s got genius in him. It was a very interesting project for me, and a great opportunity. He kind of turned the clock back to almost an experimental journey that I was on early in my career when I was working with people like Mike Figgis on Internal Affairs. We really got the chance to play and explore and discover and find things. It wasn’t two takes, moving on, two takes, moving on. We got into it and took it in places I didn’t expect. I feel like it’s pretty amazing. When I was on set, I was profoundly moved and impressed by the whole experience that Nick Refn created.
They approached me about doing a sequel to Backdraft, I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea. But then I read the script and I thought the script was such an obvious choice — I mean that in a positive way. Of course, if we’re going to do a sequel to Backdraft this is exactly the route we should have taken. The writer of the original screenplay wrote the screenplay almost 30 years later, and he did a great job. When I was on the set, everything that we were doing felt pretty good.
The original was probably $45 to 50 million in 1990, and this is a movie we’re doing on Netflix for 2019 for probably $6 to 8 million. It’s not going to have the above-the-line [Robert] De Niro and Kurt Russell. De Niro’s character would have been retired, and Kurt Russell’s character died in the original. It’s a very solid script, a really cool cast, I had a great time. We shot in Chicago, Toronto, and Budapest.
Northern Rescue, Series Premiere, Friday, March 1, Netflix