Along with apples and sweet potatoes, September brings with it a crop of new television, including the return of campy small-town soap opera Paradise Falls. Now in its third season on Showcase, Paradise Falls is packed with queer characters such as gay B&B operator Sacha Martinelli, played by Salvatore Antonio, and bisexual goth Trish Simpkin, played by Michelle Latimer. It’s arguably the gayest Canadian drama on TV.
Paradise Falls is a tiny town in an unnamed province, the exteriors of which are filmed in scenic Muskoka. It’s a place where, as Antonio says, “anything can happen and anything does happen.” But small-town life has its drawbacks, especially for the show’s queer characters. The new season starts out well for Sacha with his wedding to boyfriend Nick (Cameron Graham). But things aren’t always so easy for Trish, who Latimer describes as “kind of an outcast in town.”
“Trish is very sporadic, she’s unexpected,” says Latimer. “I think she’s vulnerable but has a tough exterior, so what you see is not always what you get. She’s often the bearer of her own destiny. Even when everything is going well she tends to do things that fuck that up.”
Both Latimer and Antonio cite the high drama of Paradise Falls and the range of emotions their characters have to work with among the most interesting aspects of working on the show.
“Sacha is always the star of his own movie,” says Antonio. “You know those people who walk around who kind of breed drama — they create it, they look for it. That’s a gift for an actor.”
But there are risks, counters Latimer. She feels dialing it down for other roles can be hard. “It kind of wrecked a lot of other parts for me,” she says, “because I would get these other parts and think, ‘They’re so boring, there’s nothing to do.’”
Paradise Falls first aired in 2001, but funding problems and a decision at Showcase to temporarily cut back on new programming meant long breaks between seasons. The season that airs this fall was filmed two summers ago with about half of the original characters; it has already aired on Here, the gay US channel. Ironically these gaps have helped make Paradise Falls one of the longest-running original Canadian shows.
“It’s amazing in Canada to get more than one season of a show,” says Latimer, who has been with Paradise Falls since the beginning. “So many shows are cancelled so quickly that by the third season [Paradise Falls] had really found its groove… the characters started to sit in a deeper place, it was almost like they had longer roots.”
The show’s longevity and the stretches of time the cast and crew spend together in Muskoka during filming have allowed close bonds to grow among them.
“You can’t get your latte as easily there, so you see people dial down. And there’s no ego, there’s no prejudice. It’s great, it’s like summer camp at times,” says Antonio.
All of this is a far shout from some of Antonio’s other television spots in Queer as Folk and, more recently, Toronto-based police procedural Flashpoint. But even though Paradise Falls lacks those shows’ gritty realism, Antonio says it’s not all camp and melodrama.
“The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, that’s how we come into it, but what ends up happening is we have these real moments that resonate that actually happen but we’re not forcing them.”